It was taken more than 30 years ago, but a picture from the Limerick Leader’s archive depicting a butcher’s shop proudly boasting that it sold horse meat caused a stir on Twitter this week.
Amid the ongoing controversy over equine DNA being discovered in Irish beef burgers, the picture harks back to a time when the open sale of horse meat was no big deal in Limerick.
The picture was tweeted by Leader editor Alan English and provoked plenty of online interest, including from Sinn Fein city councillor Maurice Quinlivan, who told his followers that he remembered the Denmark Street shop well.
Speaking to the Leader the following day, Cllr Quinlivan recalled: “I cycled in to the city once a week for my father to pick up horse meat for the pets. It wasn’t cheap, but it helped with the animals, to condition them.”
Had he tasted the horse meat himself? “Not that I’m aware of, but I guess we all have now. I’d be open to trying it, though, so long as I knew what I was getting”.
One man who has definitely tried it is Frank Hogan, a butcher on William Street. He sampled horse meat in France, one of the countries where it can be found on a menu, but wasn’t over keen.
“I wouldn’t go out of my way to try it again. It had a strong taste and was quite lean and was more than often used in stews and burgers,” said Frank, who has been a fixture on one of the city’s busiest streets for 37 years.
Asked why the consumption of equine fare is so taboo in Ireland these days, Frank was unequivocal: “Horses are traditionally kept as pets in Ireland, we don’t see them as food.”
But still, the dumping of a huge quantity of burgers from meat production plants up the country troubled him: “It’s a dreadful scandal that the burgers have to be thrown out. They should be labelled as horse meat and sold at half price. Otherwise it’s a waste of good food.”
Anton Togher, who has spent 25 years at the equally well known O’Connell’s butchers on Little Catherine Street, told us he has never tried horse meat - and nor does he want to.
“Horses are bred for sport, not consuming,” he said.
“It’s a shame that it has happened - most butchers have high traceability rates. Hopefully people will be able to get past this and trust both local produce and butchers again.”
Anton agreed with his fellow butcher Frank Hogan that destroying the burgers wasn’t right.
“To throw away food is a disgrace,” he argued, making the point that “when half the country is starving” it was a crying shame to be getting rid of so much food.
Let people decide themselves whether they were happy to try equine produce, Anton said. “Just because it is right for some to eat it, does not make it right for us all to.”
Castletroy woman Úna Howley, out buying her meat in the city, told the Leader that she has eaten horse meat before - and from the same shop in the archive picture, which dates to 1981.
“My mother used to make stews with it in the winter when we got home from school,” she recalled. Would she try it again? No chance. “I couldn’t eat it these days,” Una said. “I’m sick of the taste of it.”
Another customer - Colin Doherty from Corbally - also remembered horse meat being bought in his family back in the day.
“My grandfather used to buy it to feed it to his dogs, because it was better for them than other meat,” Colin said. There’s no chance of him trying it himself, though: “For me, it’s always been seen as dog food.”
Samantha Berry of Annacotty recalled walking by the Continental Meat Shop when she was younger, but never once even contemplated the idea of trying horse.
“We used to have horses on our farm to help us with chores - they were like pets to me. Thinking about eating one makes me feel ill.”
With the Continental Meat Shop long closed, horse meat isn’t easy to come by in the Limerick of 2013.
And it looks like staying that way.