Birgitta Curtin Of The Burren Smokehouse On What Inspires Her

By Robert McHugh
Birgitta Curtin Of The Burren Smokehouse On What Inspires Her

Birgitta Curtin of the Burren Smokehouse talks to Robert McHugh about its 35 years of success.

Established by Swedish-born Birgitta Curtin and her Irish husband Peter in 1989, the Burren Smokehouse produces a variety of products including award-winning cold and hot smoked organic and wild salmon, along with smoked mackerel and smoked eel products.

The Burren Smokehouse announced a €171,000 investment in new equipment and energy efficiencies, last month supported by Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).

In addition, Birgitta Curtin is an organiser for the Burren Slow Food Festival, Ireland’s longest running food festival, which will take place on May 19 at the Pavilion in Lisdoonvarna.

Tell us about your recent investment supported by BIM?


Putting in solar panels was one of the biggest things for us. It was a game changer. We are doing our best for climate and sustainability. The investment will pay for itself with the amount we will save on electricity costs. Our equipment will be more efficient, it all adds up.

I have worked with BIM previously and these grants are great because it makes you invest and future proof your business. It is a real carrot for for businesses, a great incentive, to put the shoulder to the wheel.

It is very important for the industry to get this opportunity. The seafood industry wouldn't be as big as the meat industry, for example, but it has great potential with some amazing raw materials from the West Coast of Ireland, from all around Ireland, and I suppose this gives an opportunity for businesses to capture that potential. For value added products, that is really important.

Tell us about the Burren Smokehouse – the ethos, food, service, etc.

We are celebrating 35 years of business in May. As part of the Burren Slow Food Festival, we are going to have a banquet on May 18 to celebrate. In that time, we have always used Irish fish and raw materials. When we use services, we always look firstly for providers from the Burren and from Clare, definitely within Ireland. That is what our brand is about. It's about local, it's about Irish.


We started our business really as a tourism business. That was May 1, 1989. At the time, it took five hours to get to Dublin. Now it takes three. So we were in a runner position. The concept from day one was food tourism whether it be Irish people or international visitors. We saw the opportunity of giving them a taste of something that is produced in Ireland- real artisan produce and the real smouldering fire. It is small batch production, we care about the product. We only use Irish organic salmon of superior quality and 100% Irish. There are two grades, we would only use the superior grade.

We have a range of experiences on offer, for example,  we have a bar and brewery where visitors can taste their Burren beers. They are only available in the Roadside Tavern.

For people that can't come to us, they can get their salmon sent to them. We sell to retailers like Dunnes Stores and Fallon & Byrne and other places. If they can't come to the Burren, they can get the Burren to come to them!

Tell us about your background – where you grew up, studied, etc.

I grew up on a farm on the east coast of Sweden, not too far from Stockholm.


I would visit the Baltic Sea and do some fishing for household purposes. We fished for eel and pike perch. We used to get the eel smoked in a tiny smokehouse that was run by professional fishermen and that was actually the inspiration for starting the smokehouse here. People would come from surrounding areas to buy a weekly smoked fish, similar to what we have here but on a smaller scale.

I studied marine biology and particularly marine botany and this was back in the 80s. Mussel farming was big and it was the beginning of aquaculture really. I got the opportunity at Galway University to learn about the incredible richness of the different species of seaweed and algae that grow along the West Coast.

I have always enjoyed the sea, I love swimming and snorkelling. To live here in the Burren is fantastic, with all the range of food that we can get from the Atlantic, like lobster, oysters, mussels, and of course, Irish organic salmon and wild salmon in season, when we can get hold of it. Myself and my husband love our seafood.

What brought you to Ireland in the first place?

Well, back in the 80s, there was quite a lot of visitors coming from Sweden to discover Ireland. And two of my sisters had actually been here before me and they came back and talked about the wonderful landscape, traditional music and the whole Celtic inspiration. I wanted to go and see the world, particularly the Celtic nations, so I went to Scotland, Wales and Ireland. I kept coming back to Ireland and the Burren in particular.


The Burren, County Clare and the Arran Islands are very special to me. Living here and having raised my children in the Burren has been fantastic.

What can we expect from the Burren Slow Food Festival this year?

It's all about wellness and wellness with food. We are part of the Burren Ecotourism Network, which is ourselves, Slow Food Clare and Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark. We all work together for this event.

It showcases food that is produced in the area, the chefs such as Peter Jackson from Roadside Tavern Lisdoonvarna and Jonathan Farrell from Gregans Castle, loads of different chefs and producers.

There will be talks, walks and yoga in the Burren along with other activities. It starts with a banquet at the Burren Storehouse beside the Roadside Tavern and Peter Jackson will be doing local food menus there. We have more information on the Slow Food Clare website.

What are the main challenges in the industry at the moment?

The new regulations around minimum wage, I mean it is great that it is going up, but the changes are quite dramatic for SMEs. The increases are rather big. Prices might have to rise to counteract this. You need to get your money back somewhere to stay in profitability.

On the wage side, it is a big increase so we will need to look at efficiency but it is a reality that we will need to increase prices, unfortunately. For rural businesses, the introduction of the minimum wage, it is a game changer, it is having a large impact. We would have to plan year-on- year to deal with this. I am all for it in a way, but the changes are happening extremely fast, so we have to act very fast.

There are challenges but there are opportunities as well. You have to put on your thinking cap. Being in business is always a challenge anyway. You have to offer a value added product, a larger range. For us, tourism has always been a blessing. Even with online sales, there are higher margins available.

Some business you have to walk away from if you cannot make the profit you require. Change is always happening. Between COVID and Brexit, and who knows what else, we are still alive after 35 years and we hope to stay that way, and to just pivot as much as we can.

What do you like to do when you are not working?

Being in nature is huge for me, going out to the sea, going for walks.

I love travelling. I was recently in Iceland for a week and I really enjoyed that. It is great to experience new cultures and new tastes. I enjoy meeting chefs and looking at food producers. Seeing how Iceland handles tourism was very interesting and inspirational.

There are great food events in Ireland like Food On The Edge where you can go network and meet. I thrive on events like that. I will be going to Bloom soon. That's a great place to be. It's work but when you enjoy what you do, it doesn’t feel like work.

What is one food that you always keep in your fridge?

I have to say smoked salmon. It is such a superfood, it's organic, it has omega 3, it's a great source of protein, and it has a lightness.

One of the best things about it is you don't have to cook it or anything. You can just open a package and put it on bread. It is a very fast lunch!