Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Now that I live in the U.S, I think that I must have been deprived as a child ! Costume stores are prolific ! To think that geography deprived me of the ability to be Wonder Woman ! No, I had none of these luxuries. I did my best with the black plastic rubbish bag (garbage)cutting slits in the top for my arms and to think that we were not as inventive as kids today to use pillow cases, to carry a larger loot ! A "Quinnsworth" plastic bag had to suffice (for those of you Corkonians, at the time ,my mum didn't shop at Dunnes Stores!) Although, had we used the pillow cases, I'm pretty sure they would have been pretty empty! Lots of dark houses, where no one was home......

Halloween for me was completely different to the Halloween my kids experience. The history and tradition behind it will explain why. The attitude will be more easily understood.

Samhain, (pronounced Sow-In) was in fact for the Celts the beginning of a new year. November marked , the start of a cold and dark winter. October 31st saw the abundance of bonfires, where the druids or celtic priests wore animal heads and skins as costumes. They believed that October 31st was the eve where the spirits from another world crossed over. They burned crops and often sacrificed animals. On this eve they used this to tell fortunes and try to predict the future.

As time went by eventually the Romans invaded. For those of you who have seen Monty Pythons 'Life of Brian' there is a scene where John Cleese is asking "what have the Romans done for us"? Well, besides education,aquaducts,sanitation etc the Romans celebrated Pomona. She was the goddess of fruit and trees, hence they used apples............Following? Bobbing for Apples ??!!

On Halloween night, Trick or Treating was pretty much shunned, my mother saw it as begging! You see how deprived I was.....
I thought this was absurd as a child, but tradition is a strong thing ! This belief ,in actual fact had merit. Long ago there was a thing called 'Souling' . Generally children and the poor would go from house to house singing a song in exchange for a cake. For every cake received it was believed that a soul was freed from purgatory. The cake was made with raisins , currants, nutmeg and ginger.

As I got older, I could put all the pieces of this puzzle together. We ate "BARM BRACK" and "BOBBED FOR APPLES" but were not permitted to Trick or Treat.
"BARM BRACK" was and still is a wonderful tea loaf. It is made by soaking the fruits overnight in tea. The really special thing about this BARM BRACK or as it is called in Irish "Bairin Brack" (Bairin meaning loaf & Brack meaning speckled) were the surprises inside.

When you had a slice, there was a surprise baked into the loaf. A Pea,Stick,Coin,Ring,Piece of Cloth and sometimes a medallion with the Virgin Mary on it.
They all had a meaning.

Pea- You would not marry
Stick- To Beat Your wife with (indicating strife)
Coin- Rich
Ring- you would marry or find your partner within the year
Piece Of Cloth- Poverty
Medallion- you would join the Priesthood or Convent.

Funnily enough I never got the medallion ! We all know from one of my recent blogs, even the nuns didnt want me!! We waited with baited breath to get the ring...........!

So, even though I never got the chance to be "Wonder Woman" for Halloween, I am indeed such a happy woman to understand the meanings behind "Bobbing For Apples" ,"Trick or Treating" and "Barm Brack"

Monday, October 26, 2009


Not so long ago, I joined a group called "Dreamers Into Doers" through MarthaStewart's web site. This has been a great place for me to meet other women who have , like me , started their own business. From here there are sub groups. One of which I have started, looking for Irish stories and experiences. The group I want to tell you all about today is the group of 17 of us that all want to meet together in New York sometime in January or February.

The plan is for us all to meet as a group of Female Entrepreneurs at the Martha Stewart Studios in Chelsea, New York. Makes sense, as we all met through her Omni Media site.
To do this of course, takes some considerable co-ordinating, to say the least.
North and South will meet East and West ! From here, my goal is to document this journey, along the way looking for help & advice and hopefully we can inspire other women to get up and just do what they love.

We have already requested tickets for the show and as soon as we secure these.....Wer'e off.................Oh and did I mention ? We are all TRUE ENTREPRENEURS, roughly translated we are doing this with little or no money ! Lets see how we can all help each other. I will start writing about all the members of the group, their journey,their business and how we are all helping each other. If you want to be updated, just register as a follower below and you will be informed. Lets continue dreaming and doing !..............
Slainte..........(Irish for your good health)

Rachel Gaffney

Sunday, October 4, 2009


This week saw yet another meeting with investors. This has been an ongoing experience and whilst each time , each is just a little bit different, they are essentially all the same. An investor, rightly so , is investing in a business , to make money. Thats why they are called Investors!
The bottom line is the only thing that matters. This is merely a statement of fact.

This week I was faced with the statement that a 50% margin is optimum. My arguement is that 40% of $6, is better than 50% of $3. The retort was that they would prefer the 50 margin. Volume. Volume is the reason. Volume based business produces the margins that people want.
To achieve volume, something has to give. In my experience it is ALWAYS quality and integrity.
I would have to compromise on quality of ingredients used, ink on the packaging,faster baking times etc etc etc. The end result will indeed be a much cheaper product with a 50% margin but nonetheless a new product. Now you will have an institutionalised, generic product. Oh, and one that tastes pretty bad, with ingredients that are also known to be throughout the rest of the world as carcinogenic, but can still be used legally in the U.S. I talk about flour. Yes flour.

My passion for my business is about Ireland. To Educate & Entertain the U.S about Ireland. The REAL IRELAND, through the RACHEL GAFFNEY BRAND of products. To do this, I need to stay focused and committed to my original plan. Passion is indeed a great trait and one that is often overlooked. To me, passion is belief. Belief in your message and how you achieve this goal.

Money is of course one of the very neccessary components to this business and finding the right investor is key. One that gets it. One that understands that true committment to quality means you cannot take shortcuts. These are not common but are however out there. I know it.

To be successful you must also surround yourself with good people. People who are good at what they do. People who inspire and motivate you. I have done this. Every time I feel just that little bit down, dejected or hopeless, I turn to them. They come in many forms. From my colleague Peter Leahy, who has over 30 years in consumer goods from Coca Cola to Coors, but has this unwavering loyalty and belief in what I do. And so , for him, I must keep going. The Culinary Shop Manager at Lunds & Byerly's in Minneapolis/St Paul who loves my product and talks about it with such fervor. To Laura Vella, ex procurement for Whole Foods/HEB & Central Market who is now with Bloom stores and supports me 100%. To the buyers around the U.S that wish to purchase the Irish Butter Shortbreads. For these too, I must continue.

Heart & Drive are at the core here. Once upon a time a French Priest by the name Fr Edward Sorin and 7 others purchased 524 acres in Southbend Indiana in 1842. Between 1830 and 1844 the Irish endured Anti-Irish riots and prejudice. Such Catholic Colleges and Universities as Fordham, Villanova, Holy Cross and Notre Dame would ensure that the Irish, who were finding their way in the U.S , would receive a world class education, as too would their children and grandchildren.
We all know the infamous story about Rudy Ruettiger. At 5' 6", lacking talent,position,grades and money managed to live his dream of going to Notre Dame.
That very same University was destroyed by fire in 1879 and Fr Sorin's indomitable will told him to rebuild and continue. He too was faced with obstacles. Huge obstacels.

In business my mentor ( and who I know call friend!) Mike Michalowicz, author of "The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur", refers to this as tacking. He describes this in his book, which is now my bible. Here he relates it to sailing. A sailor needs to know where he is in relation to his destination. He has to overcome winds, other boats, no wind etc and tack accordingly. Mikes Heart & Drive is almost tangible in this book. This is indeed the reason I was drawn to him and consider him to be one of the people I surround myself with. http://www.toiletpaperentrepreneur.com/

Septembers, edition of "Forbes Life" , "The Style Issue" has a very poignant Editor's Note. In it, Gary Walther discusses how they "unveiled a magazine with an editorial and graphic format that conveyed our new emphasis on luxury lifestyle." One year ago this was not a good time to be spending more when others were spending less! Here is an example of Mike's "Tacking"
December of 2008 , the cover said "Quality Still Counts."
This is a MUST READ article. He talks about "goods that have staying power because they're made of superior materials, are well crafted,embody tradition and pedigree................"

I couldn't agree more. My mother always said "Buy cheap, Buy Twice" Thanks to Margot Gaffney !!!! My mission is to bring products that are of superior quality to the U.S.
The Traditional Irish Butter Shortbread is merely an entree for this emerging brand. It will take a lot of work (4 years to date) perseverance, refusal to compromise on standards, strong will, mistakes, guts, and determination. Frank McCourt, the brilliant English high school teacher, also author of "Angelas Ashes" "Tis" and "Teacher Man" said "Doggedness is not as glamorous as ambition or talent or intellect or charm, but still the one thing that got me through the days and nights"

We live in a society of instant gratification. Work ethic is diminshing. Credit is high. Have we lost our Heart & Drive? Is this what the Irish Diaspora's legacy is to be? We have seen what has happened when people have made decisions at corporate levels that were based on immediate needs and wants. Taking on loans etc that they knew could be passed on. We must not expect anymore. It cannot simply be given to us. We are becoming a generation of 'handouts'. Simply put , we need to work. Get up of our bums and work hard. It takes time. It takes "Heart & Drive". For Gods sake, how do we expect our kids to get it if we don't set the example. Is this how we are to honor generations before us? I need to be careful here, almost becoming a political rant!!

Heart & Drive is at the core for me. This is, in my opinion , what separates failure from success. Always dreaming, always thinking, always doing and always tacking.......................................!