This is the second in a series of posts on our trip to Ireland in July. You can view our first post here!.
While in Ireland with my sister Pat on a month-long quest to find our O’Keefe ancestors, one of our favorite things to do was to drive from our base at Park South Bed and Breakfast to Doneraile. Why? For starters, my sister could practice driving on the left side of the road (it was her first time) and I could take photos of the beautiful countryside. But more importantly, it is the home of a tiny butcher shop owned and operated by a man with a big personality—a find that turned out to be one of the cultural and culinary highlights of our trip. It’s rather funny, too, how we chanced upon this gem. It was during our first trip into the three-block town (population of 1400) of Doneraile. Our plan was to purchase some postcard stamps and ask around if anyone knew any O’Keeffes. However, when we arrived at the second block, low and behold, what excitement we felt as our eyes fell upon a large sign that read, “O’Keeffe Butcher Shop.” We could hardly wait to figure out how to park so we could get inside.
Upon entering the shop, we asked the butcher if he was an O’Keeffe. To our disappointment, he was not. His name was Michael O’Sullivan and he was the new owner of the 114 year-old business. He had left the name O’Keeffe because it has been known by that for so many years. He was most helpful though in telling us who in town we should talk to about the many O’Keeffes who have lived in the Doneraile area, and he later introduced us to his assistant, Annie Marie, who, in that true friendly Irish spirit, was ever so helpful in giving us directions to O’Keefe homes .
O’Keeffe Butcher Shop became a routine stop for us to buy ingredients for the traditional Irish Fry breakfast which included rashers (thin cut loin from pig) and bangers (fine ground pork). Michael convinced us to try black and white pudding, a concoction made from ground pork, oatmeal and seasonings; a bit of pig blood is added to the white pudding to make it black. Michael said he had worked in the U.S. in a butcher shop for several years (claiming that his mother sent him to butcher school at the age of seven to keep him off the streets) and that in Ireland their ingredients are of better quality with no” extra” undesirable things added. Unlike many American meat counters, O’Keeffe’s sells lamb in many forms—chops, chunks, ground, and roasts. We bought chunks, and since Michael sells vegetables, fruits, and free range eggs as well as meat, we were well on our way to making a pot of lamb stew.
One of the most endearing things about Michael is that he always gave us each a free apple. One day he saw us across the street at the post office and came over and gave us an apple even though we had been to his shop just an hour earlier. On another occasion, we came in during a 90 degree record breaking day, dying of the heat, and he offered to get us a chair and a drink of water. We always felt failte (meaning welcome in Irish, or I should say Gaelic) in his shop.
Michael was quite entertaining as he gave his perspective on the world in his Irish brogue. And let me tell you, he has a perspective on everything! He was quite humorous, and he made us laugh a lot. While perfectly slicing our rashers, he talked of how hard it is to be one of the many bachelors out in the countryside and trying to find a wife. “Women just want access to boutiques these days,” he said. “They don’t appreciate the beauty and serenity of the country life.” So, if you are looking for an Irish country guy, look him up the next time you are in Doneraile. Tell him the O’Keeffe sisters sent you since I’m pretty sure he never learned our names (when introducing us he always referred to us as ‘the O’Keeffe sisters from America who are looking for their ancestors’). He is closed on Wednesdays and Sundays, by the way.
Upon returning to the U.S., my first trip to the grocery store to buy meat was anticlimactic! The stores here just can’t compete with Michael’s pieces of meat and pieces of advice, although I’ll have to admit that some of his advice was questionable. I miss O’Keeffe Butcher Shop.