HALAL Daddy is loosely based on the true story of Pakistani entrepreneur Sher Mohammad Rafique, who ran meat-processing plants around Ireland.
Sher first opened Halal Meats in 1974 and had five slaughtering plants across the country — a head branch in Co Mayo and other facilities in Wexford, Cork, Roscommon and Sligo Town.
The movie by Sligo native Conor McDermottroe stars British actor Art Malik, Colm Meaney, Deirdre O'Kane and Nikesh Patel as a young British-Indian Muslim who gets an abattoir in Sligo as a 21st birthday present from his father.
Later known as United Meat Packers Limited, the factories slaughtered sheep and cattle using halal practice, a special process that adheres to Islamic law, as defined in the Koran.
Ireland became a major exporter of halal meat to Iran and Iraq, when the two nations were at war in the 1980s.
By 1991, United Meat Packers accounted for 14.5 per cent of cattle and 24.5 per cent of sheep slaughtered in Ireland for export purposes.
Writer-director Conor McDermottroe stumbled upon the unlikely story in the late-1990s when he returned to his Sligo hometown for a few days off while working at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre.
While having a pint in a local pub, he came across some local meat workers who were toasting their company going halal.
He said: “Some guys that I knew were in there celebrating.
“One of them lifted a pint of Guinness. I asked him what they were so happy about. He said the local meat exporters were going to re-open.
“He turned to me and said, ‘We’re going halal’. I looked in this guy’s face and I knew he hadn’t a clue what halal was.”
Conor McDermottroe (front right) on the set of Halal Daddy with star Nikesh Patel in the background
The idea of a halal meat factory on the west coast planted the seed of a story in Conor’s head. This developed over the decade that followed into a feel-good comedy script.
He said: “There are no good news Muslim stories.
“Everything seems to be disenfranchised stories about migrants, refugees, and people from other countries.
“I’m a huge believer in multiculturalism and I thought this was a great story.”
Despite the initial boom in halal meats, sales dried up later in the 1990s due to trade sanctions with Iraq and a catastrophic fire at the Mayo facility — and the firm was forced to shut its doors for good.
One former plant worker, Basil Harte from St Brigid’s Terrace, Sligo, recalled working there before and after it was bought by Rafique: “We got work there every Christmas for 12 weeks.
“It was great money in the 1980s, 500 to 700 quid a week,” said the 56-year-old, “But the days were long from 7am to 11pm. And it was freezing because it was beside the sea.”
Initially known as Halal Meats, the Sligo plant was one of the company’s five plants in Ireland.
Remembering the arrival of Muslim workers, Harte admits that little integration took place. “We weren’t used to it,” he said.
The movie, shot at various locations in Sligo, premiered in the town this week and opens across Irish cinemas today.