Thursday, March 20, 1997

Herterich's Pork Butchers

Paul Herterich closed the door of his pork butchers shop in Duke Street for the last time on Saturday, 29th March. Another family's long connection with the business life in Athy has now become part of the towns history. The departure of the Herterich name from our main street is a sad reminder of the everchanging face of Irish life as new occupations and skills push out the old and the traditional. Butcher shops, once a familiar site in every town and village in Ireland, are fast disappearing, a victim of the one stop shopping environment established and developed by the supermarket conglomerates.

Paul's father Ernest Herterich opened the doors of his pork butchers shop in Athy in February, 1942 in a premises purchased the previous year from Slaters Bookmakers. He was a member of a large family, the head of which was his father George Herterich who had emigrated from England at the turn of this century. George's father was German born Karl Godfrey Herterich who had opened a pork shop in Preston, England where he died in 1909. George Herterich emigrated to Ireland with two friends, George Haffner and George Mogley and all three were to be involved in pork butchering in one way or the other for the rest of their lives. Haffner was in time to found a sausage manufacturing business of the same name, while Mogley operated a pork butchers shop on the South Circular Road in Dublin. George Herterich opened his first business in Newry, Northern Ireland which did not succeed. He then moved to Dublin where he and his family lived in Percy Place, while he worked with Haffner Sausages.

In or about 1926 George set up a pork butchers business in Main Street, Naas which flourished and from where the later Herterich pork butchering empire was to spring. George and his wife Maud had eleven children, all of whom with he exception of their daughter Alice are now deceased. As the head of the Herterich family, George was noted for his strongly held views on the "perfidious" nature of Roman Catholicism which found expression in a tale often told of George and the annual Corpus Christi procession in Naas. Apparently the procession wound its way around the back of his property and passed a spot on George's wall where someone mischievously or otherwise had placed a statue. George stood nonchalantly at the side of the wall while the procession approached and as the standard bearers drew close, he tumbled the statue to the ground with a flick of his hand where it smashed in smithereens.

What is extraordinary to relate is that all eleven of his children became Catholics, and even his wife Maud was receiving instruction in the Catholic faith when she died. His two eldest sons, Charlie and Fred apparently made their decision to convert without recourse to their parents and on the pretext of travelling to football matches, cycled to Mass in Newbridge each Sunday morning. Ernest, who was to set up business in Athy, wanted to marry local Naas girl, Margaret Mahon but in the days of Ne Temere could not do so without himself being received into the Catholic Church. On approaching the local Parish Priest, Ernest was advised to his astonishment to discuss the matter with his two older brothers who unknown to him had already become Catholics.

The Herterich story is not limited to extraordinary happenings on the religious front, but follows the trail of the eight sons of George and Maud who opened up pork butchering businesses throughout the country. Charlie took over his father's business on the latter's death in 1932, while Fred opened up a shop in Galway which is still going strong. Ernest came to Athy and his brother Reggie went west to Tuam, both shops having since closed. Louis Herterich opened his pork shop in Longford, George in Newbridge and after his early death Harry opened up there. Desmond Herterich had his own shop in Westport which is still in business. Of the nine pork shops opened over the years, only three are still in operation. Ernest Herterich died in Athy in 1967 aged fifty three years and now the business he started fifty five years ago has closed for the last time.

As a young lad I can recall the enormously appetizing cooked hams which were once the hallmark of Herterich Pork Butchers. Unlike today, ham was then something acquired for the special guests, especially someone who arrived unannounced at teatime. Their presence generally necessitated a quick rethink on the evenings eating arrangements and a high tea was quickly assembled after a dash to Herterichs Pork Shop. There the whole cooked hams looked splendid in their dressed state, awaiting your choice before being plucked from the cabinet and sat comfortably into the slicer where the thin slices of meat were carefully assembled for weighing. A slice more or less could make all the difference as regards an equal distribution between young family members, the guest of course always having more than the rest of us and generally far too much for one person. At least that is what one could only presume from the protestations which always seemed to greet the proffered plate of ham. "Ah, sure that's too much for me" was the oft repeated claim which however never seemed to result in a more even distribution of Herterich's ham amongst the rest of us around the kitchen table.

The delights of Herterich's homecooked hams are today replaced by the bland uniformity of the Supermarket product which lacks the taste, texture and aroma of that which we enjoyed so many years ago. The closure of Herterich's Pork Shop would seem to suggest that we value convenience shopping more than we do the wholesome distinctive qualities which are the hallmark of the local shopkeeper.

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