Galway’s Back from the Brink – December 1996

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Galway’s Back from the Brink

On September 16th last the Galway Sheep Breed Society held its 73rd annual show and sale at Athenry Mart. A lot was at stake for Ireland’s most famous native breed. Two years ago the breed was facing extinction: last year’s sale was a flop.

Much to the relief of the breed’s supporters, this year, there was a full clearance of the almost 100 sheep on offer:

35 hogget rams made from 150 to 505gns; Joe Casey, Murrough, Clare, chairman of the Society, bought the top priced ram at 505gns.

20 lamb rams made from I00 to 300gns.

30 registered ewes sold from 120 to 155gns.

Two years ago, Dr Leo Curran, of the Irish Genetic Resources, took an interest. He even set up his own flock on his farm at Macetown in Donegal. Meetings were held and lapsed breeders were encouraged to register their stock. The Flock Book was brought up to date.

Teagasc sheep specialist, Gerry Scully, and breed experts were assigned to examine sheep in the flock book. Laurence Anderson, the chairman of the British Rare Breeds Survival trust, had persuaded a Mr. Cheesman to buy 18 in-lamb Galway ewes and a ram some years back for his UK farm. .  This has resulted in 100 pure-bred Galway’s in Britain today.

There are also a number of small flocks of Galway ewes in Northern Ireland. The Galway breed was established in I992. It was preceded by the Roscommon breed, which was established in 1885. One Nicholas Cotter took an enormous interest in the Roscommon, but unfortunately, the breed was allowed to die with him.

One of the big promoters of the Galway breed was Oranmore breeder Christy Kearns who was chairman of the breed for an extended period.

It is reckoned that some bloodlines from the Lincoln, Longwool and Ryeland were incorporated at the start up of the Galway breed and that this accounts for the high quality wool.

Over the years there was a lot of emphasis on long wool and big sheep, to the expense of prolificacy in the Galway breed. However, the breeders are reversing the trend towards single lambs and have breeding programmes to increase prolificacy.

The cross between the Galway and Suffolk has proved very popular in the West. This cross can only be perpetuated if there are Galway’s available for breeding.

As the attempt to impose movement permits has been such a failure, will the Department introduce something else in its stead? When the permits were introduced, a Department spokesman said that if that approach did not work, the flock owner would be required to tag their ewes and quote details of the tags when applying for ewe premium. Is this the alternative that we are facing? If so, it can be a positive move. Necessity can be converted to virtue.

Having individual ewes marked will give you the opportunity to individually record ewes. Good and poor ewes can be identified. Breeding and selection details can be made on the basis of the records. At least some good could come of the tagging.  The bureaucracy that is involved in the movement permits is doing nothing but piling up paper in already over “red taped” marts. Farmers from other EU States have expressed amazement at the Irish movement permit system. They reckon that it is an Irish joke!

Extract from “The Irish Farmers Journal” 1996

Galway Sheep Breeders Association: Chairman: Mr J. Casey, Murrough, Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare. Treasurer/Secretary: Mr. T. Sice, Boyhill, Athenry, Co. Galway. Mr. B. Fallon, Lissanany, Kilconly, Tuam, Co. Galway. Mr. P. Finnegan, Woodquay, Tuam, Co. Galway. Mr. J. Healy, Greethill, Athenry, Co. Galway. Mr. R. Higgins, Castlelambert, Athenry, Co. Galway. Messrs. T. & M. Maher, Belleville, Athenry, Co. Galway. Mr. T. Murphy, New Inn, Ballinasloe, Co. Galway. Mr. B. Jones, Derk, Dromard, Co. Sligo. Mr. M. Watson, Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, Cultra, Hollywood, Co. Down. Mr. G Daly, Emlagh, Craughwell, Co. Galway. Mr. M. Conneely, Monivea, Co. Galway. Fr. C. McCormick, Beechlawn, Ballinasloe, Co. Galway. Mr. B. Forde, Ballingarry, Kilchreest, Loughrea, Co. Galway. Dr. Les Curran, Trim, Co. Meath. Mr. Dermot McNamara, Teagasc, Athenry, Co. Galway. Mr. Henry Hughes, Livestock Office, Galway.

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About this record

Written by Thommy Sice

Published here 15 Jan 2023 and originally published December 1996

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