Wednesday 28 September 2016

Training sheepdogs is a way of life

It takes a lot of patience to get it right, Dan Moran tells Siobhan English

Published 09/12/2015 | 02:30

Dan Moran might be 97 but he likes to keep himself occupied and makes shepherd’s crooks and walking sticks as a sideline.
Dan Moran might be 97 but he likes to keep himself occupied and makes shepherd’s crooks and walking sticks as a sideline.

When the International Sheepdog Trials rolled into Roscommon last year, one local man who was guaranteed to have the best viewing seat in town was Dan Moran. The Four Roads native has worked and trained sheepdogs all of his life and, although now semi-retired, the 97-year-old was never going to miss the biggest event of the year right on his doorstep.

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"It was a great few days to see all the experts competing, but plenty of locals were there too," he recalled. "Most trials are a long distance away, so it was great that this one was right close to home. Roscommon has had some great sheepdog handlers over the years, but so too has Wicklow, with men such as the late Willie Murphy and Norman Deacon."

Dan himself is a legend in sheepdog circles, but he prefers to let the dogs do the talking. He reckons he has put several hundred through his hands over the years, with dozens more handlers throughout Ireland all the wiser from his expertise.

One such man is neighbour Eamon Egan, who has known Dan since childhood. "I remember buying my first pup from Dan for £10 when I was in secondary school. At that time he had the only registered dog in the country," he recalls. "We've been friends ever since and we've done many sheepdog demonstrations together. Dan has also given me advice here at Rockland where I now train dogs full-time."

Not surprisingly Dan also first started training dogs as a teenager, but soon afterwards headed to the UK to work as a carpenter. There he met his future wife Josephine and they married in 1946, returning back to the homestead two years later. Josephine died six years ago but Dan's three sons Anthony, Oliver and Sean are all still involved in farming, with his daughters Mary and Bernadette, both retired teachers.

"It was only when Josephine and I moved back to Ireland that I got back into training dogs. I had just taken over the farm from my father John."

At that time Dan was taking in up to three sheepdogs a month. Training sheepdogs takes a lot of patience, as he explains. "Training dogs is not for everyone and you have to be prepared to put 20 minutes aside for them every day. Once you teach them the basics from the age of nine months it is then up to each person to keep them going. By right most dogs should be trained and ready for the field within two months."

With his 100th year fast approaching one would expect Dan to be enjoying retirement, but instead he prefers to spend his days with his dogs, while also running a small business selling shepherd's crooks and walking sticks.

Using the finest hazel and blackthorn, he then tops them off with a ram's horn, an added feature which proves a big hit especially with visitors from overseas.

"I usually sell them at some local agricultural shows, but the Americans also love them," he said.

Though Dan never won a major championship at sheepdog trials, he continues to show a keen interest and has watched how the trade for good dogs has changed down through the years.

"I remember when dogs were fetching a few hundred pounds, but now people are paying up to €3,000 and €4,000 for them," he concluded.

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