Written by Melanie May
It’s that time of year again for sweet, flaky crab claws – a most succulent delicacy in the summer months.
The waters around County Clare are a haven for shellfish and Morrissey’s Seafood Bar & Grill in Doonbeg is renowned for its delicious Carrigaholt crab claws, among other delicacies. A testament to its great food is the fact that Morrissey’s has won numerous awards and has retained its Michelin Bib Gourmand (only 27 in the country) since 2017. Also in 2017, they won the Restaurant Association of Ireland’s Gastro Pub of the Year for Munster.
Morrissey’s is run by Hugh McNally, and you may be familiar with his name as it has been all over the media in the last few years thanks to his connection to Mike Pence, the Vice President of America and former employee of Morrissey’s, kind of.
Pence’s ancestors are from the area and when Pence stayed in Doonbeg in 1981 he worked in the bar in Morrissey’s. Pence returned to Doonbeg in 2019 and met with Hugh and dined Morrissey’s.
But the history of Morrissey’s goes back much further than the 1980s. The family business is now being run by its fourth generation.
Morrissey’s began life as a traditional country pub run by Mr & Mrs Hayes from the turn of the twentieth century. Hugh’s grandmother, Jenny Downes and her seven brothers and sisters grew up in the cottage across the road from the pub. As Mr & Mrs Hayes didn’t have any children of their own, in the early 1920s they adopted Jenny – this was quite common back then – and she helped them to run the pub.
When Mr and Mrs Hayes passed away, Jenny inherited the pub. Jenny went on to marry a man named Paddy Morrissey and they ran the pub together and this is when Morrissey’s was born.
Jenny and Paddy had one daughter, Betty – Hugh’s mother. Betty and her children lived in Limerick before moving to Longford and as kids Hugh, his two brothers and sister spent every holiday and all summers helping their grandparents in the bar and adjoining farm.
As children, they opened a fish and chip shop across the road from the bar in one of the outbuildings of their grandmother’s original home – health and safety clearly wasn’t an issue back then. Hugh’s mother thought this was a good way to keep them occupied during the summer holidays and engrain a work ethic in her children.
In the early 1990s, in Ireland, bar food started to become popular so in a shrewd move, they closed the fish and chip shop and moved the equipment to a room behind the bar. They then built a catering kitchen and so began the start of Morrissey’s serving food.
The food offerings were seasonal while the children were on their summer holidays but eventually it developed into a solid business throughout the years.
As time passed all of Hugh’s older siblings moved on from this seasonal work and developed their careers elsewhere, leaving him as the last man standing, so to speak. When his father died in 1998, Hugh stayed to help his mother run what was now a profitable business with an extended season.
The opening of the Doonbeg Golf resort (now Trump International Golf Links & Hotel Doonbeg) in 2002 gave Hugh the confidence to start expanding the business. Morrissey’s now has six en-suite guest rooms as well as a restaurant with wonderful views over the River Cree.
The award-winning restaurant focuses on sustainable fish and seafood which is locally caught served alongside Angus sirloin steak and hearty casseroles. It is this simple, no-nonsense approach to good food that has made Morrissey’s a firm favourite with both locals and tourists alike, as well a hit with the Michelin guide inspectors.
With both old and new paintings and photographs of the village and local coastline on the walls, it is clear the Hugh is trying to balance the progress of the pub with protecting its history and heritage.
One way Hugh is bang up to date is with his sustainable approach to the food he serves.
Hugh believes that the single most important component in running a seafood restaurant such as Morrissey’s is being able to stand over your product. The key to this is having a conscientious and dependable fish supplier. Morrissey’s is blessed to have one on its doorstep in CS Fish.
So, when it comes to the crab claws on the menu, the ocean to fork story could not be more local. From the time they are caught in the sea until they reach the diner’s plate, the crab claws travel no more than 5km. This is because they are caught just off Doonbeg Bay and taken straight to CS Fish, a mere 2km from Morrissey’s. Furthermore, the fishing vessels in the area are day boats and never out at sea for a long time which ensures freshness when the catch is landed.
When it comes to sustainability, the small fishing fleet in the area helps ensure the waters are not overfished and that the fish are of the best quality.
It is this positive and long-lasting relationship with CS Fish that enables Morrissey’s to offer an extensive supply of the freshest crab throughout the whole season and ensures traceability and freshness for every claw.
What makes the crab claws served in Morrissey’s stand out is their simplicity. Every portion is gently sautéed in Morrissey’s famous garlic butter which is made up of just three ingredients; garlic, parsley and premium Irish butter. The quantities of each ingredient hold huge importance and are a family secret passed on through the years. The garlic butter gives just a little kick, but not too much to overpower the claws. And that’s it. There’s no need to do more when the raw ingredients are this good.
The crab claws need nothing but an accompaniment of perfect homemade bread. Morrissey’s bake three different kinds of bread on the premises, each one ideal for dipping into the bath of pungent garlic butter.
Morrissey’s will reopen its doors to the public on July 3rd and Hugh and his team are looking forward to serving up many portions of crab claws from then until the end of the season.
If you want to try these Michelin-approved crab claws, reservations can be made online from July 3rd onwards.