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Richard Corrigan tweets offer of home for Heritage Irish Potato Collection

A ripple of excitement around L’Ecrivains lovely dining room and a spontaneous round of applause marked an unscripted high at the recent Irish Food Writers’ Guild Awards:

Richard Corrigan & Georgina Campbell

RIchard Corrigan & Georgina Campbell

MC, Ross Golden Bannon, had just interrupted proceedings to read a tweet from Richard Corrigan, offering a permanent home for the Heritage Irish Potato Collection at his recently acquired Co Cavan property, formerly Park Hotel Virginia. Now that is social media at its best.

How easy it all seemed now. Right person, right place, right time – and connected.

The Collection of over over two hundred varieties, including the Irish Apple (dating from 1768) and the Lumper (forever associated with Irish Potato Famines), was started by David Langford in the 1970s. In 2006, he teamed up with Dermot Carey, an experienced organic vegetable grower who was then gardener at Lissadell House in Co. Sligo – and since its closure in 2009, Dermot has cared for the collection in several locations.

The aim of the award was to highlight their plight – and wow, did it ever. Dermot Carey should be especially delighted with this happy outcome, as he is currently working with Richard Corrigan on his farm and walled gardens at the 150 acre Virginia estate that will soon provide fresh produce for the three Corrigan restaurants (Bentley’s in Piccadilly, Corrigan’s Mayfair, and the new Bentley’s Sea Grill at Harrods) as well as several other top London kitchens.

Like many people – including Richard Corrigan himself, who married his wife Maria there over twenty years ago – our family has happy memories of feeding the ducks (and many a good meal) at the lovely lakeside property, and old photo albums tell the tales. Beautifully situated overlooking Lough Ramor and set in an immaculately maintained golf course, gardens and woodland, it was built in 1610 as a hunting lodge for the Marquis of Headfort and has been run as a small hotel for many years. Now renamed Virginia Park Lodge, it’s a warm and gracious place, with an intimate atmosphere, and the setting is magic.

Having reason to pass that way recently, our curiosity got the better of us and we inveigled Richard into giving us a quick preview. I’m so glad we did. What a powerhouse of vision and energy that man is, and how satisfying to see that this wonderful place has fallen into the right hands. And, with scores of local craftsmen working feverishly to restore (and improve) the property, everyone in the area must be thrilled skinny too. There’s a new entrance under construction, that will bring guests (private parties only, for the time being at least) around under an arch at the back – a terrific idea, especially as the fine old stone courtyard (soon to house the group head office, among other things) was never seen by hotel guests in recent years.

Inside it’s a typical building site, with piles of rubble and walls coming down here and going up there. But not for long. Casually, Richard lets drop into the conversation that he has 100 Canadian guests coming for a family gathering at Easter. Hmmm, interesting. Apparently he met one of them by chance when they were considering taking their business elswhere, on  a neighbouring island. Never one to miss an opportunity, our man in Cavan persuaded them that he had just the place for them – and he has too.

Some of the rooms needed little more than deep cleaning, which was a good start, and
Richard has taken the massively time-saving (not to mention cost-saving) decision to be his own interior designer – and it works. He obviously has an instinctive knack for it. Showing us one of the smaller reception rooms where he’d picked a traditional deep green for the walls, Richard peeled back a bit of paper above the fireplace to reveal what a workman had later found – the original colour, buried under layers of re-decoration, was…deep green. Pared-back simple as the décor in the newly decorated bedrooms is (plus a bit of quirky humour here and there), even the most ordinary rooms seem spacious and modern in their fresh livery of soft grey-blue and – while I never thought to hear Richard Corrigan enthusing about thread counts – the quality of what’s going onto the beds is impressive.

Outside again, Farmer Corrigan is running out of time for idle chat but he can’t help enthusing about the four massive polytunnels that are going into production shortly – and, with  a gleam in is eye, he tells us about the first tee of the golf course, that’s spoiling he view from the front of the house. It will have to be moved.

Good on ya, Corrigan. You’re doing us all proud.

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