By COLETTE SHERIDAN
FROM working as a forensic scientist with the Home Office in the UK to producing poitín marmalade in Bandon, Betty Smith has had a varied career.
Age doesn’t bother this dynamic 76-year-old, who set up her marmalade business in March. She sees nothing odd about going into business in her eighth decade.
Betty and other entrepreneurs will be celebrating the first ever National 50+ Enterprise Day this Friday. An initiative of the county and city enterprise boards, it aims to encourage senior entrepreneurs in Ireland.
To mark the day, a conference will take place at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Blanchardstown, Dublin, where older entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs from all over the country will gather for a conference entitled ‘Succeeding in Your Start-Up’.
Betty, originally from Yorkshire, moved to west Cork 17 years ago as her Irish husband, Jim, wanted to retire in Ireland.
Prior to moving to Bandon, she sold Nottingham lace at a market in Nottingham where she lived. It was a good business — the wedding gowns of Princess Diana and the Duchess
of York included this decorative machine-made lace.
Betty had given up her job as a forensic scientist when Jim, a transport depot inspector, was relocated to Norfolk. Then, when he took early retirement, the couple started looking at houses in west Cork.
“I think Bandon chose us,” says Betty, mother of a grown-up daughter.
Betty’s entrepreneurial streak must come from her mother, who had her own bakers and grocery store at one stage.
“Essentially, I’m a crafts person. I started making crafts and selling them in Bandon Country Market.
“Last Christmas, I was selling wall hangings and decorations. A friend, who’s a baker, was selling her produce. Her stuff was flying, but mine trickled. I wondered what I could do. I’m not a baker and I’m not even much of a cook.
“I thought I’d try fruits in different spirits such as pears in port and peaches in brandy. But that worked out very expensive and I knew it would really only sell at Christmas. I suddenly thought — why not poitín with marmalade?”
Poitín has been legal since 1997 and Betty started to buy her supply of the spirit at Bunratty Castle’s Mead and Liquor Company. It proved to be quite expensive. However, taking advice from Oliver Dillon from the Mead and Liquor Company, Betty contacted Customs & Excise in Cork and applied to buy the produce from Bunratty without paying the duty.
“My application was approved and it brought my costs down dramatically. I started selling the poitín marmalade to a local shop and at a market.
“But I realised I knew very little about the business side of things. I contacted the West Cork Development Partnership and the West Cork Enterprise Board. They were
running courses. I did one and found it very helpful.
“I realised that I needed something more specific and did another course, ‘Start Your Own Food’, run by James Burke & Associates. I got on fabulously and my business knowledge took a great leap.”
Betty’s business is called ‘A Taste of Irish Spirit’. She adds: “I have two lines going; the poitín marmalade and the poitín toddy marmalade. The latter includes cloves and cinnamon.
“I make the marmalades at home. My husband helps out, putting labels on the jars and helping me to deliver the marmalade.
“The poitín toddy marmalade is the first to be sold. It’s very tasty. People tell me it reminds them of Christmas.
“The poitín marmalade is a grand product. It’s selling, it’s Irish and we’re turning a profit. It’s an attractive package that comes in a tall elegant jar with a gold top and a bright label.”
Betty and Jim expect to be very busy at Christmas. Asked if the poitín marmalade would make a person tipsy, Betty laughs and says: “I don’t think the Gardaí would be on to you.”
Information on the conference is at www.fingalceb.ie/50+