“You’ve never heard of a Pouldoody oyster?” My friend Dave Donohue was surprised. He was sure I must have encountered the name while researching the Irish chapter of my book, Sex, Death & Oysters.
A few days later, Dave showed up at my house for Sunday brunch with a two dozen gigas oysters. They came from a couple of sacks he kept at his neighbor Fergus Langley's oyster farm in nearby Pouldoody Bay, he said.
The Pouldoody gigas oysters were corpulent, pale in color and not too salty, with a rich flavor and creamy texture that reminded me of buttermilk.
Pouldoody was the most famous of all Irish oyster appellations and it was maybe a mile and half from the front door of my rent house in Bellharbour, Dave informed me.
He wasn’t exaggerating, the Pouldoody oyster was indeed famous—it even appears in that James Joyce comic book:
“Sure I used to be always there with the long days, coursing, about That's the place for oysters, Puldudy, I never knew how rich I had it!” (Finnegan’s Wake, 1939)
“What lover of oysters has not heard of Poldoody! It is a large pool at the shore near the Red Bank of Burren in the north of Clare; and it produces oysters of excellent quality in great abundance. The name, however, has nothing to do with oysters, for it is merely PoU-Duhhda, Dooda's pool.” (The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places, 1875)
“The best oysters in Ireland are the Burren and Poldoody, the Carlingford being now extinct. In France the best are found at Cancale, Etretat, and Marennes. In Belgium the best are fished at Ostend.”
(The Oyster Epicure, 1883)
“In spite of the use of our knives and forks that we had made in the earlier part of the evening, at it we went again with prodigious enthusiasm, beckoned to the attack by a wooden trencher full of the finest Poldoody oysters that ever came from Burran forty-five miles to have their houses broken open and themselves swallowed.”
(Fraser’s Town & Country Magazine, 1835)
“The Pouldoodys are in!” was the cry on the Dublin docks when a shipment arrived, Sean Tyrrell, a musician who lives in the Burren not far from Pouldoody Bay told me. It was Tyrell who revived the Pouldoody oyster business back in the early 1980s. “I went to an oyster farming symposium in Wales, and when I came back, I wanted to try it.”
Tyrrell contracted with a local farmer for oyster rights in 1982. Tyrrell only learned about the fame of Pouldoody Bay after he had already started oystering there.
He fished for oysters with a hand dredge in a small boat. But there weren’t many natives (Ostrea edulis) left. Some of the ones he got were as big as horse’s hooves, but there wasn’t much spat to raise. He gave up after a couple of years and sold his rights to other oyster growers.
As the French system of farming Pacific oysters (Crasostrea gigas) spread across Europe, a few small scale oyster farmers planted bags of seed oysters on racks in Pouldoody Bay. There aren’t enough oysters to launch any sort of marketing campaign. I will count myself lucky if I can get an oyster farmer to sell me a few of his Pouldoody oysters from time to time.
But don’t despair. There are lots of oysters to be found around here.
Farm-raised Pacific bivalves from Red Bank come from waters a few hundred meters from Pouldoody Bay and they are readily available. Red Bank headquarters is a low building behind Linanne’s Lobster Bar in New Quay. Contact Red Bank Food ahead of time and order a bag of oysters or an Irish seafood gift basket.
Linanne's is a great place for oysters (and lobster) if you have time to stop for lunch or dinner, and so is Monk's Seafood Pub in Ballyvaughan. Both are just a few minutes off the Wild Atlantic Way.
Up the road in Clarinbridge, you'll see signs on the highway for Moran's Oyster Cottage. Rumor has it that Moran's gets Puldoody oysters from time to time, though most of their oysters come from the Clarinbridge River. Some food writers have described Moran's as the greatest oyster bar in the world.