Manus McGonagle has harvested seaweed on the Donegal coast since he was a child and his special hand harvested and air-dried products are keenly sought out by those in the know, in Ireland and beyond.
In 2012, however, he was propelled into the national media ad therefore reached a wider audience, for the Euro-Toques award he received in recognition of “an outstanding indigenous Irish product which is true to the traditions of his native coastal Donegal and exploits a natural resource in a way which is sustainable to produce a nutritious and useful product.”
It must have been satisfying for him to see a revival of interest in the traditional occupation of seaweed harvesting, which was an everyday activity in coastal areas when he started collecting Dulse and Carrageen on the rocky Donegal shoreline with his father in the 1950s.
In summer, through the 50s, 60s and 70s, they would dry the seaweed on rocks and sell it to local shops. Both seaweeds were popular in the locality at the time, the Dulse as a snack and Carrageen for use in desserts and as a traditional cough remedy.
But Manus also felt there was potential to harvest a greater variety of seaweeds, all year round, and sell them further afield. Having qualified as an engineer, he eventually returned to Donegal and established Quality Sea Veg, with the aim of harvesting the best Sea Vegetables from the pristine Atlantic waters off the Donegal coast to meet an increasing demand in Ireland and overseas.
While his purpose-built modern factory uses up to date technologies, all the seaweeds are hand-harvested in the traditional way, with Manus and one other full-time harvester wading waist deep in the cold Atlantic waters or climbing slippery rock slopes to cut the seaweed.
They now harvest 10 varieties commercially and have distributors in the UK and Germany, and customers in many other countries, as well as online and retails sales in Ireland. You will also see them on some of the country’s most interesting menus, including Rathmullan House Hotel, where chef Kelan McMichael is a particular champion.
As well as dried sea vegetables, Quality Sea Veg supply sea herbs and sea salt condiments for culinary use, and seaweed bath gels.