Galway abattoir

In the early days, farmers killed their own livestock, and in urban areas the killing was done by butchers. These victuallers would hang raw carcasses of meat outside their shops to show how fresh they were and to attract customers. It was only when the city fathers built an abattoir at the junction of Newtownsmyth and Bowling Green that slaughtering became subject to veterinary inspection and control in Galway. Our photograph was taken in 1966 and shows sheep awaiting their turn to enter the slaughterhouse through the grill gateway. They had already been in the yard for five days. The yard was connected to the abattoir buildings.

By 1948, Bowling Green was already too small and the corporation began to look around for alternative sites, one at Blake’s Lane, Bohermore, one at Woodquay, and one at Lough Atalia. None of these proved suitable.

In 1966, a report by the inspector of the local branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals highlighted the conditions at this abattoir at Bowling Green. Local victuallers welcomed this report as it focused public attention on the fact that the premises were hopelessly inadequate from every point of view and that it stressed the urgency of providing a long-awaited modern facility.

This abattoir was quite a large complex. The waterway known as ‘The Old Stream’ at the back of the premises carried away the various waste products of the slaughtering, which seemingly added to the quantity and quality of the brown eel and salmon population of the river. Local children on their way to and from school could hear the bleating animals and often had to skip over streams of blood on the lane. The dozen or so men employed there complained that the two main problems were lack of space and the impossibility of cleanliness. The antiquated condition of the premises made modern-style hygiene out of the question. The roof leaked in almost all of the buildings and carrion crows were a pest.

The volume of work in the abattoir was significant. In the first week of March 1966, 40 pigs, 55 cattle, and 371 sheep were slaughtered. The following week’s figures were 73, 46, and 411. In the first week of August, 1965, the figures were 100 pigs, 46 cattle, 301 sheep, and 220 lambs. It is fair to say the abattoir was always busy, especially around Christmas and Easter, but it was in the days leading up to St Martin’s Day, November 11, that it became hectic. There was a great Irish rural tradition of shedding blood on Martinmas Eve; that is to say, the blood of a goose or a gander, hen or cock, pullet or chicken, duck or drake, fat porker or great and good beef, big wether or bleating kid, a sprightly lamb or gentle sheep, a ragged goat, or some other form of good meat. Some of the blood would then be sprinkled on the threshold and in the four corners of the house, thus keeping every kind of evil spirit away until the same date the following year. It was known as ‘Blood for St Martin’ and it was believed he would take it before the 11th, but not after.

Eventually, the new abattoir was located in the Fairgreen, which was convenient for farmers and butchers, as the fairs were also held there. The noise and smells however soon brought many complaints from local residents and businesses.

The Old Galway Society will host a lecture this evening in the Victoria Hotel at 8.30pm. It has the fascinating title “The Stony River – Gaillimh and other placenames from the vicinity of Galway”. It will be given by Nollaig Ó Muráile and all are welcome.

An Taisce’s next lecture will take place in The Ardilaun on Wednesday next, February 20, when Peadar O’Dowd will speak about “Galway, when the humour is on you”. It starts at 8pm, and again, all are welcome.


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