The Oyster Poaching Mastermind of Connemara

I wanted to write about the sometimes mischievous ways that Ireland’s oysters made it from sea to table in decades past. But this kind of story — no news hook, no service element — can be a tough sell in today’s travel writing climate, where the focus of many pieces is all things timely and new. Regardless, I knew I had found something unique and compelling the first time V. told me about setting up an underground oyster ring in Connemara, the west of Ireland, in the 1960s.

So, I waited. I researched fishing rights in Ireland. I learned about the history surrounding the English confiscation of Irish lands. I dove into facts and figures about Irish seafood exports.

Eventually my story found a home in a publication, Saveur, that values storytelling. I had built a foundation of knowledge for the feature, but needed to return to Ireland and sit down with V. to ask him all the questions I didn’t ask the first time he mentioned the troubles he had found himself in as a result of poaching and distributing oysters. “There isn’t a courthouse in Connaught I haven’t been summoned to about oysters,” V. told me. “I could be a barrister!”

The result of that trip to Ireland is my Saveur story The Oyster Poachers of Connemara. Among several themes, it explores the lack of a black and white perspective on things in Ireland, how shades of grey — especially surrounding the law — can be commonplace. Sure, there is a designated time that legally, the pub is supposed to close. Sometimes that law is abided by, and other times, publicans close the blinds and keep the fun going behind locked doors. That murky area between black and white is where some of the most fascinating cultural ticks take place.

I’m all for travel writing that can help us figure out where to go and what to see, but I also believe in travel writing that allows us to get lost in someone else’s world for a while. Click here to get lost in V’s coastal Ireland, where for a time men set out under moonlight to gather oysters, a valuable and untapped treasure beneath the sea.

[illustration credit: Alex Testere for Saveur]

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