The 57th Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival makes a welcome return to the marquee in Galway Harbour next weekend. The festival has been acclaimed as “one of the 12 greatest shows on earth” by The Sunday Times, and attracts over 10,000 international and local attendees each September.
The festival started in 1954 and was the brainchild of the innovative Brian Collins, then general manager of the Great Southern Hotel in Eyre Square. As the busy summer season slowly slipped away, Collins desperately considered ways to extend the city’s tourist calendar. After he and the head chef had a discussion about adding oysters to the menu, as they had just come into season, the seeds of invention were sown. The following September, Galway had its first oyster festival and it has steadily developed into the instiution it is today. The festival attracts patrons from all over the world, lured by the taste of oysters and porter and all the craic that accompanies it.
Arthur Guinness Son and Co agreed to sponsor the original event, and his produce has forged a relationship with the oysters that remains impenetrable to this day. Thirty-four people, mainly Dublin natives, were said to have attended the opening festival, which has grown exponentially in the intervening years.
This year the programme will be widened to include seafood as well as oysters and there is an exciting line-up of events confirmed so far. Following a seafood dine around the restaurants of Galway city, the Irish Oyster Opening Championships will headline Friday evening in the marquee, with openers from all over Ireland getting ready to take on the challenge of becoming the Irish Oyster Opening Champion.
This honour is currently held by Michael Moran, who has remained unbeaten for the past three years. Guests will enjoy Galway seafood chowder with a gourmet seafood platter. Sean Slattery and the Connections will kick the night off followed by the Party Kings, and tickets are €25.
On Saturday, the parade will start from Hotel Meyrick at 11.30am and will travel through the streets of Galway featuring a colourful musical line-up, vintage cars, oyster openers, the Oyster Pearls, and visiting dignitaries.
A non-stop afternoon of entertainment and festival fun awaits in the festival marquee with oyster tasting, The World Oyster Opening Championship, Best Dressed Lady competition and live music. Guests are invited to enjoy a seafood medley with freshly baked Irish brown bread followed by a choice of fresh Galway oysters or locally smoked salmon platter, whilst sipping on a complimentary beverage of their choice.
The World Oyster Opening Competition will feature Irish and international experts who have all proven speed accomplishments as they compete for the coveted title currently held by Johan Malm of Sweden. A varied, live music programme featuring the renowned Friendship Band, Emma O’Sullivan and dance troop, Long John Jump Band, and The Bentley Boys will keep the crowd in high spirits. Tickets are €80 for the full day.
That evening, the Gala Dinner will be held in the Hotel Meyrick. It will be a glamorous black tie event to celebrate the 57th World Oyster Opening Champion. A gourmet five-course banquet-style meal will be served accompanied by select wines throughout. An impressive musical line up including The Piano Man - Sean de Burca, Keith McDonald, and the Wall Street Band with Gareth Phillips will keep you entertained and dancing until the early hours, and tickets for the Gala Dinner are €110.
On Sunday September 25, the festival with conclude with live music, dancing, the ‘Blas na Mara’ (taste of the sea ) seafood extravaganza, family activities, and cooking demos. Experience the unique atmosphere, savour some wonderful Irish produce and bring your little ones in marine-themed costumes for the Oyster Sprat competition where children under 12 years go free.
In additional to the ‘Blas na Mara’ there will be cooking demonstrations and an Irish coffee making competition. There will also be jive and jazz with the West Coast Big Band followed by the Springbreak 80’s band bringing the 2011 festival to an exuberant close.