THE STORY OF MJ'S
There has been 3 generations in the Byrne family to produce ice-cream in Sligo and it all started back with my Mammy Johnston. She was widowed at a young age with 3 kids in the early 1930’s. She had a very entrepreneurial spirit and she saw the potential of Strandhill even back then. So, she opened Mammy Johnston’s ice cream parlour, which was one of the very first in the country at that time.
Young Neil would be sent up to uncle Tommy on his bicycle to collect the fresh milk from the cows in buckets for his grandmother. Neil and his grandmother would make the ice-cream by hand. It would take them all day to churn that ice cream, and at the end of the day she would cut a big block of ice cream with a cheese wire cutter and 'I tell you there was no better taste than that well-earned ice-cream between two wafers' says Neil himself. The kids of the village would come into the shop and ask Mammy Johnston for her ice-cream and she would say to them “l’II make you each a Special Ice Cream with mammy Johnston’s secret ingredient” and it became a special treat for every kid young and old when they visited the village.
Mammy Johnston fell ill in the late 70’s and uncle Eamon and aunty Kath took over the business for many years. They built up a great little ice-cream business and Neil was still helping out but himself and his 2 brothers found surfing and began competing internationally. They did quite well in surfing but something wasn't right. The lads saw many amazing ice-cream parlours around the world but the taste wasn’t as good, it just hadn’t got it.
They bought the business from their uncle and aunty around 2000. Neil always had a passion for ice-cream, and he really wanted to
learn how to create the best Gelato ice-cream. So, he went to study with the top chefs at the Italian Cattabriga Gelato University which is where Italians go to learn how to make authentic Gelato ice-cream.There he studied under world champion Gelato chef, Jacamo, he has 5 Gelateria’s in Bologna Italy, and in the evenings after studying, Neil would go and work with him in his Gelateria’s. Neil wanted to bring that passion of Gelato back to Ireland so he worked hard at it and now has developed Mammy Johnston’s Gelato range including some award winning Gelatos.
Neil says it is a lot of work and you are constantly learning. He still goes over to Italy 4-5 times a year to learn more but the hard work has paid off. The feedback Mammy Johnston's gets is amazing. Mammy Johnston's has won awards in Rimini Italy for two of their products. The Italians keep saying that Neil and his team have the unfair advantage. Jacamo said to Neil, “Neil, you guys have the best ingredients, we cannot compete with you”. The reason being is the Italians actually import Irish milk powders to make their
Gelato, the Irish farmers create the best top quality raw materials, and in turn as artisans Gelato creators produce the best Gelato ice-cream in the world. Jacamo came over to Ireland to see how Mammy Johnston's produce their Gelato,Neil brought him to a few farms and he was blown away, he couldn’t get over that the cows graze on such lush green grass, for such a long period of the year. The crew in Strandhill have an unfair advantage over everybody else, they have mother nature on their side. They have that Wild
Atlantic Wind blowing that clean salty sea breeze constantly over the land and naturally seasoning the grass giving them that unique flavour that can only be found in Strandhill.
Although there has been a lot of changes in the shop and there are so many different flavours of ice-cream to choose from , Mammy Johnston’s secret ingredient has not, and has been passed down through the generations of the Byrne family. This is why Mammy Johnston’s still is the focal point for every kid young and old to Strandhill today.Nothing says “Sligo” more than traditional home made ice-cream from Mammy Johnston's, enjoyed by the sea in Strandhill.