The Butchers’ Blessing

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Winner of the 2021 RSL Ondaatje Prize

Set in the gothic wilds of Ireland, The Butchers’ Blessing is a haunting and unforgettable thriller brimming with secrecy, tradition, and superstition.

Every year, Úna prepares for her father to leave her. He will wave goodbye early one morning, then disappear with seven other men to traverse the Irish countryside. Together, these men form the Butchers, a group that roams from farm to farm, enacting ancient methods of cattle slaughter. 

The Butchers’ Blessing moves between the events of 1996 and the present, offering a simmering glimpse into the modern tensions that surround these eight fabled men. For Úna, being a Butcher’s daughter means a life of tangled ambition and incredible loneliness. For her mother, Grá, it’s a life of faith and longing, of performing a promise that she may or may not be able to keep. For nonbeliever Fionn, the Butchers represent a dated and complicated reality, though for his son, Davey, they represent an entirely new world—and potentially new love. For photographer Ronan, the Butchers are ideal subjects: representatives of an older, more folkloric Ireland whose survival is now being tested. As he moves through the countryside, Ronan captures this world image by image—a lake, a cottage, and his most striking photo: a man, hung upside down in a pose of unspeakable violence.

Thrilling, dark, and richly atmospheric, The Butchers’ Blessing is an engrossing incantation—mesmerizing in both language and story—conjuring a family and a country on the edge of irrevocable change.


  • Masterful.

    —The Irish Times

  • Grips throughout, offering a vivid portrait of one of Ireland’s less heralded corners.

    —The Guardian

  • Gripping, Gothic, and moody.


  • An achingly beautiful novel of family, tradition, Ireland and the deep secrets buried in all three.

    —B&N Reads

  • Steeped in the rich history of Ireland.


  • Remarkable. . . . With beautifully crafted prose, suspenseful plotting, and imaginative scope.

    —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

  • A gripping tale of menace and foreboding.


  • A contemplative coming-of-age thriller. . . . An atmospheric portrait of a country at a crossroads, moving away from the traditional ways and toward a slick new millennial future. Thoroughly lovely.

    —Kirkus Reviews

  • An achingly real portrayal of rural life in Ireland and an ode to the Republic’s fraught history with its own folklore.


  • Gilligan braids beauty and brutality together in a seamless literary thriller. With plot twists worthy of Tana French and language reminiscent of Téa Obreht, this young Irish writer has crafted a story that is dark, wild, mythic, unsuspecting, and absolutely riveting.

    —Colum McCann, author of Apeirogon

  • Excellent . . . completely gripping.

    —Evie Wyld, author of The Bass Rock

  • Remarkable. . . . Realistic and hauntingly otherworldly.

    —Jan Carson, author of The Fire Starters

  • Flawlessly, intricately plotted, with such a compelling central mystery that I binged it like a Netflix show. . . . Stunning.

    —Luke Kennard, author of The Transition

  • I was hooked from the first page. It was an exhilarating, unsettling reading experience: I felt at once like an outsider and completely at home as I read and was at all times completely immersed and wowed at Ruth’s storytelling prowess.

    —Donal Ryan, author of From a Low and Quiet Sea