Irish Examiner: Welcome to my world

Imen McDonnellMusic obsessives, election watchers, fashionistas and foodies – meet Ireland’s bloggers by Caroline Hennessy. As published in the Irish Examiner on Saturday 22 January.

My name is Caroline and I am a blogger. Most particularly, I am a food blogger, addicted to taking photos of my meals and writing about the things I bake, cook and eat. Not so long ago this was seen as rather strange behaviour. Now I take out the camera at dinner and people nod wisely, saying “Ah…another one!” And I’m not alone: there are many hundreds of Irish bloggers out there, all busily having their say.

From being something of a quirky activity a few years ago, blogging is now firmly in the mainstream. In various shapes and formats, online journals of news, views and ideas have been around since the 1990s but it was only with the development of software like Blogger, which facilitated creating and maintaining sites, that they really started to capture the public imagination. Even so, when I started Bibliocook: All About Food in 2005, it was no easy task. Since then blogging platforms have become far easier to manage and there has been a corresponding leap in the number of people using them.

Blogs vary from short, simple text postings to image, video and audio-rich articles. From political commentators to music obsessives, election watchers, fashionistas and foodies, blogs offer a forum for people to express themselves and, most importantly, to communicate with each other.

In the beginning of my blogging life I was an under-employed journalist living in New Zealand and so excited by the variety of food there that I itched to write about it. Bibliocook gave me the opportunity to engage with producers, explore new specialities and look at food in a whole new light. But the most important thing for me was being able to communicate with people who shared my interest. The few New Zealand food bloggers that existed quickly became online friends and I got the feeling – very exciting for an avid blog reader – that I’d just joined a world wide community who were as passionate about the same thing as I was.

The community of Irish political bloggers have been making waves for some time now but, with election 2011 in the offing, things are about to get even more boisterous. Suzy Byrne’s MamanPoulet.com will undoubtedly be stuck in the thick of it. Always interested in politics (“since I was 12,” she laughs) what started off as an online diary quickly became an energised and animated blog focusing on the worlds of Irish politics, media and equality.

“People should understand why decisions are being made and who makes them,” Byrne says simply, adding that she sees her blog as a way of encouraging participation and transparency.

Group weblog IrishElection.com, which gathers content from a variety of contributors under editor Cian O’Flaherty, works on a similar principle. When O’Flaherty set it up in advance of the 2007 general election, he hoped that the blog would “get voices into the discussions that are otherwise outside it and would help grow the number of perspectives we have in our debate.”

While blogs like these are able to continue and generate political discussions online, they are also likely to bring to public attention what O’Flaherty calls “the stories flying below the radar, the policies that aren’t grabbing the headlines.”

One of the most interesting things about reading blogs is getting a glimpse into someone else’s world. Whether it is the wardrobe of a fashion writer – in suitably breathless text on I Blog Fashion, Annmarie O’Connor writes of her “must, must, must haves” and devotion to a pair of Dries Van Noten shoes – or a peek inside the door of food stylist Sharon Hearne-Smith’s lovingly homemade home at Friendly Cottage, this is real life for, and by, real people.

For I Married An Irish Farmer, Imen McDonnell humorously describes the very real difficulties in transforming from a high-flying US TV producer to a stay-at-home wife and mother on an Irish farm. Shane Culloty’s The Torture Garden, meanwhile, is a personal take on music, with thoughtful, evocative writing that captures the atmosphere of the mp3s featured.

Blogging can also be a way of building a brand. While it might not have started that way, Lorraine Fanneran’s italianfoodies.ie has been an inexpensive way of raising the profile of her business. She and her partner, Bruno Coppola, run La Cucina, a small deli-style Italian café, in Castletroy, Co Limerick. At home with her new baby in February 2007, Fanneran started Italian Foodies as a diary of the food she cooked at home. “I had a lot more time then to cook every week and blog about it,” she laughs. Fanneran’s sparky, opinionated writing and easy-to-cook recipes has grabbed readers, awards and, together with her other forays into social networking, put a spotlight on La Cucina.

For some, it is a springboard into another career. Just six months after Dubliner Donal Skehan started the Good Mood Food blog in 2007, he was in talks with Mercier Press. His first cookbook, the Irish Book Award-winning Good Mood Food, was released in 2009. Since then he has signed a two-book deal with HarperCollins, with the first – Kitchen Hero – due on bookshelves in March. While Good Mood Food is now a part of the DonalSkehan.com website, for Skehan, the blog is still about “that personal touch…people want to see what you are cooking and want to know what they can cook themselves.”

Both Kirstie McDermott and Niall Byrne have web design backgrounds which they used to make their blogs – Beaut.ie and Nialler9.com – look smart but it’s the first class content that sets these sites apart and has translated into real world jobs for their creators.

McDermott and her sister Aisling started Beaut.ie in September 2006 at a time in Ireland when blogging was in its early days and, as she points out “it was the province of tech-heads, mostly men, at the time.” Jammed full of witty and irreverent postings on cosmetics, make-up and beauty products, the site was a hit from the start. While Nialler9.com started out as a portfolio website, it soon became far more than that for Byrne. His eclectic musical tastes and ability as a tipster has won readers, a solid reputation in the industry and the site is a four-time winner of the music category of the Irish Blog Awards. It has also led to directly to Byrne’s music journalism work with State music magazine.

But it doesn’t have to be about getting a book deal, finding a full-time job or making your business stand out. Blogging for many people is just, very simply, a fun way to connect with others. When Kristin Jensen of DinnerduJour.com and I met at a bloggers event, we so enjoyed the chance to turn online acquaintances into real life friends that we were inspired to set up the Irish Food Bloggers Association. We wanted to create a place where Irish food bloggers could get to know each other a little better, see who else is out there and get involved in food events. So far there have been Milk Market Meets, themed monthly cook-alongs, food photography workshops and, most exciting of all, the development of a community.

So what are you waiting for? All you need to start your own blog is a computer with an internet connection and a topic that you are passionate about. See you online!

Caroline

Caroline

Food writer. Broadcaster. Blogger. Author. Married to Eight Degrees Brewing. Member of the Irish Food Writers' Guild, founder of Irish Food Bloggers Association and co-author of Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer & Cider (New Island)

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8 Responses

  1. barbara says:

    Blogging has sure come a long way since those early days Caroline.

  2. Caroline says:

    You actually got into an early version of this article, Barbara! Had to cut the word count down but you still got a mention in the presentation I made when launching the Irish Food Bloggers Association. It might have been a while ago but I still remember the friendliness that you extended to me when I was just starting out. I hope that you’re keeping well.

  3. Great article, I love reading about bloggers I know and ones I haven’t come across yet. Have you come across the cookalong each month organised by Sarah of the Cake in the country blog?

  4. Sarah says:

    Lovely article Caroline, thanks for the cookalongs mention 🙂

  5. Great post! I love the blogging community and although I haven’t met many fellow bloggers, I feel like they are my friends and I truly care about what is going on in their lives. I would like to form a similar organization in my part of the world. I like the idea of having cook-alongs and workshops.

  6. Caroline says:

    @Lorna I certainly have! If you click on any word the the phrase “themed monthly cook-alongs” above you’ll see a few of the things that I’ve cooked for those events.

    @Sarah thanks for the compliment! You know I think that the cookalongs are just brilliant. Looking forward to the next one…

    @Lisa It’s not so difficult to set up but there’s a bit of work involved to keep it going! Where are you based? Are there any bloggers based around you? Maybe you should put a shout-out about meeting up on Twitter and you never know what might happen.

  7. Thanks again for the mention here, so well written and lovely to be in such great company. Also, I love being proud member of the IFBA!! Imen xx

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