Shannon Meat Ltd. Rathkeale, Co. Limerick, meat processing company 1953-1987.
Industry in Ireland in 1952 was protected by high tariffs and was almost one hundred per cent exploiting the home market. It required courage to set up Shannon Meat Ltd in this year, an industry totally dependent on the export market. At the time one of the biggest Munster monthly fairs was held in Rathkeale. Hundreds of livestock for slaughter were moved from Rathkeale railway station for abatoirs in Britain. At the same time practically all the young people from Rathkeale were emigrating, mostly to Britain. The initiative to set up Shannon Meat was locally inspired by community leaders of Rathkeale. It was seen as an opportunity to create some employment and make some contribution to addressing the haemoraging from the area of young people. Attending the first meeting, now gone to their eternal reward were Joseph A Binchy, Maurice F Cowhey, Maurice Fennell and Rev Cannon W. J. Carroll PP. 39% of the subscribed capital to set up Shannon Meat Ltd. came from the parishes of Ratheale and Croagh. The objectives of the promoters were to provide employment locally, raise the prosperity of the area and a belief that the live cattle trade would eventually come to a stop and so provide the raw material for the future success of the Company. No help, financial or otherwise was made available from state sources. The old workhouse grounds were leased from the Department of Health and an abattoir, chill rooms and freezer chillers with ancillary services completed in January 1953. The operations commenced in February 1953 on the same day as the old February Fair Day in Rathkeale and a quite a large number of people attending the fair came to view operations. Only some 20 cattle were slaughtered on that particular day. The employment content was 34 people.
The original concept of forming the company, to provide employment and reduce emigration in Rathkeale was a determining factor in the ethos of the company which was very much community based. It saw itself coming from the local Rathkeale area and the broader farming community. Shannon Meat Ltd identified itself as part of this community and worked towards a contribution to the advancement of the community. Of course, it recognised its duty to its shareholders and its employees in ensuring a sound financial footing with a commercial performance and adequate profits. Among its local directors were successful businessmen who were augmented by directors from investors R H Thompson who were major beef traders on the Smithfield market in London and Omer Vanlandaghem, a naturalised Belgian cattle exporter based in Dublin. The community ethos was always to the fore in the company’s involvement in local activities, Community Council, swimming pool, sporting organisations etc. It supported the establishment of Rathkeale United Soccer club which was originally called Shannon United. It supported this staff initiative and made available the playing field. It encouraged its staff to purchase sites for their houses on its lands at Ballywilliam and Holycross.
In 1987, a majority shareholding in Shannon Meat plc was acquired by the Larry Goodman owned Anglo Irish Beef Packers Co (AIBP) and shortly afterwards 100% ownership was acquired under the Comany’s act.