Coming Home to Cook—an Irish American’s journey home
These days, Mary Sheehan can be found driving the lanes and motorways of
Ireland with a car boot full of boxes of her book, Coming Home to Cook—Vegetarian Recipes Inspired by the Organic Gardens of Ireland, and she is on a mission.
Mary is looking for independent bookshops, health food stores, organic garden
centres and farmers’ markets where her self-published cookery book can reach
its intended audience. And she is finding them—the book is already available in
125 outlets throughout the country.
For Mary, Coming Home to Cook is a labour of love. This little book, with its
cover photograph of cousin Liam Roche of West Cork holding a fine cabbage just
picked from his garden, is the culmination of Mary’s 30 years of professional
cooking and a tribute to her family on both sides of the pond.
To her friends back in the States, where she spent last winter writing the
book, Mary reports, ‘People everywhere exclaim, “what a beautiful book!” Irish people really appreciate what the book is about—a return to basics, recipes that are clearly written, accessible ingredients—and the full-colour photographs of
rural Ireland. I’ve received emails from people praising the recipes and
thanking me for sharing my grandfather’s lovely stories. This book seems to be
touching people in many different ways.’
The book contains 64 original recipes for soups, salads, entrées with side
dishes and baked goods, many of them gluten and dairy free, and is written in a
friendly, conversational style that will appeal to non-vegetarians who want to
experiment with meatless meals. But, to Mary, the heart and soul of the book
are the excerpts from her grandfather’s family history, which he wrote down in
1956—her first book, she knew, would have been incomplete without them.
Raised in Brockton, Massachusetts, in a big Irish American clan, Mary learned a
love of Irish history, music, and language from Dermod Sheehan, her
grandfather. Originally from Ballyvourney, Dermod was a travelling teacher for the Gaelic League and emigrated to America in 1907. He was soon joined there by his
betrothed, Annie Curran of Dingle, who was a relative of Peig Sayers and
appears as “Nan” in An Old Woman’s Reflections. At Sheehan clan reunions, the
Massachusetts cousins and visiting relations from Cork would fill Mary’s family
home with music, song and storytelling.
Mary received her Irish citizenship in 2005 and, in 2007, came to live and work
in the Burren. There she met the people who make West Clare such a special
place—growers of organic vegetables, farmers making cheeses from the milk of
their own cows and goats, herbalists and craftspeople keeping the country’s
culture and traditions alive. She spent many days on the Roche farm in Cork,
experiencing at first hand the demanding life of an Irish farming family. She
helped her cousins pick turf and spent nights by the fire listening to family
stories. In Dingle, cousin James gave Mary a warm welcome to the Curran Pub,
where her grandmother was born. These encounters, and many more like them,
encouraged Mary to make the region her home and were the inspiration for Coming Home to Cook.
Self-distributing the book has given Mary the chance to meet people all over
Ireland. ‘You don’t just go into a shop, give your pitch and they take the
book. This is Ireland. When I go into a shop, the craic begins with a
conversation about food, healthy eating, the beautiful photographs, the
person’s relatives in Cork, their vacation in Kerry, the rain, the price of petrol,
where I’m from in America. . . . When I leave, I’m either smiling or laughing, and
I’m feeling grateful and amazed that so much goodwill exists here. I feel like
I have friends all over the country now. People have invited me to give food
demonstrations at their farmers’ markets and health food stores, to have a
book signing in their shop, to address a Woman’s group on the benefits of
healthy eating, to become involved in a community garden project and a Transition Town. There’s a trend here toward simplicity, organic farming and local sourcing of food. Despite the recession or because of it, I see people looking at how to make changes. It’s a real opportunity for me to make a contribution.’
The generosity of the people Mary is meeting on her travels, the new
opportunities for community effort, her growing kinship with her cousins in Cork
and Kerry . . . all these are adding rich meaning to the title phrase “Coming
Home.” While the next book takes shape, Mary is sharing her experiences on her
But you don’t have to go on the road yourself to find Coming Home to Cook. It
is available from Mary’s website http://www.marysheehan.com/
for €15 and US $18.95.