It can be daunting to move to a new country by yourself, let alone make a life with someone there, integrate into a community and set up a business with traditions from your home, but that is what Birgitta Hedin-Curtin did. She fell in love twofold: with her husband Peter, from Lisdoonvarna, and with the Burren in Co Clare. She and Peter had a family, Phelim (35), Roisín (32), Sarah (29), and John (18), while running their businesses – The Roadside Tavern and Burren Smokehouse – and Birgitta made Lisdoonvarna and Ireland her forever home.

She has become somewhat of an icon in the Irish food community, championing Irish produce here and internationally, offering support and advice to new businesses, empowering other women in business through her involvement in women’s organisations and as an advocate for the Burren as a food tourism destination.

Celebrating two momentous occasions recently, 35 years in Ireland and her 60th birthday, Birgitta rang in the New Year with big memories from 2023 and even bigger ambitions for 2024. “I have to write a book. I think that’s the next step,” she says.

“I just need to get really diligent about it, maybe an hour a day dedicated to it. It’s about our Smokehouse and my journey. But I think also there’s a chance to collaborate with Peter to tell his story, too – The Roadside Tavern and his family story – because he’s an incredible storyteller.”

The Burren

Birgitta first came to Ireland from Sweden in 1981 on a backpacking holiday, hitching her way through some of the Celtic countries – travelling as sustainably as possible, having taken the ferry from Gothenburg to Newcastle. After working her way through Scotland and Wales, she found herself in Ireland. Interested in traditional music, she had heard that Co Clare was the place to go to find it in its essence. “I grew up with Swedish traditional dancing, so it’s kind of in the blood, folk music,” explains Birgitta.

“And then, experiencing the Atlantic for the first time, it was just unbelievable; the salinity and the different species of seaweed. I loved the Burren straight away and it really felt like home. The landscape and the limestone, it’s very unique.”

Things really made an impression when she met Peter. “He was born in the Roadside Tavern pub in Lisdoonvarna and had worked there from a young age,” she says. “The pub was the centre of everything in the town. The 80s were tough times for a lot of people, but it was also a very warm and social time. It wasn’t just a place for drinking, it was much more, it was a meeting place for all ages, young and old. I really took to that. I love that social aspect.”

Swedish upbringing

One of other reasons why Birgitta felt at home in the Burren was because it reminded her of home and the familiarity around traditions in farming – and, particularly, in sustainability.

She recalls, “I grew up beside the Baltic Sea in Sweden, on a farm in Nyköping, 100km south of Stockholm. My father was third generation. We were completely self-sufficient; everything we ate was foraged, fished or hunted… so we had moose, roe deer, pheasant, ducks, pike, perch and eel. We used to take a boat out to an island - where my grandfather had built a small hut – for hunting, but also for visiting. As a child I would stay there for a couple of weeks and [we would] bring all our supplies with us because there was no water, no electricity. We’d do some fishing. It was just fantastic to grow up in that kind of environment. I love the sea, swimming and fishing. That’s really my passion.

With close to 40 products in the range, including hot and cold smoked organic salmon with different flavours, it can be ordered from almost anywhere in the world for delivery.

“And my father, he was my hero. You learn so much, even though you don’t realise it, when you’re hanging out and doing the same thing, whether that be fishing or planting trees. I’ve always been a very outdoorsy person because of this upbringing.”

Smoking fish

With a wealth of knowledge in fishing and smoking from her father, Birgitta began applying her experience and those Swedish techniques to Irish salmon. She and Peter set up the Burren Smokehouse in 1989 in Lisdoonvarna and today it is a multi-award-winning and internationally renowned brand of smoked salmon. With close to 40 products in the range, including hot and cold smoked organic salmon with different flavours, it can be ordered from almost anywhere in the world for delivery.

“Who would have thought when we started the business in 1989 that it would be what it is today?” says Birgitta. “We started as husband-and-wife team, and now we have, at peak times, 37 people working with us. I also could never have envisaged all the people that I have met, having King Charles and Queen Camilla coming to visit us; or serving our salmon for Queen Elizabeth II in Dublin, and that has all really come about from the support I’ve gotten from chefs around Ireland and the food network. It has been unbelievable.”

Women in business

Running your own business can be tough, especially with a young family. Birgitta and Peter had their four children while powering through work in the smokehouse and pub at the same time. “At times, the children did come with me here, there, and everywhere,” says Birgitta, laughing. “I did have Swedish au pairs because I wanted my children to learn to speak Swedish and all of them do, at various levels. But the au pairs gave me the opportunity to work because there wasn’t any childcare available nearby. The first year with a [new baby] was always holy; I would have worked a certain amount, but tried to be very present. I was breastfeeding which meant that I was more tied to being with them anyway.”

Birgitta Curtin in the Burren Co Clare this week. \ Eamon Ward

Birgitta offers support to women in business, through networks and mentoring, in the way that she received over the years too. She has been heavily involved with Bord Bia, Tourism Ireland and many other organisations as a speaker, leader and ambassador. “I have always found amazing support from women. Networking is a support system where you have people that you can reach out to, and it’s very important. I hope I have helped other women; young women as well.”


It was through a women’s network a few years ago that she found the support and strength to make the significant decision to get hearing aids. Birgitta admits she knew she needed them for years but didn’t do anything about it, and was almost in denial about the weakness in her hearing.

“I did a lot of lip reading and had other coping mechanisms,” she explains. “About seven years ago, I said I would do something about it. I made appointments here and there, but moved or postponed them. Finally, a representative from Hidden Hearing came to my house. That was the only way I think it was going to happen because I didn’t realise it, but I actually had some kind of underlying shame of not being able to hear. It’s funny how it can affect you psychologically. So, I only realised when this person tried some hearing aids on me. She told me how I was going to hear the birdsongs and everything in meetings. I was a little reluctant at first as it was going to cost quite a lot - €3,000 for each aid, €6000 in total. It was a Friday and I said I’d think about it and call her on Monday, but as she was going out the door, I thought, ‘No - you need these; just get them.’ I called her back to tell her I’d take them. And then when I’d said that, I just burst into tears. It was that the moment I realised, ‘Oh my God, I have actually not been recognising that I have a hearing problem.’ Since then, I haven’t looked back. It’s such a saviour to be able to hear everything properly. I’m very proud of my hearing aids, and they’re so tiny, you can’t even see them. I would highly recommend anybody that has a hearing problem to go for it. It just gives you a better quality of life and a peace of mind.

“Between that and doing yoga every day to keep my head focused and the body supple, I am honestly so happy and proud to be in my 60th year and I really look forward to the future.”

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