What do you get if you cross a dedicated farmer with a passionate bio-chemist? You get Goatsbridge Trout Farm in Co Kilkenny. Run by Ger and Mag Kirwan, Goatsbridge sits comfortably amongst the finest food producers in this country. Smoked trout, smoked trout paté and even trout caviar are among their products that are not just enjoyed by this nation, but by foodies throughout the world. Indeed, it could be said that Goatsbridge Trout is also one of our finest exports.
On a sunny Sunday morning recently, I went along to visit Goatsbridge Trout Farm to see what it was all about. To tell this story correctly, I must ask you to throw your minds back to 1961, the year Ger’s parents (Padraic and Rita Kirwan) had a decision to make – a trout farm or a mink farm. In actual fact, they decided on both, but paid heed to Padraic’s wise mother-in-law who advised that “a woman would be lucky to have one mink in her lifetime, but fish would be eaten every week”. They then decided to focus on fish and that’s how Ger’s parents established the very first private trout farm in Ireland (they sold their first trout to the Tower Hotel in Waterford).
It’s easy to see why Ger is so dedicated – this is his homeplace, this is where he helped out as a young boy and this is where he returned as a young man when his travels were done. Nowadays, this is where he rears his four children with Mag, and just like Ger did, their children now help out on the farm. Ger’s parents may have moved out of the homestead (they live nearby), but they certainly left it in good hands.
Then there’s the powerhouse that is Mag Kirwan; a formidable lady exuding passion and determination with every breath. Along with Ger, she works hard to carry on the tradition of sustainability – and judging by the amount of awards they have stacked up, her hard work is paying off.
In 1961 there may have been just a single fish pond, but by 2010, Goatsbridge Trout farm was not only the country’s leading trout farm, but home to a state of the art processing and packaging facility. There is the homeplace, the trout farm, the visitors centre, an aquaponics show area and the processing plant – oh, and they have their own smoker too. The Kirwans also host tastings, lunches and dinners for groups to showcase their produce.
Ask Ger and Mag Kirwan why Goatsbridge Trout is so popular and they will tell you that it’s down to the crystal clear water of the Arrigle river from where they catch the trout. This water gives their trout a unique flavour and texture. Speaking of flavour and texture, their products are sublime. Whether it’s fresh trout fillets (Goatsbridge were the first company to fully bone trout fillets), smoked trout paté or trout caviar, each product is bursting with pure, authentic flavour.
Ger and Mag Kirwan have worked hard to put Goatsbridge Trout Farm on the map. When they export all over the world, they not only sell their trout but the firm message that you can’t get any better than real, sustainable, Irish produce.
They are what real Ireland is all about.
• Goatsbridge Trout Farm runs farm tours all year round. They are not only educational and reasonable priced, but they give you an opportunity to see Irish producers at work, and of course, you get to taste their produce.
• I would highly recommend this visit for families – it’s an excellent way to teach children about the lifecycle of fish. With basic tours starting from €5, they are very reasonably priced.
• For more information, visit www.goatsbridgetrout.ie or phone 086 8188340 – tell them I sent you!
Author of “Food from an Irish Garden”, Fiona Dillon lives with her husband and four children at Hunters Lodge in Co Carlow. Her recently published “Freddy Buttons” series of food adventure books for children (Orpen Press 2015) were written so that Fiona could share the food provenance message amongst young children. Her Freddy Buttons food-themed garden at Bloom 2015 won Fiona a silver medal.
One of Ireland’s best known food bloggers, Fiona documents her back to basics lifestyle through her blog www.fionadillon.com. She is also a feature writer for the Irish Farmers Journal’s Irish Country magazine. As Food Correspondent for KCLR96FM’s The Saturday Show, Fiona shares the latest food news from around the country with her Carlow/Kilkenny listeners. When she’s not busy giving talks on topics such as sustainable living or blogging, Fiona can be found tending to her honeybees or writing the next epic adventure for Freddy Buttons.