THE overwhelming consensus amongst the thousands of people who swarmed the buzzing streets of Waterford last weekend was that the 11th Harvest Festival was the best one yet. The festival, which has had a chequered upbringing – from its uncertain early days on the Quays and Bolton Street – seems to have finally come of age and the crowds couldn’t get enough of it.
There’s no doubt that the sun was the guest of honour for this year’s renewal – we all know Harvest has not had the best of luck with weather down the years – but so much of 2019’s success was down to lessons learned and decisions made. The event was exceptionally well organised by Tommie Ryan, Every Event and others, meaning that this year we got to squeeze every last drop out of Waterford’s amazing food producers and most importantly, the city centre finally got to be the star of the show. In recent years, areas like Michael Street, Arundel Square and Broad Street had been mainly deserted as the Mall and its environs stole the show.
The Waterford News & Star attempted to cover as much ground, speak to as many people and eat as much food as possible over the three days, but it was a fruitless endeavour as there was simply too much to see and do.
Traditionally, the Friday of any weekend festival is the quietest, with people working and making most of their plans for the weekend. However, from lunchtime on Friday, as the clouds parted, it was clear that something special was brewing. This year, all of the markets were located in the heart of the city – on Broad Street, Arundel Square and Michael Street. This created a really impressive trail of food that worked infinitely better than last year’s toe in the water, which saw Arundel Square squashed too tightly with markets. This year, they spread them out nicely, allowing for easy negotiating by the thousands of pedestrians that passed through. As the eight-year-old daughter of this reporter ordered the first bite of the festival – a pizza from Azzurro – Adriano explained why the location of the markets was so much better this year.
“Everyone is shopping,” he said. “Having the markets in the city centre is having such a good impact on the shops around the town – we’re in for a hell of a weekend.”
In addition to the stalls, the kids got to go on a Ferris Wheel and a Merry-go-round, before fleecing daddy in Dunnes, Gadget Man and Penney’s. Friday ended with a churros related chocolate covered face of happiness.
The sun came out on Saturday, and brought thousands of people with it. Ballybricken Fair opened at 1pm with wood carving demos from Special Branch, Birds of Prey, a mini-farm and loads of fairground attractions for the kids – it was ‘Perfect’!
At 2pm on Saturday afternoon the city centre was under a cloud of barbecue based smoke and the sights, smells and sounds were an absolute joy to behold. Alan ‘Benny’ Butler and his kids Oscar and Thom were in agreement that this year’s was definitely the best yet.
“It’s just great to see the city centre looking as it should – thronged,” Alan said. “The decision to put the markets in the middle of everything has meant that we have been able to see and do a lot more. Well done to everyone involved, because we’ve absolutely loved it.”
The amazing achievement of Harvest is how far and wide its reach stretches. On Saturday alone, there was a Mexican day at No.9 Café, a Barbecue by Mezze at Loko, a Street Food Fest at Sabai, a Wine Tasting at the Fat Angel and a seaweed celebration at Momo. That’s not to mention the Beekeeping Workshop at the Book Centre, the Yoga at Goma, the Cookery Demos in the Dawn Meats tent, the Science of Beer at Tully’s and Paddy Casey singing live at Bailey’s New Street. Any tourists visiting Waterford on Saturday must have felt that they had stumbled across the best kept secret in the world.
Saturday was special, but Harvest took breaths away on Sunday. Word must have spread about what was happening in town because it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Sunday’s crowds were double that of Saturday’s. Just about every market had long queues and down in the Apple Market, the local producers were showing the crowds how to do food the Waterford Way. Producers like Mezze, Coffee House Lane, Comeragh Mountain Poultry, Baldwin’s Ice-cream, Walsh’s Bakehouse, Marie Power the Sea Gardener and many more were selling their produce as well as giving live demos and workshops. Apples were being sold 4 for €1, dips and sauces were being made right in front of amazed eyes and it was clear that this was a buzzing industry in its prime.
In Everett’s Restaurant in the afternoon, a chef called Sham Hanifa worked with Peter Everett to create a stunning fusion of Asian-Irish food that a packed restaurant loved. John and Sally McKenna of the McKenna Guides were hosts once again and John McKenna, speaking to the Waterford News & Star, said that Waterford was well on its way to becoming a proper food capital.
“Waterford has everything it needs now to brand itself on its food,” John said. “It has the talent, the brewers, distillers and growers. It may seem fanciful, but it’s not. This festival has shown just what Waterford has to offer, and it’s very special indeed.”
Harvest Festival Director Tommie Ryan was running about the place trying to show his face at as many of the over 80 separate events as possible, and as the Festival came to a close in Faithlegg on Sunday night (with another stunning dinner prepared by chefs Jenny Flynn, Pamela Kelly and Paula Hannigan), he gave his thoughts to the Waterford News & Star.
“This year’s festival has been incredibly special for me,” he said. “I’m very proud of Waterford this weekend. From winning the Foodie Destination Award, to seeing the amount of people who have come into the city to support it and seeing the amount of events that sold out so quickly, it’s just overwhelming. There were some serious discussions had over the weekend and I think Waterford is starting to really wake up to where we need to go with food. I couldn’t be happier with how everything went.”