Human Interest Profile

Mike Fitzgerald talking with customers during business hours at K. Burns butcher shop in Sneem, Ireland. (Photo credit: Lindsey Wotanis)

Act I Scene II: The Butcher

A profile on Mike Fitzgerald

 By: Molly Boylan

Click! He stands off to the side of the street in front of the bakery talking to someone from the town as tourist flourish in and out of the unique shop. His arms create a pattern of folding and unfolding his arms throughout his conversation.  The off-white button down apron is hanging on him as he talks. He listens to his friend with a smile and attentiveness. Tourists pass by in the streets hardly noticing the pair talking.

 Click! He stands behind the glowing butcher counter. The floor seems to know the feet that have been standing on them for nearly 11 years. The same off-white apron clings to his body as he nods to someone entering the shop. He greets the customer by coming around the counter to shake his hand. Leaning against the tall cooler filled with soda and homemade pasta salads, he chats and jokes with the people in the shop. He points out the wool hanging near the ceiling, assuring that they came from his family’s sheep farm.

 Click! He sits in a half circle created by folding chairs in the Sneem community centers gym. The men and women sitting in the chairs are staring into the scripts in front of them reading lines. A moment of pause and his head is upturned to the director sitting aside him speaking. He nods with understanding.  From then, they continue to take turns reading their lines.

 These are just snapshots of a typical day in the life of Mike Fitzgerald, a resident deeply connected to the small rural village of Sneem, Ireland. Many locals and friends find Mike to be a “character” worth knowing in the community. He has lived in Sneem, where everyone knows everyone, for his entire life. Mike managed to seize almost every opportunity the community has given him. Contrary to popular belief that small towns have difficulty providing opportunities for its members, Mike is a true contradiction.

 Experience working on his family’s sheep farm 4 miles out of town gave Mike the comfort he needed to work with animals. At the age of 12, Mike chanced working for the local butcher by packing sheep wool. A common trip to the butcher with his dad to sell the wool from their sheep turned into a job opportunity.

 “At first I didn’t know what I was getting into,” he said. The first day of work jolted Mike into the realities of being a butcher.

 “I just turned in the door and they were actually stunning beef. It was pure shock, cause it was like after seeing a ghost” he said.

 The first three months of Mike’s new job were unwelcome; however, he did begin to like the work. This jump-started his interest in pursuing courses to become a meat specialist and craft butcher. In the early stages of taking the courses and being a student, Mike ran in to some confusion between everything on his plate, “I mixed up food processing and biology homework” he said.

 Now, at age 23, Mike starts his days at 8 a.m. in time to make it to the town’s only butcher shop to prepare for the day. A full day of work in the shop gives Mike the opportunity to do what he loves.

 But with love sometimes comes pain. Throughout his career at the butcher shop, Mike has encountered some injuries. The scars that line his arms and hands are like bookmarks in the story of his life. “I’ve got a couple of battle scars from knives and guns,” he says with laughter.

Looking at the scar nearest his thumb, Mike remembers when the sheep, meant for the stun gun, created some problems for him.

 “Just as I pulled the trigger she flicked her head and the bullet actually went into my hand” he said.

Between battles with bullets and knives, Mike has experienced the good and the bad of being a meat specialist.

 Much like Mike’s unexpected experiences with being a butcher, life outside of the shop can also be surprising. His memory brings him to a time when he was in a tragic car accident. On his way home from dropping off a friend from the bar, Mike had slammed on his brakes to avoid hitting a deer. This reaction plunged him off the side of the road and down an incline. The car billowed down the hill busting the windows and crushing the vehicle. “It was like I was in a washing machine,” he said. Knowing that the windows were crushed, Mike slammed both of his feet through the remaining windshield in an attempt to escape the crushed car. This accident left Mike with a broken collarbone.

As he reflected on the moment, he said that he was forced to be out of work for nearly six weeks, “I was turning mad at home looking at the four white walls trying to do something,” he said.

 At the end of the work day in the shop Mike hangs up his butcher apron and grabs his play script. For Mike, being called a character by friends took on a new meaning when a local woman asked him to act in the town’s performance of “The Year of the Hiker” by John B. Keane. With a small part offered to him Mike’s response was “Sure, I’ll chance it.” This reply mirrors the chance he gave to becoming a butcher as well.

 Opening night of the play was nerve racking for him, “I had the shakes like after two weeks of drinking,” he said. Fortunately, the lights and center stage seemed to come naturally. Mike remembered that after slightly roughing up the lead actor in an emotional scene, the director told him, “Geez, calm down. You’re getting into your part too much.” The same dedication Mike has in his career seems to also come to life on stage. In Mike’s eyes the future seems to hold more performances created by his new love for acting.

Also in the future, Mike hopes to open his own butcher shop. The chance and willingness Mike took to start packing wool for the butcher turned into a lifelong career and passion. With his connection to the community, Mike, unlike other youth in Sneem, plans to remain rooted in this area and seize every new opportunity that comes his way because as he said it is “Nice, peaceful, and quiet.”

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