Ger worked at Glanbia Plc food company for 33 years including as CEO of Agri-Business and Glanbia Estates. He took early retirement five years ago and says he enjoys all the opportunities that time has given him.
This is his tenth year as Chairperson of Savour Kilkenny – which has now become one of Ireland’s favourite food festivals, and attracts 50,000 people to Kilkenny on the October Bank Holiday weekend (see www.savourkilkenny.com).
Ger is also Chairperson of L’Arche in Kilkenny which assists people with mental and physical disabilities and provides day and living facilities at Callan and Kilmoganny.
He does a bit of volunteer consultancy with Gorta Self Help Africa, and locally sits on the board of Kilkenny Leader Partnership.
He lives near the historic ruins of Kilree, Kells with wife Valerie and they have three sons Joe, Colm and Niall who all work in Dublin. He loves to visit Dublin and especially to see his grandchildren Fiadh and Cian coming to Kilree. He's glad since retiring that Valerie continues her busy activity of quilting and both have many interests including cultural travel when possible.
Ger's main hobby has become mountain climbing and trekking and he has this August completed climbing Mount Elbrus in the Russian Caucusus range, at 5,642 metres the highest mountain in Europe, with his son Niall. This was his third of the 'world's seven continents' highest summits challenge.
He likes most sports; especially hurling having played (in his youth) for Dunnamaggin, rugby, soccer and he competed in a Munster final for Mullinahone boxing club back in school days.
Here is a glimpse into Ger’s world…
Ger, describe your typical day in Chairing Ireland’s most popular food festival- Savour Kilkenny.
The Festival runs over six days with the bustling market opening up on the Saturday to the public. That might be an interesting day to talk about…
Morning –I rise around 6.30am, head to Kilkenny to greet all the stall holders as they arrive, while our Director Marian Flannery and her team get them into place.The logistics of managing over 100 stall holders always throws up challenges including ensuring they all have power, water and stall furniture etc.. Usually during the morning period we have radio interviews and meetings with journalists. I like to welcome all our special guests including international ones, and the demonstration chefs, to Kilkenny. They arrive at different times and someone always needs to be there to meet and greet them, and maybe run for the forgotten onion!
Lunch - I generally grab something on the go from a tasty stall, normally it’s a pulled pork roll, which I love. I may at some stage have an award to present on the parade, for example this year’s main award is The Food Provenance Award for Kilkenny chefs and culinary community. Due to up to 25,000 visitors arriving per day, the parade plaza is always hectic, and I like continually to circuit the market to make sure things are running as smoothly as possible. Of course our many volunteers, as well as Marian Flannery’s (Festival Director) team, and committee members ensure the operation runs efficiently. I like bumping into friends and neighbours during the day and catching up with their news.
Evening – a quick dash home to change for a dinner in one of our many event venues. This year on the Saturday I’m looking forward to the sponsors & VIP guests dinner in the Medieval Mile Museum. We'll meet them for a pre dinner drink (or as you now say 'a prink') in the Hole in the Wall, and we could end up there afterwards for a few songs from you Siobhan!
How has Savour become so successful?
I believe it about the setting, the location and the time of the year. We have set ourselves apart time-wise from the summer festivals. With the magical autumn setting at the castle and of course the great quality food and venues attracts foodies from all over. We try to set a high standard and are very conscious of promoting Kilkenny as a food tourism destination and complementing the overall image by using the castle as our background.
You have been a voluntary Chairperson for the past 10 years, you must love Savour.
My background is in farming and food and I have been fortunate to work for a great Kilkenny food company - Glanbia. I like staying involved and promoting smaller local food businesses.
The market is so big now, why can’t we move into the Castle grounds?
I hope we can continue to work with the OPW and integrate even more successfully in the future!
How does the committee keep reinventing the wheel every year?
Marian Flannery our Festival Director drives most of the innovation each year and we support her in her role. We all keep an eye on trends, however Marian successfully delivers on them.
Has the introduction of the Craft Beer Tent been a success?
You are too young to remember the Beer Festival, I remember my brothers talking about it!! It's brilliant that in teaming up with Seamus O'Hara, who coordinates this craft beer, gin, whiskey marquee, we have brought a bit of Kilkenny heritage back to life. Sure there is many a lad who loves to have this watering hole for a rest as his partner is sampling the best food on the parade!
People might not know but there is actually a small back room team running everything?
Our committee of Marie Langton, Annmarie Hogan, Ian Brennan and myself have an overview, however our aim each year is to break even cash wise.
Marian is tasked with bringing in people with e.g. marketing, logistics, skill sets etc. and runs the event on a tight budget. Her broad business acumen ensures event success. I also want to thank the many sponsors who have helped us grow, and especially Colette Byrne and her team at Kilkenny Co. Council.
Does the body just break down after the 6 days?
There’s a small break for us before we start planning a few weeks later for the next year. Straight after the festival we are adamant about the clearing up of the parade plaza. We want to return Kilkenny to its norm the first business day after the bank holiday.
When it’s not Savour what do you do for the rest year?
I like to stay active and have interest in many things, however a great part of being free from a job role is the ability for example to sit down and read sometimes, which I never did most of my life. I am currently getting through a number of books on Irish Independence including local history.
I would love to relearn Gaeilge which is a beautiful lyrical language, and spend time in a Gaeltacht.
How do you stay fit for the mountains?
We're lucky to be within 35 minutes of Slievenamon which is good training ground, and I was able to do it more than 70 times (twice at a time) this spring for Russia.
Tell me about the Camino walk?
It's great craic, I've done parts of different routes with not really religious friends over past 5-6 years. The Spanish coastal route including Bilbao, San Sebastian and Santander with some swimming, fish and wine was the best.
Is there anything left on the bucket list?
I want to do the highest in Australia on the seven summits list - it's the easiest one.
Would love to see India and New Zealand.
Is there anything no one knows about you?
As I never told my mother - I can't really tell you!
Your most memorable meal?
Duck and blackberry sauce, many years ago.
These days the Rioja may dim the memory a bit.
Who has inspired you most?
I'd have to say my grandfather Patrick O'Dwyer whom I never met. He went to Australia as a youth after the family were evicted at Stonecarthy. He returned and reclaimed our farm, however he passed away at 34 years. As caretaker I want to ensure future generations hold onto his farm.
You did a little course on Philosophy in Butler House who is your favourite philosopher?
Yes, we had a nice easy group from around Kilkenny doing it for a few years in the evenings, with some good laughs. Socrates who said " An unexamined life is not worth living"
How do you unwind?
I enjoy a few pints with friends in Kells and maybe a sing song thrown in. Food with family in any of Kilkenny's restaurants and bars.
Is there anything you are afraid of?
I wasn't good on heights for many years. It's gas, now that I'm older I walk near ledges at various heights and am relaxed doing it.
Savour Kilkenny takes place from 22 – 28 October; tickets for all events are selling fast, with some events already sold out, so early booking is advised via savourkilkenny.com
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