Cliodhna Prendergast is a professional chef, writer, photographer and mother of 3 who lives in the rural district of Connemara, an unspoilt part of Ireland surrounded by breathtaking expanses of countryside, lakes and mountain ranges. Her passion for food, photography and love for the place where she grew up inspired her and close friend Imen to start Lens and Larder, workshops that collaborate with world class stylists, photographers and writers, teaching the art of storytelling through photography. We speak to Cliodhna about her life growing up in Connemara, and the best things this beautiful place has to offer.
Describe yourself and the work you do?
While first being a chef who, through food, fell into photography and writing, I am also a mother of three, Jake 11, Iseult 9, and Milo who is 6, and I am married to my wonderful husband, Patrick.
Growing up in Connemara, a very rural part of Ireland, my parents had a Country House Hotel which was also our family home. I grew up in the kitchen surrounded by chefs, fresh fish, game birds, Connemara lamb and the flurry of excitement that goes along with having a restaurant. We were very fortunate to have some very good chefs, two female cooks in particular who took me under their wing and made sure that, as I was in the kitchen, I was going to contribute and be useful.
I was also very fortunate to have spent time over the years with another chef who was fascinated with gathering and cooking wild food. This was quite rare in eighties Ireland. We would go together to pick seaweeds and mushrooms, nettles, wild herbs and salad leaves and that is where my passion began. A passion for cooking what came from our shores, pastures, mountains and lakes.
When I left college, I worked in several restaurants and country house kitchens in Dublin and on the west coast. I then completed a course at Ballymaloe Cookery school before joining Delphi Lodge, a beautiful west of Ireland fishing lodge where I spent a lovely 11 years as the head chef. Following the arrival of our third child Milo I moved out of professional kitchens and produced and presented 30 short programmes with my children called Breaking Eggs to encourage parents to cook with and introduce the full story of food to their children.
Through my work on Breaking Eggs I met Imen McDonnell, an American TV producer, living in Limerick, married to an Irish Farmer. We both loved working and living in rural Ireland but were craving inspiration and connectivity with the wider creative world. So Imen came up with the brilliant idea of Lens and Larder. We discussed it and designed photography and food styling workshops where we invite well known international photographers to very special places in Ireland where they teach the art of storytelling through photography, based on a food story.
What is your favourite thing about living in Connemara?
The low winter light, when we have a whole mountain or a headland to ourselves to walk, the feeling of peace and the wild beauty that surrounds us. I live right on a lake in the middle of the woods and we hunt for mushrooms in our pyjamas for breakfast, I love that. Being able to pick seaweed from the rocks on the edge of the Atlantic… there is so much to love. I love that my children can learn these things, that they are second nature to them before I set them free in the world.
Being outside in nature seems to be the best place to be in Connemara the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. What are your top spots to visit on a family day out?
Climbing one of the many rugged hills, we are surrounded by the twelve pins, one more beautiful than the next. An afternoon fishing on the Ballynahinch Castle, Owenmore River. A day at the beach, even in the depths of winter, we have white sandy beaches sometimes with deep green water, beautiful on a warm clear day but even more beautiful in a winter storm. Visiting beautiful Kylemore Abbey and walled Victorian garden.
And coming in from the cold what are some great places to warm up inside?
The pub at Ballynahinch Castle must be the most welcoming spot of all with its huge log fires, it is a beautiful old castle pub, relaxed and unpretentious. In full disclosure, my husband is the GM at Ballynahinch Castle so I am a little biased!
There is also a little fishing village near the beaches called Roundstone with many pubs that serve a great chowder that will warm you from the inside out. Clifden town is also nearby for shopping and traditional Irish music.
Omey strand is another magical place, an Island that you can drive to on low tide, just know when the tide is coming back in so you don’t get stuck!