Return to the Emerald Isle: On readjusting and the recipes of home

By Catherine Kennedy

Boats docked in the harbour at Bangor Marina. Photography by Catherine Kennedy.

Boats docked in the harbour at Bangor Marina. Photography by Catherine Kennedy.

I’ve never been someone who wanted to get away.

There’s something magical about home – and for me home was green, it was sea, it was people.

I think I always knew that if I left Northern Ireland, it would be at a specific time and for a specific reason – not for the sake of leaving in itself.

This year, I moved to London. All the specific reasons had been perfectly thought through, but what I didn’t realise was that leaving would make me love even the things I once found annoying: the smell of rain, late buses, clouds.

After four months surrounded by different accents and a different life, the reverse culture shock hit.

Suddenly, I was in the strange position of loving the place I’d moved to, but finding more scope than I’d thought existed to love everything I’d left behind.

Embracing the ordinary

Normal things become special when they aren’t part of the everyday. Annoying things become less annoying because, like the completely logical person you are, you miss having the option to be annoyed about them. And when you go back and have the option again, you can only muster up a scrap of the frustration you once felt.

I went home at Christmas and, after four months surrounded by different accents and a different life, the reverse culture shock hit.

I enjoyed rain. Not just any rain – Northern Irish rain. Drizzle. The sort that lasts all day without really getting started.

We drove through Belfast on the way home from the airport – past the yellow Harland and Wolff cranes, the brief view of the city’s skyline and finally the fields as we headed towards home. It was all still there. Just the way I’d left it.

Ballyholme, Bangor. Photography by Catherine Kennedy.

Ballyholme, Bangor. Photography by Catherine Kennedy.

A new venture

My dad had retired the September that I moved and in his new-found freedom had discovered baking. A very happy discovery for all, except that my brother and I were both in England and unable to benefit. I arrived home determined to make the most of his new hobby – and I wasn’t disappointed. On my return the kitchen was stocked with homemade Guinness bread, Guinness cake, wheaten bread, truffles – you name it, it had been baked. He even branched out into some chorizo and caramelised onion chutney.

Food and home, I realised, are not that different.

We gathered round the table, my parents, my brother, and I, together for the first time since the summer and ate and talked. Friends came round and we fed them dad’s bread, waxed lyrical about the chutney and joked that none of the rest of us would ever need to cook again.

Familiar tastes

Food and home, I realised, are not that different. I returned and was reunited with all the things I hadn’t eaten in months: malted Veda bread; Irwin’s muffins (which my mum posts to my brother because he’s such a fan); champ (mashed potato with butter and scallions)… and, of course, Tayto crisps, creators of the greatest cheese and onion flavour known to man.

Breakfast one morning was an Ulster Fry, made by my mum. I’d forgotten the taste of gooey soda bread dipped in egg, the perfect squares of potato bread which can be cut so satisfyingly into smaller squares. And there it was, all on one plate, with Northern Irish bacon.

January came, and I flew back to London well-fed, with a suitcase of potato bread and a few other treats. Turns out champ doesn’t travel well.

Jumping off cliffs in Portstewart. Photography by Catherine Kennedy.

Jumping off cliffs in Portstewart. Photography by Catherine Kennedy.