At first glance, Cork’s Butter Museum mightn’t seem like much of an attraction. But, considering, that most of us (or at least most of our parents) came from the countryside and that virtually all of us use butter, it makes it worth the effort.
You’ll be glad you went when you’ve seen the story unfold, the butter making its way over country “roads” from all over Munster to the Butter Exchange in Shandon which became the world’s largest butter market and exported to many countries including the USA, West Indies, Brazil, Europe, India and Australia. No wonder the Financial Times said: “Do not miss.”
For over one hundred years, Cork was a major player in the international butter market and the story is told by way of artefacts, audio-visual aids plus maps and other documents. There is even a container of bog butter, over a thousand years old!
You will also see old style butter making equipment and other types of containers such as the famous firkin. The firkin was a measure of weight and that weight was checked on a crane, hence the nearby round building called the Firkin Crane (now a dance academy).
Those of you of a certain age will remember getting loose butter in the English Market, the stall holder cutting the pound from a slab and tapping it into shape with a pair of small wood paddles (also on display).
There are a few video points around the two story display (the visit costs just four euro for an adult) and the one I liked best showed the butter being made in a demonstration for the RTE programme The Butter Road. The butter road doesn't sound all that exciting but remember it took a week or so to complete the round trip from Killarney to Shandon and then you had the highwaymen ready to relieve you of your earnings on the way back.
Cork, which had introduced a before-its-time system of quality control, eventually ran out of steam and began to lose out to other countries and butter making technologies.
Irish butter ended up being sold unbranded and very cheaply in the UK until the 1960s when a national marketing effort put the product right back where it belonged and at a proper price. Joining the EEC also helped and you can see that story, the Kerrygold story, on video here.
Butter is part of what we are and you’ll understand it all a little better after an hour or so at this pleasant place in Shandon. Actually, before I finish, I must mention the gentleman that we met there yesterday. He sold us our tickets but didn’t leave it at that. He came in a few times to see how we were doing and added his own considerable knowledge to make it a very enjoyable visit indeed.
Well done to all involved and I hope that many visitors take the short trip up from the city centre to the Butter Museum this summer and that many locals, city and county folk alike, do likewise.
Photos, from the top: A firkin, churns, butter-maker and spade, an informative poster.
Check out my review of Cork Butter Museum Ltd - I am cork - on Qype