Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Published: Irish Times, July 7 2008


pet shop
“They’re very shy really”, says Eric Lynch, dipping his hand into the piranha tank and flapping it about in the water. He turns around to observe my reaction. I’m standing about two feet behind, half expecting him to be pulled under at any moment. I don’t want him taking me with him when they do. If popular culture has taught me anything about piranhas, it’s that they are remorseless predators, with an insatiable appetite for human flesh. To my surprise, however, they blithely ignore this provocation. So what gives?

“It’s a bit of a myth to be honest” Eric contends. “Piranhas really aren’t that aggressive at all.” How then did this misconception arise? He purses his lips and backtracks slightly. “Don’t get me wrong” he says. “When one of them susses out an opportunity, they’ll all attack. But by and large, they’re fairly docile. Unless they sense, you know, weakness or unease.” Fair enough, I tell him. I’m safe around piranhas as long as the conversation doesn’t turn to golf or rugby.

Eric (25) has been working in the basement tropical fish and reptile house at Whackers Pet Shop for four years. He gives me the guided tour. Pets for sale here include everything from an Indian Star Tortoise for €450, to boxes full of noisy crickets for just €5. (The latter, I assume, are sold as pet food, rather than pets in their own right.) Eric has been keeping exotic animals since he was 12 and is completely at home around them. Which is more than can be said for this writer. The only animals I’m comfortable around are dead and on my plate. “This is the Chilean Rose Tarantula” says Eric, fishing another hideous insect from a plastic box. He beckons me to put out my hand.

I shake my head. No way. “They don’t bite” he assures me. That’s not what I’m afraid of. Eric responds with a raised eyebrow that seems to call my masculinity into question. I offer him my hand. Surprise, surprise… The Chilean Rose is very creepy and very crawly. Well, there’s a turn up for the books.

Next up is the Red Rum Tarantula who, thankfully, will be staying in his box for the duration of our visit. The Red Rum, apparently, likes to introduce himself by painfully ‘hair flicking’ visitors – whatever that means. He’s a snip at only €50. That concludes the tour. What kind of person, I ask Eric, wants to keep a snake that smells fear, or a lizard that could snap your finger off, or a fish tank that could practically devour a small child?

“Every kind of person” smiles Eric. “You name it. This is a hobby that attracts people across the board.”

In the forty minutes I’ve been here, though, I’ve only seen young men. Would it be fair to say that his customers are predominately male?

“Oh, no. No.”

Mostly male?


More women come in here than men?


So more men than women then?

“Well, probably. But not by too much, we get lots of women.”

Trade in non-indigenous pets is currently unregulated. But Eric sees that situation changing. “You will need a licence for some of these animals soon,” he says. “Right now, a lot of fellas want the Cayman, the croc. It’s an image thing really, the same as a pit bull.” Realistically, he says, pet owners should have at least eight years experience of handling reptiles before they own a Cayman. “But there’s a small few giving the rest a bad name. These guys don’t know anything about reptiles, and suddenly they want a crocodile. It just doesn’t work that way.”

What would happen if one of these pets ever escaped? Would they be able to forage? “Probably not, not in the climate we have in this country. When they get cold they shut down, so they wouldn’t be to able to move a lot. So they wouldn’t get too far. Well, I wouldn’t think so anyway…”

October 30th, 2009.

2 Responses to “PET SHOP BOY”

  1. Colin Says:

    There are crocodiles living in the Liffey. They have also made their way into the sewers but only in the Northside.

    Friend of a friend’s girlfriend’s brother has a mate who met a guy in Madigan’s on Talbot St. who swears he saw one. Well, that or an inflatable one.

  2. Eoin Says:

    A friend of a friend’s granny’s brother’s gardener’s hairdresser’s boyfriend confirms that. Shocking.

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