Bakers from the Western Island, by Elaine Reardon
Off the coast of Galway a noddy boat could skip between the islands and pull in close to dock.
The highlight of the week for islanders was when the fishing boat came into the harbor. They’d be handsome bachelors on it, so the single women went down to the harbor with hot tea, something to add a bit of strength to it, and still-warm bread with sultanas added for sweetness.
They went down dressed in their best, not dressed for buying fish. More than one woman found a husband this way.
The truth of it is, the practice began to elevate the quality of the baking on the islands. Each woman wanted to be known as the best baker. In turn this stepped up the commerce on the island, as supply boats brought in more flour and butter, especially when the Walsh triplets all went to work the Noddy fishing boats.
Soon after a couple marriages took place, the single women on the island gathered. They realised they had good talent, and there was something to be gained if they cooperated.
Already boats were bringing in more supplies on a weekly basis, and the families were all doing a bit better. Why not send their baking off to the mainland, and make money from it?
Arrangements were made. A truck would meet a boat in Doolin, and take all the baked goods up to the farmer’s market in Galway. One or two women would travel along to set up to sell. They had a sign made, proclaiming Baking From The Western Islands.
Sometimes they sold small fish pies, other times hand rolls filled with lamb. Their bread and scones became well known, and the business slowly became a success.
Maureen made small scones that were light enough to be mistaken for the host at Sunday mass. She had her own following.
There was always a line here. Women stopped doing their own baking at the end of the week, and their husbands would buy the lamb roll or small fish pies instead of nipping home for a meal.
Before you knew it baked goods were being sought after mid-week, too. The women set up a kitchen in an old cottage and worked together to bake, right at the harbor mouth.
Soon the baked goods were placed in cafes in Galway, not just at the Farmer’s Market. In time they made their way to Limerick shops.
Today you can still find scones made by the Bakers of the Western Island in proper Dublin tearooms and at Shannon Airport.
The women who began this business back in the 1930s, the boats, and the handsome bachelors are gone. Still, there’s the idea of it, the butter and flour giving rise to marriages and children, giving rise to life.
Elaine Reardon is a writer and herbalist. Her first chapbook, The Heart is a Nursery For Hope, won first honors from Flutter Press in 2016. Her second chapbook, Look Behind You, was published by Flutter Press in late 2019. Most recently Elaine’s poetry and essays have been published by Pensive Journal, Syncopated Journal, Prospectus Literary, and several recent anthologies. www.elainereardon.wordpress.com