Smoking hot business making waves in The Burren, with support from BIM

Birgitta Curtin, owner of the Burren Smokehouse

When Swedish native, Birgitta Curtin, visited Ireland as a young 18-year-old in 1981, little did she think she would be still here more than 40 years later, and running Irelands best known and most successful artisan salmon smokehouses in the spectacular Burren in Co. Clare.

Born and raised in Nyköping on Sweden’s Baltic Sea coast, and the daughter of a Swedish MP, the award-winning businesswoman was inspired to visit Ireland by her two older sisters, who had travelled here and loved the country.

It didn’t take long for Birgitta to be smitten – and there was no going back when she met her husband of more than 35 years, Peter Curtin, in a pub in Doolin in Co. Clare. What followed was a merging of Irish history and Scandinavian heritage – and the magic that is The Burren Smokehouse.

Birgitta and Peter are passionate about quality, organic food and sustainability. They began to smoke salmon in 1987 and their award-winning business, Burren Smokehouse, was established in 1989. Peter was born in Lisdoonvarna, and spent many years in the Merchant Navy. When he returned to Co. Clare he developed the patented smoking process that is still used in the Burren Smokehouse today.

In 1995 the couple added to their business, establishing The Burren Smokehouse Taste the Atlantic Irish Salmon Visitor Experience, showcasing the traditional art and craft of smoking salmon attracting around 40,000 people each year. It is not just a huge tourist draw, but an important sales
pipeline as 85% of their online customers would have visited the Burren Smokehouse prior to purchase.”

After a few challenging years due to Covid-19 and Brexit, The Burren Smokehouse is going from strength to strength and benefitting from a recent €171,000 investment, of which €76,900 was grant aided under the Brexit Processing Capital Support Scheme, recommended by the Seafood Taskforce established by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.D.

Implemented by Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), the scheme is funded by the European Union under the Brexit Adjustment Reserve.

Birgitta grew up in Sweden and experienced salmon that had been smoked using traditional methods. “Myself and Peter wanted to have an artisan business, rather than to mass produce food, and the Burren was the perfect location. I grew up on a farm living in nature on the edge of the Baltic Sea, which can be wild – but it doesn’t compare to the raw energy and beauty of the Atlantic.”

Today The Burren Smokehouse produces cold and hot smoked salmon sold with a variety of award-winning marinades including seaweed, honey lemon dill and honey lemon pepper marinade. They also produce smoked mackerel and smoked eel.

Individual packages of salmon and other product can be ordered online and delivered overnight around the world including Germany and France. “The product lends itself to overseas deliver really well because it’s vacuum-packed and not heavy,” Birgitta said.

The recent investment in machinery and solar panels has enhanced the Burren Smokehouse efficiency, digital capability, and reduced its environmental impact.

“The grant aid has allowed us to invest, be more sustainable and to take opportunities to improve standards and reduce costs which is critical for an SME like us,” said Birgitta.

New digital equipment, including a digital control panel for the fish smoker, has made processing easier for staff to manage, allowing for scannable stocktaking and integration of website orders.

“The grant aid really pushed us to take opportunities to make improvements that we otherwise might have held back on,” said Birgitta. “Businesses like ours need to innovate on a continuous basis, but we also need to watch every cent. The funding from the Brexit Adjustment Reserve meant we were able to take opportunities to future proof our business, and keep efficiencies high, which is essential in an environment where costs are rising.”

Certified by Bord Bia Origin Green and Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark Burren Code of Practice, Birgitta stresses the commitment of The Burren Smokehouse to reducing its carbon footprint, something which has been helped by the investment in solar panels.

“We are delighted with the impact of this part of the investment. Our energy bills have been reduced and we are playing our part in reducing our carbon footprint and our energy bills which is in line with our mission to be sustainable as possible.”

Said Birgitta: “This investment has helped us see the light again after the impact of Brexit and Covid-19. One of the big game changers has been the opportunity to invest in solar panels.

The Burren Smokehouse employs 18 people, and this figure increases at peak times of the year especially Christmas when online sales in particular increase dramatically.

As well as online sales The Burren Smokehouse sells into niche outlets like Donnybrook Fair, Avoca and Fallon and Byrne. It also supplies to Dunnes Stories Simply Better range and is on the menus in hotels such as Dromoland Castle and Gregan Castle.