02 Jul 2022

Winning awards, raising a family and racing triathlons - it's a busy life on Goatsbridge Trout Farm for Mag Kirwan!

Day In The Life Kilkenny

Mag and Ger Kirwan, owners of the award-winning Goatsbridge Trout Farm

There aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with Mag Kirwan’s life.
For anyone that knows her she is a ball of energy and enthusiasm. She is also my sister-in-law - yes another article on another Donohoe - but they keep winning awards, and there are so many of them!
Last week Mag and her husband Ger were named the overall winners of the Best Irish Food & Drink Company by the Small Firms Association of Ireland.
The couple have been married for 30 years and have four gorgeous children, but it was only 15 years ago that Mag, a biochemist, got involved in Ger’s family business – Goatsbridge Trout Farm. After completing a small business course with Fiona Deegan in the Kilkenny Enterprise Office, Mag took to the farm - well, like fish to water - and never looked back.
Goatsbridge Trout Farm was established in 1962 by Ger’s late parents, Rita and Pauric Kirwan. Today it is the largest fresh water aquaculture business in Ireland. The farm is so successful because sustainability and innovation are at the heart of everything they do.
Mag puts her heart and soul into everything. She was named Business Woman of the Year several times, benefactor of several top awards in the food industry and looked on as somewhat of a food icon. She produced an award-winning cookbook for charity in just under four months. That same book, Fishwives, won the award for best fish cookbook in the world.
On top of work and family Mag finds time for her beloved running. She has won several triathlons in a sport she only took up in her fifties. She believes in enjoying life to the full - I’m convinced the woman never sleeps!
Here is a glimpse into Mag’s world…
Congratulations on another great national award from Small Firms Association last week. What does winning the award mean to you and Ger?
We were shocked to win the award. Yes, we’ve won a lot of awards over the years - we’ve been really lucky. It’s been a while since there’s been something this big and it’s just a nice endorsement that we are doing something right, especially for the fantastic team of people we have working for us. We are building a team and at the end of the day it’s all about the people.
And all about your products. You have so many products on the market now in the UK and Ireland, all from the simple trout.
On one of my very first dates with Ger, over 30 years ago, his mother cooked dinner for us. It was trout served with broccoli - my first time to have broccoli!
After dinner he took me for a walk down to the fish ponds and I was blown away and asked why no-one was telling this story, this was such an amazing product.
I’ve always had the belief that it’s all about the product. It starts with the product and ends with the product and our mission has been to educate people about the benefits and the fantastic tasting fish that rainbow trout is.
Not to be flippant, but does it come as a surprise any more to win awards?
Sometimes with success, comes arrogance. But when you have kids like mine who tell me that I have a big head, well that certainly keeps my two feet on the ground!

Don’t look at the negatives. If you want you can always find negatives in anything, even in the positives, so don’t do that in either business or life.

I think it’s important that you never become arrogant and that you appreciate everything that you do. We all make mistakes, so I think we should never take anything for granted.
It was an honour to be nominated by Bord Bia in the first place. We are following in the footsteps of great people who have won the award in previous years, so I hope we can build on it.
Plus I am always trying to make my mother (Kitty Donohoe) proud of me, they are big footsteps to follow. When she won the Life Time of Achievement Award with Kilkenny Chamber last November, I cried my eyes out. That achievement has given me more joy than any of the awards we have ever won.
If you were to host a dinner party - serving trout of course! - who would you invite?
People like broadcasters Bobby Kerr and Norah Casey, our business advisors Sean Fleming, Fiona Deegan and Blaise Brosan.
I’d also invite Tara McCarthy, Head of Bord Bia, and food producer Pat Whelan. My fitness mentors Adele Walsh and Martin Kirwan. Obviously my mother and Ger’s mother.
That table would have to be a very long table!
How has Brexit affected your fish business?
We are the first Irish fish company to ever make it to an English retailer. Sainsbury’s sell our products and we want to stay there, Brexit or no Brexit.
We put in the work, the costs, double the logistics and a lot of paperwork to continue to supply to the UK market and it’s taking a lot of money off the bottom line. I believe by spreading those overheads over more products and more customers, we can grow in that market.
Our business has increased in the past two and half years with Sainsbury’s; it’s growing slowly, but we are now in over 350 stores in the UK. People don’t want to do business in the UK because it’s too problematic at the moment, but I believe it’s an opportunity. We have picked up some new customers because Spain and France aren’t supplying as much.

Don’t look at the negatives. If you want you can always find negatives in anything, even in the positives, so don’t do that in either business or life.
How has business been throughout the pandemic?
Overnight we lost 30% of our business in the food service but we didn’t panic. It cost more to do business with restrictions, separating staff etc, but we look at time as an opportunity to concentrate on projects we didn’t have time to visit before. Prior to Covid we were busy growing fish, busy growing sales, so Covid gave us time to step back.
We depopulated our first farm in Goatsbridge, as it needed to be future-proofed. It will be finished in 20 weeks’ time to repopulate with fish. By the time it’s ready, we will be ready to rock up and drive the business again.
You are very competitive. You took up running at 51 years of age and since than you have moved onto triathlons and nailed every competition in your age category.
I started running with my fantastic neighbour Adele Walsh. I used to watch her running up and down past my window and I thought she was a mad woman, before I ran!
It all started when I dropped my daughter Aine, who is a fantastic runner, to running heats one day and she challenged me that I wouldn’t beat her. Now we run together, but I also do it for my own personal bests – to be the best that I can be on my personal journey. I don’t mind anyone around me, I run my own race. It’s actually a bit like business. It’s about wanting something strong enough.
I joined Kilkenny Triathlon Club because I felt as an older woman I wanted to crosstrain and not injure myself. They are a great bunch.
You are an inspiration to all, but you do have your challenges too.
Siobhan, I am here talking about all the lovely positive stuff, but there’s been heartache and failures as well as successes. My life has not been perfect. I could talk about all the negatives and all the hard things that have happened to me in life but I don’t, because I look at them as positives.
They have made me more connected and better with others, I’m a better human being. That is life, nobody knows what’s facing them. Nobody knows what’s around the corner, I am facing challenges and will continue to face challenges all my life.
The reality of life is that something will happen to you on your journey, but it’s how you deal with challenges, how you assimilate them and look at them.
Is your glass half full or half empty? My glass is always half full and I’m grateful for everything, even down to the carrot cake I ate at lunch time! Grateful is a very powerful word.
Listen to Mag’s full interview with Siobhan on Kilkenny People Newspaper’s YouTube Channel - click here

To continue reading this article for FREE,
please kindly register and/or log in.

Registration is absolutely 100% FREE and will help us personalise your experience on our sites. You can also sign up to our carefully curated newsletter(s) to keep up to date with your latest local news!

Register / Login

Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.

Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.