Farm Ireland

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Gearing up for a marathon sheep shearing challenge

Portlaoise hosts national championships

ALL SYSTEMS GO: Champion shearer George Graham and Agri Minister Brendan Smith launch this year's All-Ireland Sheep Shearing Championships, which will be held this weekend
ALL SYSTEMS GO: Champion shearer George Graham and Agri Minister Brendan Smith launch this year's All-Ireland Sheep Shearing Championships, which will be held this weekend
Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien

Portlaoise rugby grounds will be packed to the rafters next weekend. But it won't be the oval ball which will be worrying the 20,000 or so spectators. No, next weekend is all about sheep shearing.

The 2010 Clik All-Ireland and International Sheep Shearing Championships come to the midlands for the first time this year and the host county aims to impress.

Chairman of the local organising committee Marty Phelan believes Laois is an obvious location for the sheep shearing as it boasts a 70,000 sheep flock -- one of the largest sheep populations in the country.

Marty says that this year's championships are unique in many ways, and that the strong local community involvement will give the event a special flavour.

"There is a once-off partnership arrangement in place to run the event. The Portlaoise Sheep Shearing Committee involves people drawn from local business and community interests, the local community in Clonad and from the National Sheep Shearing Association," Marty said.

"Portlaoise Rugby Club is our host for the event, and major financial support has come from Laois County Council, Laois Partnership Company, Feile Foods and Novartis."

A massive crowd is expected to converge on Portlaoise for the event, which is more of a serious rural festival rather than just a sheep shearing one.

Described by many as a smaller version of the Ploughing Championships, the event is attracting top shearers from Ireland and Britain, and as far afield as Australia and New Zealand.

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Run over two days, the competitions on Saturday will feature Irish competitors. However, Sunday will have a decidedly international feel, featuring shearers from all parts of the globe. Women shearers will compete for the Irish and International 'Queen of the Shears' titles, and the programme also includes the Laois county event for local shearers.

According to the organisers, this is the first time the Irish and the International events are to be held on two different days. Francey Gorman, secretary of Laois IFA and head of sheep procurement for the festival, said this will give spectators an opportunity to see the best national and international shearers at work.

"We have top shearers coming from Wales, Scotland, England, Australia and New Zealand. While the best of the Irish will be on Saturday, the best in the world will be in action on Sunday."

With the world championships due to be held in Wales in July, many of the champion shearers from Down Under are here to acclimatise before the world event.

To accommodate the competitions and make provision for the vagaries of the Irish weather, a 20,000 sq ft marquee has been erected on the grounds of the rugby club.

Spectators will be able to view the shearers in action and, according to Joe Healy, the former Macra president and shearing aficionado from Galway, the speed and skill has to be seen to be believed.

"The average sheep shearer shears 300 sheep a day. That's the equivalent of doing a marathon every day. These competitors have to balance speed, skill and physical effort; a millisecond over time or a nick to the skin of the sheep could be the difference between winning and losing. Shearing is a brilliant spectator sport."

There is much more to the event than shearing, though. The organisers are making every effort to ensure the championships have as wide an appeal as possible.

Pauline Madigan, PRO of the local organisation, said the grounds of Portlaoise Rugby Club will be transformed into a festival village that will include a huge range of commercial stands, kiddies' activities, entertainment, food stands, cookery demonstrations, arts and crafts, sheep dog trials and much more.

"We want this to be a family event, and we want farmers and people who know nothing about farming or sheep to come along. There is something here for everybody," said Pauline.

The venue is located near the roundabout at Exit 17 off the M7.

Irish Independent