Working your way inland from the Irish Sea down a small, winding road outside of Dungarvan, Co Waterford leads to the farm and home of Ethna Sheehan. Greeted by an elaborate garden – resplendent regardless of the time of year – followed by a bright entryway and a warm welcome, we have heard Ethna is famous for her hospitality – and these rumours are confirmed almost immediately.

“I grew up in Bandon, Co Cork – a small market town and a lovely part of the world,” she says. “My mother was from Lismore [Co Waterford], so she was delighted when I came to live back here. My father was born in New Zealand, but he came home when he was about 13, to Monaghan. His parents came back with their family, which was very unusual. They came back in a sailing boat and it took them three months.

“My father went into the regular army. When they were looking for officers for the Gardai, he joined them as an inspector and stayed with them, then, as a superintendent. He was stationed in Waterford when he met my mother. After they married, he was transferred to Bandon where they spent the rest of their lives.”

Ethna has the table laid for tea as soon as we arrive. \ Claire Nash

Subtle art

As we chat, we’re eating orange and currant cake. There is light music playing in the background. This home is not just beautifully put together – it is immensely comfortable. Hospitality is a subtle art, and – in addition to having trained in home economics in the 1960s – the skill just comes naturally to Ethna. She also passed this on her children; particularly, her daughter - well known caterer and owner of And Chips in Dungarvan, Eunice Power.

Ethna with her daughter Eunice Power. \ Claire Nash

“My mother was a very nice housekeeper and hostess,” she says. “She had great interest in food. College for me was residential; I studied in Dublin at Sion Hill, in Blackrock. I was very lucky, we had a wonderful cookery teacher who really inspired us and I made some great friends. I graduated in 1965.”

Ethna tells Irish Country Living that back then, it was a completely different Ireland. During college, she had to stay in residence and would require permission to go out. She also used to spend time in the Gealtacht region of An Rinn – just down the road from where she lives now – to brush up on her Irish, where she enjoyed freedom and fun of just being young.

“I never thought I would end up living in this part of the world,” she muses. “I’ve been here about 56 years, now. I missed Cork a little bit at first – I had no family here – but I got used to it and my husband’s family were very good to me. I was very fortunate to have my McGrath cousins in Lismore, who kept an eye on me!”

One of Ethna's most treasured posssessions is her mother's handwritten cookery book \ Claire Nash

Additionally, with her mother being a Waterford native, Ethna says it was all “one way traffic” as far as family visits were concerned.

“My mother loved this part of the country so much. Her heart was in Lismore, always. She gravitated back.”

Treasured object

It’s very clear that one of Ethna’s most treasured objects is her mother’s cookery book, where she stored newspaper clippings and favourite recipes from over the years. It is a nifty piece of history – but to Ethna, it is a piece of her beloved mother.

“I got [the book] rebound in Cork, because it was falling apart,” she says. “My mother had beautiful handwriting. She had this brilliant recipe for a homemade polish – there’s everything there. Food, remedies, advice…”

Ethna's background in hospitality means she is skilled in gastronomy \ Claire Nash


Ethna spent much of her childhood in the kitchen, watching and learning. She has many fond memories around food, eating and cooking from this time in her life.

“When my mother would make tarts, I would make ‘snails’ out of the bits of pastry and roll them up and we’d bake them,” she recalls. “We had a lovely neighbour, Merci Dineen, whom I used to help – we had a gap in the hedge and I’d go into her. She kept house for her parents and she’d allow me to help in the kitchen – she was very patient. I was allowed to lick the bowl when she’d make a cake.

“I also had a lovely neighbour, Mrs Riordan – she used to fry up potatoes with onion for when her children came in from school as a kind of treat. There was very little money in those times; these were the things we relished.

“I can still smell bacon and cabbage in a neighbour’s kitchen. The gorgeous, rich - kind of simple, but enticing - smell. One of the things I never liked was the smell of fish; though I love fish,” she adds, laughing.

She is laughing because fish is on the menu today. Growing up in Co Cork, she says the fish was delivered to their door – and sometimes the seller tried to leave them fish which wasn’t at its most fresh.

“When that happened, all my mother could do was go out into the yard and bury the fish,” she recalls vividly.

Still, growing up next to the sea and then moving to Dungarvan, Ethna remains a seafood lover to this day and her mother’s fish pie, in particular, is something she still loves to make. To Ethna, providing that cosy, hospitable feel is just another way of showing you care.

Just as Ethna’s mother and neighbours would lovingly cook for her, Ethna now cooks for her daughters, grandchildren and visitors like Irish Country Living. The farm is as busy as it always was, after all, and there are always a few mouths to feed.

Grannys Fish Pie

Ethna has fond memories of the food and friendships she enjoyed as a child in Cork \ Claire Nash

Serves four, generously

340g fresh haddock,

skinned and cut into pieces.

340g smoked haddock,

skinned, and cut into pieces.

Rind of one lemon

1 medium sized leek, washed, trimmed and sliced.

1 small onion, peeled and studded

with 4 cloves

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 bay leaf

570ml milk

60g flour

90g butter (60g for roux,

30g for greasing pie dish)

For the mashed potato:

60g butter

900g potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

60ml milk and 60ml cream, mixed

For the topping:

2 tbsp grated cheddar cheese

2 tbsp white breadcrumbs

1 Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 6.

2 Steam the potatoes until cooked. Heat the milk, cream, and butter in a saucepan. Mash the potatoes until creamy.

3 Put the 570ml of milk in a saucepan with the studded onion and bay leaf. Infuse on a low heat for 15 minutes, then strain off the flavoured milk into a jug.

4 Melt 60g of butter in a saucepan and gently sauté the leek until transparent, but not coloured. Stir in the flour and cook the roux for one minute, then gradually whisk in the warm flavoured milk to make a smooth sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

5 Grease a large pie dish with the remaining 30g of butter.

6 Mix the fish and lemon rind into the sauce. Pour into the pie dish. Spread the mashed potato on top and sprinkle with the grated cheese and breadcrumbs.

7 Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, until golden and bubbling.

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