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Ireland's Oldest Sweet Manufacturer to Close!

Oatfield Sweet factory has itself made an enduring economic, social and cultural contribution to Letterkenny over its 85 years of existence. Not only has been a major employer in Letterkenny down through the years with up to 150 in its workforce at one stage, it has also been very much part of the fabric of the town.
Its founders, the McKinney family had been trading in Letterkenny for close to 100 years. The business first started as a wholesale and retail outlet on the Port Road. The premises are now occupied by Tinneys’ as a clothing and outfitters shop.
Oatfield Sweet Factory in Letterkenny, Co Donegal
In 1927, the late Ira and Haddon McKinney decided to make their own sweets and in August of that year the first sweets were made on the open coke fire in a shed at the back of the shop. The land on which the factory now stands was purchased in November 1929; the first sod was cut in February 1930. Six people were employed at the time.
The trade name of the company at that time was ‘Mayfield Confectionery’ but this was changed when it was discovered that another confectionery firm in Manchester, North of England had the same name. The land on which the factory is built was known as ‘Oatfield’ so the ‘May’ was dropped and ‘Oat’ substituted and hence the name ‘Oatfield’ was arrived at.
The old 7lb. Tin of mixed Oatfield boiled sweets
The first sweets were unwrapped boilings, boiled on an open coke fire and packed in 4lb. jars and 7lb. cans, 1/2d. and 1d rocks and Peggys Legs a count line still make today, but not by Oatfield. The weekly production was about 3 tons compare that with production today where we produce something like 65 tons a week.
The famous "Peggy's Leg" was one of the first Irish Rock candies
In 1930 sugar was purchased from Tate and Lyle and this as delivered by ship and rail via Derry to Letterkenny railway station. They then turned to Irish sugar. Glucose came from Manchester, the same route as the sugar and sometime later glucose was purchased direct from Holland and shipped to the port at Letterkenny. 
It is understood, the glucose used until the closure was Irish and came from Co. Cork. Butter has always been Irish Creamery Butter. Other ingredients come as far away as the West Indies and Malaya.
Irish Creamery Butter was always used in the sweet making process
Up until the year 1960 Oatfield still continued with the wholesale side of the business until it was decided that it would stop marketing packed sweets made by Cadburys, Rowntree, Urneys Chocolates, Bassetts Licorice Allsorts, Jacobs Biscuits, William and Wood, Ritchies Mints and Milroy Confectionery and would concentrate entirely on selling Oatfield sweets. This decision was a major turning point for the company and was a tremendous success.
The Oatfield Sweet Lorry was a common sight on Ireland's roads!
It launched its export side of the business in 1964. The first sweets were exported to Northern Ireland and the first overseas customer was a gentleman from Malta. It is understood he was still one of their most valued customers and he had visited the factory many times.
The sweets are exported on a world-wide scale which includes countries as far away as U.S.A., Canada, Iceland, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Nigeria, Kuwait, Bahrain, Cyprus, Greece, Sweden, France, Holland, Germany, Denmark and Norway, just to mention a few.
Distribution in 1930 was by means of a one-ton van, which serviced Donegal and surrounding areas, and the balance was transported by rail from Letterkenny railway station to Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan and Monaghan and the south.
In recent times the company employed outside transport to distribute to all the 32 counties in Ireland. Orders, which were being exported, were loaded on to hired containers at the factory and then transported to the docks, their distribution could be up to any of the 90 countries we export to throughout the world.
Packing Sweets by hand, at Oatfield Sweet Factory
A number of years ago, the factory employed approximately 95 people and produced up to 65 tonnes of sugar and chocolate confectionery each week. The main production lines were Emerald, Toffees, Eclairs, Boiled sweets. 
Emerald continues to be the biggest seller, followed by Colleen Assortment and Orange Chocolate. Roll pack sweets were a major part of their business too, manufacturing as they did a varieties of Rolls, at one time up to 12 different kinds!
The all-time favourite Oatfield "Emerald" Irish Caramel sweets - Yum!
The factory has experienced a constant demand for its products with increased seasonal demand at Christmas. This required them to recruit additional staff to cope with the demand for its popular Christmas range of products.
In 1994, the company was accredited with ISO 9002, a registered and approved Quality System, together with the Irish Quality Association’s approved Quality System. They ensure that all its products are produced to the highest quality standards in a consistent manner by our experienced staff. Three years later in 1997, a HACCP Food Safety System was developed and implemented in the factory, which ensures the safe manufacture of its confectionery products to an increasingly discerning customer.
But challenging future lay ahead for all employees in the new millennium. Like many manufacturing companies its success would be determined by its ability to change with new technologies, invest in employee development, adapt to changing consumer tastes and constant review of its packaging and presentation.
Chocolate "Eclairs" were another popular Oatfield Sweet
Since 1999 Oatfield sweets was owned by Donegal Creameries PLC who are now funding substantial investment to modernise the factory for the future. It experienced lay offs in 2008, a year after the company was sold to Zed Candy. It said the cuts were part of a rationalisation procedure as a result of the recent downturn in the economy.
Since that time workers have claimed that the operations in Letterkenny was being downsized on a gradual basis with machinery being removed. Their fears proved right this week with the news of the plant closure at the end of May. Management are due to meet the staff next Thursday to begin the process.
Zed Candy was formed in Dublin, in 1999, producing bubble. Oatfield sweets joined the group in 2007
The news will mark the end of an era as the Oatfield sweet brands had been manufactured in the town for over 80 years. The company said the difficult decision had been taken after a detailed review of the business. They said they would do all they could to minimise the impact of the job losses.
The remaining 15 workers at the plant were given 30 days notice and are due to meet with management to discuss redundancy terms next Thursday. Some of the workers have up to 40 years service.
Thanks to Connie for his wonderful text on the history of Ireland's oldest sweet factory.

The Oatfield Sweet Factory plant is owned by Dublin based firm Zed Candy, although the site is owned by Donegal Creameries.
 The plant is set to close on 27 May. It is understood that production of Oatfield brand sweets will move to Kettering in Northamptonshire, UK.
For more on Zed Candy see:

FOOD&WINE Magazine recruiting for a New Restaurant Critic

Are you a fearless foodie?

FOOD&WINE Magazine is recruiting for one of Ireland's most critical jobs… The Restaurant Critic!

If you're interested in writing about food and wine, love eating out, and have an evening or two to spare a month, this could be just the thing for you. Other skills are required beside the ability to eat though. Can you stick to a deadline and write flawless copy? Do you read commission instructions with a fine tooth-comb? Then FOOD&WINE Magazine is looking for you.

The magazine is considered by many to be Ireland's Food & Wine Bible

"Despite the downturn there are still plenty of restaurants, new and old, waiting to be rated for FOOD&WINE Magazine so we need to expand our panel of restaurant critics" says Ross Golden-Bannon, Editor of the magazine.

Wine Editor Raymond Blake with magazine Editor Ross Golden-Bannon
How to Apply:
The standards are high and the competition will be tight. Submit 150 words on your favourite food experience, not a restaurant review and not forgetting why the experience ranks so high. An immediate good-bye will be said to those who don’t follow the criteria. Spelling, grammar and style are important, as well as knowledge of what’s libellous and knowing your BĂ©arnaise from your Beaujolais would be a distinct advantage!

FOOD&WINE magazine May 2012 Issue - OUT NOW!

"We don’t count calories, we count quality." says Ross. "We believe in substance over style and integrity over spin, so sharpen your pencils and start writing."

The FOOD&WINE Christmas show gets bigger every year!

Deadlines are Important!
The deadline is Friday, 8 June 2012. The top three entries will be published in the magazine and the winner will be chosen by a combination of public voting and the editorial team's needs. The winner will be announced in the September issue of the magazine (on shelves Monday 20 August).

Entries to:
Entries can be submitted to with Restaurant Critic Job as the subject title.

Closing date for submissions is 5pm Friday, 8 June 2012.


Win a Professional Chef's Knife!

My good friend Sean Brosnan over at Emerald Trading has kindly given me a
25cm Mondial Professional Chef's Knife for one of you lucky readers to win because the company is celebrating 15 years in business this year!

Celebrating 15 years supplying Hotels & Restaurants of the North & West of Ireland
Founded by Sean, in 1997, Emerald Trading is a family run independent business, based in Donegal Town and specialising in the distribution of a vast range of high quality cleaning, hygiene & catering supplies and equipment.

"Emerald Trading’s philosophy is to provide all our customers with the best knowledge and care possible. Consistency and reliability is our main priority" says Sean.

Their product range is indeed massive! Here are a few links to some of their wide-ranging catering equipment:

The company has grown into a large supplier of all cleaning and hygiene needs, establishing an excellent customer base in the North & West of Ireland.


To WIN this professional Chef's Knife you have to
Like Emerald Trading's Facebook page by clicking this button:

Like the Irish Food Guide Facebook Page by clicking this button:

and leave a comment at the end of this Post with a contact detail. 

Competition runs until the 1st May. Good Luck!

Update: The Winner, picked by random number generator is...
Lorraine Ni Bhealatuin

I'll be in contact by email to get your postal address - Zack.

Irish Whiskey Flavoured Rhubarb with Honey & Oat Crumble

I love Rhubarb and its clean, tart flavour. And it's great to see it making a return to popularity on restaurant dessert menus in various forms and as an accompaniement to duck, venison and other stronger flavoured types of meat.

We've always had rhubarb growing at home and it is very easy to keep if  (like anything else) you look after it. Keep the soil moist but not water-logged, keep it in the sunshine by cutting any over-hanging branches and give it an odd helping of well-matured organic matter of the horse variety and the rhubarb plant will come back year after year.

mmmmm! Freshly pulled rhubarb!

In late Spring, after the frosts finally decide to go away, the first shoots will show. You can put an up-turned bucket over these and this will help to bring forth what is known as "forced rhubarb". This is a great way to get a double crop. Pull the stalks clean from the base- do not cut them. After this first crop,  leave the plant to its own devices and you will get another growth coming into the start of the summer.

Rhubarb is one of those plants that grows well in a big pot in a town or city garden if you follow those guidelines. But don't put the leaves of rhubarb into your compost heap,as they are said to be poisonous and will have a seriously bad effect on your compost!  Rhubarb plants are available to buy in most good garden centres & you can also buy Rhubarb stalks, ready for your cooking pot, in all good Veg shops.

Here is a very simple but super delicious recipe for an old-fashioned Rhubarb Crumble. I always put a splash of whiskey into it (and a little bit into the whipped cream too if you want!) and my mum always added porridge oats to the crumble topping to make it crunchier. 

My Ingredients:
The Rhubarb...
1kg fresh Rhubarb
200g granulated sugar
3 whole cloves 
 or 1/4 tsp ground cloves 
 1 splash of your favourite Irish Whiskey
25ml water

The Topping...
400g plain flour
200g butter
100g flahavans porridge oats
100g brown sugar
3 tbls honey

My Method:
Preheat your oven to 180C

Chop the rhubarb chunky

For the rhubarb mix, chop the rhubarb into 1/2 inch pieces and then put it into into a heavy based pot with the sugar, cloves and whiskey, over a medium heat and bring it up, just before the boil. Then turn down the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes until the rhubarb is soft but still chunky.

Don't forget the splash of whiskey!

Meanwhile, rub the butter into the flour as you would when making pastry or bread. Add the oats, sugar and honey and mix well together.

Ahh... Porridge oats mixed through the pastry crumb

Pour the cooked rhubarb into a baking dish, sprinkle the crumble mix on top and pat it gently, with your hand, to tidy up the top. 

Spread the crumble topping mix over the stewed rhubarb

Pop it in the oven for 18 - 20 minutes, until golden brown on top. 

Serve with cream, custard or ice cream (or all three!) . Simple, tasty and delicious!


Lobster & Lamb from the Oven straight to the Table, with Nicholas Mosse!

My wife, Nuala, is a Potter, an artist and a very patient woman! We have re-building her pottery in one of the sheds at home for the past few years - it's getting there, I promise! One of her favourite Irish pottery designs has always been that made by Nicholas Mosse in Kilkenny.

She has always loved the simple and delicate designs created by his wife Susan on the country-style shapes of the pottery designed by Nicholas.

So when Lisa McGee, from Nicholas Mosse Pottery, asked me to try out some of their new Ovenware range of Pottery, I looked forward to seeing if it was up to the standard of the old-style ovenware that my aunts used to cook their big hearty casseroles in!

I had a wee plan in my head so I went to see my good friend John McIntyre who now leads the team in the Olde Castle Bar & Restaurant, in Donegal Town, where I used to be the head chef. I wanted to see if these lovely pottery dishes could stand up to the pressures of a modern commercial kitchen.

If they can make it there, as they say, they will make it anywhere!

So I put together two simple dishes that use different temperatures. Both were cooked in a large industrial convection oven in a busy commercial kitchen. One is a simple Lobster & Seafood mixed platter that would be great to serve to a table and everyone can share. The other is the classic slow-braised Lamb Shank dish that has become so popular in Ireland over the last few years.

They are both very easy to make if you have family & friends coming for the holidays and you can up the quantities accordingly.

Grilled Lobster Platter to Share

This dish is easily prepared in advance and kept in the fridge until needed. 
My Ingredients:
One cooked Lobster
4 cooked crab claws
A dozen or so fresh Mussels
white wine
8 Asparagus spears
some melted butter or garlic butter
lemon wedges

My Method:

  1. You can read how to cook & split the lobster here
  2. Peel and cook the asparagus in salted boiling water for 3 minutes
  3. Meanwhile steam open the mussels, over the asparagus, in a colander with a lid on it until they open. Discard any that don't open.
  4. Arrange the lobster, crab, mussels and asparagus in your serving dish and drizzle a little butter over the fish. Cover with tin foil.
  5. When you are ready to serve simple pop the whole lot into a hot oven (190°C) for 3-5 minutes and heat everything up! Yum!

This is an Oval dish with their classic Forget-Me-Not design

Slow Braised Lamb Shanks

My Ingredients:
4 trimmed Lamb Shanks - ask your butcher to trim the bone for you
2 carrots peeled
1 parsnip peeled
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
pinch of thyme
pinch of rosemary
1/2 litre boiling water
large glass red wine
1 teaspoon treacle
1 chicken stock cube
sea salt & black pepper

My Method:
First arrange the lamb shanks in your lovely new ovenware dish!

The juices will reduce down into a wonderfully rich sauce.
  1. Chop the carrot, parsnip & onion into even chunky bite-sized pieces and place on top of the lamb. Peel the garlic and toss in with the veg.
  2. Dissolve the stock cube in the boiling water and stir in the treacle (this will sweeten the meat and add a deep bodied colour to your finished sauce). Add the glass of red wine and then pour this over the complete dish. Season with sea salt & black pepper and cover with tin foil.
  3. Cook in a medium oven (160°C) for 3 hours until the meat is falling off the bone and the juices have reduced into a lovely rich sauce. Yum again!

This is a 12" rectangle oven dish with their Red Tulip motif - classy
From the Oven straight to the Table!
Now I know that most pottery is fired to about 1300°C for its final glaze firing - but we all still feel a wee bit cautious of putting our lovely new dishes into even an ordinary oven at home. So I was delighted to see how the Nicholas Mosse ovenware coped excellently with the more intense convection ovens of an industrial kitchen environment. 

Their Ovenware is available in 5 different shapes and is the first range from Nicholas Mosse that can truly go from oven to table. The high temperature of the final glazing makes them very easy to clean even if the sauce may have cooked hard onto the dish!

The Ovenware is available in 5 different shapes & designs
John the chef was so impressed with the way the simple Lobster Seafood dish presented, that they are thinking of putting it on their own menu as a "straight from the oven" seafood platter!

The potter himself Nicholas Mosse 
Nicholas Mosse Pottery was established by Nicholas in 1976. Irish spongeware was the traditional pottery of Ireland used in the 18th Century and his wife Susan creates all their colourful designs. Their pottery & shop is based in Bennettsbridge, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland.

For more information on their new Oven-to-Table Ware and their other wide range of beautiful things, go to 
or visit their blog at


Munster Regional Winners for the Irish Restaurant Awards 2012

The Munster Regional Final For The Restaurant Awards 2012 sponsored By Santa Rita / Sunday Independent Life Magazine took Place in The Imperial Hotel, Cork City, on Tuesday 3rd April 2012

The List of Winners in each of the following categories were:

Best Customer Service


Best Gastro Pub Sponsored By Faustino


Best Casual Dining Sponsored By Joseph Drouhin

  • CORK NASH 19

Wine Experience - Munster- Sponsored By Thomas Barton


Kids Size Me – Munster - Sponsored By Heinz


Best Hotel Restaurant


Best Chef Sponsored By Tipperary Water


Best Restaurant Sponsored By Santa Rita


All County winners will now compete for the Regional and All Ireland Title which will be announced at the Irish Restaurant Awards in the Burlington Hotel Dublin on Wednesday 14th May 2012 2. . 

There are 3 components to phase two  of the process. Each element is independently assessed by KPMG.

1. Mystery Guest Visit (35%) This component of the awards is conducted by Prism Consulting headed by Hugo Arnold, independent food writer and consultant. ( All County Winners receive a mystery guest visit throughout the month of April.

2. National Awards Academy (55%) Our National Awards Academy is made up representatives from each of the regional judging panels and will meet in May to Judge the County Winners.

3. Menu Judging (10%) All County winners and the Dublin Shortlist in each category are asked to submit a copy of their food menu and wine list for judging.

For Further Details Contact:
Adrian Cummins, Chief Executive, - 086 8263311.

The Wild Atlantic Way is the world's Longest Coastal Route