On Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, County Clare’s business ecosystem is characterised by a flair for innovation and originality, writes Barry Walsh.
With a population of almost 119,000 people, Clare is the 19th largest county in the island of Ireland in terms of population and the 14th largest in the Republic of Ireland.
On the Atlantic coast with beaches, natural wonders like the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher, and amazing food and drink brands, it is small wonder Clare is one of the most visited counties in Ireland.
With such natural beauty it’s very easy to see why so many artists and musicians based themselves there, but there is also a number of businesses that have used some of its natural resources to build businesses and reinvest in the community:
Having learnt to love coffee from a young age, founder Brian O’Brien spent time in Australia before learning to be a master roaster at the London School of Coffee, and got her training in coffee brewing in London and Italy. You can see the passion they have for their coffee come through in their sustainable sourcing methods and quality assurance procedures. Their website now offers a subscription service ensuring the highest quality coffee at an affordable price.
Roisin Keown created her own advertising agency after spending more than 20 years in the advertising world, working for some of the biggest agencies in the business. In 2018, Roisin and her husband moved to Co Clare to create her own agency and took part in the Acorns Programme, to help female entrepreneurs in rural areas. Now with a staff of four The Brill Building has won pitches for accounts such as Kilkenny Design, Visa and Breakthrough Cancer Research. The company has won awards for its work in Ireland and Europe.
With the Atlantic Ocean on their doorstep it’s no surprise that there are so many high quality fishmongers in county Clare. The Burren Smokehouse is one of those businesses. Having been in business for more than 30 years, the company was born out of the Roadside Tavern Pub in Lisdoonvarna. The family run business then started to sell their smoked salmon first in the Burren, then in the county, then nationally and now send their products internationally all over the world with a 24 to 48 hour delivery time. The brand has won more than 20 national and international awards for their eco-friendly and sustainable approach as well as for the quality of their products.
Founded in the University of Limerick but currently based in Shannon, County Clare, Hooke Bio founded by Professor Mark Davies specialises in 3D modelling which according to their website “can help in the identification disease modelling, drug discovery, drug repurposing, toxicity testing of chemicals, microbial screening and personalised drug optimization.” The organisation has won several awards in the medical community and has been awarded almost €2m in funding for medical research.
CEO Louise McGuane previously worked in some of the largest global drinks brands in the world founded the brand in 2015. Louise found her local area used to have a busy whiskey scene. Having developed her own single malt whiskey from her family farm, Louise named the first brand after one of the former whiskey barons of Claire JJ Corry and secured retailers first in Ireland, then in Europe and now in America.
A family run business founded in 1996 after the founders research indicated the level of toxins in soaps, Palm Free Irish Soaps developed all-natural, sustainable, palm-free, vegan, zero waste, plastic free products that are better for your skin and the environment. The hand cut soap bars are given their own identity by their unique stamp on each product. Their award-winning products have won international and national awards for their quality, environmentalism and sustainability. The company now has 18 different products to choose from.
St Tola Goats Cheese has been crafting artisan goat milk cheese near the village of Inagh for over 40 years. Siobhán Ní Gháirbhith and her team farm over 300 goats on 65 acres, employ nine people and are proud to produce food that is representative of the pure clean land around them. The cheeses range includes fresh and mature logs, crottin, ash logs, fresh curd and Greek style. Their latest cheese Karst is named for its resemblance to the karst limestone landscape of the Burren – a unique UNESCO Geopark area just north of the farm. St Tola Cheeses have won numerous awards including Gold at the Great Taste Awards, Gold at the CAIS awards and is a finalist at this year’s Blas na Eireann event. The business is a member of the Burren Food Trail and Burren Ecotourism and Slow Food Ireland.
As anyone involved in hurling will tell you, there is a severe shortage of ash trees, which could result in shortages of hurleys in years to come. The lack of sustainable ash has led some to seek alternatives. One of the alternatives is Clare-based business Torpey who, in conjunction with Loughborough University in the UK, have developed their Bambú hurley using bamboo as the main material. The company has spent upwards of €200,000 to develop the idea prior to launch. Since launching in 2020, the Bambú hurley has proven to be a huge success and is now being used amongst some of the sport’s elite players including Clare’s John Conlon and Limerick’s David Reidy. The company has won a number of awards such as the Institute of Designers of Ireland award for Best Consumer Product in 2020 and in 2022 they won an award at the National Enterprise Awards for the Best Business in the Southwest Region.
Founded in one of the most picturesque areas that you’ll see a beer brand being founded in, Western Herd founders Bridger Kelleher, Michael Eustace and Maeve Sheridan bring national and international reputations with them into the business. The company now has an impressive 16 different types of beers for every palate, including gluten-free, non-alcoholic, draught, and international beers which can be found around Ireland as well as in their own bar in Kilcloher. The company also provides merchandise in the form of t-shirts and beer glasses.
This Michelin Star Pub is located in The Burren and is housed in a restored 19th century Inn. With fresh vegetables, meat and fish practically on its doorstep, their menu changes with the seasons to ensure its freshness and sustainability throughout the year. Which is one of the reasons it was awarded the Michelin Green Initiative — For Sustainable Gastronomy in 2020. The Wild Honey Inn’s food has also won numerous prestigious awards including Michelin Stars, The Restaurants Association of Ireland’s Best Restaurant in Co Clare award and Chef of the Year. In addition to the pub the Inn also has bedrooms available from March to October, which has also won the McKenna Awards for best places to stay and best places to eat.