05 Jul 2022

A DAY IN THE LIFE - Etaoin Holahan, Fennelly’s Callan

Kilkenny People

Etaoin Holahan and the Fennelly's team in Callan

Etaoin Holahan runs Fennelly’s of Callan - a cultural coffeehouse in the centre of Callan town. She has a background in architecture and art, as well as a Masters in IADT focusing on regeneration small town centres through the arts and kindness. She has also put boundless time and energy into making Callan the cultural hub it is today.

She has been integrally involved in the Bridge Street Project and The Big Chapel X. She hosted a podcast about The Big Chapel, where she interviewed artists, writers, historians and theatre makers on their thoughts about the book by Callan’s legendary playwright and novelist Thomas Kilroy.

Until the Covid-19 pandemic, Etaoin had a thriving coffeehouse in the unique setting of Fennelly’s - a former pub and undertakers business - in Bridge Street. Fennelly’s has been held up as an example of how to successfully retrofit a traditional building for contemporary needs.

Fennelly’s was also making a name for itself on the contemporary Irish music scene with great acts making appearances by the fireplace. Seasonal feasts with Chef Eadaoin Walsh have also been on the menu at Fennelly’s, as well as outdoor clay oven pizza nights, film screenings, children and adult’s storytelling, old fashioned game nights and plant swaps.
Needless to say Etaoin is one creative woman. She is also passionate about food and NeighbourFood, which is an online shopping platform that is growing from strength to strength during the current lockdown.

Etaoin, what is NeighbourFood?

We in Fennelly’s run the Callan NeighbourFood and it is an online market which is tailored to each region to connect small local producers to customers in their area. We had been in the process of setting it up before the lockdown.

It was set up to support producers and customers to have easy access great local food. We are so delighted to offer this service to our community in these strange times, I heard someone say it was always a good idea and now it’s a great idea. We hope to continue this market on into the future and are sure it will only go from strength to strength.

With us you order online from Monday to Wednesday and collect on Fridays. We stagger the collection times so there is no bottle neck and it runs safely and smoothly.

You guys seem to be making grocery shopping a little more pleasurable for customers at the moment.

We feel very connected to our community and see it as being much more than a collection depot. We want to provide a calm, pleasant and safe environment for people to collect their goodies.

We have set up the collection system in the flower courtyard of Fennelly’s with ensured social distancing in place. With the utmost care, we pack up your order ready for you so when you arrive you come in to the courtyard as far as our table and we bring the crate to you and step back while you pack it into your bags.

There is time for a little social distance chat and there’s always music playing in the background. We usually have something on our table to give away or swap or sample, be it reusable cloth masks or seedlings! It’s a super safe option to get lovely local food!

What Kilkenny producers do you use?

We are delighted to have Highbank Orchards, Riversfield Farm, Goatsbridge Trout, Kyle Farm Eggs, Breagagh Valley Meats, Living and Growing Plants to name a few. There are more in the pipeline and we are open to accepting more local producers who can get in touch with us at

Your award-winning coffeehouse is currently closed, so what else have you being doing with your extra time?

I’ve been doing a lot of gardening! We designed and planted a new garden in a very overgrown section at the back of my mother’s garden. I’ve grown lots of plants from seed because we couldn’t get any plants.

We have planted out lots of annual and perennial pollinators as well as hedgerow enhancing bushes like white thorn, crab-apple, elder and spindle. Sweet pea, herbs and veggies too, it’s going to be an exciting summer and autumn! I’ve been making cordials and pickles too and looking forward to all the seasonal gifts on the way!

What old practises are you hoping we don’t revert to after Covid-19?

I think we have all had a hard reset, we have discovered surprising longings within us now that our choices have been curtailed and also noticed inspiring and sustaining stalwarts that had long been overlooked and neglected by our hectic pace.
We must look to creating space in our lives going forward to support the aspects we have missed and also recognising the gifts this time has given some of us - more time with our families, more time in nature, more time in our communities.

We must support local circular economies with ethical treatment of land and animals at their core. We must support creative and artistic practitioners in our communities to ensure our minds, hearts and bodies are taking care of. Working with nature, making and baking has enjoyed a massive resurgence and that is no accident. When times are tough these are the things we fall back on.

You are a strong believer that now is the time for change. What should we do?

I think the world and Ireland must take the biodiversity and climate change challenge seriously. We have an opportunity to reap the benefits of a truly stable system that we can pass on to the next generation. Together we can do it, hard work does not have to be stressful work. The economic benefits of including nature and gardening in our hospitals and prisons is explained in a book I’m reading called ‘the well gardened mind’ by Sue Stuart-Smith (highly recommend).

I’ve heard you say before that ‘purism is not our friend’. What do you mean?

I suppose I just mean that there are a lot of different advocates for the “right” way to do things.

I think that life is a learning and growing journey. Puritanism within any aspect of life is essentially exclusionary and punishes mistakes instead of nurturing learning. We have all been woken up to different degrees about the importance of community our environment, our songbirds, wildlife, our soil, our rivers, coastline. How our food is grown and harvested, born, lives and dies.

We see industrialised farming practices being encouraged by our government as it decimated our insect populations that make growing possible and depletes our soil health ensuring the need for expensive fertilisers.

We see animals being funnelled into huge abattoirs for fear filled bad deaths. Meat factory workers’ health being sacrificed for our need for cheap meat. Ancient hedgerows being cut out to qualify for more government subsidies!

Our farmers are our friends, we cannot have them caught between this rock and hard place any longer. We cannot have an entire reversal of ingrained practices overnight and blaming or villainising people who are not being supported in changing their habits is pointless.

Our taking responsibility as a people for how we live must be just, patient and inclusive. There is a lot that can be learnt from the past that we can adapt to our present and future using technology and regenerative practices. There are many examples of good practice to draw from such as Talamh Beo, Korean Natural Farming and Regenerative Farming Ireland.

How do you hope Callan will continue as a creative hub after the restrictions are lifted?

Callan is a wonderful town with wonderful people, it will adapt and respond to this crisis. Our creative community is already responding and planning future works.

So much of the work we have done revolves around getting people together to create new bonds and to cross pollinate different approaches and ways of being, share ideas and create and work together.

We will come together again and dance and sing and tell stories with laughter.

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