WHEN you travel onto Achill, the one thing visitors invariably comment on is the numbers of sheep and the freedom they are given around the island. It would be no surprise then that Achill has one of the most successful sheep shows in the west of Ireland which this weekend will host its 25th show.
The Achill Sheep Show was founded in 1986 by a number of local farmers and only for the foot and mouth crisis in 2001, it has been held every year since. The Sheep Show competition attracts over 50 competitors every year who come not only from Achill and the surrounding area but also from other parts of Mayo and Galway and attracting crowds of close to one thousand people.
Sheep Shows are not uncommon in the west of Ireland but very few are able to keep going continually year on year like the Achill Sheep Show. The show is held in Derreens at Patten’s Bar and proprietor Michael Patten who also acts as the shows treasurer believes the credit must go down to the hard work of the voluntary committee and the generous sponsors.
“We are blessed with generous sponsors both within and outside the parish and without their support we would not have been able to keep hosting the show year on year. Most sheep shows fall by the wayside because people lose interest after a few years but we have a great committee.
“Twenty five years is a long time to keep going. We have had our up and down years and the year you think might be down seems to pick up. We have an advantage that we are the last show of the season and everyone has it marked in and a lot of farmers come because of that. It might be the last time they will meet each other for the rest of the year and also provides an opportunity to sell some sheep,” he said.
The show garners a lot of interest from outside Achill and there is references to the show in websites in Ireland and abroad, and Achill was the first show to create its own website.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary, the committee is producing a commemorative 80 page booklet which will include photographs and stories of past competitions, as well as articles on the history of sheep farming on Achill, vegetable growing, caring for animals and local folklore and the meaning of Irish language terms used in farming. The book will also feature stories on the background of the people who the seven memorial cups are named after.
The show is not just about the sheep and the farmers and during the 1990’s other events were organised to entertain those not interested in the sheep, which Michael says is central to its success. These include a country market with home grown produce, arts and crafts exhibition, children’s art competition and a Little Po Peep and Shepherd themed fancy dress for children.
The celebrations will begin this Friday night night, October 7 at 9.30pm in Patten’s Bar with Parish Priest, Fr Michael Gormally launching the 25th anniversary booklet and making a presentation to long standing members of the committee.
A Clay Pigeon Shoot hosted by the Achill Gun Club will be held on Saturday at 12 noon in Derreens with the 2011 Achill Sheep Show taking place on Sunday, October 9 at 1pm sharp.
More information can be found on the website, www.achillsheepshow.com.