'I will close the walks again if I have to' says farmer Andy McSharry
Ciara Galvin spoke to an unrepentant North Sligo farmer, Andy 'The Bull' McSharry, following his remarks about hill walkers and their dogs and his warning he would shoot them if on his land, on a lead or not
'I've done time before and I'm prepared to do time again.' That was the stark statement from Gleniff farmer Andy 'The Bull' McSharry who maintains that if dogs are on his lands they will be shot. McSharry served 15 days in prison in 2004 rather than pay a €300 fine after being convicted of issuing threats to hillwalkers on his land.
Now, 15 years on, the farmer maintains he will return to prison if he has to, in order to ensure his sheep are protected from dogs. The Gleniff Horseshoe is popular with walkers, and McSharry has said that in the past year and a half he has noticed a worrying trend of hill walkers bringing their dogs onto his land.
Since October last year, McSharry said six sheep have been killed by dogs, and now, the farmer is warning people that the walkways could be closed down as a result.
"If the countryside has to be closed down again that's what will happen," the farmer told The Sligo Champion on a recent visit to his lands.
"All I'm showing is irresponsible people need to have their dogs on a leash.
"The rules of the countryside are if you come into it and walk the public roads please put a lead on your dog. You say you love your dog and you want me to shoot him, that's what could happen," explained McSharry, who minutes before this had asked walkers who passed by (pictured inset above) if they had a lead for their dog. The owner simply replied 'Sorry, do you have a lead for him'.
McSharry said sheep were being killed every year and now it was 'time to put a stop to it'.
"If you own a dog you have to act responsibly, that's all I ask and we shouldn't have a problem.The hill walker that comes in and thinks he knows it all, as soon as he sets foot in my land the sheep will take off.
"My sheep are on my land to graze every inch of it, but his dogs will come on to my land and my sheep will run away, those sheep are under stress," explained the farmer.
"If the countryside has to be closed down again that's what will happen, I don't want to do it, but if I've to take further action I will close down the walks again. That's the last thing I want to do, but that will happen if they don't have manners."
Asked when he noticed hill walkers were bringing dogs through his lands, Mr McSharry said he saw an increase over the last year and a half. He said people have 'no regard' for farmers or their stock and said farmers were out of pocket as a result of sheep attacks by dogs.
"We have now had two sheep kills, on October 8th last and December 30th, three killed on each occasion and one badly injured.
"The person that lost the first three sheep, he only bought new sheep to restock and two of the sheep cost €80 a piece, the other one cost €120."
Mr McSharry added that the farmer had to then pay €30 per sheep to be removed from the land and then had to replace those lost.
"That man is three times out money and there's nobody coming back to compensate him. The dogs were never found, they're still at large. These dogs have the taste of blood got and they're coming back."
The farmer acknowledged that straying dogs could also belong to farmers and said he has appealed to his colleagues to restrain their dogs. Minutes before The Sligo Champion called to Mr McSharry's home he was visited by members of An Garda Síochána who warned the farmer that he could not be on the public roads with his double barrel shotgun.
"An Garda Síochána has cautioned me, my license isn't the same as other licences. I can't be on the road with my gun, but I can be on my land and I can also shoot at a dog that's on my land. I will not aim and take fire when a person is with a dog so close, we'll find another way of sorting that problem."
Asked what he would say to people who think it's their right to walk their dog through lands, McSharry said 'They have no right at all'.
"If they go down that road with me the walks will close down again without a shadow of a doubt." Mr McSharry said the support from people in the area has been poor in relation to his stance on the matter.
"Farming support isn't great at the best of times. When I've to collect my dead sheep there's no farming group there."
McSharry currently has 45 sheep on approximately 45 acres of land. He recently noticed that two sheep died after a fall off the side of the mountain a way from his other stock.
"I was away at the time, I cannot prove that it was dogs that caused that, but it's in the back of my mind and by God there's no more dogs coming onto my land."
Mr McSharry, who has lived in Gleniff since his birth in 1961 said people will not intimidate him on his own land. "At the end of the day I'm going to see this through. How dare they come into my land telling me what to do. I live here 24/7, I think I've a better claim to my land than they have.
"They're only coming in and using it with my permission. Do not think you're coming in to take over, if you do you've a war on your hands."