He has often been described as “the last of the old style butchers”. It’s a claim which finds favour with Noel Scully, but I’m not so sure that it is strictly correct. Whether it is or not is unimportant for Noel Scully is undoubtedly a great ambassador for the sawdust era of butchering when butchers did their own slaughtering in the rough and ready slaughterhouses which were to be found in Athy up to twenty or so years ago.
Noel left school a few weeks short of his 14th birthday and got his first job in Tim Hickey’s butcher shop in Emily Square. Interestingly, Hickeys was next door to the town Shambles which was the area set aside for the display and sale of meat during earlier centuries. Every town had its shambles and this was the only place within the town boundaries where meat could be sold. To return to Noel, when he started with Tim Hickey it was as a messenger boy and a general helper in the butchers shop. He worked 55 hours a week for £1.7.6 which in modern currency would amount to €1.75. Noel stayed working with Hickeys for nearly six years, always hoping that the long awaited apprenticeship to the trade would in time come his way. It was not to be as in the hungry 1950’s jobs in shops of any description were eagerly sought after and sometimes required a substantial payment to the employer before one could embark on an apprenticeship. As Noel himself says apprenticeships, especially in Hickeys, were kept for sons of “the people of substance” and so the eager young man from Plewman’s Terrace was not to be accommodated. Noel left Hickeys and tells me that he found himself without work until my own father who was the local Garda Sergeant got him a summer job in the neighbouring Bord na Mona works.
Noel still hankered after the butchering business and when Brendan Murphy opened up his butcher shop in the town in 1958 he offered Tim Hickey’s one time messenger boy a job as an apprentice butcher. Athy in the 1950’s had at least six independent butchers. Ned Ward had two shops in William Street and Stanhope Street, Finbar Purcell was in Duke Street with Kevin O’Toole and Jimmy Martin, while Andy Finn had Barney Day working for him in the shop opposite Mulhalls (now the Castle Inn). Alfie Coyle had his butchering business in Leinster Street next to Hyland’s present shop, while Tim Hickey had a prime location in Emily Square. Tom McStay opened his butcher shop at the start of the 1950’s when he bought Wotty Crosse’s little shop in front of the defunct and vacant mill building which once belonged to the Hannons.
All of the local butchers at that time slaughtered their own heifers and lambs. Meeting Lane had two slaughter houses, one in McHugh’s Yard used by Tom McStay, the other behind Bapty Mahers used by Tim Hickey and Alfie Coyle. Finbar Purcell slaughtered behind his shop in Duke Street, while Ned Ward had his slaughter house behind No. 1 Woodstock Street. The rear of Ned Wynne’s shop in William Street provided slaughtering facilities in the 1960’s for Noel Scully and his predecessor Billy Harris.
I remember witnessing a young heifer going under the pike in Ned Ward’s slaughter house sometime in the late 1950’s. A pole axe into the forehead was the slaughtering practice of the day, while lambs had a knife drawn across their throats. None of the local butchers sold pork. This was the speciality of Ernest Herterich who killed pigs at the rear of his shop in Duke Street. The other butchers collected blood from their own slaughtering houses which they passed on to Herterichs pork butchers to help make black pudding.
It was an era of butchers blocks and stainless steel hooks with sides of meat hanging from cross irons in the ceilings of local butcher shops. Meat was not pre cut or pre packed, your order was cut from the side of beef or lamb in front of you. Shopping in those unhurried days was a time consuming chore for the housewife. You waited your turn while the customers before you had their orders dealt with. I remember my own mother who shopped in Tim Hickeys constantly trying to get the best cut of meat. No matter what it was the piece first proferred by Tim or any of his assistants, Frank Kelly, Tim Junior, Tom Byrne would be rejected, the excess fat trimmed off and unwanted bones cut out before the meat was parceled and made ready for the journey back to 5 Offaly Street.
Noel Scully spent almost ten years with Brendan Murphy before he got the opportunity of opening up his own butchering business in Stanhope Street. Billy Harris who had served his time in Finbar Purcells had opened up the shop just a year or two previously and decided that he did not want to continue in the butchering business. Noel Scully’s name went over the door of the Stanhope Street shop and would remain there for almost thirty years. Noel remembers fondly some of the young men who worked with him over the years, Jack O’Keeffe, Paul and Sean O’Neill who are now in America and his own son Frank.
Noel who has been a Town Councillor since 1999 has always demonstrated a strong commitment to the local community. In his young days he was a member of the F.C.A. when the voluntary military force had a base at the back of Ted Vernal’s forge in St. John’s Lane. He recalls some of the men who paraded with him while in the F.C.A. under the command of Michael Dooley of Nicholastown. Eamon Stafford, Aidan Stafford, Eamon Walsh, Ambrose McConville, Michael Chanders, Thomas Whelan, John Kelly and Joe Brophy were just some of those men who gave of their free time to bolster the efforts of the F.C.A. It had been Noel’s ambition at a very early age to join the Irish Army but by the time he was old enough to enlist the butchering trade had taken a hold on his imagination and ambition and so his military dreams were confined to parading with his F.C.A. colleagues in St. John’s Lane.
One matter which Noel brought to my attention puzzled me somewhat. It was a football match in Geraldine Park between Athy minors and another club team which was played before a county senior game involving Kildare and Carlow. Apparently Noel was substituted during the game and the young fellow brought on to take his place was myself. I am not sure if either myself or the team manager Matt Murray took the blame for Noel’s footballing demotion, but fifty years after the event it still figures large in Noel’s memory. However, I think he has forgiven me for the part I unwittingly played in his substitution that day.
Sport of another form provided Noel with his greatest sporting achievement. Irish greyhouse racing to which he was introduced in the 1970’s has four major events, the St. Ledger, the Derby, Oaks and the Produce Stakes. It was the last of these which Noel’s dog, “Dilly Don’t Dally” won in 1986 to make Noel Scully of Athy the first County Kildare dog owner to win that major prize. He tells me that one of Dilly’s prodigy has won the same race many years later.
However, his success in the dog courses cannot even compare with the ballroom dancing successes which he shared over the years with his wife Maureen whom he married in 1963. They both competed in ballroom dancing competitions all over the country winning many competitions between 1970 and 1982 after which Noel became a Judge on the ballroom circuit. If that was not enough he has chaired for many years the Bleach and District Community Association and with his present role as a Town Councillor he has been kept busy. Noel is the eldest of five brothers and five sisters and as he looks back over a life of work and community involvement in his native town of Athy he can be justifiably proud of what he has achieved.