Where have all the fish gone? Finding local fish in a fishing village

Ironically a simple task of finding local fish in the second largest fishing villages in Ireland was a much more complicated task than you would imagine.  The only fish stall that had operated in the village had closed down some months prior to our arrival and the supermarket stocked only imported fish.

Killybegs is a beautiful spot in the southern part of Donegal it faces east into the bay that leads out into the North Atlantic.  The village nestles at the foot of a mountain range that extends northwards and rolls it’s way northwards around the coast, a landscape that has become famous in recent years with it’s inclusion in the new Star Wars movies.  The bleak and barren hills are full of peat bogs, purple heather, bog cotton, and unique ecosystems many of which are being protected from developers and industry.

So what about dinner?  Traveling with a pescatarian and being in a fishing village seemed fortuitous, but it wasn’t until the third enquiry that someone suggested that we stop by one of the fish exporters to find some local catch.  The directions were given by a softly spoken woman behind the counter of a deli, that served local meats and imported fish.  Not quite what we were looking for.  Not quite making out the name of the company we set off on the short trip on a chance that we’d find success.  With a number of factories to choose from we parked in front of the most obvious, and I wandered through the door, up the stairs and stood, rather awkwardly, in front of the reception window wondering why I’d come here.  “Can I help you?” inquired a slightly confused looking woman as she slid the glass divider open.  I clearly didn’t look like a normal customer.  I replied that I was looking for some fish to buy for personal use.  Her look was one of either consternation or confusion as to why a tourist was knocking on the door of a fish exporter looking for dinner.  After a quick phone call she ushered me to an office down the stairs, where an equally curious man asked me “is it just to feed yourself?”.  I felt awkward, not because it was exactly what I wanted, but that it unlined the fact that I was standing in a company that deals in tonnage not single fillets over the counter at the back of a store.  So I felt I should underscore the notion I simply wanted to buy some local fish for dinner that evening.  His friendly, but still confused by my presence, tone continued when he said “sure, come down and I’ll sort something out for ya”.

Opening the door into the processing floor, everyone looked a little surprised by my presence and probably more so when my new friend started grabbing at the freshly caught herring and throwing it into a large plastic bag lined cardboard box.  He explained that these were off to become kippers, and that I should just through them into a pan with some butter, salt and pepper.  Suddenly realising that he was getting a little too carried away with his offering, and I only had 5 euros on me, I told him that was more than enough.  Grabbing the box he placed it into my arms and I cautiously asked how much I owed him.  He laughed, and said “sure, it would have just ended up on the floor anyway!”.  At this point I was even more embarrassed, thinking of how I must have appeared to them.  Some confused tourist coming to fish factory to find his dinner… As thanked him for his generosity I walked back to the car, strange grin on my face, looking at my friend who was pissing herself laughing wondering what I was carrying.

With over 20 fillets of fresh Atlantic herring in a bag we had had our fill of them by the end of the first day, but reminded of the welcoming spirit of the Irish to strangers off the street, and that the famed Irish friendliness warms my heart every time.  He was right too, it did taste good with only a drop of butter and lightly seasoned, enjoyed in good company with spectacular views of the beach and bay of Fintra.

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