The Kings of Crab from Castletownbere – The Shellfish Ireland Story
It’s 1987 and sitting in a kitchen in the small town of Castletownbere in the west of Cork, two young friends with a keen interest in fishing founded what would later become Shellfish Ireland.
Friends Richard Murphy and Peter O’Sullivan combined their love of fishing and worked together to catch and supply brown crab to local seafood buyers. As the years progressed, Shellfish Ireland grew to become a respectable and reliable seafood producer.
Speaking to co-founder Richard, he fondly recalls the beginnings of the company, “Shellfish Ireland first began in 1987 in my father’s kitchen. I used go fishing with my friend Peter in the mornings, cooking and process the catch in the afternoon and then delivering to our customers that evening. They were long days full of hard work, but we enjoyed the challenge.”
Enjoying the challenge would prove successful for the determined Castletownbere duo, who recognised a gap in the local market. As the years passed, they aimed to give their customers the freshest crab possible and their business began to grow. Expanding the company, they also processed prawns, lobster, scallops and shrimp, all of which were caught locally in Castletownbere harbour:
As the years went by in the early 90’s we gained a great reputation for crab, prawns, shrimp and scallops. We took on more and more customers, then we opened our first small factory near Peter’s house.
Employing some locals, the factory possessed a small chill, freezer, production and cooking area. Importantly, there was also a little office for all the paperwork.
With the factory, Richard and Peter were able to take on more local shellfish suppliers, many of whom were friends of the family.
As the company continued to grow and become successful, the heart of Shellfish Ireland stayed true to its beginnings, with a strong focus on friends and family.
Richard says he feels lucky to have the opportunity to work with his family on a day-to-day basis, something that is becoming more and more rare these days.
“Every day I wake up looking forward to working with my family and friends. Three of my sons are also involved in the business and it’s great I can work with them everyday. A lot of people their age have gone to work abroad, especially over the last few years, but they have stayed here and got involved in the family business.”
Not many fathers I know can say they work every day with their sons in a business they started, but I am one of the lucky ones. It has its ups and downs, some days we argue but at the end of the day, we all know there is a job to be done and we move forward.
Despite the stresses of building a business together, Richard and Peter have remained great friends and “used each other’s best attributes” when growing the company.
With 30 years experience in the industry, they both continue to stay involved with Shellfish Ireland, assisting CEO Carol Harrington with anything they can, from purchasing, dealing with suppliers and handling the retail side of the business.
I work closely with my son Ryan on the Irish retail side of the business, we would be bouncing ideas off each other on how best to grow the business and give the customers the best product possible on the market.
Being a longstanding family business that is highly respected in the local community takes a lot of hard work and determination. So what makes Shellfish Ireland stand out from the crowd?
We have full control of our crab from the sea bed to when we deliver to our customers. We are fishermen and processors. When we set up this company in 1987 we always said we wanted to be able to provide the freshest and tastiest shellfish products to our customers and to use as many local supplies as possible. We hold this theory true to this day and we believe this.
In their early days, the company bought their own boats and would have complete control of the produce “from catch to customer”. With a greater number of customers, Shellfish Ireland now utilises “a vast amount of suppliers for our crab,” all thoroughly checked out to ensure they get the best possible quality of crab.
Currently, 50% of Shellfish Ireland’s business customers are in Europa and Asia, with their primary European markets being France, Spain, Portugal, Belgian, Holland and Italy.
They’ve also been working with Simply Better at Dunnes Stores, with Richard remembering that crucial first meeting.
“I explained our story and Diarmuid, the Simply Better manger explained their story and plan and we just hit it off. It was a great meeting. Three hours later the meeting finished, we had a list of products and a combined plan together and now we supply 9 products to Simply Better.”
Being involved with Simply Better has given the business a great lift and Richard is continually impressed by how seriously they take their suppliers:
It really shows the commitment of simply better to find the best quality products and see where the food comes from.
Meanwhile, Daragh Lawless from Simply Better couldn’t be happier to be working with Shellfish Ireland and believes they’re a great addition to the collection.
We are delighted to work with Shellfish Ireland to source the best quality seafood for our Simply Better collection. We have worked closely with Father and Son team Richard and Ryan Murphy to develop a range of high quality seafood that never disappoints.
The success of the fresh seafood sourced and supplied by the Cork-based company prompted Simply Better to extend their range of seafood to include Cooked Irish Lobster, Irish King Scallops and their Great Taste Award Winning Warm Water Black Tiger Prawns, with all seafood ingredients supplied by Shellfish Ireland.
As the company continues to grow and expand, they’ve become the biggest employer in their local village. While every company has its challenges, Richard maintains that he loves a good challenge and couldn’t imagine doing anything else with his life:
Food is a great business to be in. I love fishing and every day that I can, I go fishing. I love being out in the open air with no mobile phone ringing; just out on the water hauling my pots and getting excited to see what I have caught.
He adds: “The world’s population is growing so there will always be a great demand for food and I love the challenge of providing great tasting shellfish on a daily basis.”
Richard and the rest of Shellfish Ireland aren’t planning on slowing down anytime soon and have plans to increase their capacity and customer base in their current markets. In the words of Richard Murphy, “the future for Shellfish Ireland is bright”.
Sarah has always had a great love of travel, food and photography. Following her journalism degree at DCU, she developed a passion for travel writing while living in Spain.
Sarah loves exploring new places and sampling the local cuisine. Working with TheTaste.ie combines her love of food and travel.