Mutton pies, music and craic in Camp as one of Ireland’s oldest sheep fairs kicks off
SHEEP FARMERS CALL FOR ABATTOIR IN WEST KERRY TO AID AILING INDUSTRY
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 John Kennedy and John Joe O Donnell.