Updated: 04/10/17 : 06:00:41
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Aclare woman crowned National brown bread baking champion

Aclare woman Mary Conway was crowned the overall winner of the National Brown Bread Baking competition at the National Ploughing Championships in Tullamore. The event was held in association with the ICA and NPA.

Mary, a Mayo native, who is daughter of Kathleen and the late Eugene Brennan, of Monard, Mayo Abbey, resides with her husband Gerry in Aclare, Co Sligo.

Her sister Pauline lives in Dublin while her two brothers, Austin and Walter, are deeply involved in the local farming community in Mayo Abbey.

The Mayo News reports that the revival of the ICA Guild in Aclare three years ago after a lapse of several years played a central role in Mary’s outstanding achievement in landing national honours.

“We were all encouraged to enter the different competitions that the ICA promotes each year. I decided to enter the brown bread competition and was chosen to represent Sligo and then went to An Grianán in Louth and got through that stage as well."

'Bake offs'

Mary added, “I was lucky to be among the eight chosen to go forward to Tullamore. We had semi-final bake-offs on Tuesday and Wednesday and I made it to the last four for the final on the Thursday. All four of us were delighted as the competition had an original entry of 321 participants,” says Mary.

News of Mary’s progress to the final encouraged a sizeable contingent of ICA supporters from Aclare and Sligo to make the journey to Tullamore for the bake-off on Thursday before hundreds of people in the Aldi tent and there were loud cheers and plenty of celebrations in the aftermath of her victory.

“I was delighted to reach the last eight but it was a truly special moment when I was announced as winner. It was also lovely to have neighbours and friends there to share the moment with me. They had the place festooned with balloons and bunting when I got back to Aclare that night.”
Mary says she owes her success to an old recipe from Mayo Abbey handed down through the generations. “I got it from my mother years ago and I tweaked it here and there along the way. I have always loved baking and it is something that comes totally naturally to me. When I feel like baking, I just go and do it.”

Mary was lauded by the judges for the “traditional appearance and perfect texture” of her bread. The recipe has now been forwarded to Stapleton’s Bakery in Roscrea where it will be produced and stocked in Aldi Stores around the country bearing the name of Mary’s Soda Bread for a minimum of six months during which time Mary will receive a share of the profits. It is expected the first batch featuring Mary’s recipe will be in the shops by December.

Meanwhile, members of Aclare ICA will hold a celebration in honour of Mary’s national award when they come together tonight, Wednesday for their monthly meeting.