Bretons really do know their Onions

Maison Johnnies

This tiny museum dedicated to the Breton Farmers who first took their delicate pink onions to sell over in England is located in a quiet backstreet in the pretty little port of Roscoff.

It tells the story and fortunes of a once lucrative and profitable cross-channel trade whereby farmers used to export, store and sell their wares in southern England which was closer and at the time, easier to reach than Paris.

Young men and some young children, Johnnies as they became called by the English, took the name to heart, adopting it in the Breton form of ‘Ar johnnieged’ – les johnnies. They wore typical Breton clothing an image still popularised by the English today in the form of the bike riding, onion selling Frenchman.

The museum is fascinating and contains many artefacts and personal accounts of life as an Onion Johnnie, the hardship of long stays away from home and the tragedy of the sinking of the Steamer Hilda in 1905 when 70 Johnnies lost their lives.

Such is the significance and importance of the Oignon Rose de Roscoff, they’ve been awarded the status of Appellation d’origine contrôlée and each August is celebrated with the Fête de l’Oignon de Roscoff.

It’s claimed that the enterprise of these farmers was the true inspiration for the launch in the 1970’s of Brittany Ferries, itself created from an agricultural alliance and whose headquarters are also based in Roscoff.

The museum is free and a guided tour is available for a small fee. Further details and opening times are available from the Roscoff website