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Monday 17 December 2018

After 45 years as an auctioneer, selling cattle, horses and 'slaves' George Chandler has no plans to quit

Auctioneer George Candler pictured outside the Kilkenny Mart premises at Cillin Hill Photo: Roger Jones
Auctioneer George Candler pictured outside the Kilkenny Mart premises at Cillin Hill Photo: Roger Jones
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

During the 1980s and 90s, the mart trade experienced many a crisis, but the one that really stands out for Kilkenny-based auctioneer, George Candler, was the Foot and Mouth Disease of 2001.

When movement restrictions were lifted, cattle numbers, "had fallen off a precipice" and many small marts never recovered.

"Some people don't like to hear this but there are just too many marts in the country," says George who has been in the business for 45 years. "Kilkenny only has one but other similar counties might have eight. It is a particular issue in the west."

George himself was born in that part of the world, in Roscommon, in 1950.

His father James was born in Dublin but moved to London where he joined the British Army and met his wife-to-be Ursula, marrying in 1946. His uncle James Conry lived and farmed at Tinny House, Ballintubber and, having no heir, left the farm to his nephew. It was here that George was raised, along with his five sisters.

James was chairman of the IFA national livestock committee in the 1950s and was founding chairman of Roscommon Mart in 1959, a position which he held until his death in 1986.

"Marts were rare at the time and my father thought they were a great thing," says George, who juggled his time in secondary school with regular forays to the mart, "where I did everything, from reading cattle, to penning them, to clerking," he says. "It was a great grounding."

Through his work with the IFA, James got to know Michael Gibbons who was chairman of Kilkenny Mart and, in 1972, George was dispatched to the Marble City, to train as an auctioneer.

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When George's training was complete, he was offered a job to stay on. Having made a lot of friends in the area and gotten involved in various choirs and musical groups, he took up the offer.

Looking back now, George realises that his father envisioned that he would come home to farm while doing a bit of selling at some of the marts in the west.

"He must have been disappointed when I didn't but never said a word." At the time, Kilkenny Mart was a very busy place, handling up to 3,500 cattle a week. The figure now is less than half that.

In terms of reporting prices, George firmly believes that "per kilo" is the only method that means anything.

"A price of €X over the 100kg' means something totally different when an animal is 750kg compared to one of 350kg."

As well as his mart job, George also does some pedigree cattle and sheep sales.

It might seem like an obvious thing to say but George believes it is important for an auctioneer to be able to be understood. Especially when doing pedigree sales, as there may be overseas buyers present. He also points to the need to have a knowledge of pedigrees.

On one occasion, he was asked to do a pedigree cattle sale in Westmeath.

The farmer felt that the stock were worth more than they were making. He refused to sell and after the first eight to 10 lots, people just wandered off. While George enjoys the pedigree sales, he has a special place in his heart for the sporthorse sales at Cavan Equestrian Centre, which he has been doing for years. "It's a total break from the norm."

Though George has recently received an award from the IFA in recognition of 45 years of service to Kilkenny Mart and to farmers, he has no intention of parking his gavel.

"I enjoy what I do and will continue to work as long as I have the health to do so."

He says he hates to hear radio presenters regularly say things like, "only three days to the weekend," and he urges people to "never wish your life away".

Last January, George caused quite a stir in the area when he spoke about his own brush with mortality in the course of his regular appearance with Matt O'Keeffe on the weekly Glanbia Farm Show on KCLR 96FM radio.

He told of being diagnosed with prostate cancer, which he is currently being treated for.

"Farmers tend to keep personal things to themselves. But we all need to check our health on a regular basis. Don't ignore tell-tale signs that something might be wrong. Most things can be treated if they are diagnosed in time," he advises.

Thoroughbreds

"I have enjoyed my life. I have met some magnificent people," the popular father-of-three and stepfather-of-two says. "Of course, you also always have the feeling that you might have done more."

At one stage, he was involved with Goffs (selling thoroughbreds), working with Jonathan Irwin.

"When he left, the whole regime changed and I was left out. It's part and parcel of business," he says. On a couple of occasions, he has refused to do an auction, where it involved a forced sale.

However, the worst moment of his career was when he turned up to do a sale for a breed society, only to discover that they had got another auctioneer, without telling him. "That hurt deeply," he says, openly. After a pause, he adds, "but you can't go around feeling sorry for yourself."

A keen fan of rugby (which he played for many years), George is also known for his outstanding charity work for which he has received a number of other awards including Kilkenny Person of the Year.

Through his association with the Lions Club - "a great body, which does an awful lot of unseen work" - and other charities, he has sold everything from 'slaves' in charity auctions, compered fashion shows and race nights.

"I suppose I enjoy holding a mike in my hand," he says self-deprecatingly.

But George remains modest. "I'm sure there are a lot more interesting people that you could be interviewing than me," he says, as we part, without a hint of irony.

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