Thursday 7 February 2013

The old butcher

The village near our house is basically an intersection, with little besides a pub, a church and a petrol station -- but it does have a butcher, as does almost every village here. As expensive as meat can be, it was all the more prized when people were poor and communities were more self-reliant.

Village butchers were highly valued for centuries. In their 1816 book "The Experienced Butcher," James Plumptre and Thomas Lantaffe wrote that " want to seek cleanliness and civility, the greatest recommendations of a tradesman, and no more than butchers. The real nature of their business and the prejudices of the world make these qualities more particularly requisite in them."

I was listening to one of Radio Televis Eireann's archives the other day, hearing an interview from a quarter-century ago with butcher Thomas Kieron, then-owner of a shop in a small town in rural Ireland. He complained that they could no longer put pigs-heads in the windows, as it would frighten customers -- "People cannot tolerate the idea of what they are eating," he said, "yet they can turn on the telly and watch people getting blown up... I find it most peculiar."

When asked about the then-new trend for health foods, though, the local butcher really got his dander up.

"And now people have the audacity to start talking this rubbish about other foods being better," Kieron said. "Where could you get a simpler, more straightforward meal than a bit of meat, potatoes and vegetables from the farm, cooked perfectly for your children. What about all the people who are said to be so beautiful today, slipping into Christian Dior dresses? Not all their own weight, but a fraction, so they can wear underwear. And you have this lady, nice and slim, but what happens if she gets a little dose of pleurisy or pneumonia? How can she lose a few pounds weight? She'd be in a shroud. You have to have a bit of meat on you."

Photo of a Dublin butcher in 1946. Courtesy of 


HotFlashHomestead said...

In our little town, we are blessed to have two good butcher shops, a fishmonger, a cheese shop, and of course the regular old supermarket for everything else. And two good farmer's markets. The sad thing is they are all in different parts of town and can only be accessed if you have an auto; the other thing is their prices are considerably higher than the supermarket, which makes them more specialty shops than places the average person goes to.

Brian Kaller said...


That's an impressive number of specialist shops -- you're fortunate.

I know what you mean about driving long distances; when I lived in Missouri, the only places with small-farmed food and reusable glass bottles were in the most expensive neighbourhoods, making sustainability into an affectation for the rich.