Experience the Taste of the Atlantic Trail

Some places have a magic that’s hard to capture and that you really just have to experience for yourself.

For me, New Quay and the Flaggy Shore  on the edge of the Burren in County Clare is one of those places: somewhere that myself and my family gathered for a holiday one year, and loved so much that we rented the house the following year for our mother’s 70th birthday. I’ve gone back again and again, and each time discovered something new to love in the area – pints and fresh seafood at Linnane’s, a browse of the books, prints and Italian oils and wines at Russell Gallery, or the bean-to-bar chocolate factory up the road at Hazel Mountain Chocolate.

This time, it was an afternoon of joy spent in the wonderful company of Gerry O’Halloran, a marine biologist who works alongside his daughter Ciara (the boss, he tells me) at Burren Food Trail member, Redbank Food Company, where they offer their Flaggy Shore Oyster Experience. It was their first time delivering it in post-pandemic style, but Gerry’s charm quickly put everyone at ease – not to mention the endless charm of little Noah, the non-stop-smiling baby who was there with the other Irish couple taking part that day and the only one not wearing a mask.

Gerry talked us through some of the fascinating history of the local landscape, including the details of how Aughinish Island got cut off from this shoreline back in 1755, when a tsunami caused by the major earthquake in Lisbon flooded some nearby low-lying land to create Aughinish Bay. The island sits just a few hundred metres across a very fast estuary mouth and can be seen out of the window behind Gerry, yet is a full 25-minute drive away, all the way into Kinvara in County Galway and back out across the causeway that the British later built to reach their Martello tower look-out for Napoleon’s imminent attack (it never came). In contrast, it takes 45 minutes to drive all the way to Galway city, which feels a world away.

After talking us through the lifecycle and farming process of the oysters, and introducing us all to some of the sea creatures that they keep in aquarium tanks, from starfish and anemones to spider crabs and lobster, Gerry gave a masterclass in oyster shucking before sitting us down at the best-laid table where we could shuck and eat our fill masks off at last and seated at a suitably safe distance from one another. I discovered that Wild Wood Vinegars  wild blackberry balsamic is a superb match for oysters, as is their wild cliff samphire and wild fennel balsamic, and that chipotle Tabasco is a surprisingly good pairing too – although these dainty oysters, which are harvested earlier than most, should also be sampled solo for their delicate sweet flesh and briny finish. We washed all of this down with a lovely fresh white wine from Lisbon, to remind us of that unlikely connection, as Gerry regaled us with more stories and answered our endless questions.

The Shuck Off experience is part of the Taste the Atlantic Seafood Trail developed by Bord Iascaigh Mhara and the Wild Atlantic Way, which features 21 different interactive experiences all the way from Inishowen to Kinsale. You can explore the map here to see who is offering what: the choice is nothing if not diverse. I can also vouch for the well-informed charms of Aisling Kelly Hunter of Sligo Oyster Experience and WB’s Coffee House, who runs the new Sligo Oyster Farm Tour out at Coney Island under Belbulben and Knocknarea. Sligo’s landscape is equally full of age-old stories – the name translates from ‘Sligeach’ meaning ‘abounding in shells’ – and Aisling will share local folklore, the history of Sligo’s native oysters and some seashore foraging tips on a guided coastal walk, before arriving at the Coney Island Oyster Farm (pictured below) to see the process of cultivation first hand. The experience wraps up with an oyster shucking demonstration plus unlimited Sligo oysters with all the condiments, including a signature seaweed dressing.

You can read more about the trail and our Irish oyster heritage here in a piece I wrote for the Irish Independent a little while back. Or just do yourself a favour, in the words of Seamus Heaney ’s ‘Postscript’:

‘And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.’

And while you’re there, take a visit to Gerry and Ciara, and tell them we sent you.

Book the Shuck Off experience at +252 (0)86 254 9837 or feedme@flaggyshoreoysters.com; or talk to Ciara about picking up a box of freshly shucked oysters to enjoy in a picnic along the Flaggy Shore.

Aoife Carrigy is a freelance journalist, editor and author specialising in food, beverages and travel. She is drinks editor of Image Interiors & Living, a regular contributor to various publications including The Irish Independent, FOOD&WINE Ireland, Cara Magazine and The Guardian, and is completing a Masters by Research in TU Dublin examining the cultural evolution of the Irish pub. Aoife was co-author of Cornucopia: The Green Cookbook and The Ard Bia Cookbook and general editor of five cookbooks for the Irish Countrywomen's Association.

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