Calvey’s Achill Mountain Lamb is in business for almost sixty years; the farm, abattoir, and butchers were started in the heart of Achill Island by Martin Calvey back in 1960.
Martin’s daughter Gráinne - a craft butcher - spoke to Marcella Connolly - That’s Farming, about the thriving family business.
“My father found a market for himself with the Mayo Blackface mountain lamb and because they’re a different kind of lamb, there wasn’t a great market for them originally,”
The craft butcher continued to explain that mutton or hogget would have been the most popular type of sheep used for culinary purposes on Achill Island at that time.
Luckily, Martin was on good terms with Theo Boyd - the owner of the local Amethyst Hotel - who gratefully accepted a lamb for her guests. They loved the flavour and from that successful evening, he would provide the hotel with lambs that he slaughtered from his own farm from then on.
Martin continued to grow his business and opened a mobile butcher’s shop that covered the whole Island while maintaining a butcher’s shop in Keel.
When Martin started out in business, it was very common to own an abattoir; there were about thirty on the island in the sixties - one for every village on the island.
There was new legislation brought in surrounding abattoirs in 1990, where there were fifty abattoirs registered in County Mayo; now there are only about a quarter of that left.
These days, “we are the only abattoir this side of Newport” said Gráinne, reflecting on her father’s success.
The Mayo Black-face Mountain sheep are indigenous to the area and were specifically chosen for their taste quality.
When people visited the Island, many would take home a whole lamb carcass home with them for their freezer. Word of the beautiful tasting lamb spread, and the business grew from there. “People used to tell me that it reminded them of their holidays in Achill” beamed Gráinne.
Gráinne is one of ten siblings, all of whom can work at any job on the farm or in the butcher shop. With two brothers and seven sisters, there is enough of the living locally to give a hand in the busy season.
Gráinne’s nineteen-year-old son - Peter - helps her in the butchers, so there are often three generations stood behind the counter at any one time.
The Calvey’s sell their lamb on-line or by telephoning the shop directly and they will kill the animal to order.
After the animal is very carefully hand-selected by Martin - restaurants will need a bigger lamb, for example - he will bring it into the abattoir and treat the carcass without using any modern machinery. The vet will have visited and cleared the animal at this point.
Gráinne will then to cut it to order and pack up the carcass and send it to the customer’s door by courier. It may take up to sixteen days from ordering to delivery. The customer will then receive a text message, letting them know of the arrival of the order.
The butcher shop is not solely concentrated on lamb; however, the Calveys buy whole sides of beef to supply their shop. Gráinne bones it out herself and cuts it all by hand. The same goes for pork. Gráinne also makes her own lamb and rosemary sausages.
As for what type of produce is in the delivery packages, Gráinne said, “At the moment we’re concentrating on the whole carcass, that’s what we’re going for at the minute, customers tend to go for the whole thing at once”.
Gráinne has every respect for her parents and counts herself lucky for the upbringing her family provided, “It was great to get that start in life” explained Gráinne, “we have to credit my parents - Martin and Angela - for that”.
When speaking of her parents, it was with pride that Gráinne mentioned her father’s accolades - “He won the Farming for Nature award last October. It was quite a big competition.” she smiled.
The Calveys also have picked up a Blas na-hEireann award and have received three stars in the Great Taste awards. The successful family has featured in the Bridgestone Guide since it’s inception twenty years ago. We can’t argue with that!
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