From ‘rare old times’ to West Cork

There isn’t a whisper of a West Cork accent in Dave Scully’s voice, as he serves up his famous sirloin steak burgers over the counter to a regular. “Howya love” and “Janey Mac” are common refrains as customers spill into the butcher shop on Pearse Street in Clonakilty. “I’ll change me accent when I find a better one!” laughs Dave, as he chats to Mary O’Brien. A true blue Dub who grew up in Drimnagh, Dave has been butchering since the age of 13, blowing in to West Cork over thirty years ago. He’s well known for his affable charm…and of course his famous sirloin steak burgers!

Dave Scully in his butcher shop today and as a young apprentice in Dublin (far right)

The third youngest in a family of eight, Dave Scully, 58, grew up in a two-bedroomed terraced corporation house in Drimnagh: His family were moved out of one of the inner city tenements as part of Dublin’s early social housing schemes before he was born.

Back then Drimnagh was rough. Three doors up from the Scully house, Dublin “boys” looking for trouble could often be seen standing at the crossroads. It was a tough place to find your feet in. “There were so many good people in that neighbourhood but there were lots of troublemakers too with nothing to do,” says Dave. “You’d see some kids sniffing glue outside on the streets, robbing cars, setting fire to them, that kinda thing,” he shares. He recalls looking out the window at cars being driven into the school gates. “Twas like Eastenders gone wrong!”

Inside the front gate of the Scully household was another story completely however. While the “boys” caused trouble on the streets, Ma Scully kept a firm grip on her own offspring. “No way would she let us outside that gate,” shares Dave, who credits his now 90-year-old mother with keeping all of the eight Scully’s on the straight and narrow and on to better things. “That woman should have been a therapist! You could talk to her about anything and not one of us ever got into any trouble. Doing the right thing – that’s what we were taught was important.”

Dave’s mother was 16 when she moved from country to city to work in a grocery shop in Dublin. The Meath native met and married Dave’s father, a mechanic and taxi driver – cab driving went back in the family as far as Dave’s great-grandfather who drove one of the old horse-drawn cabs around Dublin –  and both worked nose to the grindstone all their lives. Their children followed suit. “We all learned respect and a fierce work ethic from them,” says Dave.

He recalls taking the bus with his mother up to Ashbourne on a Saturday and walking the four miles, uncomplaining, to his grandmother’s house. “We went every Saturday with her when we were small. She’d travel up weekly to clean my grandmother’s house and do the shopping for her,” he remembers.

While out the front his neighbourhood was rough, a lot of Dave’s childhood memories are of time out the back, in the family’s long garden, typical of the corporation houses of that time. “I only have good memories,” he shares “of a busy house and summers playing in that long garden and picnics on the beach; Sunday drives with ten of us hanging out of the car, three or four on the front bench seat, five in the back and one lying across the back window!”

The Dublin Horse Show provided great entertainment for the Scully’s and their likeminded neighbours in Drimnagh. “Hours of fun into the night,” says Dave, who shares how they would improvise show-jumps up and down the garden using old tyres, bits of cars, anything they could lay their hands on from their dad’s shed. An old taxi metre was wound up as the unquestionable decider of the fastest clear round.

Dave was 13 when he got his first job cleaning the meat trays in a local butcher shop. He left school when he turned 15 and did his apprenticeship in the same butcher shop, learning his trade and working there for the next 12 years until a girl eventually drew him down to West Cork.

He remembers the long queues of women, each and every one dressed in a scarf and trench coat and pulling a trolley bag, outside the shop in Drimnagh every Friday and Saturday morning.“The boss would have us warned not to raise the shutters until we had knives in hand ready to go.

“You worked hard and you worked fast,” he shares. “The meat had to be strung right or you did it again; there was no waste – you didn’t dare to leave a piece of meat on the bones or the head would be taken off ya!

“They were masters and I’m proud to have learned my style of butchering from them.”

A two-week holiday driving around Ireland with his friends, all in their early twenties, ended in a brief sojourn in West Cork, which went on to become permanent when Dave met Caroline, now his wife, in a pub in Kinsale. The couple exchanged phone numbers (of phone boxes!) and the rest is history.

In between phone calls, they exchanged letters. Dave admits to having a briefcase of them still kept at home. “Don’t tell the kids,” he laughs.

Eventually an opening came up in Centra in Clonakilty and Dave got the job, slotting in so easily that he stayed for the next 14 years.

Seventeen years ago, in 2006, he made the move to open his own butcher shop, leasing what had once been the Credit Union premises in the town. He’s been there ever since, working side by side with Caroline, six days a week and inevitably late on Christmas Eve. 

“I find it hard to say no to someone,” he admits. “I mean I could never say ‘no sorry Mrs you can’t have a turkey!’”

He says his local Credit Union has been a shoulder at his back throughout it all.

“When the oven broke down Christmas week last year I don’t know where I would have been without them,” shares Dave. “We were under so much pressure with turkeys and dinners still to cook. I couldn’t let people down on Christmas. The Credit Union gave me a loan and transferred the money that same day so I had a working oven delivered the following morning. They’ve always been there for me and my family.”

Today Dave is still serving up meat to please on Pearse Street in Clonakilty. He cures his own streaky bacon and back rashers, makes a range of popular sausages and the aforementioned sirloin steak burgers are delivered by the caseload as far away as Wexford. “I have one customer, he was 80 before he tried a burger and he hasn’t looked back,” he says smiling.

Glancing at his watch, he looks to the hill opposite where his Saturday regulars are pulling up right on time. “You’d set your watch by them,” he says. “In fact you’d hardly have your coat off,” he adds laughing. “What would I do without them, they’re salt of the earth and only for them and their support we wouldn’t be here at all!”

It’s a common theme at Scully’s Butchers and Deli where quality and service has most certainly stood the test of time.

Mary O'Brien

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