John Shirley: Half a century later, the Borris ewe is still setting the standard
I thought the breed was even older than 50. That was my first reaction on hearing that the Borris Ewe Breeders are holding their 50th anniversary show and sale on Thursday, August 8 next.
Of course this area around the foothills of the Blackstairs Mountains was probably stocked with sheep back to St Patrick's time. Old timers remember huge turnouts of sheep for the annual "Borris Fair" held every August 15 on the street of the town.
In 1963, a group of dedicated breeders got together, formed the Borris Ewe Breeders Association and began their show and sale at the new livestock mart beside Borris town.
And didn't they do well?
The Borris ewe became the country's Rolls Royce breeding ewe over the past five decades.
The name is established in sheep literature and terminology, in Northern Ireland as well as the south. At the peak of the sheep boom in the 1980s, Leinster Marts (owner of Borris Mart) sold 20,000 ewes over four breeder sales in August and early September. Customers literally came from every one of Ireland's 32 counties.
That's not bad for a handful of sheep producers from the side of a hill. Looking back, what were the ingredients of the breed's success?
Apart from the active support of the former Carlow chief agricultural officer, Tom Murray, the breeders got no input from outside.