EVERY one knows Paddy Kenna of Friary Street, Kilkenny, writes Sean Keane.
The master butcher who has been killing cattle and cutting up chops for over 60 years is an institution in the city and has his pulse on the heart beat of the city. His shop is a great place to meet people and they say that by the time you walk in there for the first time and walk back out five minutes later, he will know your seed, breed and generation. His wit is legendary and he has brightened up many lives over the last six decades. He has known his fair share of tragedy and lost his son Paddy to sudden death syndrome in 1983 while he was playing rugby.
It has been a difficult few weeks for him. His father opened the business 80 years ago this month and young Paddy died in the same month, 29 years ago.
“My father started the business on October 7, 1932 after serving his time at Tom Hickey’s shop on High Street as an apprentice butcher and here we are now,” Paddy Kenna reads aloud from notes he has prepared before our preordained meeting in the back of the shop on Thursday morning which some people call the Confessional.
With those famous glasses half way down his long nose, there is very little that gets by Paddy.
His father married his mother, Joan Brennan in 1935 and they had two children, himself and his sister Siobhan. His father died a very young man in 1940 and his mother was left to run the shop and raise two young children.
When big hearted Paddy left school in 1954, aged 17, he went into the shop, having spent the previous seven years working as a butcher boy, cycling around the city, delivering the meat. “I learned the running of the business over the years and the biggest change over the years was the way meat was prepared, “Meat bought back in the 1950s was sold on a day to day basis as people didn’t have fridges or deep freezes and that has totally changed now,” he said. We have a lot of loyal customers and a lot of fourth generation families coming in and we are thankful to them. Over the years we have had to invest a vast amount of money in our abattoir to bring it up to EU standards and that is where all our cattle and sheep and slaughtered,” he said.
The shop is managed by Paddy’s son Michael. “We also purchased a farm back in the 1970s and this enabled us to produce a large number of cattle which we slaughter from our own suckler herd. This side of the business is run by my son John,” he added proudly,
He is not hanging up his cleaver just yet, he still loves meeting the customers in the shop and people form all walks of life and of course, keeping up with the local gossip. “I hope to keep going for many more years and I would like to thank all our customers for all their supports over the last six decades,” he added.
Paddy started young in the industry and was constantly going out the country to bring back cattle and sheep to be slaughtered in the shop. He did his Leaving Cert in the CBS and always wanted to be a butcher. “You could say, I was destined for a spot in the business.”
He never had time to play sport but hurled a little in his CBS days. “We didn’t have time back then for sport, I’d come home from school. Jimmy Murphy had a messenger boy and if he was sick I was told to cycle out to Lady Cuffe at Lyrath. I used to be afraid of my life going up the avenue in case I’d meet the headless coachman,” he said. “I never met Lady Cuffe, just the servant girl, or should I say, the lady-in-waiting. We had a few like that the Blundens they were nice, it was kind of a prestige order . Bragging about having to bring the meat put to Lady Cuffe’s,” he said.
“There were great characters around the city over the year and I suppose the most famous one of all was Pakie Da. He never worked a day but got through life on his wits.
Paddy doesn’t miss the old days. He said there was no such thing as a day off back then and that the first bit of a break he got was in 1956 when he bought a car. “I got a small trailer with creeds on it and instead of going to Cuffesgrange or where-ever to buy a dozen sheep off a farmer and going through hardship of herding them in, I was able to reverse the car into the farm yard and load them up and have them back for slaughtering in 20 minutes,” he pointed out
The other major investment he made came in 1970 when he bought the farm at Radestown, above Kilkenny Golf Club. It is used for the suckler hard.
He got a break in 2002 when property prices increased quickly. “A small field came up for sale at Kennyswell and it was being sold by the Presentation convent in 1956. They were about to build a school in Parnell Street. They had cows on the land and they had a lad working for them who would milk the cows and bring them down the milk,” he explained. They wanted a few pounds and put the field up for sale. We wanted it for a stand. That time, if you bought 10 cattle at a fair, and remember there were no marts at the time, you bought your ten cattle and you would kill a few leaving you with the headache of where to put the rest before you were able to slaughter them. With this field I was able to put them in there and if you were killing two, you could leave the rest in the field until you needed them. You would bring them down to slaughter house when you were ready. Those three and half acres in 1956 cost £350.
Paddy has always believed in hard work and a 12 hour day was the norm for him and most people with shops and businesses in the city. “You took in your stride. It was a hobby as well as a business going out to fairs, going out the country and meeting people - It was great.” Hell loves meeting people and there are very families in the city that he wouldn’t be able to trace.
Tragedy struck himself and Barbarain 1983 when their son Paddy died of sudden death syndrome while playing rugby at Kilkenny Rugby Club. His death hurt a lot of people and his friends and family will never forget him. Paddy and Barbara will never forget the day, October 23 when their 21-year-old son was taken from them. “You don’t forget but the passage of time makes it a bit easier, I suppose,” he said with a tear in his eye “It never leaves you but I suppose you can’t get through life without some sort of tragedy. He appreciates his sons, daughter and their families so much and he thinks that might be partly because of what happened in 1983. His soul mate and best friend has always been his wife Barbara and he said a happy marriage is everything. As I leave, I am introduced to the assistant manager in the shop, Stephen McCormack and the other butcher Peter McCormick (no relation. Peter’s grandfather was the late peter Peter Holohan who worked all his life in the Kilkenny People and was the doyen of sport writers in his day.