Oysters, Irish Style
Martha Chapman

Jayne Shackleford (on maternity leave from Tourism Ireland but a keen oyster observer) with Judith Cassidy

Oy! There were lots of oysters!

Happy winner Linda with Patrick and Judith

Beauty pageants feature pretty girls. And buff athletes competing are always a sight to behold. But it’s a challenge to make an oyster-eating competition yummy to watch.

Between the slobbering competitors and the slimy, gray edibles, it’s not easy on the eyes. And when the goal is to eat as many as you can in three minutes, it’s really no picture. But last week the folks at Tourism Ireland and The Caili Cottage bar in T.O. managed to make an oyster-eating competition hilarious to watch and hugely fun (except, I suppose, for the oysters).

With heaping platters of mollusks standing by and many good-natured cheers (“Don’t chew, just swallow!â€) from the crowd – many of whom seemed relieved not to be participating – it was clear that the six competitors were enjoying, as they say in the Emerald Isle, great craic.

The purpose of the evening was to promote Ireland’s annual Oyster Festival held in the Georgian Village of Hillsborough (this year September 3 – 7) and the country’s legendary oysters (“The best in the world,†according to bar-owner Patrick “Shucker Paddy†McMurray, who says he eats at least six oysters every day.)

Turns out Ireland is home to many festivals including the Cork Jazz get-together (October), the huge Belfast Culture Festival (November) and this year’s Arthur’s Day. To be celebrated in Ireland and around the world, it will mark the 250th anniversary of Arthur Guinness’ birth and will provide, no doubt, an excellent excuse to down much of the creamy ale.

“The festivals are a great way to meet the locals,†says Judith Cassidy, Tourism Ireland’s manager for Canada. And to explore the Emerald Isle when the tourists have all gone home!

Back in the bar, it was a moment of celebration for the fairer sex as the lone female competitor, Linda (who was too shy, or too full, to disclose her surname), walked off with first prize, having downed 148 oysters in three minutes. She’ll be heading off to the Oyster Festival next month, courtesy of Tourism Ireland. Said the jubilant winner, “I love Guinness and I love whiskey –I was meant to go to Ireland!â€

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