Hello, sheep lovers: Ireland is the place for ewe

By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
The clerk in the upscale Connemara shop said, “Sheep sell. Items here with sheep on them fly out the door!”
She had seen me admiring a large display of ceramic mugs, coasters, magnets, cards, prints, and more – by Thomas Joseph, an artist in Co. Down, Northern Ireland. He has a lot of fun with the word “ewe” – using it in place of “you” (wish ewe were here, for instance) – and depicts sheep on surf boards, driving tractors, playing and doing other whimsical things that, of course, sheep don’t do.

It is no wonder to me that sheep items sell -- especially to Americans -- because we simply do not see them strolling – with their lambs – down the middle of our busy roads. They are a real treat and a novelty to most Irish tourists although they are an everyday sight to the residents of rural areas and are often not such a treat when they rampage through gardens or snack on the prized shrubbery.
Obsessed with sheep
I enjoy seeing sheep wandering around and I find one more photogenic than the next. Catherine, a longtime member of the staff at the Beehive in Keel, Co. Mayo, laughingly told me one day that I am obsessed with sheep. Her family raises sheep -- as do many in Mayo -- so she’s quite used to them and can’t really fathom why I jump up from lunch to photograph them as they amble down the middle of the main road that winds through Achill Island.
My sheep “obsession” is also well known to those in Mulranny, Mayo, where I rent a house. I endure, but also enjoy, no end of kidding there. In fact, wandering the hills somewhere above my rented house is a big, old ewe that Francis O’Donnell, local fisherman and sheep farmer, named “Judy” in my honor.
Sheep are spray-painted in Ireland with each farmer’s distinctive colors, some of which are completely mad – like fluorescent purple and orange together on the same sheep. Marking locations are also unique to each farmer and sheep wear numbered tags in their ears.
Long ago, I heard that Ireland passed a law requiring farmers to fence their land so that livestock are contained and don’t cause accidents. And, while I have seen some evidence of very good fencing in the more rural counties, apparently there are many sheep that didn’t get the message. They manage to slip out of even the tightest fences and are everywhere and, more often than not, that means in the middle of the road or grazing the “long acre” along the edge.
Last spring, for the first time, I saw an “Animal Safety and Welfare – Polite Notice” signposted near the bridge on Achill Island in Mayo, warning motorists that it was lambing season and sheep were grazing. The sign adds: “No dogs …that’s common sense. Dogs worrying sheep is a legal offence…that’s the law.” This year, there’s a sign saying, “Slow down, don’t mow down.”
Sheep lovers
At an extremely informative website called ballybegvillage.com, I found the following: “Everyone loves sheep. It probably stems from the fact that as lambs, they are among the most cuddly and softest creatures you can imagine, and as adults they seem to be the most docile and harmless creatures you will ever meet up with.”
The writer added, “I once drove over 100 miles as a favor to an American friend of mine to visit with an American lady who was taking a bus tour of Ireland. … I thought I made a great impression! When the lady returned to the US, she was asked what the highlight of her trip to Ireland was. She replied, ‘those lovely Irish Sheep.’”
When you’re in Ireland, be on the lookout for some of the farms that welcome visitors including: the Kissane Sheep Farm (kissanesheepfarm.com) near Kenmare in Co. Kerry, where you can visit and also “adopt” a sheep, and Killary Sheep Farm, just outside Leenane, Co. Galway, where sheep walks and dog demonstrations are held at 11 a.m., 1p.m., and 3 p.m. or by appointment Tuesday to Sunday (April 1-Oct. 31.) See more at killarysheepfarm.com.
You can find more information about other Irish farms open to the public at the local tourist offices.
If you’re traveling in Northern Ireland, there’s an interesting farm – the Ark Open Farm – in Newtownards, Co.Down that preserves rare and endangered species of domestic animals that are no longer seen in Northern Ireland’s fields. Set in 40 acres, the Ark is home to about 200 cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, goats, donkeys, llamas, alpacas, and ponies, all of which are tame and friendly. The Ark is open all year. For more information, visit thearkopenfarm.co.uk
Ireland Comes Alive: There’s so much to do in Ireland now that summer and the warmer weather have arrived. You can go boating or to one of many gorgeous beaches, play golf, wind surf, hill walk, enjoy music, and art and so much more.
We’ve written before about the Great Western Greenway, the longest (26 miles) off-road cycling and walking trail in Ireland that follows the defunct Westport to Achill railway line. The Greenway has inspired many local residents to open assorted businesses in towns along the way – like cafes and bicycle hire – and now the pathway has inspired the Greenway Artists Initiative, which started in Newport last July and offers an array of workshops and courses and already has 77 member artists.
Maureen O’Neill and Tony Pilbro manage the Initiative, which Maureen says has taken off. There are plans for a 15-piece sculpture trail along the Greenway that will open in June. A bogwood sculpture exhibit opens in the Mulranny Park Hotel on June 10 and there are ideas for other exhibits in the future. Initiative locations are in Westport and Newport, and eventually there will be a site on Achill Island. For more information on the office hours in Newport, visit greenwayartists.com or go to greenwayartists.blogspot.com.
Events: If you’re in the Westport, Co. Mayo, area, the annual Horse & Pony Show is Sunday and Monday, June 3 and 4) in Knockranny, Westport. The Westport Folk & Blue Grass Festival is scheduled from June 29 to July 1 and the Westport Sea Angling Festival is June 22, 23, and 24. They all sound like fun.
The annual Eigse Carlow Arts Festival is set for June 8-17. The Festival is extensive and the best bet is to take a look at the website to see what event you might be interested in attending. There is a Borris House hay festival, Carlow Town Park Family Day, musical events, exhibitions, workshops, to name just a few. See eigsecarlow.ie for more and visit culturefox.ie for an online guide to Irish cultural events.
The Taste of Dublin is on for June 14-17 at Meagh Gardens. See tasteofdublin.ie for details and to buy tickets.
Be sure to visit the Tourism Ireland website discoverireland.com) for all the happenings and information about any part of Ireland that you’ll be visiting. It’s a great resource and constantly updated.
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In Cty Clare, The Burren Rocks Festival continues through June
The Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark has announced details of “The Burren Rocks’ festival, which continues through the month of June.
The celebration of the geology and landscape of the Burren will feature a unique musical performance by some of Clare’s best known traditional music artists in the grounds of the Iron Age Caherconnell Stone Fort, a landscapeart exhibition and workshop, and a guided walk through the Burren’s world famous karst landscape.
The festival, which forms part of European Geoparks Network Week 2012, will commence this Sunday with ‘The Antique Rockshow’ at Burren National Park Information Centre in Corofin.
Experts in attendance will include Professor Mike Williams, a Sedimentologist who was the first person to study the impact of large storms on the west of Ireland’s coastline geology, and palaeontologist Dr. John Murray, who is currently participating in a site study of one of the world’s earliest known human settlements in Azerbaijan.
Dr. Eamon Doyle, Geologist at the The Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark, said “The underlying geology of the Burren holds many fascinating clues to conditions on Earth more than 300 million years ago. More recently, the last Ice Age, which ended only around 12,000 years ago, has sculpted those rocks and largely given the Burren its current shape. Research is active and scientists and students come from all over the world to see what we have here. Our activities are designed to give people a taste of the geology and how it affects the landscape and also the culture of the Burren.”
Other events scheduled to take place this month include ‘A Climb Through Time’, a guided walk/climb from Fanore Beach to and from Slieve Elva on June10; The Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark and the Burren College of Art will host ‘The Cliffs of Moher Art Experience’ on June 15, with the public is invited to meet and engage with working and student artists.