I’m still in the city of Cork for Thursday Doors this week, with a triple delight for all you lovers of red doors. This image is of the Butter Museum, which is part of the old Butter Exchange, close to St. Anne’s Church and its Shandon Bells Tower (featured in last week’s post). An outdoor butter market started up there in 1730. Due to a thriving trade over the next few decades, a premises was built to house an indoor market, on the grounds where Shandon Castle once stood. The Cork Committee of Merchants was formed in 1769 and established the Cork Butter Market. This became a thriving centre of commerce during the 18th and 19th centuries, exporting butter to four continents and was considered the most important provider of this food in the whole of Britain and Ireland. Apparently, at its peak in the 1880’s it was handling 500,000 casks per year, valued at £1.5 million.
The former Butter Exchange now houses Shandon Craft Centre
This is now the Institute of Choreography and Dance
The circular shaped Firkin Crane opened in August 1855 as part of an extension to the Cork Butter Market premises. This design enabled rainfall from the roof and gutters to be collected by a number of chutes and the water was then used to wash the firkins (small wooden vessels or casks). The Danish word firkin means a quarter barrel. A butter firkin had a capacity of nine gallons or eighty pounds in weight. The barrels were tarred and weighed on a large balance called a crane. Tar was used to seal these casks, as they had to be watertight for their overseas journey.
Here’s a slideshow of some of the buildings near the Butter Museum.
This is how the Butter Market Exchange looked in the past
Butter Market Exchange with Firkin Crane premises on left, c. 1900 (Photo: National Library of Ireland)
We’ve always loved our butter in Ireland and in times past, when you didn’t have a communal ice-house to store it in, a peat bog was a good alternative. There have been many reports of old casks of butter being dug up during the cutting of turf in a bog (more than 400 ancient balls of butter have been found in Ireland and Scotland in recent years) but one in particular is quite remarkable. Over 100 pounds of what is referred to as bog butter was discovered in Tullamore, County Offaly, in 2013. It’s estimated to be about 5,000 years old, dating from the Iron Age.
A love of butter is not exclusive to this side of the Atlantic, by any means. The first recorded student protest in the United States of America took place at Harvard University in 1766 – over butter! As colonists were preparing for the American Revolution, the spirit of the Sons of Liberty trickled down to their own sons, many of whom were attending the college at the time, where they formed the group The Sons of Harvard. When the university first opened its doors, in 1636, the food dished up was a constant cause for complaint and remained so for over a century. Despite numerous attempts at improving the service, the quality of the butter remained very poor. At one meal with particularly rancid butter, Asa Dunbar (the grandfather of poet and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau) stood up on his chair and proclaimed: ‘Behold, our butter stinketh!— give us therefore, butter that stinketh not.’ This incited half of the student body to walk out in protest. When they were suspended for not giving up the name of the instigator of the rebellion, the students put up a good argument for their case and won.*
I’m now going to make myself a nice cup of tea and have a bit of homemade fruitcake smothered in butter. (It’s official, butter is good for you, margarine is bad). Thanks for stopping by and while I munch on my favourite treat I’m off to have a look at what delightful Thursday Doors Norm has on his blog. Then I’m going to follow the blue ‘frog’ link at the bottom of his post for even more doors from around the world.🙂
Cork Butter Museum
The Firkin Crane