Food really is the ultimate “connector”. It has cultural significance (who indulged in bacon and cabbage last 17 March?), but also has the power to bring different cultures together.

In Ireland, our traditions and history are something to be proud of. But moving forward as a society also means we need to be open to change and diversity. Food is a great way to help with this transition and in Kilkenny, a new Global Kitchen series is acting as a bridge to help create those connections and bring the international community into the fold of the wider city. 

Warm welcome

Kilkenny LEADER Partnership (KLP), in collaboration with Kilkenny’s Home Rule Club, is planning to begin their series of Global Kitchen events on 1 April. Kilkenny LEADER Partnership director Martin Rafter and colleague Sharon O’Gorman have been working with Kilkenny’s international community to organise these events and they feel it has great potential to bridge cultural gaps in the city.

“We have an Irish-themed café on 1 April to showcase our most traditional dishes to communities from across the globe who have made Kilkenny their new home,” Martin says.

“We’re also looking forward to a Lebanese Café on 22 April; a Malaysian Café on 20 May; a Polish Café for the Polska Éire Festival in June, a Bangladeshi Café in August and a Café for Romanian National Day in November.

“All of these events provide a meeting place for new arrivals and longer-established members of our communities,” he adds. “Food is an integral part of all cultures and provides an ideal platform to exchange ideas and gain increased understanding of each other.” 

Years in the making

This Global Kitchen series has been several years in the making. KLP organised a similar series of events – where food producers from international communities gave talks about their culture and approach to food – at the Savour Kilkenny festival in 2017 and 2018. This past year at Savour Kilkenny, the Borscht Café was launched.

This acted as a precursor to the current Global Kitchen series. The Borscht Café was created to welcome Ukrainian refugees to Kilkenny, where many have settled since the outbreak of the war.

“These connections need to be strengthened,” Martin says.

“Sharon and her team ensured the quality of the food was very simple, but very good quality. At the end of the Borscht Café event, everyone sat down together and had their borscht.”

Sharon adds: “The first one was really well supported. We had three Ukrainian chefs and had Ukrainians working on the floor and over 80 people came in. It was a good mix of Irish and Ukrainian attendees.” 

“There was definitely a particular atmosphere on these occasions,” Martin tells Irish Country Living. “It was an atmosphere of appreciation. Sharon and the gang created it as part of the overall Ukrainian response, but it has grown. I think, in a post-COVID world, we have an appreciation for things that are just a bit more simple and honest.”

Liliia Svyrydenko from Ukraine came to Ireland last summer and was involved in the first Borscht Cafés. “It was a great way to help us get to know people in Kilkenny and for us to show our food and our culture,” she says. 

Traditional Irish

The 1 April Irish café will feature traditional lamb stew served with classic vegetable sides and will finish with bread and butter pudding. Tickets are €12 (available for purchase on and this event, as well as the others, will take place at the Home Rule Club.

Kilkenny’s Home Rule Club is the only remaining such club in the country. Their original goals, when they opened in the late 1800s, were to develop Ireland as an independent state, and over the years their mandate has changed with the times.

In the 1980s they started taking on women members and now, they see an integral role in being a welcoming space for all people of all backgrounds.

“The Home Rule Club has a really nice building right on the River Nore,” Martin says. “It’s a really big part of Kilkenny and it’s a bit of a cultural hub. They’re at a particular point where they’re looking at their future in the city and our Global Kitchen events are in line with their own goals.” CL

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