By Caroline Hurley
The Cork Butter Museum tells the great success story of Irish butter, from early cottage industry to international phenomenon. The museum is housed in the historic Shandon area within walking distance of Cork City Centre, where the former Cork Butter Market grew from 1849.
It illuminates the evolution of dairy cattle farming, from home butter-making to the present-day winning sensation that is the Kerrygold brand. The impact of ancient butter production on Irish history is explored, amplified by presentation of artefacts, video, documents, and live demonstrations.
Eric Peard persuaded authorities to establish a museum honouring butter’s world-class renown and pre-eminent place in Ireland’s culture and economy, past and present. Peard’s Cork Butter Museum opened in 1997.
The first curator, archaeologist Dr Colin Rynne, wrote a reliable guide published in 1998 called The Sign of the Cow, which details the market’s evolution and significance.
Good soil, temperate weather and regular rain, in Munster especially, mean constant grass growth, ideal for the quarter of Ireland’s milch cows selectively bred and cherished in the province. The Kerry breed is particularly hardy, producing a proportionately high milk yield.
Butter is only as good as the milk it comes from. Farmers toyed with cross-breeds like Dexters and Ayrshires for best results.
Given the central place of dairy churning in farmers’ lives, superstitions abounded. The Spirit of Mám supposedly caused accidents to butter carriers, so cows were blessed and visitors had to take a turn paddling the cream. Horseshoes and other good-luck tokens were tucked under churns. The activity was too valuable to take chances.