The Butcher’s Blessing by Ruth Gilligan

The Butchers' Blessing by Ruth Gilligan


Every year, Úna prepares for her father to leave her. He will wave goodbye early one morning, then disappear with seven other men to traverse the Irish countryside. Together, these men form The Butchers, a group that roams from farm to farm, enacting ancient methods of cattle slaughter.  

The Butchers’ Blessing moves between the events of 1996 and the present, offering a simmering glimpse into the modern tensions that surround these eight fabled men. For Úna, being a Butcher’s daughter means a life of tangled ambition and incredible loneliness. For her mother Grá, it’s a life of faith and longing, of performing a promise that she may or may not be able to keep. For non-believer Fionn, The Butchers represent a dated and complicated reality, though for his son Davey, they represent an entirely new world—and potentially new love. For photographer Ronan, The Butchers are ideal subjects: representatives of an older, more folkloric Ireland whose survival is now being tested. As he moves through the countryside, Ronan captures this world image by image—a lake, a cottage, and his most striking photo: a single butcher, hung upside-down in a pose of unspeakable violence.


“…the way Una thought about it, without folklore and traditions, surely Ireland didn’t really exist? Surely it might just as well be England or France or anywhere else (give or take an endless soak of rain)? So just as there were those who preserved the country’s mother tongue and those who saved up all the country’s native stories, there were those like her father who devoted their lives to maintaining the country’s old beliefs.”

My thoughts

This is not a book I would have ordinarily picked up but I’d read reviews that piqued my interest. It’s mostly set in 1996 in Ireland toward the end of The Troubles, when mad cow disease destroyed the farming industry, divorce and homosexuality had just been legalised, and people were torn between honouring the Old Ways and accepting progress. It is also a coming of age story. It was a fast read with an easy writing style and I read it in one sitting. Well worth the read and with a satisfying ending.

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