Reviving the Cladóir/Claddagh sheep breed has entered its third year and is currently in the discovery phase, according to Sean Cadden, president of the preservation committee and a retired agricultural advisor. Cadden revealed that the breed was known by two different names in various parts of Connemara, and two additional flocks have been found this year. These flocks are currently undergoing DNA testing, but they possess the distinct fine wool characteristic of the Cladóir/Claddagh breed. Approximately 60 lambs are expected to be weaned this year, which amounts to one lamb per ewe. Cadden stated that the breed was not prolific due to being kept on poor ground, but they were able to successfully rear one lamb. These shore-dwelling sheep were accustomed to consuming seaweed, a food source that most sheep will eat if confined to the seashore.
The recent display of how native wool was utilized in Connemara, held in Carna on August 9, featured sheep that were located in an area abundant with seaweed. These sheep survived until the 1950s and were referred to as “bradach” or thieving sheep in Connemara. Old photographs depict Cladóir-like sheep with tyings on their legs to prevent them from climbing fences and trespassing on neighboring properties. Some elderly individuals recall the Cladóir/Claddagh sheep scraping soil off potato pits to access the potatoes inside.
This year, over 25 hoggets will join the breeding flock, and it is anticipated that approximately five ewes will need to be culled. With the discovery of two new flocks in the Connemara area, the preservation committee hopes to have 100 breeding ewes this autumn. Thierry Pabiou of Sheep Ireland will divide these ewes into 10 to 12 breeding groups. A simple assessment of appearance will be conducted in the autumn, with those resembling other breeds receiving a low score. The original sheep were crossbred with Scotch Blackface, Cheviot, and Galway, resulting in some sheep bearing resemblance to these breeds. Some possess strong horns from the Blackface, while others have the short, thick faces of the Cheviot. Overall, all Cladóir/Claddagh sheep exhibit better conformation than primitive sheep.
The Cladóir/Claddagh genes for wool are dominant, as nearly all of these sheep possess fine wool that differs from other local breeds. The wool exhibits crimp, which indicates waviness and signifies its fineness. Occasional fleeces display Blackface-type wool, with black fibers and coarse kemp fibers that do not take dye, mainly found in Scotch Blackface-type fleeces. Cadden believes that the Cladóir/Claddagh wool may be the finest wool of any Irish sheep breed. Historical records indicate that the people in the Carna area of Connemara, as stated in the congested districts baseline report, wore clothes made from home-manufactured wool. The report reveals that a family of six required three stones of wool per year, equivalent to 19kg in today’s measurement. It is likely that the women of the household were fully engaged in carding, spinning, and knitting for the family, with some wool also being sent to the weaver.
This year, it is anticipated that approximately 60 “good” fleeces will be obtained. As the breed continues to be revived, both the quality and quantity of wool are expected to improve.