Guest ‘Food for Thought’ writer Kieran Fagan remembers the late Honor Moore, former President of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild.
Honor Moore, the doyenne of Irish food writers for more than half a century, died on May 29, 2013, a day after her 90th birthday. She was president of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild and had begun writing cookery columns in 1946 and continued to write and to cook with flair and enthusiasm almost to the very end.
Then known as Honor Getty, she left home in Newtownards, Co Down, for Cookstown agriculture college with a view to teaching home economics, and in the process learning much about food production. During the Second World War she wrote weekly letters to a young man from her home town serving abroad in the RAF and they married in 1947. Sam Edgar became a reporter on the Newtownards Chronicle, and she began writing cookery columns for the Belfast Newsletter. When editor RM Smyllie offered Sam a job in The Irish Times, they moved to Dublin, where they lived in a flat in Pembroke Street. Sam later became Irish correspondent of a British Sunday paper, the Empire News. When it closed in 1960, Sam set up his own public relations agency.
Sam and Honor made their family home in Temple Villas, Rathmines. “The large rooms were perfect for the regular parties that they hosted. I’m sure that the windows there are still rattling to the sound of Brendan O’Dowda singing Percy French songs. I vaguely remember one dishevelled drunken lout being escorted off the premises still singing his song ‘The Auld Triangle’”, recalled their son Robert Edgar.
Then tragedy struck. Sam died suddenly in 1965.
By then Honor (writing as Honor Moore) was the regular cookery columnist for Woman’s Way, an Irish weekly magazine founded by publishing entrepreneur Hugh McLaughlin and his wife Nuala. Suddenly Honor also had to manage a clutch of demanding clients, including oil and gas exploration companies, mining, agri-chemicals, footwear, Irish tweeds and knitwear, as well as bringing up seven small children in a rented house.
She met her challenges head on. Her columns were so admired that Douglas Gageby, then editing The Irish Times, wanted to fire his incumbent Theodora Fitzgibbon (“always writing the same bloody thing, year after year”) and hire Honor instead. The threat was never carried out and both women later became founder members of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild in 1990. The Guild promotes high standards in food writing and forges links with suppliers and producers to raise standards, and was an early champion of the artisan food concept.
“The thing about Honor is that she was always prepared to help. If you had a problem putting a column together or preparing dishes to be photographed, no matter how inexperienced you were, she’d put down what she was doing and help you,” said her long-time friend and fellow cookery writer Biddy White Lennon. “And because she was a great reader, she knew about almost everything. Before there was Wikipedia, if you needed to find out something, you asked Honor.”
She retired from public relations in 2001, wrote a cookery column for the RTE Guide from 1973 until 2004, and contributed to Easy Cooking magazine thereafter. If she was proud of the Lifetime Achievement Award which she received in 2005 from the EuroToque chefs organisation she said nothing, just plonked it on the mantelpiece.
For Honor Moore and the coterie of writers around her, it was never just about making a living. It was about promoting healthy and appetising ways of preparing food, presenting it with aplomb and recognising the civilising importance of people sharing a meal together.
Her last public appearance just days before she died was at the delayed cremation of her son Brian. He had died two years earlier, and donated his body to medical science, as she also has done. She is survived by two sons and four daughters.