Galway gets ready to celebrate the oyster

Linda Kelly, Kelly Oysters

Linda Kelly, Kelly Oysters

This year’s Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival, a highlight on the Wild Atlantic Way Calendar, runs from 28th to 30th September 2018, a festival 64 years in the making celebrating an Irish tradition thousands of years old. Galway, the country and this iconic festival may all have changed over those 64 years but what the Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival celebrates is timeless – that unchanging Irish tradition and treasure, and the ongoing pleasure given by those little heroes in a half shell.

These authentic Irish delicacies are coveted everywhere from the bistros and brasseries of Paris, where they proudly stand alongside the best of French belon and fine de claire, all the way to China. With brown bread, butter and a pint of stout or a glass of bone-dry white wine, this is as good an Irish food experience as there is.

Galway’s leading chefs all have a profound grá and respect for the Irish native oyster as a key ingredient on their menus.

An action-packed three-day event that attracts enthusiastic visitors from all over the world to the city during the last weekend of September, this year’s Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival, based in the festival marquee on Nimmo’s Pier, begins with the excitement of the annual National Oyster Opening Championships followed by the opening night party on Friday September 28.

Saturday September 29 sees the core unmissable event, the World Oyster Opening Championships, beginning with a lively parade of competitors weaving its way through the narrow medieval streets of the city down to Nimmo’s Pier. Oyster openers from all over the world will come to Galway to battle it out for the title, vying to take the baton from Estonia’s Anti Lepik who was crowned 2017 champion.

“The Galway festival is all about the oysters, the competition and the party,” says Michael Moran, Irish Champion, European Champion and World Champion oyster opener.

“It is a celebration of the native (Galway flat ) oyster which comes into season from September. For the competition, it is important to strike a balance between speed and presentation. Representing your country is always a proud moment but doing so at the World Oyster Opening Championships is very special.”

Saturday evening is the Masquerade Mardi Gras – a highlight of the festival calendar that sees masked revellers enjoying oysters and bubbles, followed by starters in different venues around the city, then parading carnival style to the final venue for dinner, dessert and dancing.

Sunday at Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival is Féile Bia Na Mara – Wild Atlantic Tastes – a free family day of cooking demos presented this year in conjunction with ‘Loving Galway’ – a community-led festival ‘Celebrating our Green and Blue Spaces’, as part of Galway’s European Green Leaf designation in 2017.

Festival revered internationally

“In recent years, our iconic event has had accolades from the international food and travel media,” says Maria Moynihan Lee, producer of the Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival, “for example the Rough Guide has included it in their 50 Things To Do Before You Die list.

“But besides being a bucket list experience, the festival is of significant economic importance to Galway as it attracts thousands of local and international visitors and promotes Galway as a tourist and gastronomic destination all year round. Overseas visitors spend four nights in Galway and leave an average of €1,172 per person behind in our local economy, which is double the national festival’s average level of spend.

The festival delivers a lot more than this direct economic impact though – this city, at the mid-point of the Wild Atlantic Way, has a reputation for throwing a great party which is what we intend to do again this year.”

City chefs are fulsome in their praise of the oyster —

“As the saying goes, he was a bold man who first ate the oyster,” says Jess Murphy of Kai, “but you can taste the rugged west coast in its beautiful native oysters, and nothing beats your salty lips on a sweet pint afterwards.”

“Our native oysters are a sensitive species,” says Enda McEvoy of Loam. “Unique, sweet, gamey, floral and briny, the oyster reflects the taste of its environment – its native estuaries and bays. Each oyster is a tiny microcosm of the greater environment. The careful management and understanding of this precious mollusc as a keystone species emphasises the need for careful management and understanding of the oceans in general.”

“As a commis chef in 1999 I first had a native Galway oyster and loved it,” says Martin O’Donnell of West at The Twelve, “from then on I was hooked. My favourite way to have them is definitely straight up and even better when freshly opened on the water’s edge as the sea air only intensifies the aroma and taste.”

“The native oyster is one of our first foods,” says JP McMahon of Aniar. “From the earliest settlers on this island to the present moment, people have enjoyed the succulent, wild beauty of our indigenous oyster.”

So come out of your shell – sorry! – and join the oldest food festival in Ireland celebrating our most prized edible treasure.

Tickets for all events are available at the Festival Box Office


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