'I always knew in my heart I would return to Donegal'
Patrick Boyle fell in love with the Swaledale breed of sheep when he was driving in Yorkshire and had to pull over to allow a flock of the bushy-tailed ones to cross the road.
That encounter was back in 1994 and his fascination for the breed has remained undiminished ever since.
"I immediately jumped out of the car when I saw them on the road and had a two-hour chat with the farmer about the sheep, especially their long bushy tails," the 61-year-old explains.
"And he told me that in snowy weather and during the birth cycle the breed retains vital vitamins in these tails which can last for three weeks longer than in other breeds of sheep, and that can be vital during a hard winter."
Patrick was also fascinated by the fact that the sheep could survive in the dales of Yorkshire and thought that they would be ideal for the hills of Donegal.
He now runs a flock of some 40 Swaledales on his rented hill farm near Fintown and is "the chairman, vice-chairman and secretary - a one-man show" of the breed's society in Ireland.
Patrick can often be heard spreading the word about his beloved breed along the west coast and over in Wicklow at sheep sales and seminars.
A bachelor - "no rings but still looking" - he took a roundabout route back to sheep farming in his native county, but he always knew he would eventually drop anchor there.
As a boy being educated through Irish in the Donegal Gaeltacht he used to 'mitch' from school to help a local sheep farmer who ran a flock of "what looked like monsters". His daily routine as a young teenager was to arrive at school, wait for the class roll call, and then off with him over the school wall to round up the farmer's sheep. He was awarded the princely sum of an old ten-bob note for his work.
In the mid-70s he left for Birmingham without a word of English in his vocabulary and got a job with a furniture company. The manager promptly enrolled him in English classes at a nearby school, where he acquired his unique "Donegal-Birmingham" accent.
"It was a bad time in Birmingham what with the Troubles, but I worked my way up to a salesman position in the company and then I went to a London transport company working in sales, advertising and warehousing.
"Every time I would come home to my parents James and Bridget they would ask if there was any news on the ring front, and every time they were disappointed.
"But I always knew in my heart that I would be returning to Donegal and did so to take care of my parents in 2004, and then started my Swaledale operation in 2009."
Patrick thrived and now runs an annual sale of the breed in Brockagh, where he supervised a sale of some 1,000 sheep a fortnight ago.
He insists on a clean health certificate for the sheep and does not allow any animal infected with Orf or sheep blindness - a temporary problem caused by living in misty climates.
"The parents were going to leave the home farm to me but, as I was in London I thought my younger brother should take over," he explains.
"And when I came home I rented land for my Swaledales and now I have my brother and nephew breeding them."
In conversation with Ken Whelan
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