Having checked the clock at Carfax, I confidently walked down Queen Street, along New Inn Hall Street and on towards George Street and O’Neill’s Pub & Kitchen. Little did I know that while I was approaching the appointed meeting place, the very person I was due to interview had fallen and sustained a back injury which required an ambulance and urgent medical assistance. The ambulance arrived just minutes after me.

The young woman was the assistant manager, Siobhan Marting, who had sent me such an enthusiastic email about O’Neill’s Irish Stew competition, that I couldn’t resist talking to her. Youthful enthusiasm such as hers it infectious, I wanted to share it.

Ajay Khoolowa who is also an assistant manager, stepped into her shoes, though he admitted it was Siobhan’s enthusiasm for this competition that made it so special. He could only echo her words.

He explained that Siobhan was Oxford born and bred, though she does have Irish relations. She describes herself as a foodie who is incredibly proud of the dishes served in O’Neill’s. She feels that if the winner of this national competition were to come from Oxford, she and the other staff would have a wonderful opportunity to showcase some of the local produce Oxford has to offer.

So what is this competition? That’s simple; O’Neill’s are looking for a new Irish stew recipe. It can be an ancient family recipe passed down from generation to generation, or a dish with a new fusion twist on the established classic. Entries are being invited from all over the UK, but Siobhan is convinced there is someone out there in Oxfordshire who could come up with the prize-winning dish.

The winner will see their Irish stew recipe featured on O’Neill’s winter menus to be launched in October. They will also receive a three-day trip for two to Ballymaloe House, a renowned Irish country house hotel and restaurant that nestles in a 400-acre estate just 20 minutes drive from Cork.

Entries will go through a judging process which will take into account Facebook fans’ comments on dishes submitted and then go before a judging panel made up of O’Neill’s chefs, management and a representative from Ballymaloe. When the winner is chosen, he or she will get a chance to work with the O’Neill’s food experts to hone the dish ready for it to be added to the menu, joining other firm favourites such as steak and Guinness pie, and sausages and colcannon. The closing date for entries is April 30. Entrants are asked to submit their recipe on Facebook along with a 100-word statement about why it should win and up to three photographs of the dish and people enjoying it. Obviously the recipe must be included, along with serving suggestions. For more information go to facebook.com/oneillsoxford Although Irish stew is considered a peasant dish, Ajay says it remains one of the most popular on the O’Neill’s menu and will sell particularly well on St Patrick’s Day, March 17. Even in summer it sells well.

Traditionally, Irish stew should be made from mutton rather than lamb, which has a far stronger flavour. The other ingredients that go into this dish vary considerably from region to region and house to house. Purists will insist it is made from neck joints with just potatoes and onions, while others throw in a handful of pearl barley. Some cooks are now adding Guinness to the pot, too, along with herbs such as thyme and parsley. At the moment, O’Neills are serving it with a layer of potatoes on the top, so that it resembles the classic Lancashire hot pot.

In many ways it is very similar to hot pot — Scotch broth, too, as both are made from lamb or mutton. Irish stew is also like scouse, a lamb and vegetable stew that was a common meal in working-class Liverpool and, like Irish stew, is made to several recipes. There is even a blind scouse, which features no meat at all, although soup bones may be added for flavour.

Irish stew was originally cooked in a three-legged pot which hung over the fire and simmered continuously, which is why Irish cooks devised so many tasty soups and pottages. Turned upside down on hot stones, the cauldron could become a crude oven for the soda bread. The potato didn’t arrive in Ireland until 1663, so they weren’t added to the pot initially. Now they are one of the main ingredients.