Interview with Kate (K) and Mike (M), son and daughter of the late Honor Moore in Dublin, 28 April, 2016. Interviewer Yvonne Desmond (Q) of DIT Library Services.
Q. Can you both describe to your mother to me, what kind of a person she was both in her personal and business life?
K. She was a very formidable woman, accepted everyone coming in.
M. Absolutely, everyone was welcomed in the door and fed.
K. Yes, no matter what time of the day or night. She was really, really generous with her time with everybody. Strict growing up and business-like.
M. Yes, it was a proper upbringing. It wasn’t the hugging, kissing relationship that we would have with our kids for example.
K. Absolutely, there was no emotion showed.
M. There were seven of us and nobody was really shown any favouritism or anything. It was just a case of get on with it and we were thrown into a very difficult situation when the younger ones were very much younger. I was fourteen when Dad died, I was the second oldest, Robert was fifteen or something.
Q. That must have been a tremendous shock at the time?
K. and M. yes it was
K. And some of us were not let go to the funeral for some reason. So we actually did not believe he had died and so that was very difficult. In our own minds we were saying that he had had to leave the country or whatever. So we had no proof that he had gone.
Q. Yes, you need the closure that a funeral gives you.
K. But Mum had great help. She had a lovely lady, Hanney, who used to come in and she was actually much more affectionate than Mum would have been. So she was there and then when she stopped coming Mum would still be working in the office, the PR business. She would ring and say “put on the potatoes, I am on the way home”.
So we were allowed to put on the potatoes but we were not allowed to touch the meat. We might burn it so she would do the meat when she got in. But there was always plenty of food and we were looked after physically in that way.
Q. She always worked full time?
K. She took over Dad’s business in 1965 so she did.
Q. Which was unusual enough at the time.
M. Well she had been working as a journalist anyway for all our lives.
Q. but she probably fitted that around home.
K. Yes, she did.
Q. I just imagine that when she was working in PR she went out in the morning and came back in the evening?
K. Yes, Dad had an office in Stephens Green.
Q. That was a big change?
M. & K. Yes, it was.
M. Yes it was but it was just the way it was and you accepted it. I don’t think any of us would have said that we suffered any hardship as a result of that.
Q. Well, I think you probably benefit from mothers going out and you must have all been company for each other.
M. & K. Yes and yes we were.
M. Definitely, we are all pretty close in age or there were clusters of age if you like.
K. Four little ones and the three big ones.
Q. The camaraderie that existed must have helped to get over the tremendous shock?
K. Yes and Mum’s and Dad’s office was just down the road from Wesley, the secondary part of it, where a lot of us were in school already. So you came out of school and went down to the office.
Q. But that must have helped her manage as well, the fact that you all had each other?
K. I am sure it did, it must have done, she knew somebody was looking after somebody else.
M. Oh, yeah it did. But none of us were cooking. Like my kids all cook, Michael (son) produced a full Irish breakfast for the whole family when we moved house at 11. Ok I was in the next room and he was going “do I have to do this…”
Q. And was that because she would not let you cook or did you not want to?
K. No she would not let us. We did cookery in school, domestic science, rock buns and stews.
M. I learned to cook over an open fire as did Robert.
K. In Scouts
M. Yes, in Scouts. Robert produced a sponge cake over an open fire. That’s a pretty good achievement.
Q. But was the kitchen kind of her domain?
K. Yes, it was, we were allowed to peel potatoes, that was one of our chores. We had chores. We could do the prep…peel the carrots and wash up.
Q. And did she test exotic things on you even in later years?
K. Later on she did, she did the photographic sessions here which was super.
M. Yes, the photograph session. You would come home from school and you would be told “out of the kitchen and go upstairs until we are finished.” She had this thing where she refused to use the photographers trick of spraying everything with oil to make it glisten so it looks like it is coming out of the oven.
If you want to make it look like it was coming out of the oven, take a picture of it when it comes out of the oven. The photographer came to the house as opposed to the food going to the photographer’s studio which was apparently quite unusual. But it also meant the food was never wasted. Of course, she was raising seven kids on her own. She couldn’t afford to be wasting food.
Q. From the book you would get the impression that she was quite thrifty. I know you would have to be with so many children, but I think it was the way she was brought up. You did not waste food and you made the most of everything. Talking about her early family, that comes out and that would have been quite a generational thing?
M. Anyone who came through the second world war was like that and through the fifties because the stuff just was not there. The excitement of going North to the rest of our relatives who never came south. Dad’s father did not attend his funeral because it was in the Republic. He would not come down. But Mum’s attitude was anybody who does not want to come to the funeral, they obviously don’t respect him. If they respect him enough they will travel down to Kerry for the funeral. But going up North you were going to get things you did not get in the South particularly in the sweet shop. Spangles, mars bars.
K. the ice cream was nicer!
Q. But your mother baked quite a lot? She describes a griddle that your father made for her.
M. No, it was grandfather who made it.
K. It was super, I don’t know what happened to it, it was lovely. A big round griddle. It had the jets on arms coming out from underneath.
M. It would have been 6 gas jets underneath it and it rotated. A handle on either side. It was about 2 foot across.
Q. A serious bit of equipment!
K. My grandfather was a blacksmith so he was able to make it.
M. So it went up on the table and then a hose got plugged into it and one of the gas rings got removed and the hose got plugged in its place. Turn the gas on and light them all the way around.
K. Health & safety where are you?
Q. You were lucky the house was still standing!
M. In fairness it was a metallised (metal) tube made for the job.
Q. Did Honor always live here after they came to Dublin?
K. No. She started off in Palmerston park in a flat and then they rented a house in Temple villas on Palmerston Road until 1981.
M. They were living in Palmerston Park when Robert was born but I was born in Temple Villas. So it was two or three years. Robert was in 1950 so it was probably 1950 or 1951 when they moved in.
K. She had a very low rent in the house in Temple Villas, tied rents. It was the very last house the landlady owned so Mum bought the house and sold it very quickly at enough of a profit to buy here (Effra Road). She was very lucky.
Q. So she must have been quite shrewd?
M. The landlady came to her and I think she was paying about seven pounds a week rent and that was fixed. She bought the house for 22 thousand pounds and sold it for 84 thousand pounds.
K. And bought here for 46 thousand. She put on the conservatory at the back.
M. And her own bank, the Ulster Bank, would not give her the bridging finance. They said “how will we know that you will move out of the house and sell it”. But she went to Bank of Ireland and they went “yes, that’s a good deal we will do that with you” and away they went.
Q. so would you describe her as a bright, intelligent….?
K. Oh very, super intelligent. She was very interested in politics, everything that was going on in the world.
M. And understood very clearly the nuances of politics and people. She was good at reading people.
Q. So she was what would be known nowadays as a people person?
K. Yes, but I think she was quite shy. She had to run press launches and do press releases and everything. She wouldn’t ever say it but I could feel that she was probably a bit nervous as to who would turn up.
Q. Quite daunting I would think.
K. Very daunting, especially in the world of the PR company she took over because it was all mining, oil and gas and things like that.
M. You have to remember that she was thrown into a situation where because we were Protestant…- quote unquote – there was no widow’s pension, there was no free education. She had to just fend for herself. So she simply had to take over his business. She had no choice nor experience either.
Q. she was very courageous I think.
M. I think it was probably true to say that Sam Edgar Public Relations was the first pure PR company.
K. It was the first PR company.
M. It was the first PR company. A couple of the advertising agencies had PR within them but this was the first.
Q. Had she been involved in the company prior to that?
K. No, it was just Dad would talk about things and he had two secretaries who probably helped her a lot as well. They were great.
Q. it is still remarkable though when you think about it at the time in particular.
K. And we just accepted it. That was what was happening. Whereas now looking back we would be full of admiration for what she did. We just cannot believe how she coped, how she managed.
Q. So where do you think her food writing came from?
K. Growing up I think in the house, plucking chickens and preparing the food for all the people coming in, because it was a big household.
M. She was a domestic science teacher but I don’t know how she stared writing for the Belfast Newsletter.
K. She trained but I don’t know if she ever was a teacher. She always wanted to be a journalist and was not allowed so she was sent to Agricultural College.
K. She was in the Naiffi (Navy, Army, Air Force Institutes). She worked in the kitchens in Northern Ireland and England, including a Gibraltarian camp.
Q. So when you say she was not allowed, it was her parents who did not allow it?
K. Her father would not allow her. It was not an occupation for a lady and that’s why she went to agricultural college and then she still had the journalism interest obviously. So she must have applied, I presume, to the Belfast Newsletter.
Q. Because I noted she kept writing even when she was working full time and raising seven children.
K. Absolutely. She kept writing
Q. Any ordinary woman would have said the seven kids are enough or the full time job is enough!
K. I think that kept the interest in food. I think she really loved that.
Q. And did she enjoy, say Christmas, where you would cook and have lots of people in?
M. & K. Oh yes.
M. Yes, it really was the highlight of the year.
K Yes, it was great
Q. And were there favourite recipes, traditional recipes?
K. She always did a Christmas pudding and a Christmas cake and always turkey and spiced beef. She loved the spice beef. That went on for weeks. I still have the saltpetre in the cupboard. I don’t know what to do with it.
Q. So for Christmas would it have been a question of you all being involved in the prep and your mother did the actual real cooking or as you got older did you all help out? I suppose what I am trying to find out was she territorial about her kitchen?
K. & M. Very territorial.
M. I don’t recall cooking for her very often. There was a period when the girls were married, raising their kids, gone off around the world doing what they were doing and there was just herself and myself in the house. It was the beginning of my radio career so in fairness I was probably more concerned about what was going on in my life. I was trying to be a radio star. I had come back from Norway where I had been working as a disc jockey for 6 months, for a month at Christmas. Then got on radio and then came back apparently wheeling my ego in a wheelbarrow in front of me according to one of my colleagues. In all that period I used to really enjoy going shopping with her on a Saturday. We would go to Superquinn together. She would not have been a straight into the supermarket person and grab what you need and straight back out again. She would have been a browser in the supermarket and that’s the way I am whether I got it from her or I don’t know. We used to enjoy shopping together. What I don’t recall is cooking for her very often.
K. I know at Christmas she used to go visit a cookery writer, Kay Wharton, on Christmas morning and the instructions were” prepare the vegetables, you are not allowed to touch the turkey.” When we were younger we used to get a turkey sent up from Kerry in the post for Christmas in the box and brown paper.
Q. I remember that, slightly leaking out of the box!
K. And it would hang on the back of one of the doors. That went on for years because I worked near the markets and I saw them selling turkeys from the back of vans one year and she said “Oh my goodness we will get a bronze turkey again.” So we used to go down before Christmas and get the turkey, feet on…New York dressed, guts in and everything?
M. And it would hang on the back of the door for a week.
K. Before she would go out to Kay Wharton she would pull the sinews and you would get into terrible trouble if you snapped a sinew, it would have ruined the leg. We were allowed to do that but we were not allowed to put the turkey in the oven until she came back.
Which meant that Christmas dinner was quite late in the day. It was always a big turkey. We would have the vegetables all ready. I suggested one year getting the vegetables ready the night before and she was horrified. Not allowed to do that!
Q. Do you remember her ever getting something disastrously wrong?
K. Boiled eggs. She used to do a boiled egg when she was on one of her many diets and somebody would ring her on the phone and she would forget all about it. The saucepan would be gone and there would be cursing and firing the boiled egg around. Boiled to bits and no water left in it!
M. I seem to remember her saying that it doesn’t matter if it does not come out right, you will get it right next time. She did experiment a lot. There were things I remember that didn’t work.
K. There were some kind of apple cake. I cannot remember exactly what it was, some kind of apple pudding she made and it was absolutely awful. She went off to the phone. We had an outside toilet in Temple Villas and we all put it down the toilet. The last person forgot to flush the toilet. She was delighted that all plates were empty, “that was fine, Mum” and then she went out and realized.
Q. So would she experiment with new ingredients and things like that, in later life I presume?
K. She did yes. She used to love going down to a Chinese shop in Bride Street, I think that’s what it is called, going into town anyway. It was a big supermarket and it was all Chinese people in it and they didn’t speak English. She would be picking things up, wondering what to do with it. Going back and looking it up in the dictionary and whatever. But she was great for that, she loved trying new foods
Q. I think that is the sign of a really good cook.
K. And she used to love the trips abroad. She went to Seville and to Jerez. She loved it. The horses and the sherry!
M. Courtesy of the Sherry producers.
K. She was in Scandinavia as well. I can’t remember what that was for.
Q. And that was all connected with work?
K. She went to Norwich. She loved the trips abroad. They were great. She brought back things and she was often sent things to try out.
M. Oh, the stuff that used to arrive in the door. It was amazing!
K. Yes, Christmas hampers and stuff.
M. Every cookbook that was ever produced in Ireland. There was always a copy given to her as you are well aware now. (Honor Moore’s collection was donated to the library of DIT, Cathal Brugha Street, Dublin)
Q. Yes, an amazing collection of cookbooks.
K. She used to love judging the competitions, particularly, the Uncle Ben’s rice competitions.
Q. Tell me about that?
K. They would come in in boxes, the competitions. First of all, she had to go through them all to see if they had rice in them or not. If it has spaghetti, out it goes. But she could look at a recipe and know whether it would work or not. She would just read down through it and say that is not going to work or that is going to work. And my daughter has actually got that from her. It skipped me. I can’t, I have to follow a recipe but my daughter can do that. She will look at a recipe and say if it will work or not which is great.
Mum was always better letting my children cook than at letting us cook. Sometimes you would have to wait until she was gone out and we would get out the cookery things. Other times she would come in and say you are doing that wrong or you are doing that right. She enjoyed seeing the grandchildren cooking, learning and doing things. Everything was always in the kitchen if you wanted to cook something, you did not have to go to the shops, it was always in the cupboards. Anyway, she would tell you what to put in instead if we did not have something.
Q You said earlier on that she was quite shy so the TV appearances must have been a bit alarming for her?
K. Yes, they were daunting but she just had to do it. She loved the Late, Late Show where the other chefs were doing these wonderfully exotic foods and she came along with her mince and muscled in. Gay (Byrne) was looking at her. She just loved it. I helped with the prep for that so I was standing in the background and that was good fun.
M. Nouvelle cuisine, small portions tastefully arranged on a plate. …. Ladies, this is something you can use at home, a pound of mince!
Q. Practical for most people.
M. I have an incident from years ago. Now I had a franchise for a company called the Book People. You have maybe seen them in the workplace. They come in with a stack of hardback books, leave them there for a week. I had to call to a hospital in Valencia Island, the community hospital and I had Darina Allen’s cookbook.
It was sixty something in the shops and we had it for eighteen euro, or something, it was flying off. The matron walked in and she said “Oh I don’t know about Darina to be honest. I like Honor Moore.” I said “Oh really”. “Yes” she said “she is just straightforward, down to earth, food that you can cook yourself. Not fancy, no ingredients you can’t get in the local supermarket. It is all available.” I said I will tell her next time I see her that she has a fan down here. “Oh you know her?! I said” you are talking about my mother.”
K. And she enjoyed the series she did with Tom Doorley. That was very good, she pushed him out of the way at one stage!
M. But you can see her shyness there. She is not talking to the camera as much; she is not projecting herself. I am surprised that the seven of us did not take that from her. But I think all seven of us are capable of standing up for ourselves, maybe not in a physical way. There was no sport played really. There was no music played. There was not a musical instrument in the house.
Q. And did your mother like music?
K. She did because she had lots of gramophone records.
M. I remember before television, gawd, that makes me old! We had a black and white telly before anyone else in my class had one because, of course, Dad was able to get the news. Being a journalist that was important to him. But we would sit in the front room and I remember Mum and Dad siting either side of the fire with a book. There were bookcases all around the living room. And we would be lying on the floor with a book and Radio Luxembourg would be in the background. And I don’t know if that is what gave me my love of music or whether that was just a generational thing. Born at a time when there was a new band called the Beatles and as for this fellah Jimmy Hendrix. What he could do with a guitar nobody had ever done before!
K. But she liked music, she used to sing a bit. Had not got a note in her head. She said she used to put the whole choir off so she could not sing but she did like music. She enjoyed listening to it. She also enjoyed listening to the radio as well. She didn’t t ever play an instrument.
Q. So to come to the Food Writers Guild. Have you any understanding as to why that was formed or why she was so heavily involved in it? She started it off with Theodora Fitzgibbon?
K. that’s right. I think they just wanted to get together and discuss food and promote themselves as a group and promote food, good food in Ireland.
Q. Because that has had a huge knock on effect. Food writing in Ireland is enormous now and going through the generations. She really would have been the person who started all of that.
K. Yes and Myrtle Allen was involved as well. She was very fond of Myrtle.
Q. Were they actually friends?
K. No I think when they met they just knew they would be good together.
Q. I would say they were possibly similar. So would she (Honor) have been involved in mentoring people?
K. She mentored some people. I know when Phil O’Kelly came on, she wrote for the Cork Examiner, and she always said that Mum really welcomed her. Phil said she arrived, she had been creosoting a fence the day before and she know she stank of creosote, she could not get it off her hands. She said Mum just brought her into the guild, introduced her and was really, really super with her. She is lovely. And Biddy White Lennon she brought in as well. I don’t think Biddy would have got on as well because any time Biddy had a problem, or anyone else, they rang up Mum and Mum would have the answer to everything. She knew recipes off by heart. She was really the go to person for all the cookery writers. She certainly would have been the most knowledgeable I think. Anyone coming along would try and latch onto Mum because they know she was a good one to go with.
Q. She obviously was not mean about sharing her experiences.
K. No, she was so generous with her time and cookery books she would lend to people.
Q. and probably not get them back!
K. Sometimes she didn’t but she was very good like that.
Q. I think that is obvious from the tributes that were paid to her after she died and the respect and affection within which she was held.
K. Another thing she loved doing was the Lisdoonvarna barbeque championships every year.
Q. Ok, you gotta tell me about that!
K. I don’t know how she got into it. They are held at the beginning of the matchmaking festival and she would go down with a couple of other judges. She was asked to judge and everyone would come. There were Americans who used to come as well. They were cooking in the field and she just said it was a great weekend. They would go off then around the Burren for a skite and there would be dancing and singing, music all night. She just loved it. She really looked forward to that every year. It was great.
Q. So food writing was good to her really?
K. it was super, it was great. It gave her a great interest and a great hobby.
Q. that lasted all her life.
K. Absolutely, all her life, right up to the end. She even put on the conservatory in the kitchen. When she moved in the house was like that (shows photo). Orange wallpaper, it had one plug in it. This was a little room, that was not there so she had the conservatory put on so she could set up the cameras for the photographer coming in. It was great and I think that was why she bought the house and she loved it even though it was totally rams hackled. A twin tub washing machine. She would not get a front loading automatic until eventually she had to.
M. I think it was a question that it had to fit in.
K. But she loved it. She loved a challenge and she did not care whether there was central heating or not in the house. She had it put in here but we did not have it in Temple Villas. “Put on another jumper” she would say.
Q. A practical, down to earth woman!
Thank you both very much. I think we have covered everything unless there is something else you would like to add?
K and M. No, that’s fine
M. The one thing that was not mentioned. I came out of the whole experience with her learning that you did not have to go out to buy expensive ingredients. You could go to the cupboard or the fridge and see what was there and create a meal out of that. That has stood to me. It was the lessons I learnt from her, just knowing what she had done with a cheap cut of meat.
Q. And do you all have a big interest in food?
M. & K. Yes, we do. I think we all do. Look at the size of me (M)! It is lovely to have that.
Q. It is a marvellous thing that she gave you.
M. And speaking for my kids they have the same. I have a son who is working as a porter in a restaurant in Kenmare and loves it and just wants a career in cookery.
Q. So the tradition carries on then.
Thank you both.
Addendum by Kate
After you left I, of course, thought of lots more memories of Mum! She had half of the garden as a vegetable plot and loved growing different veg there – early potatoes, peas (mange-tout usually, unless they grew too big and were still eaten), runner beans, courgettes and marrows, raspberries and strawberries, gooseberries and rhubarb. She also grew tomatoes in the window of our sitting room to the amusement of passers-by. All were very successful. She tried sweet corn but it never ripened enough. Blueberries were a success for one year only and never gave much fruit – I think the birds might have got to them sooner.
She also went every Saturday to the vegetable market for a long number of years. She started going to the wholesale market and late on to a large outdoor shop on Smithfield, probably run by one of the wholesalers. She bought boxes of tomatoes for chutney which she made regularly as well as enough veg for us for the week. She made her own jam and marmalade too. I was able to get the Seville oranges in the market up to shortly before she died.
After the market visit, we went on to a butcher (Martin & Joyce, who supplied the nearby army barracks) on Benburb Street where she got cheap cuts of meat for us and sheep’s heads for the dogs which she cooked in a pressure cooker. The smell was awful while they cooked and I always vacated the house while they cooked. And my kids were not very impressed to be watched by the sheep’s eyes on the journey home!
Also, anytime any of us went on holidays or returned home (to Dublin) we always brought different foodstuffs for her to try out. Jackie brought foods like kangaroo and alligator from London and packages of seeds to grow in the garden.