I was delighted to be heading back to Connemara Mussel Festival over the Bank Holiday weekend, and even the weather proved to be in good form. I was lucky enough to have a room in the gorgeous Rosleague Manor House with a stunning view overlooking the bay, and could have lost myself for days in its comfortable, old-world elegance. Fortunately, I had plenty to lure me down the road to Tully Cross.
This year’s installment of the Mussel Festival ran with a wide-ranging schedule including tastings, cookery demos, foraging trails, the fabulous dawn walk of Killary Harbour that I praised in 2016, talks on everything from archaeology to beekeeping to poetry, tai chi on the beach, children’s art and cookery workshops, a 5km run, a theatre production, a magic show, an indoor market and even an adorable petting zoo.
On a personal level, fresh shellfish is one of my favourite things to eat, and I believe that it’s an important part of our Irish food heritage that has been lost to some degree, with many people unjustifiably wary of mussels and similar foods. Luckily, you would be pushed to find evidence of this in Tully Cross, Connemara, a town heavily influenced by the proximity of Killary Harbour. This is never more apparent than during the town’s annual Mussel Festival.
Amongst the plenty of events running throughout the weekend, one standout for me was the oyster and wine pairing, in which David Keane explained his enviable transition from Dublin accountant to oyster farmer and Betty Murphy provided ample information on the beautiful, dry French wines accompanying our fresh oysters.
A rather unique event marked the Saturday evening, when a crowd gathered on the street to watch mussel expert Sean Coyne cook a pile of mussels using a traditional French method. For moules éclade, pine needles are piled on a damp plank with mussels added on top, then set alight. As the fire smoulders, the mussels absorb oodles of smokey flavour while they cook, a completely novel taste experience. The community vibes were strong, with people of all ages huddled around the smoking fire, chuckling as one when Sean added some extra oomph to the flames with a bottle of Bushmills.
One moment from my wild west weekend really stays in my mind. As I stood waiting for my perfect pint of black in Paddy Coyne’s pub, a girl of about four stood beside me with her parents, holding out her pink princess skirt and talking excitedly about how many mussels she wanted to eat that afternoon. It always warms my heart to see kids show real enthusiasm for food, and particularly wholesome, natural foods indigenous to our shores. I hope the Mussel Festival continues to inspire the same excitement in generations to come.