The Greedy Galway Butcher

Here our animators – Caomhán & Ciarán – bring to life a folktale about a greedy Galway butcher who takes advantage of the Claddagh fisherman by using their superstitions to increase his meat sales. It’s a simple story of supply and demand.

Foxes were particularly despised by fishermen in Ireland and elsewhere (Cornwall, Brittany, etc.), so much so that if a Claddagh fisherman happened to see one of these animals or even heard its name mentioned he would not venture to sea that day.

A story is told that a certain ‘enterprising’ Galway butcher would bring a fox to Galway every Friday to prevent the Claddagh men from going to sea. The result … with fewer fresh fish available in Galway the people of the town bought more meat from their local butcher.

Here is the story as it was recounted by the Galway historian James Hardiman in 1846:

“So great is their aversion to the fox, hare, or rabbit, that they never so much as mention their names themselves, not can they endure even hearing them named by others. If a fisherman of Claddagh … happens to see one of these animals, or to hear its name mentioned, he would not on that day venture to sea; and the cause of this strange superstition they neither know themselves nor can anyone account for. But it has often been turned to their disadvantage, of which the following, among other instances, has been frequently related.

Near the great fishing village of Claddagh, there once lived a butcher, who used to take humorous but mischievous advantage of the simplicity of his neighbours. They never, it appears, go to fish on Saturday, for fear of breaking in on the sabbath, a day which they always scrupulously observe. Friday is, therefore, one of their principal fishing days; and a successful “take” on that day, generally has the effect of reducing the  price of meat in the ensuing Saturday’s market. The butcher, whose calling was thus occasionally injured, contrived for a long time to prevent it, by procuring a fox, or, as some say, a stuffed fox-skin, and causing it to be exhibited, every Friday morning, through the village. This invariable caused a general noise and movement among the fishermen, not unlike those of gulls in a loom-gale; and it never failed to make them, for that day at least, abandon their fishing excursion.”

SOURCES:

  • HARDIMAN, James (ed.)(1846) A Chronological Description of West or Iar Connaught, Written A.D. 1684, by Roderic O’Flaherty. Dublin: Irish Archaeological Society.

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