Now into its 55th year of business, James Whelan Butchers was founded by James and Joan Whelan in Clonmel, Co Tipperary. Their son, Pat, is the CEO of the family-run business and has developed the brand both nationally and internationally in recent years.

“My parents believed in two very simple things,” explains Pat: “Quality and service.”

With 10 locations around Ireland, James Whelan Butchers prides itself in creating products sourced from local producers.

Pat recalls the life lessons growing up on a farm provided: “We were butchers and we lived in the town but we had a farm with an abattoir. Growing up, you were either in the shop or on the farm.

Everyone is a judge with a knife and fork in the hand

“When you grow up in a family business, there’s a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose. I think the same can be said for working on a farm. Whether you’re turning in the cattle or feeding the dogs, there’s always something to be done. In a family business, it’s the same thing.”

Taking charge

Pat took over the business in 1999 and his passion for his work is inherent.

“When it came to making a choice in my career, there was nothing more obvious for me to do," he says. "I understood the business end-to-end and loved what I did.

“It’s hugely fulfilling and being able to make a difference is what it’s all about," he continues. "It’s very rewarding to bring something different to the market; to be able to express who you are through your products and share that with others.”

Pat Whelan, who runs James Whelan Butchers picture with Joe O’Mahony, supervising craft butcher at the shop in Dunnes Stores, Swan Centre, Rathmines, Dublin. \ Dara Mac Dónaill

Pat explains how running a family business is a unique task.

“Work doesn’t stop at 6pm in the evening. When it’s a food business, it continues around the table because the product is being critiqued and everyone has an opinion!

"Everyone is a judge with a knife and fork in the hand,” he adds.

Challenging year

COVID-19 has brought both challenges and opportunities for Pat’s business.

“The challenges are that we are restricted in what we can and can’t do, but the opportunity is to use the time we have really well,” he says.

“Communication is a big part of our business. We have changed how we communicate, but also have to make sure we continue to serve our customers to a standard that they’ve always been used to.”

Christmas is a very busy time for those in the meat industry.

“It’s a wonderful time of year as people come together and celebrate," Pat says. "This year there are restrictions, but at the same time, you don’t see the resilience of Irish people until they are in a corner or in a situation like this. I think Christmas brings a certain warmth, joy and cause of togetherness even if we can’t be together this year.

“The amazing thing about Christmas in our business is the variety of aromas,” he continues. “The sense of smell is something you connect with in different ways. When you go the beach and smell the salt air, it reminds you of summer. When I smell our spiced beef or smoked ham, I think of Christmas.

“We have a product called the Heritage Cure Ham and it’s from a recipe that I found in my grandfather’s book. I think there’s something really special about products that come seasonally because it connects you with a time. You nearly know how far into Christmas you are by how much of the ham is gone,” he adds.

Supporting local

“Sustainable local economy is something I am very passionate about,” explains Pat, “Understanding that every penny spent can have a real impact on local jobs, people, communities and the environment is really important to me.

“That’s what you really see coming out of COVID-19 – the power of communities looking out for each other. It brings you back to the meitheal approach of communities working together to make a difference and I think that is the real power of local businesses.”

Pat mentions the importance of minding your mental health and staying connected.

“It isn’t about commerce all the time. It’s about the people, figuring out how we can make life easier for others.

“Fear is an awful sentiment," he maintains. "People are scared to go into crowded spaces or shops and if you can take that fear away by delivering something to someone’s door, that’s a wonderful thing. It’s about making the difference to someone and to personalise it as much as you can. That means so much."

Looking ahead

Regarding the pandemic, Pat remains thankful and hopeful as the new year approaches.

“It will pass in time. I think there’s positives to every situation and you just really need to dig deep for them. It’s about perspective and we’re all hoping we’ll put COVID-19 behind us in 2021,” he concludes.

James Whelan Butchers is running a Christmas delivered to your door service in the lead up to the festive season. All information is available here.

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