Struggling Irish sheep farmers find tourists can help the cause

When life hands them lemons, some creative Irish folks make lemonade.
We probably all remember the Celtic Tiger years in Ireland when the economy was booming and jobs were plentiful. That economy departed, leaving behind many Irish who are now struggling to make a living.
Take sheep farmers, for instance, who have suffered through unusually severe recent winters, a lack of fodder for their animals, and the skyrocketing cost of supplemental feed, all coupled with the wildly fluctuating prices they can get for their livestock and wool.

Some just trudge along doing the best they can in the only life they and their families have known for generations. Others, like Tom Nee, a young sheep farmer in Co. Galway, have been proactive, creating tourist attractions on their farms to share their way of life with visitors, most of whom know nothing about daily life in such a setting.
Tom has established the Killary Sheep Farm with four shows a day, Tuesday through Sunday, between April 1 and Oct. 1. During the show, sheepdogs display their special skills as they work, gather, and protect the flocks and all with just a whistle or some other signal from their owner.
From July to September, Tom tells guests all about sheep farming, and invites them to watch traditional sheep shearing (by hand) and to try their hand – or foot actually – at cutting turf in the traditional manner, using a special turf spade called a sleán or slane.
At Tom’s farm, visitors are also invited to walk the trails that crisscross hills above Killary Harbor to see for themselves the beauty of this amazing location and, when they return to the barn after their walk, they may even be lucky enough to bottle-feed orphaned lambs if any are available.
This spring, we visited the farm on a not-too-rainy day for a 1 p.m. demonstration. Tom started by putting his sheepdog “Sweep” through his paces. A beautiful black and white dog, Sweep quickly, effortlessly, and expertly rounded up a flock of ewes and lambs from a nearby emerald green field. This dog was like poetry in motion. His performance alone was well worth the price of admission (10 euro for an individual; 25 euro for a family of four and 7 euro each for groups of 10 or more.) Sweep puts on an amazing show and is all business and focused on what he’s out in the field to accomplish - until he comes back to the visitors and leans against their legs looking for praise and a congratulatory pat on the head.
Tom then took the group up the hill to enjoy the trails while we walked farther down the road to visit the rams and marvel at their fascinating curly horns. When the group returned, Tom brought out several lambs and invited guests to bottle-feed them.
It was so much fun and we highly recommend this for every age group. Because this is a working sheep farm, Tom asks that those planning to visit please call ahead (087 2988051.) The farm’s website is and the e-mail address is:
There are other sheep farms around the country that offer similar demonstrations but we can’t vouch for them because we have only seen the show at Killary. We did pick up a brochure, though, for Joyce Country Sheepdogs in Shanafaraghaun, Finny, Clonbur, Co. Galway, which is not terribly far from the Killary farm.
Contact Joe or Mary at: or visit their website at Demonstrations and talks on hill sheep farming are offered from June 1 to Sept. 30, Tuesday to Saturday, at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Other times are by appointment.
It’s summer - at long last – and there is much to do when you visit Ireland. No matter what your interests, there is something there to take your fancy.
Golfers will be in their glory with more than 300 golf courses in the Republic and Northern Ireland. It has been said that the Southwest (Counties Clare, Kerry, and Limerick) offers the best golf, with glorious courses that straddle the coastline from south of Galway all the way to Waterville. Northern Ireland has many lovely golf and famous courses, too - such as Royal County Down and Royal Portrush.
Like food? You could hardly do better than to visit Kinsale, Co. Cork, the gourmet capital. If you’re in the West, be sure to visit the Achill Seafood Festival (Feile Bia Na Mara) in Co. Mayo from July 19 to 21. The Festival features celebrity chef Neven Maguire from MacNean House and Restaurant, Blacklion, Co. Cavan, as well as cooking demonstrations, dolphin, shark, and whale spotting, and more. Some 1,200 Half Marathon competitors are expected for the 2013 Achill Half Marathon on Sat., July 6. This is the first year for a 10K race that day and 500 runners are expected to take part. Online registration is now open and more details are available from

Surfing? Why not join Surf Mayo’s School of Surfing at Carrownisky Strand, Louisburgh. There will be summer camps for children ages 7 to 16 every week from 10 a.m. to noon where they will learn about safe surfing, weather, and surf forecasting. The week ends with a competition and course completion certificates. For more, e-mail Mind you, with more than 4,500 miles of coastline, you will find more than a few surf schools at locations stretching from one end of the island to the other. Check with the local tourist office to find one close to where you are.
How about cruising the Shannon River on a canal narrowboat, barge, cruiser, or the elegant 10-passenger Shannon Princess? You will find more information by visiting,,, or many other online sites.
Take a waterbus tour of Letterfrack Bay in Ireland’s only glass bottom tour boat, or take a 90-minute, narrated catamaran cruise of Killary Harbor, Ireland’s only fjord, both in Co. Galway. Scenic/wildlife waterbus tours from the pier beside the Avoca shop on the N59 (near Connemara National Park) are at 11 a.m., 12:30, 2:30, 4, and 5 p.m. Tickets are available at the Avoca shop. Look up Ocean & Country Marine Life & Heritage Centre in Letterfrack to learn more. The Killary catamaran cruises leave their well-marked pier, also on the N59 near Leenane, at 10:30 a.m., 12:30, 2:30, and 4:30 p.m. in July and August. For more information, visit
Of course summer means gardens and garden trails and there are so many open to the public and glorious beyond your wildest dreams. These gardens make the home gardener pale with envy. Visit for details or stop by local tourist offices wherever you are in Ireland and ask about local gardens open to the public. We especially enjoyed the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Co. Dublin; the Vandeleur Walled Garden in Kilrush, Co. Clare; Anne’s Grove in Castletownroche, Co. Cork; Enniscoe Gardens in Castlehill, Ballina, Co. Mayo; Boyce’s Gardens in Foynes, Co. Limerick, and the John F. Kennedy Arboretum in New Ross, Co. Wexford. But there are many, many more and visitors will find their own favorites.
From July 9-14, Galway will host an international film festival. Visit for more. And from July 5 to 14, a drama and music festival takes place in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. Visit
There are art festivals in many locations across the country, including: Kinsale, Co. Cork, from July 6-14 (; Donegal (Earagail Arts Festival) from July 6-21, (; Galway (Galway Arts Festival) July 15-28 (, and Boyle, Co. Roscommon, from July 25-Aug. 3 (
A Pig n’ Porter Tag Rugby festival – billed as “the world’s largest tag rugby festival” – will be held in Rosbrien, Co. Limerick, on July 13.
Castlebar, Co. Mayo, hosts the 46th annual International Four Days Walking Festival from July 4-7. Details at
Painting workshops with Padraig McCaul are held on Achill Island, Co. Mayo, on July 20 and 21. Visit for more or send an e-mail to for information on two and four-day workshops.
Country fairs are great fun and on July 20, you can catch the Granard Agricultural Show Co. and, on July 27, the Longford show and fair in Moydow. Visit for more.
Fishing? Hill-walking or hiking? Cycling? Boating or sailing? Adventure centers and camps? Museums? Music? There are all these activities and many more available. Visit or stop in at any of the many tourist board (Failte Ireland) offices all over the country where you will find helpful staff members who can suggest activities, accommodations, restaurants, and more to make your trip even more interesting and wonderful.
Enjoy Ireland whenever and wherever you go.Killary Sheep Farm: Killary Shep Farm is a tourist's delight