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THE sun hasn’t even begun to peek through the Louth skyline when John O’Neill sets off for work every morning.
A fourth generation baker, the 3a.m wake up has been his ‘ bread and butter’ for as long as he can remember.
John and his brother Ollie are the bakers behind the family owned business O’Neill’s of Annagasan, and earn their crust by ‘ producing the finest quality fresh bread daily.’
The local bakery has been is operation for over 50 years, moving down from generation to generation.
‘My great grandfather worked in the bakery, and eventually ended up taking the business on,’ explains John, adding that there is a lot of family history not only in the business, but also in the bread.
‘Our Annagassan brown still uses the same traditional secret recipe developed back four generations ago!’
John’s love of bread saw him join forces with other bakeries to promote ‘National Bread Week’ which kicks off next week.
Its the fifth year of the nationwide campaign to celebrate Ireland’s love affair with bread.
The proud baker admits that bread has taken a bit of a beating in recent times, with many diets advocating against the ever popular loaf, a staple in virtually very Irish home over the last few decades.
‘We want people to realise that bread is good for you. We pride ourselves on baking all our products today for today, and we provide a preservative-free product giving you the healthiest option possible.’
We also pride ourselves in ensuring that we bake all our products in full to add flavour in the crust,’ said John.
O’Neill’s bakery was originally set up to provide a door-to-door delivery service, delivering daily to homes across Louth, Meath, Cavan, and Monaghan and to this day deliveries continue to form a large part of the business.
‘In fact, around fifty per cent of our business is door to door,’ added John.
‘For many people, especially those living in rural areas, the bread man and the milk men are the only people they might see that morning, so its still a vital service.’
He accepts that with greater access to corner shops and supermarkets, many consumers may no longer use the doorstep delivery.
‘But for a lot of others, especially older people, it is still valued.’
The bakery itself is situated close to the beach at Annagassan, an ‘idyllic setting’ he adds, to work.
‘We have a fantastic view of the Cooley Mountains and the Mourne mountains.’
‘We are baking in the first few hours of the morning, and then aim to be on the road for deliveries from around 8.30 on.’
National Bread Week is he feels an important initiative to highlight the vast range of bakes goods suitable for all lifestyles.
From their classic white loaf to a range of low GI breads, and spelt and honey batches, there is something for everyone.
John’s passion for bread can’t even be dampened by the early morning start!
‘At this stage the family are used to it. They understand why daddy might be a bit grumpy come evening time.’