Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Fiona Madigan, Director
Fiona Madigan is a director of Garrett’s, a well known butcher shop in Limerick.
Fiona Madigan is a woman in a man’s world. Much like Sarah Kelly before her, she talks about the struggles of an industry dominated by men along with her successes. I fiercely I believe, that women working together is the solution to this particular problem and I’m hoping that the future will see more women joining the meat industry.
I am particularly interesting to following Fiona’s efforts with her Meat Industry Women project.
I’m talking to women the Irish food industry. How did your career path bring you here?
To be honest, this appears to be my vocation. I am a third generation butcher with my Dad and Grandfather being butchers. Things were very different back then and I worked with my Dad from a very young age on the farm which included butchering. I tried to get away from butchering at different stages in my life and I believe my Dad didn’t see my future in butchering but after working around the world in various roles I returned to Ireland in 2003 and my husband and I gave it a year to try and opened our own business.
We successfully achieved this on 24th March 2004 and it was nerve racking. My father was delighted, of course and when he heard we were getting married in 2006, well it was like winning the lottery for him. His youngest had successfully started a retail butcher store and had married a butcher. All his dreams had come true!
I was still working with the Civil Service at the time, as I am so cautious and not what you would call a huge risk taker. Therefore, I continued working with the Civil Service as a little safety net in case this dream didn’t quite work out. Of course, I never really wanted to work in there and when I completed the interview with them, they asked me why I applied for a job and I frankly told them, my mother made me.
That is another one of my personality traits, honesty. They must have liked the honesty of my answer as I was hired very shortly afterwards. I had to resign eventually as our business became so busy and I have never looked back.
How does your career fulfill you?
I just love working for myself. I like the flexibility, the social aspect of meeting people every day. I like the responsibility of it. I have always loved a challenge and being in business in Ireland is definitely a challenge. Nothing comes easy. You have to work for it. I have my parents to thank for my work ethic. My Dad always said, you will never respect anything unless you have worked for it.
What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for Fiona Madigan?
We are constantly innovating and changing with the times. In retail, it is a must. You have to cater for your customer first and foremost. Personally, I would like to see more women at the forefront in this industry. This is a project I have been working. On 14th May, I travelled to London to the Meat Business Women…The Conference 2019. The Meat Business Women is a worldwide non-profit organisation established in 2015 and which aims to target women working with the meat supply chain from abattoir and onward.
Its key objectives are to:
- Skillfully improve networking
- Assist in making the image, culture and landscape of the meat industry more attractive to female talent
- Nurture new female entrants into the sector
This organisation was set up by Laura Ryan, who is based in London, and I was delighted when I was asked to come on board. As it is now expanding into Ireland, I will be helping along with others in the industry to promote the organisation and its objectives in Ireland. It is very exciting to be part of this. Hopefully, you will get to hear lots from Meat Business Women in the near future.
In your opinions, what challenges women face in the food industry in Ireland?
Well some are set out above however, particularly in butchering, it is a very male orientated environment. I am the youngest of seven with three older brothers and 3 older sisters so let’s say I got a good tutoring in fighting my corner!
There are challenges in every industry, the key is to recognise them, confront them and be active is doing something about them for the better and that is what I certainly am hoping to do here.
Tell us of one woman in the Irish food industry who consistently inspire you and why?
I would have to say my own mother. She is now 83 years of age, she worked very hard all her life to bring up a family of seven while working on the farm daily. She never moaned and complained and always said isn’t it great to be able to do. She has spent her whole life working indirectly in the food industry so it is nice to give her some recognition here in this article. There are lots of people in the world who do not have this chance, due to socioeconomic environments or health reasons.
I would also like to mention Marion Cahill who started Cahill cheese back in the 70’s. She is a west Limerick lady and a similar background to my mother with seven children. Cahill’s Cheese is now sold worldwide.
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry in Ireland?
We need to work together to help each other. As the saying goes, your light won’t shine any brighter because you have extinguished someone else’s. People just like you are doing great work on this front and for this I am very appreciative. We all just need a few more of you.
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
Successfully opening my own business with the husband and watching Ireland win the 2018 World Butcher’s Challenge in Belfast. My husband was the captain of the team. The team as a whole worked extremely hard to achieve this success while all having butcher stores to run at the same time.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be more confident in yourself and seize the moment. Always go with your gut instinct. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
Accuracy in your knife skills (you do not want any waste), diplomacy in dealing with people and efficiency in your business.
What is your favourite cut of meat and how do you recommend it should be cooked?
This is a very hard one as there are so many wonderful cuts. I love them all. I just love food in general. I would have to say Rib Eye Steak cooked medium (never well done – I would cry) for me.