People often ask how we find our stories. There are many ways: Sometimes they come recommended, sometimes people recommend themselves, and other times we stumble upon them. McGrath’s is the latter. I had been looking for someone in Ireland to show us a blood pudding recipe using real blood (I know, the vegetarian…). Though blood pudding is a very common dish in Ireland, finding someone making it in the traditional way of using fresh blood (and willing to show you their secrets) is not.
My initial googling lead to an article about a local chef discussing his favorite butcher who happened to make the famous dish. That butcher wasn’t in the right location (we were looking for someone in Ireland’s Ancient East), but it lead me in a new direction of searching for blood pudding in butcher shops. Almost immediately I saw an article about Michael McGrath — an old school butcher whose business had been in the family since the 1600s. He had his own abattoir and he made blood pudding. It could work.
Or it could not work. At this point his story was just a lead, and in my experience those have a way of falling through. He could be too accustomed to publicity and unnatural on camera, his business could have closed or changed or simply be different than it seemed on paper — or he could not want us to come visit. All had happened before.
I enlisted Daniel to call Mr. McGrath and feel out the story, as I sat in an adjacent room and tried to decipher his inflection. Within 10 minutes, he came back smiling: “I couldn’t understand a lot of what he was saying because of his thick accent. He’s perfect. We’re heading there tomorrow.”
The McGrath’s abattoir was attached to their butcher shop. That’s something you just don’t see very often anymore in Ireland. They also raise their own cattle. So this small family business was farming, slaughtering, butchering, aging and selling their own meat. Their son John was getting married in a few days and would be off on his honeymoon that weekend. The only day to film was the following (ie. tomorrow). Daniel asked if we could come visit and Michael replied: “If ye like”.
This story — their story — had the feeling of being a very authentic, traditional operation. The shop’s cash register was located in its own alcove and managed by his wife Mary, whom you could chat with through the window; the family lived above the butcher shop as was the norm in years past. Furthermore, the McGraths were just going about their lives doing what past generations had done for hundreds of years. Their way of life wasnt for publicity. They woke up in their small town every morning, tended to the animals at the farm, butchered the meat, and helped out their loyal customers.
Daniel and Hunter set out the next morning for the 2 hour drive to meet the McGraths. Turns out they don’t make blood pudding. Turns out, it didn’t matter.