In recent days there has been a furore surrounding the discovery of traces of horse meat in beef products sold in Ireland. As a historian, this has sparked a personal debate; what is the real issue here? Irish people appear to be genuinely horrified, vociferous in their condemnation, by the actions of the parties that introduced this ‘foodstuff’ into circulation. However the strident complaints seem to stem from the fact that the slaughterhouses carried this out covertly in order, we can assume, to cut margins and maximise profits.
When eventually confronted with the ethical issue of animal welfare, generally and grudgingly, people will concede that there should also be concern expressed for the animals involved. But not at the expense of their indignation! This attitude has changed little in the last hundred years! I direct you to ‘The Army and the Curragh Incident, 1914’ (edited by Ian F.W. Beckett), for proof! The following extract is from the letter of an officer stationed in the Curragh, to his family in which he describes the caring nature of some racing folk towards their animals!
‘Hope your horse meeting was successful. A friend of mine sold a bad hunter to a sausageman the other day and got a better price for it as meat than he would have as a hunter! But it was not ‘broken down’ or ‘worn out’. The man told him that horses weigh so much more than beef and are better value in that way!’
This officer’s candid letter does pose the question ‘how are we best served with horses?’ By hook or by hoof?