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MacGrath’s Butchers in Lismore & Some Thoughts on Butchery

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Growing up in Ireland there were many local butchers, there still are. The small area that my grandmother lived in had two, and each of them reared, killed and butchered their own meat. This was common practice, until very recently.

I have many fond memories of going to the butchers. Our local butcher was the son of a family friend and our grandmother would send us there to get some minced beef and a t-bone steak with an onion. An onion? Well, my father thought he hated onions, but my grandmother craftily had the onion minced in with the meat and to this day, he doesn’t know that he has been eating onions all his life. I told him once and he refused to believe me.

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In Ireland we have always consumed a lot of beef, and produced a lot more. We export 80% of our beef on average, and while beef consumption isn’t as high as it used to be, 55% of the population still consume beef regularly. Our cattle population is on a par with the human population – in fact there are more of them (5.93 million in 2008).

Things have changed now though.  A change in the law relating to abattoirs  and the increased presence of supermarkets (generally offering meat that is below par), combined with the BSE crisis, has resulted in the closure of a lot of these local abattoirs and butchers. They just can’t compete or suffer the increased costs and this is a great shame.

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Not his fault - I asked him to pose like this :)

There are some gems remaining, one of which is McGrath’s Butchers in Lismore, Co Waterford. They’ve been in the butchery business since the early 1800s, and in the current shop, the latest generation – fourth – butcher presides with his third generation father. They farm their own beef and have an abattoir at the back of the shop where they  butcher their own animals weekly.

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It seems strange to talk about being charmed by this operation, but really, you can tell that they run this with great care and respect, resulting in a top quality product. The abattoir is a key stage of the meat production process – whether we want to address it or not – and it’s important that it’s right.

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The shop itself is sweet and very old school. The cash register is located away from the meat counter and  handled by the lady of the house. Hygienic, it makes perfect sense. Why did we stop doing that? Staff  overheads? A kitchen behind provides ample cups of tea and biscuits and a comforting large range.

McGrath’s supply the michelin starred Cliff House Hotel and also Ballyvolane House and O’Brien’s Chop House. Those guys really know a good thing when they see it. It’s so important that we support local butchers like this. It’s better for us, for flavour and health, for our communities and for local economies.

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The better supermarkets can give you the name of the farmer, but what’s better than buying from the farmer himself and knowing that he raised those animals in the green fields nearby? Outdoor reared? These animals have so much room to roam, it makes me feel so sorry for those poor ones interned in intensive farms. The animals are local too, there are no long distances for them to travel. That is traceability and sustainability, right there. We should support it. We need to if it’s to survive.

So, next time you think of going to the supermarket for your meat, just try your local butcher, I promise the quality will exceed. If it’s more expensive,and it very well may be in cities at least, remember the care and attention that went into it, how very much better it is for you, and once you become an established customer there are always perks. Free bone marrow anyone? Expert advice on how to cook it?

I always say with meat, shop local (or in a good butchers at least), eat less, taste more, and enjoy it.



Filed under: Ireland


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  1. sandi says

    We buy most of out meat from the farmers markets now. I am so lucky that our small village has a butcher, we do get bits and pieces from them, but they don’t take cards, which is an absolute pain as we need to pay cash.

  2. A beautiful article and pictures that I am reading before heading off to judge at the Champion of Champions sausage competition.

    9/10 I am sure the butcher is actually cheaper. Not only can you buy the exact cut you want but also get high quality awesome advice on how to best cook it.

  3. Totally agree… we have stopped buying meat and fish from supermarkets, eating vegetarian for most of the week and only eating meat/fish when we can get to a butchers or fishmongers… or the farmers market.

    The quality does not compare, and now I couldn’t go back… the thought of eating rubbish bacon from a platic pack is repellant!

  4. Treasures. That’s what these local butchers are. It’s hard demanding work and we should cherish every one of them who determines to keep going despite the appalling pieces of legislation that Europe throws their way.
    Lovely photographs by the way.

  5. I have to say I stumbled upon your blog a few months ago, and really enjoy it! This article reminds me of my Irish grandfather and really reminded me of the importance of supporting local butchers, I’m beginning my search for one in my area.

  6. So true, the local butcher is often much better value than a generic supermarket and MacGrath’s really represent the very best craftsmanship in butchery. It was fascinating to see their shop and how spick and span everything is, right down to the immaculate kitchen with the range!

    Great post Niamh, really important to highlight high quality producers like MacGraths.

  7. Made me laugh reading about your Dad being blissfully unaware that he had been eating onions all his life :D

    It was after Jamie Oliver’s crusade against battery hens and farms of penned up chickens when I started really thinking about where my meat came from. Saying that though, yes, I still do find myself picking up prepacked, precut meat from the supermarket because lets be honest, its cheap and its convenient right? I honestly don’t know where my local butcher is, although there is a local independent supermarket near me that does source good quality meat (you can even buy sheep’s heads there). If we’re entertaining then we make a point of going to a farmer’s market or Borough Market to get what we need and try to buy local (or at least British) where we can. Not only do we feel good about supporting eithical farming but we have the assurance that its more likely to taste much better too.

    I’ve come to realise that even though you may end up spending a bit more per lb, it makes up for it in flavour and also, a friendly person behind the counter can also chuck a bit extra in for you because they just nice.

    I’ll try to make a point of cutting down what I buy from the supermarket. Its just about forming new habits right?

  8. Great post. I never buy meat from supermarkets – preferring local butchers, but the level of skill and how much better their meat is was really made apparent when I recently did a butchery class at Ginger Pig.
    My dream job would be being a butcher, but at 7,000 pounds income for the first year as an apprentice, it won’t be happening any time soon!

  9. The only butchers I know in the UK which has the little lady at a separate counter like that is Lidgates in Holland Park. I suppose with so many butchers going out of business they can’t afford to pay a separate person to do that anymore. I am very fortunate to have East London Sausage company round the corner – despite the name they are a proper butcher and not just a sausage shop. I just need the nearest fishmonger to relocate to my local shops now.

  10. Fantastic post, Niamh. McGrath’s reminded me dimly of my Grandad’s (much less pristine) shop in Cleethorpes back in the late 70s, when there was still sawdust on the floor and his butcher’s shop used to produce cooked meats and pies alongside the raw meats. He also had a small farm – a few cows, turkeys in some years – which went to supply the shop, but was far less scrupulous than the McGraths! I remember him rubbing turkey breasts with flour one year to disguise the discoloured bits. He was not a conscientious butcher.

  11. Love this post. Supermarkets that even have butcher counters really depress me — the way they handle the large cuts. Whole Foods might be the exception.

    We took to buying whole chickens at farmers markets and jointing them ourselves at home. It’s easy enough. Babs and I have also killed and taken apart a live goat in Kenya. Probably not too hard to do it here if you can find a couple of friends to share the meat with you.

    Hoping the rising tide of foodies support the independent butchers than remain, and maybe bring out a few new ones.


  12. I find the whole butchery thing really interesting. I’ve been vegetarian on and off for years and decided recently to try and only eat meat if I can know where its from. Independent butchers and farmers markets are much better for this, so I now use them if I buy meat at all.

    There are a few farms in Devon where they raise, slaughter and sell their own meat and I’m thinking of trying to visit and learn more about it. I feel like if I eat it I should understand more about what happens.

  13. Lovely piece Niamh.

    I did a butchery class one night to bone and roll a shoulder of lamb. There was a woman also on the course who had been vegetarian for about 20 years because she hated the way animals were raised for supermarkets. Once Borough opened and Ginger Pig was there she went back to eating meat, not daily, but definitely with gusto!

  14. Lovely post, love the photos as well!

    We do take our butchers for granted, when my brother moved to Belfast he could not believe that he had to travel literally miles to find a local butcher, & he tells me there’s literally no where he can buy fresh fish, even though Belfast is relatively close to the sea! The only option is Tesco, which is quite depressing.

Over to you! Your comments - I would love to hear from you :)