Paddy Gaynor Craft Butchers on Main Street, Ballinagh.

Doing things right

Next time you’re enjoying a steak in a local restaurant, flick to the list of suppliers at the back of the menu and there’s every chance you’ll Paddy Gaynor Craft Butchers amongst the names.

“The whole thing is to do it right,” explains Paddy in his easy going way.

Doing things right is a deceptively simple ethos to live by. It’s one Paddy inherited from his father, Michael who established the family business on Ballinagh’s Main Street in 1966.

“First thing he did was build an abattoir,” explains Paddy of his father’s comprehensive approach.

Paddy still runs the abattoir to keep his shop stocked up in beef and lamb.

“There used to be 1,000 or more around the country, but with EU regulations and everything else I’d say they are down to 300 or 400.”

Michael’s original premises was a rented shop, which today houses a flower shop. They moved a few doors up the street when the former Lynch’s Chemists came on the market.

Paddy downplays his introduction to butchering at his father’s side as a teenager as just “tipping about”.

“Not doing a lot, having a good time,” he says with a laugh of the carefree time.

However, this casual work encouraged Paddy to enrol in a butchering course in the College of Marketing and Design.

Sadly Michael died as a young man in the late 1980s, and Paddy, then just 21 years old, took over the business.

“The only way you learn that job is by doing it,” reflects Paddy now.

He laughingly recalls having to learn fast from his own mistakes.

“I got well caught a few times going out and buying cattle off farmers – it’s an experience,” he says of his early days in the trade, when he was still using a handsaw and knife to cut meat - a lost art of traditional butchery before electric saws became the norm.

Paddy retains the same techniques of dry ageing beef at the abattoir as his father employed.

“All the prime cuts sit up there for 21 days – three weeks – some of it up to 30 days.”

This ensures the beef is as tender as possible he explains, before turning his attention to livestock. Asked for his favourite breed he replies: “Any beef breed is good as long as it is well looked after, and it’s well fed – that’s the difference.”

Paddy buys all his cattle locally. He even buys from Martin Smith and Aidan Smith, two fellow butchers who work in Gaynor’s and have their own herds.

“I’d hate to add up the years of experience that’s in the shop,” quips Paddy.

He relishes learning from his colleagues.

“Every butcher has different ways of doing things, simple things that makes maybe life a little bit easier.”

The biggest challenge to traditional butcher has been the arrival of the big supermarkets.

“When you pick meat up in a tray, and you bring it home and you see the first one is a lovely lamb chop, the ones underneath just mightn’t be as nice. I’m not saying it’s all bad, but it can be hit and miss. Here, I try to make sure that there’s no miss.”

However Paddy happily reports a turning of the tide in recent years.

“At the time of Covid we got a lot of people in, and they could taste the difference I’d say, especially with mince.

“We’re mincing steak every day, two or three times a day. Whereas in the supermarket it’s in a tray and it’s there for two or three days. That’s the difference.

“And we try to do the same with everything – try to keep it fresh.”

Paddy’s eager to express his gratitude to his loyal customers and excellent staff, noting there would be no business without them.

It’s with this eye to doing things right that’s served Gaynors well.

“A lot of that was down to my father too. He had a good reputation and did things right,” says Paddy.

“You do your best and you try to keep it right, that’s the secret in any game. And if you do that, you will get it right.”