Keeping it in the family - Success of livestock improvement society based on loyalty of generations of local families
Family ties have been crucial in establishing and maintaining the international reputation of a unique livestock improvement society in Carrick-on-Shannon.
The Midland & Western Livestock Improvement Society, a mainly volunteer-run society, continues to thrive on the strength of co-operative support from farming families, some of whose ancestors were involved in founding the society more than 90 years ago.
Newly elected president Shane Kilraine is the third generation of his family to hold the office, after his grandfather Michael Kilraine in the early 1970s and his father Sean in the '90s.
"I grew up with it - there is a bit of liking for it in the blood," he says.
Shane's predecessor as president, Paddy Farrell, was a second generation holder of the office, after his father John.
"There is a strong tradition of families being involved in the society over the years, continuing the support into the second and now the third generation in some cases," says Shane.
"That said, it could be different in the future. Anyone can come in and be elected to the executive," adds Shane, confirming that newcomers are always welcome.
"But it is getting harder to get people willing to commit to involvement."
The Society was founded in 1926 with the encouragement of the advisory service in the region and the support of the farmers, mainly livestock farmers.
Over the past 90 years its base at Carrick-on-Shannon has earned a reputation countrywide and internationally as one of the main centres for shows and sales of pedigree-registered bulls and heifers of all breeds.
The society's venue on the Boyle Road on the outskirts of town hosts 10 shows and sales a year.
"Our future is hopefully to continue to serve the needs of the suckler farmer," says Shane.
"The decline in numbers is a threat but Carrick has become renowned for the Angus in particular. The increase in the dairy herd should see continued demand for the Angus bulls from the commercial farmers.
"We have made a lot of improvement to the facilities in recent years, but there is more to be done. We are always trying to further improve the facilities.
"The outright purchase of the show grounds, on which the facility is built, was a very good decision in 1999.
"It is a valuable piece of property that would be difficult to buy today; it offers us a lot of potential for further development without constraints and we are hoping to get around to that."
Shane points out that the venue is used for only 10 sales of pedigree bull and heifers each year, which is limited use for a valuable and spacious facility in a good location in the north west.
An addition to the schedule in recent years has been the Winter Fair for commercial fat stock which has grown in popularity beyond initial expectations, attracting entries from all parts of the country.
"The biggest sale of the year is the Winter Fair, and it is getting bigger all of the time," says Shane.
"We are now coming under pressure to take in more entries."
There is a lot of voluntary work involved in running the operation. The efficient and helpful Lourda McGowan, secretary and administrator of the society, is the only employee - her father was also actively involved.
While conscious that the traditional family support runs deep in the area, Shane is conscious of the changing times and that getting enough volunteers in the future could become one of the biggest challenges for the society.
A journey from the ‘Shambles’ to the Showgrounds
The Midland & Western Livestock Improvement Society Ltd was established in 1926 by farmers from counties Leitrim, Roscommon and Sligo.
The Committee worked closely with the Department of Agriculture from the start to encourage and promote breeding of quality pedigree bulls.
The first sale of pedigree bulls was held at the rear of St Patrick’s Hospital in Carrick-on-Shannon in 1926, and to this day, even though the society draws its members from all over the North West, the event is more commonly known as the Carrick Sales.
Sales were also held in the Shambles Yard, now called Market Yard, before the society took up permanent residence at the Showgrounds on the Boyle Road in 1937, where the top price of £11 was recorded for an Angus Bull.
The Department supported the society in their aim to improve the standard and quality of livestock in the region by purchasing special term bulls which were leased out to farmers at a reduced rate – that animal became the farmer’s property in two years.
The convenience of the railway station to the society’s new grounds was a key factor in Carrick-on-Shannon becoming the main venue for the sale of pedigree bulls.
Given its location so close to the Border, Carrick-on-Shannon is popular with Northern Irish buyers; the Spring Sales also attract English and international buyers.
In 1996, the society began a building project that saw the construction of an Exhibition Shed. In ’99 they purchased the show grounds, extending to 11 acres, and last year they completed another phase of modernisation – they now have individual stalls for 245 animals.
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