For most of his young, adult life Charlie Nelligan minded the nets, dreams and hopes of a legion of Kerry football supporters at home and abroad.
The Castleisland man has many claims to fame. One is that he remains Kerry’s greatest and most successful GAA goalkeeper. Another goes back to 1957 when, at birth, he claimed the title of Kerry’s biggest baby – weighing in at over 15lbs.
These days Charlie guards an old, Nelligan’s Bakery, family recipe dating back to the mid 1940s.
Barm Brack Eating World
It is probably a lot older but that’s when his father, the late Danny Nelligan, introduced it to Castleisland and the Barm Brack eating world. And he brought it from Darcey’s Bakery in Urlingford, Co. Kilkenny where he learned his trade in the early 1940s.
Danny Nelligan’s Barm Brack was a Gold Medal winner at an International Trade Exhibition in London in 1953.
Charlie’s role is now in an advisory capacity as he passes on the trade secrets to his son Daniel who owns and operates Nelligan’s Bakery, Café and Delicatessen at No. 74 Upper Main Street, Castleisland.
There, his modus operandi is straight out of one of those television food adverts which tells that time is the sacred ingredient to the success and special taste of their produce.
And it certainly is in Charlie’s case.
“Of course we could put a fist of chemicals into the mix there and have a batch of loaves out in a quarter of the time it takes naturally. But it would betray the tradition we have built our business on,” said Charlie.
“Tradition is very important to us. Look at the mixer there. There isn’t a bakery in town that it didn’t serve time in. It was heading for the scrap heap but I thought I’d get it back in working order.
Rescued and Installed
“It was in: Nolan’s; McElligott’s; Den Joe Browne’s and Nelligan’s Bakery on Limerick Road before being rescued and installed here at Nelligan’s.
“I heard my father saying years ago that the beater arm in the drum and the pace of the mixer is the nearest you’ll get to the way women of old mixed the ingredients for the Barm Brack,” he said with a glance at the clock and a peep in the huge oven and a reference to the notes he made for this batch.
Up to the time of the September 11th 2001 terror attacks in America, Charlie’s late mother, Annie filled ‘Brack’ orders for many parts of the world and the US market alone kept her seasonally busy.
One Extraordinary Story
There is one extraordinary story involving a transatlantic transaction between the old Limerick Road bakery and Chicago.
Jerry Walsh, who lived in Chicago, was a regular customer for the Christmas Brack and in order to prevent damage on its journey the late Mrs. Nelligan wrapped it in a towel. Mr. Walsh sent the towel back and the process was repeated the following year.
Later on he took to marking the towel with the distances it had covered back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean and the last total came back at 58,000 miles. The towel now is a tangible testament to the popularity of the product of the Castleisland bakery.
Home Market Supply
“The Bracks we bake here now are all for the home market. We continued to post them to customers in America for a while after the 9/11 attacks but they’d arrive ripped apart because of the security alert – so we don’t do that anymore.
The bracks can be bought in the shop on Main Street, Castleisland or ordered online and posted to anywhere in Ireland.
They’re also stocked in Christy Healy’s Shop on New Street in Killarney and in grocery shops throughout Munster.
Honoured with a Dust of Flour
Liz Galwey happened to be in Nelligan’s during my chat with Charlie and he invited her into the bakery.
Their fathers, Danny Nelligan and Moss Teahan had worked together in the Limerick Road bakery and often stood over the same mixer with the same recipe.
Charlie filled a scoop of flour, handed it to Liz and she dusted the batch mix on its few final revolutions.
Transgenerational and family links honoured with a sprinkle of flour on a batch of Barm Brack dough at Christmas.
Another link between the families is that, on the day in February 1957 that Charlie was born, Liz’s parents, Moss Teahan and Peggy Keane got married.
Clash of Colours
And Moss Teahan brought Charlie to his first All-Ireland Football Final in 1969 when Kerry beat Offaly to win their 21st senior title.
Moss’s son PJ, who was also at that game, remembers that Charlie showed an early aptitude for preparedness and he brought a flag with the Munster blue and the Green and Gold sown into one to cover the eventually of Kerry having to play in the provincial shirt because of the near clash of colours with their opponents.
If you’d like to find out more about the range of options from Nelligan’s Bakery, Café and Deli, you can do so with a click on the advert (left).
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