Ruth Guiry, author and Jack Spratt, butcher launching the publication Pictures: Sean Curtin
IF LIMERICK is famed for one thing, it’s for bringing home the bacon.
And plenty of never seen before photographs in a new book, titled Pigtown – A History of Limerick’s Bacon Industry, show in detail one of the city’s biggest trades from years gone by.
The book has been published by the Limerick Archives section of Limerick City and County Council in conjunction with Mary Immaculate College, and traces the industry’s unique history.
“I had the pleasure of interviewing 27 people, who all contributed to my understanding not only of the bacon industry but also of the Limerick social scene from the 1940s onwards,” said author Ruth Guiry.
“Their stories and the images they donated have contributed enormously to capturing a sense of what the industry meant to Limerick and life within and outside the factories.”
O’Mara’s, Matterson’s, Shaw’s and Denny’s made Limerick famous for the quality of its bacon produce and linked the city and county in its production. This quality led to the growth of a large scale industry centred around the city, which was quickly nicknamed ‘Pigtown’.
The reputation of Limerick ham, the food culture that arose from a plentiful supply of cheap products, the story of the pork butchers, the pig buyers, the sounds of the city with factory horns signalling the call to work… All of these still resonate in the memories of Limerick’s citizens and former workers.
According to the council, a definitive account of this industry that operated at the centre of the city, supplied by the farms of rural county Limerick for over 180 years, had never been written about in detail.
Ruth Guiry was commissioned to undertake the research under the guidance of Dr Maura Cronin from Mary Immaculate College, whom she thanked warmly at the launch event on Tuesday evening. Limerick archivist Jacqui Hayes co-edited the book with Dr Cronin. Work began in November 2015.
Ms Guiry spoke warmly of her interviewees, a group including the late Michael O’Mara who passed away on Sunday. Mr O’Mara’s funeral took place on Tuesday.
They spoke of “driving up and down, the camaraderie and banter at work”, and of course “the famous Limerick ham that won awards”.
Fifth-generation butcher Noel O’Connor spoke at the launch. “It’s wonderful that this is being brought out today, when so many of us can be here. There wouldn’t be so many around in 15 or 20 years.”
Mayor of Limerick City and County, Cllr Kieran O’Hanlon, also spoke fondly of the bacon industry in the city.
“The industry is part of the history of Limerick, and I’m delighted that we are celebrating that fact,” he said.
The mammoth research task, which included sifting through newspaper archives and recording lengthy interviews, was primarily carried out by Ms Guiry, who was aided by her editors as well as a host of other Limerick historians and the Geography and History Departments in Mary Immaculate College.
“In Limerick Archives we have a small collection relating to Matterson’s donated when the factory closed and it is very satisfying to see this book emerging from the combined surviving material culture and oral testimony,” said Limerick Archivist Jacqui Hayes.
“Thanks to all those who donated images; David Bracken and Limerick Diocesan Archives, Sean Curtin, the Limerick Leader, the Mechanics Institute and Mary Immaculate College for the use of their facilities. Thanks also to our colleagues in Limerick Museum for access to the wonderful collection of images.
“Finally we’d like to thank Ruth Guiry, our wonderful researcher, who has produced an authoritative and accessible account of one of Limerick’s defining histories,” added Ms Hayes.
Pigtown - A History of Limerick’s Bacon Industry is the fourth in a series of books dealing with the social and economic history of Limerick, by the Limerick Archives section of Limerick City and County Council.
The series began in 2012 with Ranks Mills – The Industrial Heart of Limerick by Dr Edward Whelan. In 2014, Amazing Lace – A History of the Limerick Lace Industry by Dr Matthew Potter was published, followed a year later by City and Cemetery – A History of Mount Saint Lawrence, Limerick, also by Dr Matthew Potter.