‘Good oyster growing sites still available on coast’

There are plenty of good oyster growing sites still available on the coast, according to Glenn Hunter of Coney Island Oyster Farm.

His farm, on the shores of Sligo bay, overlooked by Benbulben and Knocknarea, is the focus of an immersive guided tour by Sligo Oyster Experience, the Sligo Oyster Farm Tour.

The Sligo Oyster Experience is part of the Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) ‘Taste the Atlantic Trail’ initiative.

The dedicated seafood trail stretches south from Erris, Co. Mayo, to Connemara and on to Galway Bay, allowing visitors to experience the Wild Atlantic Way and to learn how Irish seafood is caught and farmed.

The trail is dotted with visitor suggestions including restaurants, cafés, farms, fishing ports and smokehouses.

Following on from Sligo Oyster Town Tour which was launched in 2018, the Sligo Oyster Farm Tour showcases Sligo’s coastline and its native oysters with a tour of an oyster farm and a tasting.

The tour begins with a 15-minute Wild Atlantic Way rugged coastal walk with tour guide and owner of Sligo Oyster Experience and WB’s coffee house, Glenn’s wife, Aisling Kelly Hunter.

History of harvesting

Along the way, participants explore ancient Sligo folklore and the history of Sligo’s native oysters, before arriving at Coney Island Oyster Farm where they experience oyster farming and the process of cultivation first hand.

The group will be guided through the history of harvesting along the Wild Atlantic Way and learn about the methods still in use. Aisling will also introduce the group to coastal foraging by pinpointing where edible sea vegetables, such as sea kale and samphire, grow along the coast.

The tour concludes with a visit to the experience cart where an oyster shucking demonstration takes place. Then there is the opportunity to indulge in unlimited Sligo oysters with all the condiments, including a seaweed dressing.

Aisling said that she came up with the idea to run tours after Glenn introduced her to oysters, their history and harvesting in Sligo Bay.

“My background is in business and tourism and I saw a niche in the market for a unique experience showcasing this wonderful tradition. The tour really gives people an opportunity to appreciate Sligo. The farm tour adds an exciting hands-on element,” she said.

People really get to see how the oysters are grown, the impact the weather has on the farm and the hard work involved from the beginning of the process to the final product. I feel like the appreciation of the tasting experience that follows is heightened greatly by this element.

The farm tour runs every Wednesday at 11:00am and 2:00pm and takes 1.5 hours. Tickets cost €45:00 per person.

‘Delicious flavour and high quality’

“Irish oysters are well regarded around the world due to their delicious flavour and high quality. The characteristics that make an oyster special are quite simple: a robust flavour; a good quantity of meat; and a pleasing teardrop shape with a nice size,” Glenn said.

“For anyone looking to start farming oysters, the first step is to get familiar with oysters; it’s also very important to make efforts to learn from oyster farmers and to become familiar with the coast where there are still plenty of good oyster growing sites available.

“What’s needed is a flat shore with good water quality and access. BIM and the IFA [Irish Farmers’ Association] are always happy to help too.”