spacer
Step Right Up spacer Issue 5
Step Right Up - The N.I. Sausage
by Paul Moore
spacer
Cookstown is a strange town to be associated with one of the most iconic moments in Northern Irish folklore. Renowned for its wide main street, this average-sized rural town in the heart of mid-Ulster has few particular claims to fame, as its web site freely admits. But an agricultural college stands on its outskirts and this, combined with the fact that one of its major employers is the meat packaging plant, Unipork, meant that it would become home to that symbol of Northern Irish cuisine - the Cookstown sausage.
spacer
The decision to call it the Cookstown sausage was well made. The Unipork sausage would not have had the same ring. Here was a sausage apparently sculpted from the heart of the rural landscape, a sausage that had for centuries sent stout yeomen off to the fields, a sausage that fed a prosperous and Godly town in Ulster. But most of all, here was a sausage that in the early 1970s would became associated with the greatest Northern Irish icon of all time - George Best.
spacer
The decision to use Best in the marketing was a stroke of genius for the makers. At a time when pop was paramount here was the areas only true pop star (whatever else Van Morrison was he was never a 'pop'star!) endorsing a product that had always had a slightly dodgy image. More at home in roadside burger bars, dreary bed and breakfast dining rooms and less than wealthy households the idea that the man who slept with Miss World, drank champagne out of Twiggy's high heels while opening his latest boutique and spent twenty-five thousand pounds a night in a casino might eat them never seemed incongruous. His face was on the packaging, and if he said Cookstown was 'the Best family sausage' then it must be true.
spacer
It was rumoured at the time that Besty himself had been warned against taking the contract, that somehow it would tarnish the modern image he had, by default rather than design, created. But the fact was that he could have advertised toilet paper and the good people of Northern Ireland would have bought it, happy in the knowledge that George Best toilet tissue was soft enough for a Besty Blonde.
spacer
His decision to take the contract was, of course, inspired. In advertising terms it was a huge success, increasing sales by eight hundred percent in matter of months. For Best it gave a homely dimension to the Best persona and meant that mothers as well as daughters, sons and fathers could worship him. And of course its success can ultimately be measured by comparing its path to that of the other Manchester United star from Northern Ireland who took up its call - Norman 'Bite you legs' Whiteside. Norman never really cut it as a sausage seller because we all knew he did in fact eat them and the undertones of the ad which said 'Norman bites your sausage' were too close to the truth to be comforting.
spacer
What was really happening with Best's sausage was, in hindsight, a little more complicated. The seventies saw the advent of enough affluence and cultural change for the barbecue to enter the consciousness. As we all know, barbecues are always patrolled by men and through a combination of ease of cooking and Best's smiling face on the wrapper, millions were incinerated on a weekly basis.
spacer
spacer
For its part the sausage lost its less than savoury reputation with master butchers finding all sorts of heady concoctions involving herbs, jalipeno peppers and exotic fruits. They are even now served in the trendiest Belfast bistros as some kind of delicacy, supposedly sweeping tired businessmen back to the glorious days when Best scored the winner at European cup finals and celebrated with you on the front porch barbie party.
spacer
But the key factor was emigration; all those sorry souls who had to take their brains to another country to make their fortune. They knew what Geordie had gone through when he and Eric McMordie wanted to come home from Manchester, homesick and terrified by city life. They knew what it was to have to overcome prejudice and racism when making it to the top. And they knew how important it was to have some part of your Northern Irish culture that went with you at all times.
spacer
Check out the Belfast Telegraph's Exiles web site. When asked what they miss most about home, guess what answer virtually all the males give; a fry up with a Cookstown sausage. It seems the Cookstown sizzler is alive and well, if only in Hong Kong, London, New York and Melbourne, places with streets even wider than Cookstown's main street.
spacer
Step Right Up - The N.I. Sausage
spacer
spacer
home | information | issues | artists & writers | columns | reviews
spacer