Four Irish household names tell Ruth Doris about the importance of using their celebrity status to help raise awareness and funds for charity. In second first online instalment, we speak with chef and TV personality Clodagh McKenna
“I’m involved with Make A Wish and Haven, which works in Haiti. And in the past, I’ve done work for Crumlin Children’s Hospital and Focus Ireland. Make A Wish is such a beautiful charity, it’s a chance to make a child and their family escape from their worries for a while.
The year before last I did a Christmas Wish Dinner, where we raised about €10,000. I got my suppliers to give me the menu for free, so all the cost of tickets go to MaW, as well as the auction on the night. One of the auction prizes was I come and cook in your house. The night begins with us naming the wishes we were able to grant from the last dinner and what wishes we hope to grant from that night.
Haven is the charity I do the most work with. I meet some Haitians at my first event and there was such similarity to Irish people, they’re friendly, warm and very humble people. What’s wonderful is that all the money they raise stays within the charity and it’s used to set up schools and workshops and to help the community. They’ve a cookery school out there, and we fly over two chefs from Haiti every year to work with me so is really lovely.
Having been an ambassador with Haven for four years, I recently had the opportunity to visit Haiti and I wrote a piece for the Irish Independent about my experience.
It’s been six years since the earthquake devastated the island nation, and there is still rubble on the streets. What I found on the four-day trip with a group of Irish businesspeople, that despite the extreme poverty – a quarter of Haiti’s population exist on $1.25 a day – the spirit of the people is one of hope.
I visited a model farm project outside Port-au-Prince, which has training and research facilities. I was so impressed with the project, which was set up by another Irish charity, Soul of Haiti, that I set up a fundraising page and raised $5,000 – enough for three families to start their own chicken farms. I also visited a boat-building project, which was very meaningful to me, as my grandpop was a fisherman, and Haven’s housing project, where families build their own homes.
I became very emotional, especially when I visited an orphanage in Ile-de-Vache where about 80 children live. Half of these children were ill, and there were no toys,but they were waiting for us with big smiles on their faces.
Although I am frequently contacted by charities I never say a complete no to anybody; I’ll donate a signed book, or aprons or other merchandise, or I’ll donate a recipe for a charity cookery book.
About eight years ago Crumlin Hospital asked me if I would bike across Norway to raise funds for the hospital. It was for one week, riding every day, with some parents of children who were in the hospital. I had to cook along the way, so it was an exhausting trip, but it was fantastic, and we raised so much awareness.
RTE did a documentary on it, and because it was away from the hospital, the parents were able to tell their story in a different light, which I think came across really well, and more people watched it because sometimes it’s difficult for people to watch.”