Mut­ton pies, mu­sic and craic in Camp as one of Ire­land’s old­est sheep fairs kicks off


The Kerryman (South Kerry Edition) - - NEWS -

ONE of Ire­land’s old­est sur­viv­ing sheep fairs gets un­der­way next week as the com­mu­nity in which it has thrived for so long at­tempt to keep a proud farm­ing tra­di­tion go­ing against in­creas­ingly hard odds.

Camp Sheep Fair is the big event in West Kerry next Mon­day, Septem­ber 18, as a day-long cel­e­bra­tion of the age-old busi­ness of moun­tain sheep farm­ing in the stun­ning land­scape gets un­der­way.

It’s big­ger and bet­ter than ever fol­low­ing ef­forts in re­cent years to make it more at­trac­tive to all ages. Those ef­forts were un­der­taken out of the very real fear that sheep farm­ing might die out com­pletely if Camp did noth­ing.

For­mer All-Ire­land cham­pion sheep shearer Jimmy O’Dwyer knows all too well the hard­ship of con­tin­u­ing to put sheep out to pas­ture as prices dwin­dle and red tape seem­ingly stran­gles ef­forts to en­hance busi­ness.

“The fair had gone a bit quiet for a few years so a few of us last year came to­gether to put re­newed em­pha­sis on it and make it more ex­cit­ing.”

The proof was in the pud­ding as the fair went off a bomb, scores of prizes and ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar craic draw­ing them in from all over the penin­sula and be­yond.

“Re­ally, we felt we had to start do­ing some­thing just to get the younger gen­er­a­tion in­ter­ested in it again so we can keep a very proud Camp tra­di­tion go­ing. Be­cause there’s not much in­cen­tive in it at the moment and there are few lads un­der the age of 30 go­ing ‘up the hill’, as we say, any­more,” Jimmy told The Ker­ry­man.

Now 53, Jimmy got bit­ten by the sheep bug when he was knee high to a grasshop­per.

“Camp is one of the old­est fairs in the en­tire coun­try. It used to be a three-day af­fair on the Cross in the vil­lage. In our house [the O’Dwyers had the old shop op­po­site Ashes and still run the fill­ing sta­tion] we’d peo­ple from Bran­don stay­ing They would have walked to Camp and slept in chairs and drank hot-mulled porter by stick­ing the red-hot poker from the fire into the mug of stout. That’s a part of the tra­di­tion I never got to en­joy!”

Wool was a pre­cious com­mod­ity in the era be­fore syn­thetic fab­rics and glob­alised mar­kets.

“It used to sell a pound for a pound, now it’s about forty cents a kilo­gram.”

Lamb price isn’t far­ing too well at present with EU sub­si­dies not go­ing nearly far as farm­ers would like.

“You can’t do it full time any­more, not on the moun­tains. What we get from the EU should go as profit but it’s in­creas­ingly used to cover op­er­at­ing costs. You have to have some­thing else go­ing. Bu­reau­cracy, which we have a lot of re­ally started killing us.

“Butch­ers had their own abat­toirs once upon a time but then the bu­reau­crats de­cided that had to stop. Now, the only abattoir in the county is in Kil­lar­ney and it’s hardly worth your while driv­ing the lambs over.”

“What I would love to see hap­pen­ing is a group of seven or eight of us farm­ers get­ting to­gether, ad­ver­tis­ing our lamb as Wild At­lantic Way lamb and pre­par­ing it in a lo­cal abattoir for a butcher to mar­ket it. If there was an abattoir in West Kerry it would make a huge dif­fer­ence.”

For now the Camp Sheep Fair is mak­ing a huge dif­fer­ence at least in terms of pre­serv­ing sheep farm­ing cul­ture.

Nu­mer­ous com­pe­ti­tions will com­bine with ev­ery­thing from face-paint­ing and a fancy dress pa­rade to en­sure a great day’s en­ter­tain­ment as mu­sic and craic en­liven the pubs and mut­ton pies cir­cu­late to fuel the fun.

Mean­while, lo­cal ICA mem­bers will be on hand to dis­pense home­made cakes teas and cof­fees in the old school with the pro­ceeds go­ing to the Kerry Hospice Foun­da­tion.

Buy­ing and sell­ing is the main busi­ness of the day of course, with top qual­ity moun­tain/hill and low­land sheep rams, breed­ing ewes, wether lambs and ewe lambs all avail­able to pur­chase. Or­gan­is­ers in­vite ev­ery­one in to the vil­lage for the big day.

It’s what the Camp Sheep Fair is all about - get­ting the younger gen­er­a­tion in­ter­ested in the age-old art of sheep farm­ing: Young Mark Grif­fin with his grand­fa­ther Tom Grif­fin af­ter tak­ing one of the big prizes last year. Also pic­tured are lo­cal man...

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