"Laughter is brightest where food is best" goes the Irish proverb, and Sinéad McDevitt heartily agrees. The Dubliner had been living in Sydney for five years and adored her new home and mates, but she missed proper soda bread, pined for white pudding, and was greeted with blank stares every time she raved about Barry’s Irish tea. “I was drowning in a sea of Earl Grey and Bushells!” she laughs. Sinéad was also well and truly over saying goodbye, as one by one, her travelling companions returned home.
“I’d formed some fantastic new friendships, but I also didn’t want to lose my Irish ties just because I was settling here,” says Sinéad, who has now been living in Australia for eight years and became a citizen in 2010. Her good friend Dee felt the same way, and they set upon a delicious plan of action. “We did a shout-out on live radio and email, looking for other Irish people in Australia for the long haul, and keen for a regular dose of good grub and craic,” explains Sinéad. “And that was the start of our Irish Brekkie Club.”
Meeting up regularly in Sydney’s Centennial Park for breakfasts over the past two years, the affable get-together has yet to encounter a rainy day. Today’s ‘brekkie’ again takes place under clear blue skies, and with a live guitarist playing everything from folk music to Snow Patrol, the mood is laidback and joyful.
“Dining alfresco isn’t really an Irish thing,” says Andrea Kissane, who took over new-mum Dee’s duties as Brekkie Club co-organiser at the end of 2010. “After years of eating and socialising inside, or huddled under a canopy, we just love it!”
As informal membership has grown from two to more than 200, the Irish Brekkie Club’s shared table has also evolved to an enviable spread. Traditional Irish cakes, puddings and soda bread jostle for space, alongside potato farls (fried potato cakes), just-barbecued black and white pudding, Irish sausages and rashers of bacon.
“We love our pork, it’s not an Irish breakfast without it,” says James ‘Shay’ Stanley. Bequeathed with hush-hush family recipes from two generations, Shay runs a butchery in Sydney’s west, and is regarded as one of Australia’s most authentic Irish butchers. “It’s no suprise that he’s such hot property here!” says Andrea with a smile.
Another prized Irish Brekkie Clubber is Paddy Winston, who, after arriving in Sydney from Ireland two years ago, set up his own traditional bakery. “It’s just brilliant being able to get proper soda breads here now,” says Sinéad. “Not to mention Paddy’s potato farls which are to die for,” she adds, popping another on her plate. Paddy is also famous in this crowd for his signature brown-bread ice-cream, which causes a mini-stampede.
Born of a culture legendary for warm-as-toast hospitality, and a love of celebrations, it makes perfect sense that Sinéad, Andrea and the rest of the crew are in the midst of creating this, their own new tradition, in a new homeland.
Away from their extended families, but relishing in new friendships, their favourite aspects of Irish and Aussie life are combined in the Irish Brekkie Club.
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Photography by Alan Benson