Achill to celebrate the sea with Féile Bia Na Mara

Keem  beach, Achill. 	Photo: Patrick Breslin

Keem beach, Achill. Photo: Patrick Breslin

TV master chef and author Clodagh McKenna will be the star attraction when Achill Island revives its traditional Féile Bia Na Mara from July 9 to 12. The Achill Seafood Festival is supported by Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the Irish Sea Fisheries Board, and Údarás na Gaeltachta.

The weekend of fun and feasting will be a celebration of Achill’s rich maritime heritage. The re-launch of this old festival is looking to the future and set to become one of the highlights in the calendar of Irish summer festivities. “This is going to be a fantastic event and highlights our unique coastal community,” said Roisin Lavelle of Turasóireacht Acla. “The celebrations range from a variety of maritime activities and the traditional Irish culture of the island to just plain fun — not to mention everyone’s seafood favourites! We are thrilled that we are reviving this community tradition of celebrating our maritime heritage and devotion to seafood.”

The programme of events reflects the diverse array of attractions and activities taking place over the three days. A Guinness and oyster reception kicks off the festivities on the Thursday evening, while a country market with a very special seafood section will be the chief interest on Friday morning. The festival gets into full swing with the official opening on Friday evening with a gala seafood buffet and music and dance into the small hours. Throughout the weekend there will be a diverse array of activities available ranging from coastal walks to boat trips to kite surfing and board sailing.

Clodagh McKenna will demonstrate how to cook many of the 34 species of fish to be found around Achill. “Féile Bia Na Mara is about a whole way of life,” she said. “As with my recently launched book, Fresh from the Sea, and its accompanying TV series which started its run on RTÉ 1 on June 30, it is not just about fantastic recipes, it’s a celebration of the Irish fishing industry, from the fishermen to the fishmongers, market stallholders, and artisan producers.”

One of the highlights on Saturday will be the seafood recipe competition, with McKenna picking the lucky winner who will receive two nights’ bed and breakfast, plus one evening meal, for two people at the Achill Cliff House Hotel. Sunday starts with gathering edible seaweed and goes on to a cookery demonstration and wine tasting and appreciation with Michael (Boley ) McNamara and Tindall Wines, and then the traditional Cailín Óg competition. The evening finishes with a seafood barbecue and live music. Youngsters will also be well catered for throughout the weekend with fancy dress, sandcastle competitions, and a host of other activities.

BIM will have its mobile coastal training unit in Achill for the weekend, which will provide information on the training available under BIM’s Stay Safe at Sea initiative for fishermen, as well as highlighting opportunities for those thinking about a career in the seafood industry. The coastal training unit will be open to the public who are very welcome to come and have a look at the state-of-the-art facilities, and pick up information on the nutritional benefits of including fish in the diet. BIM’s coastal training unit will also provide two sets of three-day safety training courses for fishermen to take place around the festival on July 6 to 8 and July 13 to 15. To register, contact Robert Walsh, BIM, on (087 ) 6837134.

The original Féile Bia Na Mara was established in 1993 and prior to that there was an annual shark angling festival in Achill called the Shark Safari. There was also a huge basking shark fishery located in Achill in the fifties and sixties (the sharks’ massive livers were used to produce oil for the aviation industry and cosmetics ). The revived festival aims to promote marine based activities, including water safety awareness, and to celebrate the cultural heritage of the Island and the Gaeltacht.

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