I will arise and go now, and go down to the fridge,
And a small breakfast build there, of egg and sausage made:
Nine baked beans will I have there, a mug of Barry’s Tea;
And slurp alone in a fug of marmalade.
William Butler Yeats, “The Big Fridge of Inisfree” in Selected Poems, (London: Penguin Classics, 2000)
I tend to arise earlier when I know that there are decent breakfast things sitting in the fridge downstairs. No, not even breakfast things: it’s the sausages that really matter. The ﬁrst thing I do when I awake is to visualise that fateful second shelf and recall what was sitting on it the day before. Certain sausages will drastically accelerate my willingness to get up into that day, whereas others will repel me back to sleep with their awfulness. For example: a pound of sausages from Troy’s of Moore Street will have me leaping out of the bed like a fresh nun at dawn. “Rise and shine and give God your glory-glory!” I shriek internally as I go bounding down the stairs. On the other hand, a packet of Denny, Galtee or any other industrial nightmare sausage will send me straight back to sleep with a moan or a melodramatic palm to the forehead. Ugh! Why get up for that rubbish when you could turn over and have a few more REM mini-sleeps? I have developed a visual scale to help explain this point more clearly, provisionally entitled The Sosso Scale.
Perhaps in years to come it will be as indispensable to science as the Beaufort Scale for wind force, or Giuseppe Mercalli’s scale for the intensity of earthquakes.
(In ascending order of merit)
Denny/Galtee - Industrial ﬁlth. More ﬂavour to be found in your average ashtray. Sausages should not be a memento mori but these ones act as a constant reminder of your mounting irrelevance and inevitable death. An unsettling shade of pink. Score: 1
Tesco Finest - If this is their “ﬁnest” then Tesco need to try a lot harder. Boo! Score: 2
Glenshallagh - A truly nauseating sausage. For some reason, they are infused with bacon or black pudding. I might well want those things with my breakfast but as separate entities alongside the sausage component as opposed to inside the sausage itself. Score: 3
Brannan’s - A truly dull name for a truly dull sausage. Makes one think of Bran Flakes or Brennan’s Bread Today. Has anyone ever rejoiced after a biteful of Brannan’s? No, they have not. Score: 4
Granby - the taste of the Dublin tenements of 1911. Flavour palette includes Older Man’s Unwashed Foot, Crumbling Floorboard and Blocked Chimney. Slightly more exciting than 1-4 at the very least. Score: 5
Superquinn - For many people, this is the ultimate sausage. Indeed, the texture is good and the ﬂavour is decent. That said, I ﬁnd them slightly overrated and the supermarket itself no longer exists. Score: 6
Kearns - A reassuringly brown sausage when compared with the upsetting pinks of 1-6. Pleasant to behold both cooked and uncooked. An earthier taste than the others and perfect with tea. Score: 7
M&S Rarebreed - “Burn everything English except their coal!” (Jonathan Swift). You won’t want to burn these fellows because whatever forgotten English piggos they use are spectacularly delicious. Quite unlike any other sausage on the market. Swallow your pride (and your Sinn Féin membership card) and get down to M&S. Score: 8
Etherson’s - A wonderful sausage from Cabra. Just the right ratio of pork to rusk. Serve it up with ketchup or a bit of Ballymaloe relish and you will be singing / crying tears of joy all morning. A lot of butcher’s sausages would be around this mark (e.g. Troy’s). Score: 9
Byrne’s - Pole position goes to a sausage that has ceased to be. Byrne’s of Phibsborough smoked their own sausages onsite but the place closed down about three years ago. This mythical smoked sausage of my youth is remembered on a curious Facebook page called HAM Maker. Perhaps there is a sausage somewhere in Dublin that might someday come close. If so, I have yet to ﬁnd it. But we live in hope. Score: 10
So yeah. I like a snossidge in the morning as part of my morning routine. I like to think that I am part of a hallowed tradition of sausage enthusiasts from the pantheon of Irish literature. Indeed, when WB Yeats won the Nobel Prize in 1923, he cooked up a sosso feast for himself and his wife:
Early in November  a journalist called to show me a printed paragraph saying the Nobel Prize would probably be conferred upon Herr [Thomas] Mann, the distinguished novelist, or upon myself. I did not know the Swedish Academy had ever heard my name. Then after some eight days comes the telephone message from The Irish Times saying that the prize had indeed been conferred upon me; some ten minutes after that comes a telegram from the Swedish Ambassador; then journalists come for interviews. At half past 12, my wife and I are alone, and search the cellar for a bottle of wine, but it is empty, and as a celebration, we cook sausages."
Yeats’ syntax is very ambiguous: is he celebrating his Nobel Prize win or is he celebrating the fact that there was no wine in the cellar? What of the quality of the sausages? Where would he have placed them on the scale? Alas, we will never know because he is with O’Leary in the grave.
One man who was very concerned about sausage quality in his time is the great Brendan Behan. In the following extract from his autobiography Borstal Boy(1958), he is clearly still smarting after a very negative culinary experience at the hands of a stingy English rentier:
This landlady was mean and as barren as a bog. Her broken windows would be a judgment on her for the cheap sausages and margarine she poisoned her table with, for she was only generous with things that cost little cash, locking hall doors at night time and kneeling down to say the Rosary with the lodger and her sister, who always adds three Hail Marys for holy purity and the protection of her person and modesty, so that you would think half the men in Liverpool were running after her, panting for a lick of her big buck teeth.
Brendan Behan literally smashed up this woman’s windows after a mediocre breakfast. This may seem extreme but, like Brendan, I am liable to say and do rather mean things after a bad banger. Which is why starting your day with a 6+ on the Sosso Scale is so important. Cheap sausages are POISON! If you are a member of the propertied classes, be sure to provide your lodgers with good quality sausages as otherwise you may ﬁnd your good name – or indeed your windows – severely damaged.
The anticipation of a really good sausage can be enough to get you singing, a universal truth we see personiﬁed in Captain Boyle in Seán O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock (1924):
BOYLE: […] Breakfast! Well, they can keep their breakfast for me. Not if they went down on their bended knees would I take it — I'll show them I've a little spirit left in me still! (He goes over to the press, takes out a plate and looks at it) Sassige! Well, let her keep her sassige. (He returns to the ﬁre, takes up the teapot and gives it a gentle shake) The tea's wet right enough. (A pause; he rises, goes to the press, takes out the sausage, puts it on the pan, and puts both on the ﬁre. He attends the sausage with a fork.)
When the robins nest agen,
And the ﬂowers are in bloom,
When the Springtime's sunny smile seems to banish all
sorrow an' gloom;
Then me bonny blue-ey'd lad, if me heart be true till
He's promised he'll come back to me,
When the robins nest agen!
(He lifts his head at the high note, and then drops his eyes to the pan.)
After an argument with his wife, Captain Boyle is determined to scorn the sausage she has left for him but, as we see, his resistance lasts all of two seconds (they must have been at least an 8). I looked up “When The Robins Nest Again” on YouTube and, while it wouldn’t be my ﬁrst musical choice while frying up a solitary “sassige”, I can certainly identify with Boyle’s instinct to glance lovingly at the pan as the entire operation nears completion. Seconds later, at the sound of approaching footsteps, Boyle “whips the pan off the ﬁre and puts it under the bed” for fear that he might end up having to share his breakfast. As it transpires, it is merely a passing sewing machine salesman:
BEARDED MAN: You don't happen to want a sewin' machine?
BOYLE (furiously): No, I don't want e'er a sewin’ machine!
(He returns the pan to the ﬁre, and commences to sing again.)
As a resident of Inner City Dublin – I live 1.1km from Mountjoy Square where Juno is set – I can assure the reader that this an occupational hazard that continues to this day. The underside of my bed is black from the amount of times I’ve had to hide a frying pan from hungry sewing machine salesmen who stroll into my lodgings unannounced.
No discussion of sausages in Irish literature would be complete without a nod to James Joyce. 7 Eccles Street, the ﬁctional home of Leopold Bloom, is just 650m from my front door and the ﬁctional Dlugacz’s butchers of Upper Dorset Street is even closer again. In Chapter 4 of Ulysses, we follow Bloom on his mission to procure breakfast materials for himself, his wife and his cat:
He halted before Dlugacz’s window, staring at the hanks of sausages, polonies, black and white. […] The shiny links, packed with forcemeat, fed his gaze and he breathed in tranquilly the lukewarm breath of cooked spicy pigs’ blood.
[…] He stood by the nextdoor girl at the counter. Would she buy it too, calling the items from a slip in her hand? Chapped: washingsoda. And a pound and a half of Denny’s sausages. His eyes rested on her vigorous hips.
[…] The porkbutcher snapped two sheets from the pile, wrapped up her prime sausages and made a red grimace.
—Now, my miss, he said.
She tendered a coin, smiling boldly, holding her thick wrist out.
—Thank you, my miss. And one shilling threepence change. For you, please?
Leopold Bloom is too distracted by his neighbour’s “vigorous hips” to notice her atrocious taste in sausages. Denny’s is a 1 on the Sosso Scale, lest we forget… the absolute wurst. Indeed, the old dirtbird hopes his own transaction will be conducted quickly so that he can catch up with his neighbour and walk behind her “moving hams”. Filth! It was on the strength of this oh-soﬂeeting passage that Denny chose to provide substandard sausages to 10,000 people on the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday in 2004. They set up tables all along the median of O’Connell Street for what they called The Bloomsday Centenary Breakfast, dispensing 20,000 sausages, 10,000 rashers and 2,000 sticks of black and white pudding. (I for one am glad I was not present).
What of Samuel Beckett? Terry Eagleton provides an answer:
Those starved words, gaunt bodies and sterile landscapes of Beckett's dramas may well carry with them a race memory of the Irish famine, a catastrophe that was the slow death of language as well as of one million people. The famine decimated the farm labourers and small tenants, who made up most of the Irish speakers, and using the language in post-famine Ireland rapidly became a symbol of ill-luck. It is possible to read Beckett's meticulously pared-down prose as a satirical smack at the blather and blarney of stage-Irish speech. Beckett hoards his meagre clutch of words like a tight-ﬁsted peasant, ringing pedantic changes on the same few signs or stage properties like someone eking out a scanty diet. There is, perhaps, a Protestant suspicion of superﬂuity here, in contrast to the extravagant expenditure of a Joyce, the linguistic opulence of J. M. Synge or the verbal gluttony of Brendan Behan.
In other words… not a sausage.
Sam Ford is a tour guide, writer, performer, unreconstructed pigmeat enthusiast, etc. He studied English and German Literature in TCD. He lives in Broadstone, Dublin 7.