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Combining the modern and traditional

Achill Island Sea Salt is a family business that was set up by Marjorie O’Malley and her husband Kieran in 2013 after they were inspired by watching a documentary about sea salt production and by Achill’s history of producing salt from the surrounding ocean.

Marjorie is an accountant who still has her own practice on the Mayo island and Kieran is a retired school principal who now works full time in the business they started in their kitchen. As the budding entrepreneurs grew their business, they moved production from their kitchen to a portacabin outside their house and, in 2016, to an Údarás na Gaeltachta factory.

The journey was not without its challenges. Initially successful in securing funding from a commercial bank, loans were harder to secure when they wanted to invest in machinery and renovate the factory space. “Without the support of the Western Development Commission we wouldn’t be here,” Marjorie says. “They took a share in the business at that time and gave us a loan. They were essential, without them we wouldn’t have been able to access the money required to set up the factory.”

Without the support of the Western Development Commission we wouldn’t be here. They took a share in the business and gave us a loan. They were essential, without them we wouldn’t have been able to set up the factory.

Marjorie O’Malley
Achill Island Sea Salt Product Line

They now have five employees and salt production is continuous seven days a week. In addition, they opened a gift shop on the premises, and their daughter converted a horse box into a coffee truck that enables visitors to enjoy refreshments while maintaining social distancing protocols. “She was due to take up an opportunity in England,” Marjorie says. “But that couldn’t happen due to the pandemic.”

The coffee truck, Wild Coffee, helped to fill a gap after the pandemic forced them to suspend factory tours for the time being. “We’ve been astounded at how well it has gone,” Marjorie says.

During lockdown, the company moved quickly to adapt when the closure of restaurants hit their sales. “Our restaurant market, which was about 20 percent, fell off a cliff, but we updated our website, made it more accessible, and our online sales to the Irish market took off. We had orders coming in around the clock,” Marjorie says.

“Now, the restaurants are coming back on stream and we’re finding it difficult to match production to demand at the minute because the gift shop is also going well.”

Achill Island Sea Salt is hand harvested from the waters that surround the island using a combination of modern and traditional techniques. After harvesting, the sea water is put through a series of filters to remove any sand, seaweed or other particles before being heated in a vacuum which leaves a concentrated salty brine solution. The brine is then pumped into a shallow crystallisation tank, where the sea salt crystals begin to form and join into flakes.

The company’s first product was Achill Island Sea Salt Flakes and they have since added Achill Island Smoked Sea Salt flakes, where the flakes of salt are gently smoked over beech and oak wood chips, and Achill Island Sea Salt with Atlantic Wakame, where their salt is mixed with seaweed hand harvested by the Connemara Seaweed Company. They have also teamed up with Mella’s Fudge in West Cork to produce Achill Island Sea Salted Caramel Fudge.

Marjorie cites moving into the factory, the expansion of their range of products, Origin Green certification and a host of awards as key developments in their growth as well as their move from plastic packaging to glass – because of the problems plastic poses to the ocean their business depends on.

Over seven years, Achill Island Sea Salt has grown from being a small local business to a nationally recognised brand. And they are looking to the future with optimism. “The Western Greenway is due to come by the factory so that will provide footfall to the shop and café,” Marjorie says. “We might end up bringing the café indoors and we would like to partner with other businesses to develop branded products.

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