If you ask Michael O’Neill how he got into butchering – he’ll say ‘I fell into it!’ And you could almost believe him if you didn’t know the wealth of expertise behind the man born into the third generation of a family business established in 1919. The real story is that as a young man who had just got married – Michael’s father in law insisted he had a ‘proper’ job to support wife Marie in their new life together. So Michael went into the family trade at 21 years of age, learning his craft beside his father. He now runs the shop with Marie, the couple have been married for almost three decades. Marie works in the traditional cash booth that’s been here as long as the business has. Marie says ‘it was always in the shop but it’s become quite an attraction these days, one of only a few left in the industry.’ The wooden hand crafted booth was and is still where money changes hands.
Operations inside have been given a modern day make over in equipment terms but the principle remains the same. Customers select what they want from the counter and go to Marie to pay for it. It’s a very practical and rather appealing way to deal with the build-up of customers that sometimes happens at the counter on busy days. Michael’s mother also works in the booth part time – she worked there with his father when her family were small, and she’s still going strong. O’Neill’s is a traditional family butcher’s shop based on longstanding family traditions. That’s very reassuring for the local residents who shop here – and hugely appealing to any visitors or strangers in town. No better reference needed than the test of time and the many photographs of the family and some of the farmers who currently produce livestock especially for the shop.
O’Neill’s meat is conscientiously sourced and the shop’s own abattoir just down the road ensures humane processing in very small numbers. We are talking an average of four animals a day and a maximum of six at busy times of year – so no large herds arriving from big lorries and being stressed beforehand. The abattoir was always part of the business, used to supply the shop only, and O’Neill’s is now the only butcher in Clonakilty which has its own processing facility. That means Michael has total control over his meat selection and quality from the field to the counter. Beef comes from a local Black Angus herd reared on the grassy slopes looking over nearby Inchydoney beach. Michael hangs and dry ages this on the bone for three weeks before cutting into delectable ribs, steaks, pot roasts and other favourites. The framed logoed t-shirt which hangs on the wall behind the counter shouts ‘well hung and tender’ – and that’s exactly what you get from the beef here.
The O’Neill family may go back generations in butchering, but they certainly have a modern outlook in today’s market. Shifts and trends have merged the time honoured cuts with quick and easy supper ideas ready to cook in minutes. A monthly newsletter is a vibrant offering packed with hints and tips, new things coming soon to the shop, special offers, and a handy recipe on the back. Facebook is also used to promote the wares here. But essentially, O’Neill’s is a superb example of a traditional business which has held true to the local food ethos down through the years. It well deserves its Good Food Ireland status – for the belief in and support of local farmers and their produce is what the business has thrived and grown on for three generations.
Aside from the meat range, the shop stocks a small selection of local vegetables like the famous Clonakilty Potatoes, as well as a select range of Irish jams and preserves and meat related seasonings to make life very easy indeed for the cook. O’Neill’s is a shop for the locals, and a great stop off for those holidaying in the area who want to stock up on local fresh produce for the fridge.
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