A 35-year gap is bridged as Dr. Hanrahan’s ‘new breed’ comes back home

Barry Cunningham, Togher and Sonny Jennings, Cahergal, both Belclare pedigree breeders, with some of their stock on view before Sunday’s big event. PHOTOS: JOHNNY RYAN PHOTOGRAPHY.
Barry Cunningham, Togher and Sonny Jennings, Cahergal, both Belclare pedigree breeders, with some of their stock on view before Sunday’s big event. PHOTOS: JOHNNY RYAN PHOTOGRAPHY.

NEXT Sunday will be an emotional day for a number of Galway sheep breeders as, after a 35-year break, the Belclare breed make an official return to their home parish of Corofin.

‘The Belclares’ will be on ‘full show’ in the village of Corofin on Sunday next, coinciding with the Connacht Sheep Shearing championships that take place in a field adjacent to the local GAA pitch.

Known originally as the ‘Belclare Improver’ the breed conception and development was the brainchild of sheep researcher, Dr. Seamus Hanrahan, who wanted to improve the prolificacy (lambs to the ewe) of native sheep breeds.

He worked with the ‘raw materials’ of mainly two breeds – The Galway and the Lleyn (Welsh) – the latter used to give a better return of lambs to the ewe.  Dr. Hanrahan worked on his project at the then Foras Taluntais research farm (known as the Institute) in Belclare and knew that increasing lamb numbers from the same number of ewes would be a key element in the profitability of sheep farming.

The breed was first introduced in 1982 when a small number of sheep farmers were approached to breed rams for the Institute and progress was closely monitored.

While the initial results were encouraging from the point of  view of prolificacy, Dr. Hanrahan and ‘the sheep men’ weren’t altogether happy with the ‘substance and conformation’ of the breed and the process was refined further.

This was mainly achieved with the crossing of the ‘new Belclares’ with Texel rams, a strategy that was a huge success – the prolificacy was maintained and the end product had better substance and conformation.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.