IT’S 1961, and Liam O’Herlihy has quit his job driving for Donnelly Sausages, bought a van, and set up his own business specialising in pork and ham.
Next year will be O’Herlihy’s Bacon company’s diamond jubilee celebrating 60 years in business; the reins handed over to the next, and third, generation of the family.
Geraldine Daly is a veteran of the business, forty years overseeing day to day operations, working alongside each generation: firstly Liam, then his son Noel, and now Noel’s daughter Kate and her siblings Sarah, Sean and Patrick.
“Liam wanted to create his own range of sausages to an old O’Herlihy family recipe and go around County Cork selling them from a van,” says Geraldine.
“There were two types of sausages which we still make today to the same recipe.
“Then Liam went into the ham trade, becoming our best sellers and well known for them. We steam cook them in the traditional way and then glaze with honey and cloves. We put this ham into the Blas na hEireann awards in 2020 and won a bronze award,” said Geraldine,.
That was another accolade to add to their 2014 award for their rashers and 2016 award for their bacon joints.
Under Liam’s guidance, the product range increased to include black and white puddings and they began curing and slicing their own bacon, all made within a stone’s throw of the house Noel grew up in.
“The old factory was behind my father’s home, built onto the house,” says Kate, “located on Barrett’s Lane in Bishopstown. Nobody knows it as that – everyone knows it as Sausage Lane because of the factory, even today!
“Everything was prepared and packed at the home place.
“And there used to be an old smokehouse too with different types of wood shavings on the ground.”
Noel worked in the business from the age of 16, learning his skills at the helm of Jerry O’Dwyer, a craft butcher who ran the business with Liam.
“He worked with us until he was 65,” says Kate, “but he still came down to visit us everyday until he passed two years ago. He was 96 years old!”
Noel found himself stepping into his father’s shoes at 24 years of age, after his father suddenly died.
“It was his life,” remembers Kate, “he was always looking for ways to improve what was being done.
“He was a true character, funny, and always worked so hard. He loved to come down to West Cork as often as possible — him and mum had a holiday home in Schull — and every year without fail he would take the train to Croker for the All Ireland Final with two friends.”
“Even if Cork wasn’t in the final!” says Geraldine.
In 2017, Noel was diagnosed with cancer and began calling on his own children to come and help out in the business.
“We were always around to help out, but eventually dad needed help with marketing and selling, so two years ago I started working three or four days a week in the business. I think I was probably in the way in the beginning — I was put to work cutting rashers and bacon, learning all about the company from the ground up,” says Kate.
“Eventually, I went on the road, visiting retail managers in Dunnes and Supervalu. It was then I realised the value of learning everything about how the business was operated,” says Kate, who could confidently talk about the quality of their meat, more than 90% of which is sourced from within Ireland; how its cured, made, cut and packaged — the care taken at every step of the way.
“Dad really taught us to work hard — he wouldn’t give us a euro unless we worked for it! But its something we have all come to appreciate, and that working hard gets you places,” Kate says.
Noel was dedicated to his community, supporting the local GAA clubs in Bishopstown where the family business began, and in Ballincollig where, for the past 30 years, O’Herlihy’s has been operating. He was the proud owner of a nickname too: Noelie the Goalie, from his days playing field hockey.
“A lovelier man you could never meet,” said Geraldine.
“There are 12 of us work here, and nobody with fewer than 20 years under their belt. He was a lovely person and a lovely boss too. He was liked by everyone.”
Sadly, Noel lost his fight with cancer in 2019, and since then Kate is working full time and her siblings and mum continue to step in when needed, continuing the O’Herlihy tradition of working in the family business — everything from handing out flyers to slicing the rashers, packing up the festive hams, and on the road dropping off their produce to their customers in retail and hospitality.
So, what does the future hold for O’Herlihy’s? Nothing more radical than to keep working hard, producing quality sausages, bacon and ham, and getting it on more shelves in more shops right across the country.
And, of course, never taking the eye off the importance of community. That’s the legacy of Noelie the Goalie from Sausage Lane.