My Weekend: Seeking out the natural side of life

Fiona Burke of Little Red natural skincare products, talks about her Clare roots, the magic of seaweed and cruising into market towns when everyone is still asleep
My Weekend: Seeking out the natural side of life
Fiona Burke, Little Red.

Tell us about yourself?

I was born and raised in Ennis, Co Clare. My love of seaweed was sparked from beach trips up the road to Lahinch, where my five siblings and I would be treated to a brown paper bag of ‘seagrass’ (dillisk) or periwinkles on the prom.

With a degree in Mechanical Engineering, I moved to Cork. I worked as a process engineer for a couple of years before deciding it wasn’t for me — I guess I’m too earthy for that, always seeking out the natural side of life.

Inspired by friends in the market business, I changed tack by setting up a cheese stall, selling artisan farmhouse cheeses at various markets in Cork, Clare and Kerry. Nineteen years on, I am still marketeering, but more recently with my own natural skincare range, Little Red, which I make myself, using west Clare seaweed as its signature ingredient. My workshop is next to my house in the quiet mountains high above Macroom.

Little Red products.
Little Red products.

How do you spend your Friday nights?

It’s a bit sad, but I usually tend to fade early on a Friday night after work, and ferrying my three kids around to various activities and school during the week.

If I’m working at Skibbereen market on a Saturday, I like to cosy up early with a good book and try and get some beauty sleep.

Occasionally, if book club or a cultural event falls on a Friday night, I’m there, and have been known to enjoy a glass of red and more than a dance or two.

Night owl or up with the lark?

I’m an early riser. I suppose my biological clock has been trained over the years to rise, hop in the van, and drive the hour or so to markets, cruising into towns that are still asleep. Even on my days off, I enjoy getting up early — I feel like I have an edge on those lying in.

Does work creep into your weekend at all?

At this quiet time of year, I make the most of spending weekends with family. Being self-employed, however, I do check emails for orders coming in, and can be found in my workshop any hour of the day or night.

Come March, I’ll be back doing Skibbereen market on Saturdays, and later on in the season, Bantry on Fridays and Schull on Sundays.

I’ve worked weekends for many years now though — it’s just a way of life. But because markets are so sociable, even though it’s work, you also feel like you’ve socialised and can still be in bed early.

If money was no object where would you head to on a weekend city break? And who would you bring with you?

My brother Kevin lives in Vancouver: he and his lady are expecting their first baby in June, so I’d love to take the whole family there. New York is so cool — Christian has never been, so I’d like to take him and visit some jazz clubs In Harlem. Reykjavik sounds amazing, as does Copenhagen. My book club is organising a trip to Malaga later on in the year, which is a beautiful place to visit for the food, culture and sunshine.

Closer to home, is there some place you like to head to recharge the batteries?

I live in a particularly quiet and unspoilt part of the world, the hills of which provide a happy place for me to walk. Sometimes we’ll scoot to the beach with the dogs on a Sunday for that blast of sea air to blow away the cobwebs.

Little Red products.
Little Red products.

Do you like to catch up with family/friends at the weekend?

Quality time with family and friends is pure gold, I believe that’s ideally what weekends are for.

Do you get to indulge in any hobbies?

During the week I try to catch a couple of yoga classes — as much for zoning out and escapism as for staying strong. Zumba also floats my boat — so even if I haven’t been partying, at least I’ve been dancing, which I adore. Exercise is paramount to me for my mental health. I also enjoy cooking, gardening, reading and of course walking.

Entertain or be entertained? If it’s the latter do you have a signature dish?

I love both. When I entertain, I make a pretty mean salad with grilled halloumi, nectarines, rocket and a garam masala dressing. Raw chocolate desserts are also a firm favourite of mine.

We have so many places to eat out in Cork — where are your go to spots for coffee/ lunch/ special meal?

The other day I popped into the Antiquity bookshop/cafe in Skibbereen for a Red Strand coffee and a Skibbereen caramel — yum.

Some Sundays we’ve walked the beach at Long Strand near Clonakilty, and wolfed down the best fish and chips in the Fish Basket afterwards.

A bunch of us are booked into The Mews, Baltimore in March for my birthday, which I’m really looking forward to. I’m on the waiting list for Ichigo Ichie in Cork at some point, and still have to make it to The Chestnut in Ballydehob.

Sunday night comes around too fast, how do you normally spend it?

Chilling out at home, preferably after a nice long walk and some good old-fashioned roast fodder with some wine. I don’t watch much television, but these days I’m enjoying Dancing with the Stars with my daughter, Suairni, and sometimes even the boys will join in.

What time does your alarm clock go off on Monday morning?

7.30am on school days. However, during the summer season, Monday is like my Saturday — so I don’t set an alarm. Were it a market day, it would be 5.30am.

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