Residents of Ave Maria nursing home in Tooreen, Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo, were treated to a unique and exciting experience recently when they witnessed a sheepdog demonstration at the facility. Local nursing home owner Anne Feeney organised the event after seeing the Newport Shepherds’ van and contacting Paul Walker to inquire about the possibility of a sheepdog demonstration. The event was a huge success, with approximately 40 residents, visitors, and staff in attendance.
Paul brought along Birch, a seven-year-old Border Collie with a wealth of experience in mountain gathering. Birch is the main dog used by the Newport Shepherds for visiting schools and nursing homes. Ruby, a five-month-old pup, was also brought along to show how breeding makes them work from a very early age. The Newport Shepherds have a sheep trailer with a portable round pen that they set up outside nursing homes or in any area beside schools. They brought three breeds of mountain sheep to show how well adapted they are to the environment and also explained basic information about sheep, ruminants, and their importance in biodiversity.
Paul and his partner Leah Henry organised and ran the event. They started by talking about the breed of sheepdog and its origin. They paid a small tribute to the farmers that bred them back in a time when they were essential for feeding their families. They also explained how they train them, their commands either vocal or whistle, and showed Birch working inside the pen and then outside in the field. They then proceeded to talk about the sheep.
After the demonstration, Birch was taken inside the nursing home, and residents were given the opportunity to ask further questions or pet the dog. The event was honoured to have the presence of George Flanagan at 93 years of age, a well-known breeder and trainer of border collies. George and his wife were delighted to be able to come to the demonstration and he asked Paul a few questions about the dogs and sheep.
The event was a very rewarding experience with lots of chatting and smiling. The retired farmers felt so connected to the dog, and everyone loved the demonstration. Anne was delighted with the response from residents, neighbouring farmers, and locals to the sheepdog demonstration, which was followed by refreshments, and hopes to host another one in August. The village of Tooreen is known for its famous hurling club, founded in 1957, which won its first county senior title in 1966 and its ballroom of romance, founded by the late Monsignor James Horan.
The event was a wonderful opportunity for residents to experience something new and exciting. Many of them had watched the TV series ‘One Man and his Dog’ and were thrilled to witness a sheepdog demonstration in person. The demonstration was also an excellent opportunity for the Newport Shepherds to showcase their work and educate people about the importance of sheep and their role in biodiversity.
Overall, the event was a great success and a testament to the power of community and connection. It is heartening to see people of all ages coming together to learn and enjoy something new. The Newport Shepherds’ dedication to their work and their willingness to share their knowledge and experience with others is truly inspiring. We hope to see more events like this in the future and continue to celebrate the unique and wonderful aspects of our communities.