Colleen Gallagher of Rolling Meadows describes this week as “insane.”  Between baking loaves of Irish soda bread — 1,500 loaves this week alone — wrapping them in foil, decorating the loaves, boxing them up and delivering them, it leaves little time for anything else. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Colleen Gallagher

Each weekend in March, Gallagher can be found at Peggy Kinnane’s Irish Restaurant & Pub in Arlington Heights, selling her loaves and offering free samples to patrons. But that’s just the start. Already this month, she sold them at the Rotary Club of Rolling Meadows St. Patrick’s Day party, and at St. Patrick’s Day parades in Elmhurst, Forest Park, Naperville.

“Her passion for Irish hospitality is matched only by the passion with which she bakes her unbelievable bread,” says Tim Grodek, owner of Peggy Kinnane’s.

This weekend, she will be selling them at the Northwest Side St. Patrick’s Day Parade and all weekend at the Irish American Heritage Center and Gaelic Park, both in Chicago. Gallagher figures when it is all said and done she — and her son, Devin Michael Gallagher — will have baked well over 5,000 loaves.

This is the 15th year she has sold her soda bread. She has won gold medals for her recipe and now she says companies are ordering from her.

“After eating dry soda bread for years, people are really enjoying soda bread that is so flavorful and moist,” Gallagher says.

The winning recipe is from her grandmother, Bridget Theresa O’Malley, from Westport in County Mayo, Ireland. Gallagher started selling the loaves when she needed to raise money to afford her daughter’s solo dress for Irish dancing.

She and her four sisters conceived the idea of selling their grandmother’s soda bread as a fundraiser. They each baked 20 loaves and together they set up shop along the St. Patrick’s Day Parade route in Chicago and sold out by late morning, raising enough money to buy the dress in the process.

The next year, one of Gallagher’s sisters needed to raise money for her daughter to compete in the World Irish Dance Championships in Ireland. Once again, the loaves of soda bread sold out.

From there, Gallagher has grown her fundraising into a small business that continues to win over local customers and promote the Irish heritage as well. When she’s not baking bread, Gallagher can be found behind the camera, with her Palatine-based photography business, Lifetime Treasures.

“It’s crazy busy right now,” Gallagher says, “but I’m still really enjoying it.”



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