FOR Pa O’Farrell, closing his family-owned butcher shop at 19, Main Street, Midleton, after 70 years in business, was the saddest day of his life.
It was a sad day for many in the town too.
“I couldn’t walk down the main street without somebody asking me if the shop was going to open again,” says Pa, 62.
“People said it was a shame it was closing. When I closed for the last time, it was the saddest day for me. I grew up there and I had many happy times there.
“My dad, Sean, and my mother, Johanna, built up the business between them and they reared nine of us over the shop.”
However, now the butcher’s has reopened under new ownership - and Pa couldn’t be happier.
He was thrilled to meet two experienced butchers who were eager to trade on the main street in Midleton.
“I met Mark Kennedy and Paul O’Neill, who are both master butchers, through contacts in the business,” says Pa. “It was a happy coincidence.
“They were interested in going into business together and in re-opening the shop.
“Mark and Paul are both very experienced butchers, having worked for Ó Crualaoí’s butchers.
“They have more than 40 years’ experience between them in the trade and I couldn’t ask for a more suitable combination to take over O’Farrell’s butchers.”
There is an added bonus.
“They are keeping the name, which is great!” says Pa.
They are keeping some of the old traditions too.
“Mark and Paul are modernising the shop, putting their own stamp on it, but keeping the core traditional values of a family business,” says Pa, who has been advising the two men on their foray into business in Midleton.
“I’m so glad that I can have an input into the re-opening of the shop. It means so much to me. Every time I passed it, I got a sense of nostalgia.”
Mark, from Waterfall, and Paul from Leamlara, are practically family.
“They are married to two sisters!” says Pa.
“I am so happy to be able to give them a hand to re-open the shop. The town misses it.”
Pa reminises about his time at the shop.
“I loved meeting the people, and having a chat with all the regulars about matches, local, news; the weather.
“I’ve been running the shop since 1978 and I would have served three generations.
“Leaving the business, I thought of all the history of our family and of the good times we had growing up.
“Closing up was very emotional for me, there were a lot of childhood memories attached to the shop.”
Pa was well-known as a friendly butcher in Midleton.
“When the customers came in the door for their meat, I know exactly what they wanted!
"We had old and new customers and we all got to know each other over the years. We made friends with each other.
“My brother Edward supplied the meat for the shop and we were known for our good quality meat and value for money.”
However, Pa, though loathe to be leaving the family business, eventually felt the time had come to do other things.
“I began winding down from mid-April,” he says. “Working all hours, I missed out a lot of leisure time and family time. I had to give social occasions a miss. I never had time to go to matches or go for a cycle. I felt it was time to take a step back.”
Pa and Carmel have two sons, Padraig and Sean, and a daughter, Aoife.
“None of my own family were interested in taking over the business,” says Pa. “it had come to the stage where they are off doing their own thing. The shop is an around-the-clock commitment, especially with the business that was there.
O’Farrell’s butchers was a staple on the main street. “The shop was always buzzing and it was a hive of activity,” says Pa. “It was a great meeting place!”
Last week, it reopened its doors.
The new owners, Mark and Paul, will continue the legacy that Sean O’Farrell began when he left his native Kerry in the 1930s to set up shop in Midleton.
“I know my dad would be delighted with new blood re-opening the shop and that the O’Farrell name will continue to be over the door,” says Pa.
He will continue his connection with the shop he loved so well since he was a child.
“I am confident that Mark and Paul will do a great job,” says Pa. “I am delighted to be involved in getting them up and arranging the revamp and the modernisation of the shop.”
Is Carmel delighted Pa is semi-retired?
“Yes she is,” says Pa laughing. “At times!”
Paul is looking forward to the new and exciting challenge with his business partner, Mark.
“O’Farrell’s is a great shop and Midleton is a great busy vibrant town,” says Paul.
“Mark and I have a passion for the business and we wanted to go into business together for so long.
“Everyone has been very supportive. And leaving Ó Crualaoí’s, we have their full blessing and encouragement. It was a natural progression for us.”
Paul and Mark are best friends.
“We are in the meat business since we were 16,” says Paul. “We both did our work experience with Ó Crualaoí’s.”
Now they will work together in their new business venture.
“No.19 Main street built up a huge name in the meat trade in Midleton, it has a great family story.
“We are keeping the name 100% and re-organising the lay-out of the shop. It’ll be great to have Pa’s help at the start,” says Paul.
Pa is more than willing and able to give his help to his friends.
“I wish them both the best of luck,” he says.
Pa’s sister, Eileen Kenneally, was one of nine O’Farrells who helped out at her father’s butchers shop on Main Street, Midleton.
“It must have been at the end of the ’60s when we lived over the butchers’ shop; all nine of us eventually,” says Eileen, of Garryvoe .
“Christmas was our harvest when all hands were on deck. Every turkey that arrived from various farms was killed and plucked.
“The abattoir was outside the town. We’d have hundreds of birds in the out-house and on Christmas Eve our parlour at home would be filled with fowl until the customer picked them up.”
A fresh bird for the Christmas dinner table was of the utmost importance.
“Having a fresh turkey from the butcher was a big thing for the lady of the house back then, making sure her family had a good Christmas dinner,” says Eileen.
“Money was scarce, there were many mouths to feed and many women on a strict budget would start paying for their turkey and ham in September.
“They would want the very best turkey and the freshest one. We hung them outside the shop on a rail and the customers could view them and choose their bird.
“My dad would give the women a present of suet dripping to cook the bird. The fat was chopped up, melted, strained, then cooled. We cut it in blocks and wrapped it up. There was quite a bit of work in it.”
How were turkeys plucked?
“We learned how to pluck the turkey by dampening our fingers with water, which made the job easier. You started at the back of the bird in case you’d tear the front of the breast where the skin was thin.
“I remember our fingers and toes were cold, the house was cold, the town was cold! The fowl never went off, not even when we’d post the birds to England.”
The fruits of the labourers’ work was evident on the floor.
“I remember we’d be knee deep in feathers!”
Some turkey pluckers needed motivation.
“One lady in particular enjoyed a glass or two of porter while she was working,” says Eileen. “Often this was just to keep awake.
“I was sent to the ‘snug’ in the pub next door, Niall McCarthy’s, to get the porter for her,” recalls Eileen. “The porter came in brown bottles and was filtered to her through the night so she’d keep working. If we gave it to her too early she’d fall asleep!”
“After a night shift, the dawn chorus could often be heard from some employees who indulged during the night and the alcohol was now telling on them.
“Back then, the plucking of turkeys and ducks was done by candle-light, or the light of a lantern. I remember once the candle fell over and the place nearly went up in smoke,” says Eileen.
“There was straw in the upper part of the premises. As luck would have it, we had jars of water for wetting our hands for plucking so we had that to put out the fire.”
If a tear appeared on the turkey, a local seamstress would mend it. The only part of the bird not used was the claw. Duck feathers were singed over the gas cooker — a delicate operation.
A shilling was often going a-begging for odd jobs.
“A young lad looking for pocket money would sweep the feathers from the floor. There was a job for everybody.
“I remember in between all the work and all the chaos, my mother still got to iron my brother’s soutanes for serving three masses on Christmas morning. We’d love to see them ironed hanging up on the hangers, knowing Christmas morning was drawing near.”
Time was of the essence too.
“It was such a busy time for our parents,” says Eileen. “They had to meet the deadline for posting the turkeys to England to family members.
“Lots of local families had sons and daughters who had emigrated to the UK and they wanted to make sure they got a bird for Christmas.
“The turkeys were wrapped in white meat paper, then boxed and the knot of twine was sealed with the red wax ready to post.”
Eileen had another job.
“I’d go the post office with my mother and I’d stand in the queue while she went back to work; there was so much to do. The post office was really busy with everyone posting for Christmas.
“The queue was out the door. I used to watch the queue dwindling in front of me, hoping my mother would get back before I reached the front of it.”
Children were seen, not heard.
“There was no time for teenage moods or sulking in a corner!” says Eileen, laughing. “It was all about putting bread and butter on the table.
“Shoes were polished for mass, dinners were made. We were still all fed with a huge shepherd’s pie. Santa still came. But January was a lean time.”
People were wise.
“Women had a ‘Christmas club’ going, where they’d pay two shillings and sixpence a week for poultry and meat, and the same for toys.
“They were great women, who had big families and small houses, but who still coped and looked after everything.”
They taught Eileen a thing or two. “Even today I am grateful for what I have and I don’t like waste.”
No room was wasted in the O’Farrell household.
“I remember the cousins would come to earn a bob or two for pocket money.
“There could be three to a bed and you could often have a leg or arm in your mouth! Funny, we all slept sound!”
And they all surely enjoyed their Christmas dinner.
“I still like turkey, even today!” says Eileen.