Growing up there were three main things that occupied Una O’Dwyer’s time: the shop, farming and camogie.
Eat, sleep, repeat.
“It was shop during the day, feed cattle maybe in the evening time and go training. In that order, and the same thing the following day. Especially in the summer time when you’d be in the shop working,” Una recalls.
During her camogie career Una played for Cashel and Tipperary. “We won a few All-Irelands,” she says humbly.
Farming was time spent on her father’s beef and sheep farm, the meat from which was, and still is, sold in his butcher shop. The shop is where we are now – O’Dywer’s Family Butcher on Friar Street in Cashel.
Established in 1973 by Una’s parents Martin and Marion, in September 2021 when I visit it’s bustling. One side is a butcher’s counter, the other lined with artisan food products and the back wall a deli.
This is where Una’s journey as “the butcher’s daughter” began, even if it would be sometime before she would be labelled such in an official capacity. In fact, she and her three sisters were all, always, the butcher’s daughters.
Their first home was above the shop. They then moved out to the family farm where Una’s sausage-making business, The Butcher’s Daughter, is now located.
Driving the mile out there from Cashel, your back is to “the Rock” (as they call it locally). But once you get out there the view encompassing the historic castle is spectacular.
“We grew up living over the shop in Cashel first – two bedrooms, a kitchen and a toilet. In 1987 we moved out as they built the house here on the farm. We worked every Saturday in the shop. Before school we were bagging potatoes, we were filling the veg counter or doing the deep freeze,” Una explains.
“The deep freeze was a big thing back in the day where farmers brought in their own heifer [for meat for themselves]. That’s less and less now, but there used to be so much deep freeze. We were the reliable packers and labellers of the deep freeze at the time.”
Moving out to the farm didn’t make much difference to the amount of work the girls did in the shop. All going to school in Cashel, they continued to work before school, as well as on the weekends and during the summer holidays.
Everyone had their preferred jobs in the shop. Una’s was the actual butchering of the meat. “I liked the boning end of it and the actual meat end of it. When you’re there all summer, every summer, you pick it up handy. Myself and Fiona, my younger sister, could do anything with carcass. We were fairly handy with a knife,” Una says simply.
Their father Martin always had, and still has, an abattoir on the farm. Here he kills his own and other local farmers’ animals for the shop. The day he slaughters has stayed the same over the years.
“You’d have your day to go out in the abattoir too,” says Una. “Even bringing the livers and the hearts in [to the shop] straight away as they were slaughtered, because people know we slaughter on a Monday. Less and less now, but you’d have people on a Monday afternoon waiting for a fresh liver.”
All this, Una feels, very much contributed to a strong work ethic for them all.
Home and away
After her Leaving Cert, Una went to University College Cork (UCC) to study food science and technology. While this very much fits in with her business now, Una just did the course at the time because she thought she would enjoy it.
Having finished college, she decided to get away for a small while. It was on the other side of the world that the idea of focusing on sausage making came to her.
“I finished college and I was mad into camogie at the time. Everything revolved around camogie. Friends were going off to America on their J1s and I didn’t go on any of them because of championship. Then when I finished college in 2003 I went to Australia for four months,” Una says.
“This was like another stepping stone to the business. I was thinking, ‘Now college is done, I’m after doing nothing for a couple of months only having a good time in Australia and it’s like, am I coming back to look for a job in the food industry?’
“Of course, all the time the shop is in the back of your mind, but I still didn’t feel ready to work behind the counter with Dad everyday. So that’s how I started thinking about things more. We sell a load of sausages, people are always talking about our sausages.”
Clearly, sausages were not a new venture for the O’Dwyers at the time. Martin had been making his own sausage recipe for years. One that had proven very popular. It’s the same recipe Una uses today.
“So many customers would come in to buy the sausages because they heard about them from their son’s friend who brought them down to college or something like that. Mad, random connections, but you hear it every week.”
Having run the idea past her father while still in Australia, and with both her parents delighted in the interest, Una returned to Cashel and started working in the shop again. After a short time she stopped working for her parents, but still having the support of the premises to make the sausages, she decided to see if she could make a go of her own sausage business.
To start she was a sole trader, supplying her product to other butchers. In 2006 she built a smaller version of the factory we’re in now on the farm and started manufacturing the sausages there. Nearby Templetouhy Foods was the first wholesaler she began supplying.
By 2010 Una wanted a shelf presence under her own brand also, and so as Cashel Fine Foods she sold to retailers. While this was all going well over the next four years, Una knew her sausages had more potential. “We were in Dunnes as a local supplier then and we were in the local Supervalus, that was all going well. So I said we really need to do a little bit more on this.”
In 2014 Una rebranded as The Butcher’s Daughter and hasn’t looked back since.
“The Butcher’s Daughter was born and it’s the best thing ever. When you say The Butcher’s Daughter people are nearly coming and asking you about it, rather than you having to get in and say, ‘This is who I am and this is what I do.’ Then we definitely would have kicked on with an awful lot more retailers after that.”
All of Una’s pork comes from Dawn Pork and Bacon in Co Waterford. Alongside the traditional sausages, The Butcher’s Daughter has four other flavours: bacon and cheese, black pudding and thyme, sundried tomato and basil as well as garlic and herb. They also sell sausage rolls.
Luckily, just before the pandemic, Una completed an extension to the factory on the farm. There are 13 people working there now. The Butcher’s Daughter continues to sell to butchers as well as supermarkets and independent retailers.
In the genes
Having grown up watching her parents run their own business, I’m curious was it something Una always aspired to?
“I was my dad’s other arm. I was always just there going between the shop, farming and hurling. I remember him saying: ‘If you can at all, have your own business.’ I often said it to him in more recent years: ‘Would you still say that?’
“‘I’m not so sure,’ he’d say.
“And would I say it to my kids? I don’t know would I. I don’t know now, obviously whatever they’d like to do. The lads here are great, just super now, but at the same time even if you’re off, you’re never off,” Una muses.
Still, from one generation of business people-cum-farmers to another, rituals remain strong. Una’s three children relish in the very same experiences she did as a child.
“Fiona, my sister, might be feeding the cattle now today, I might be feeding them tomorrow, but every Sunday morning we all come together for it. We’re all around now, the sisters.
“Dad’s in the shop every Saturday and I love coming out every Sunday morning still with my own kids. There’s a clatter of kids every Sunday morning with grandad , feeding cattle. We’re actually really being shoved out the door now because all the grandkids are gone off with him to feed the cattle. We’ve been ditched. It’s lovely,” Una laughs.
“A neighbour of mine across the road would be the same age as me. He said to me recently: ‘Una, I was there on Sunday morning and I saw ye. It just made me smile because it brought me back to when I used to go with ye on a Sunday morning.’”
Of course, this is the romantic version of Una’s story. There’s much else we haven’t covered here. The rules, regulations and protocols to be implemented. Una is also always looking to the future and to better the business. At the moment she’s working to get Origin Green verification and keeping up with the latest packaging available. The nuts and bolts of the operation.
“You’ve to keep telling yourself you can always get better. It’s like hurling off the wall, you can always get better,” Una smiles.
If your family has a business, get experience outside of that. That’s one major regret I have. Just even to learn how other people would handle different situations… get as much experience under other people before you take the plunge.
Access help from the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) and LEADER. Whether it’s a mentor or to access grants and financial support, they’re unbelievable help. All the time now I’d still go and knock on their door.