Our Book of the Week this week is Ruth Gilligan’s The Butchers, a novel looking back to the time of The Troubles in 20th Century Ireland via a very different perspective; the world of meat and dairy farming.
Whilst the continuing conflict in Ulster is referred to in the book, it remains peripheral to various other crises which were occurring in Ireland at the time. Clashes between Catholicism and mysticism, capitalism and agriculture, masculinity and sexuality create more elemental conflicts in Gilligan’s novel. The central plot device, however, is the BSE crisis, which reached Ireland in 1989. Affecting meat and dairy farms across the country, BSE, commonly known as ‘mad cow disease’ wrecked havoc on Irish farming.
Irish farmers were forced to cull entire herds to lessen the spread of the disease, slaughtering 22,400 animals at the cost of €23.8m by 1996. This led to many countries ending their exportation of British and Irish beef in the 1990’s, vastly compromising Irish agriculture and damaging farming communities.
This book is a very real portrayal of Ulster identity at a time of serious border disputes. Follow Una and her mother, Davey and his family, and the photographer tailing them all to discover close-kept family deceptions and the murder mystery plaguing them all. How did a man end up dead on a meat-hook in the middle of an epidemic? And who is he?