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June 2019
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2003-06-17 Michael Quirke

"I will give logs of you to a wood-carver in Sligo, Michael Quirke of Wine Street, butcher turned wood-carver, out of which to magic statuettes of the gods and goddesses of Ireland, the Celtic Deities.

"I will wash your body in linseed oil and turpentine. I will put you in the window of his butchers' shop in Wine Street. I will call you by your proper name, Mac Dhuarcain, son of the melancholy one".

Thus wrote Paul Durcan in appreciation of our own local craftsman Michael Quirke. Though Paul Durcan remains the most illustrious poet to mention Michael, he is by no means the only one.

Several appreciative customers have penned glowing homages to this `kind butcher', and his work adorns homes all over the world, including the homes of Archbishop SeŠ°n Brady, Brian Keenan and Nobel Prize- winning poet Seamus Heaney.

Michael's father opened "Quirke's butchers" back in 1932. When Michael left school in 1957, he automatically took over the family business as was the done thing.

To quote Michael himself, he was `the worst butcher in Sligo', and never showed any interest in the butcher trade. He had however always displayed a creative side, coupled with a passion for the folklore and legends of Ireland and for Celtic mythology. By the early 1970s, wooden mythological figurines began to appear in his shop window between his kidneys and his chops.

Wood-carving had become an obsession for Michael and so when the time came for him to hang up his cleaver, he had no regrets whatsoever.

Michael's creativity and active mind had never been stimulated by meat- carving. But now as he began to bring the great figures of Irish mythology (and even some heroes from Irish history) to life, this eloquent and knowledgable man also began to perfect the art of captivating his audience with tales of yore and of Sligo's ancient history. The butcher shop on Wine Street began to breathe poetry. Almost all of the wood Michael employs comes from the fallen trees of local farms, usually Sligo sycamore, beech and ash.

The craftsman, folklorist and genuine `character' is bursting with poetry, stories and legends, and for the few missing gaps, he refers to the well-thumbed stack of books at the edge of his counter.

At the outset, his carvings were mostly geared towards the tourist trade, and these unique creations found themselves ending up in every corner of the globe.

But very quickly, the locals began to realise what a unique talent lay at their doorsteps. The butcher's window, once displaying cuts of raw meat, had come to life with beautifully crafted wooden figures.

The shop floor, once stained with blood, was now carpeted with discarded shavings, while blocks of wood queued patiently in line for sculpting.

Michael doesn't take orders or deposits, but gladly takes suggestions, and a few years ago, having purchased a beautifully crafted "Diarmuid agus GraŪinne" for a friend's wedding in London, I asked if he could think of something for me on the themes of `music', `voice' and `Sligo'!

Just before last Christmas, I dropped in to see how he was progressing. I was totally unprepared for the work of art that stood proud before my eyes.

Called "The Voice", my carving is based on Amairg ¬≠n†the `File' or poet of the Milesian Celts, and the first song created by Amairg≠n. It is crafted from Sligo sycamore, dressed in a coat of teak oil. In the same way that each line of Amairg≠n's song rolls into the next, each symbol and swirl on the wood links seamlessly to the next.

Michael managed to incorporate "Torann na gCora dTonn" (the roar of the reef wave on the Sligo coast off Aughris), the cloirseach (ancient Irish harp), the wild goose calling under Benbulben, the stag bellowing, the wolf howling, the war trumpet, the crying wind in the branches of the oak, the birds singing, and a woman wailing for her children.

Voice, Music and Sligo†- the `kind butcher' had come up trumps again!

For more information about Michael Quirke visit: