A Day in the Life: Sarah Ní Shúilleabháin


FAMILY BUSINESS Sarah Ní Shúilleabháin with her husband, Seán de Burca, outside their butchers shop, De Burca Butchers, on Main Street, Castlebar.  Pic: Keith Heneghan

Mornings are different now since I started work in Mayo University Hospital.
Seán would head to the shop early and I bring the kids to school and then start work at 9am. I am a Medical Scientist and work in Haematology and Blood Transfusion.
I basically test patients’ bloods for haematalogical conditions. We also get units of blood suitable for people in surgery or if they’ve been in an accident or lost blood for any reason.
I’m full-time there since July. Before that I was full-time in the shop and I’ve still plenty of work to be doing there too!
My husband Seán is a butcher and our family business is De Burca’s on Main Street in Castlebar. Seán needed a butcher and while I do a good few things here, I’m not a butcher.
I would have filled in where needed and still do. So, on top of the day job, I would prepare a lot of the spice and stuffing mixes, take care of social media and then things like labelling, allergens, the environmental health side of things. Because I work in a lab I speak that language.
That side of things is massive in a butcher shop. It’s all necessary but for a small, family butchers there is a lot of paperwork to be at.
Seán hates paperwork and I’m used to it so I take care of that side of things. Seán really did need another butcher in the shop so Peter Doyle started work in December. He’s a chef by trade but is brilliant at the butchery. Himself and Seán complement each other perfectly.
Paperwork can be done at any time of the day but you need the right people in the shop when customers are there.
At lunchtime I go downtown and meet Seán and have lunch in the shop. I usually end up doing some paperwork while I’m there.
It has been difficult in the last three or four months. In one week in October alone 13 butchers nationwide closed. People go to supermarkets and it is convenient to get their meat there. It is extra effort to come up to us on Main Street. It’s why we really do appreciate our customers.
I think more people are cooking for themselves and then putting a lot more thought into getting the best ingredients and that’s usually in butchers. We cannot afford to sell a bad piece of meat because you won’t see that customer again.

Christmas rush
It’s why Christmas is important. Then and at Easter we see a lot of new faces and if you send them home happy then you will hopefully see them again. Christmas is a chance to consolidate and grow your customer base. Christmas is a busy and expensive time for everyone. If people feel they got a good deal from us, that helps our business. People talk and word of mouth is important.
Until people start collecting the turkeys on December 23 or Christmas Eve you cannot swing a cat in the fridge, it is that full!
We would sell a lot of turkey, ham and stuffing for Christmas but we also would have people ordering game as well, geese and duck. We’d sell turkey breasts too. If there’s only two people well then a full turkey, no matter how small it is, is too much. We do our own stuffing, including a lovely cranberry and walnut flavour we make especially for Christmas.
We make our own sausages too and Seán makes cocktail sausages and sausage rolls which go well for parties over the Christmas.
Our daughters Elly (10) and Sadhb (7) love coming in on Christmas Eve. We have non-alcoholic mulled wine and they love serving that out.
When we leave on Christmas Eve and all the turkeys are gone and everyone is happy, it is a nice feeling.
I finish work at 5pm and after work I pick up the kids and by the time I might get a few bits of shopping, Seán is finished and we pick him up.
Every evening we sit down for dinner together and chat about the day.
I’d be home on Saturday with the kids and Sundays is the only day we keep completely shop free. The Sunday has to be sacrosanct. We will go for a walk around the lake or maybe a drive or just hang around the house. I love cooking Sunday dinner too. And I know a very good butcher!

In conversation with Edwin McGreal

Name: Sarah Ní Shúilleabháin
From: Loch con Aortha in Conamara
Age: On Saturday night 21 and on Monday morning 102.
Occupation: Medical Scientist/Apprentice Butcher/Dressmaker for dolls

Quickfire questions
If money was no object, what would you do all day?

Read, paint and write.

Tell us something about yourself we don’t know?
I like to write and I’m part of the Castlebar Writer’s Group that meets once a month in the Linenhall to workshop what we’re working on. A lovely bunch of people headed up by Ken Armstrong – it’s my favourite night of the month.

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?
I’ll try anything once – the only thing that comes to mind at the moment is a stew we had in a remote pub in France. It had a very gamey flavour and when we looked more closely at the menu, we realised it was horse. It was pretty good.

Where’s your favourite place in the world?
Anywhere along the Connemara or Mayo coast on any day of the year.

What makes you angry?
Sexist and racist people make me angry.

Who was your first hero?
George Orwell – my dad gave me ‘Animal Farm’ when I was quite young and it took me a while to get it, but when I understood what it was about I really fell in love with his writing.

Name three things that are always in your fridge?
Hellman’s Mayonnaise (for a sandwich, a dollop mixed with cayenne pepper to go with a chicken breast for dinner, or with anything really); eggs (you always have a healthy meal when you have eggs); Crazy Bastard Hot Sauce (made in Berlin by a Mayo man – a few dots of it on a fried egg gets the blood pumping in the morning!)

What makes you nervous?
The kids make me nervous when they get hungry and dinner isn’t anywhere near ready – they turn feral!

What’s your favourite TV show?

Who’s the most famous person you’ve met?
Edna O’Brien – She’s just wonderful.

What was your best holiday?
Normandy with Seán... or anywhere in France with Seán. He’s the best travelling partner.

What do you miss most about being a kid?
Spending time with my Mamó. She had the biggest heart and was very witty.

What’s your most-prized possession?
I know this sounds soppy but it’s a bundle of letters Seán wrote to me when I was living in Finland doing my thesis. I’d save them from a burning house … after himself and the kids of course!

Best advice you ever got?
Save a percentage of your weekly wage – I wish to God I took that advice!

Describe yourself in three words?
Witty, dumb, sarcastic (in that order!).

How do you unwind?
Saturday night by the fire, listening to a good podcast or watching a film with the lads.