Fiction: The Butchers
Atlantic Books €16.99
It's January 1996 and 12-year-old Úna watches her father prepare to leave their Co Cavan home. He is one of the Butchers, a group of men who travel the length and breadth of Ireland to slaughter cattle according to their tradition.
"There had to be eight men present at every cattle slaughter; eight different hands touching the animal's hide as it passed from this life to the next. So now eight Butchers spent 11 months of the year calling on the few families… who still believed, and killing their beasts in the traditional, curse-abiding way."
During these months, Úna and her mother, Grá, live a hand-to-mouth existence. Úna is subjected to taunts and teasing from her school-mates who find her father's bizarre occupation. Despite this, Úna becomes determined to follow in her father's footsteps. She wants to become the first female Butcher.
Grá has just turned 41 and is lonely and fearful of the repercussions from the recent UK BSE crisis. The news is full of Irish beef baron Eoin 'The Bull' Goldsmith, who is brokering deals with Dubai and promising the people of Ireland that "we're going to break away from the Brits and be minted!".
Meanwhile, Fionn is a man in need of cash. He has to re-connect with his ill wife and son, Davey, before it is too late - and Davey has a link with the Butchers. In a country hurting from decades of the Troubles, the smuggling of cattle across border lines becomes a way of earning a quick buck.
The Butchers dips its toe in the waters of Irish myth, blending tradition with historical fact, all with gentle subtlety. Gilligan writes with clarity and compassion, resulting in an outstanding contemporary twist on the great Irish novel. Enchanting, ethereal and enlightening. Highly recommended.
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