Monday 14 October 2019

Lay of the Land: 'Buttering up an alternative in post-Brexit days'

No deal would have a negative effect on Anglo-Irish trade
No deal would have a negative effect on Anglo-Irish trade

Fiona O'Connell

No one knows for sure what Brexit will bring, with many folk around this country town worried about the fall-out if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

Because no matter what reassurances the Government gives, fine words butter no parsnips. Especially as those who are concerned about their bread and butter know the devastation caused by the economic war of the 1930s when Britain's boycott of Irish goods ruined many rural enterprises.

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But as we also know, where there's a will, there's a relative. And when life gives you lemons, at least you can add gin if you use them to make lemonade. Such seems to have been the case in a neighbouring town, where a business literally creamed off the best of a bad situation.

So recalled an anecdote in the book Callan in the Rare Old Times, concerning the Co-op Creamery in the late 1920s and early 1930s, where the making of butter involved the exhausting and backbreaking job of giving separated milk to farmers and the cleaning of milk churns and tanks from eight-to-six each working day. While the butter-makers were like the cat that got the cream - or cushy number - smiling as they went about their daily routine.

But life for the Co-op wasn't so creamy in mid- 1933, just as the Anglo-Irish trade war was taking its toll on the economy. England was refusing to accept many Irish imports, and sales of the creamery's butter was among those affected by the boycott.

With pressure mounting - alongside the huge stockpiles of butter in the cold stores - it seems there was a panic to find alternative markets.

In desperation, the powers-that-be wondered if Germany would be interested in acquiring their abandoned butter, and decided to write to the relevant minister in Hitler's government. Clearly aware of what side their bread was buttered, they laid it on thick to the German Chancellor, belittling the English for being too bull-headed to buy their premier product.

To their immense relief, this buttering up worked. For Hitler agreed to take all the butter from their cold stores.

There was only one hitch: much of it had gone way past its sell-by date. And when the lads in the creamery opened the cold stores, they found a mountain of blue mouldy butter. "Scrape that off and have the butter ready and looking spick and span by this evening," was the order.

The men duly removed the mould and prepared the consignment for export to Nazi Germany. An invoice for the supposedly superlative product was similarly duly produced.

A few dark years later, when news clips of goose-stepping German soldiers were shown in the local cinema, some locals wondered if it was a case of mouldy butter having gone to their heads.

Who knows what kinds of lessons we can learn from the spreading of this buttery anecdote far and wide when it comes to Bexit...

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