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Sheep Dogs, Hemingway Revisited and Pirates

IRELAND | Saturday, 27 August 2016 | Views [308]

Stopped over in Westport for a few days and tried to "recharge" and catch-up on the journal entries.  From here, I moved on to Kilcolgan.

Kilcolgan is located about half-way down the western coast of Ireland, near Galway, and turned into one of my most memorable stops.  On my way there, I detoured through the Connemara Peninsula -- getting off the primary roads and taking small "back" roads it was an amazing collection of stark mountains, boglands and gorgeous coastal views -- and sheep -- a lot of sheep!

Then it was off to the Joyce County Sheepdog sheep herding demonstration -- out in the middle of nowheres.  Joe, who has a herd of 300-400 sheep (which live  high up on a mountainside for most of the year) also raises and trains border colies to be sheep dogs.  Unfortunately, in Ireland, sheep herding is not a profitable business so he spends much of his time showing-off his dogs working on his farm/ranch.  He has nine dogs of varying ages -- three work his herd, three are in training and will be sold to other sheep herders and the other three he's grooming to be replacements for his current dogs when they get too old to be effective herders.  He also had five two month old puppies which were the cutest thing -- they kept tripping over peoples feet and each other and were quite a distraction from the demonstration.  

The area in which he does the demo is probably two hundred and fifty yards long by one hundred yards wide running up the side of a steep hillside and partially divided into sections by low stone walls.  When he started, way up at the top were a herd of half a dozen sheep grazing.  He brought one dog out of its kennel and sent it up the hill to herd the sheep down to us. Using four basic hand signals, his voice and primarily a whistle he communicated to the dog which section he wanted the sheep moved into, how far down to bring them and how quickly he wanted it done.  Amazing.  

Only problem was that the first dog rounded up the sheep and decided to take a break before bringing them down.  The dogs are kept in kennels most of the day and get extremely when they are chosen to herd the sheep -- although he remarked that they sometimes choose to enjoy their freedom a little too much and take their time getting things done. 

The first dog was still in training so Joe sent up an experienced dog to finish bringing the sheep down -- it was really humorous, as soon as the first dog realized another dog was coming, it suddenly decided to get the sheep moving quickly down the hill (they apparently have egos and don't like being "shown-up" by another dog).

For the next hour, Joe moved used different dogs to move the sheep around the pasture sometimes using just hand signals, sometimes using just a whistle.  It was fascinating watching the dogs work -- they make absolutely no noise when herding -- it's all eye contact with the sheep and body movement.  He had teh dog cut the herd in two and move one group to one side of the field and the other half to the other side.  It got realy comical when the sheep were close to us and one of the puppies decided to join in -- tripping over the long grass -- actually made a ten foot run at one of the sheep causing it to run at which point the puppy plopped-down in the grass exhausted.  Another of the puppies got caught up on the gate -- it had horizontal metal tubing and the puppy got half way over the bottom tube before getting hung-up like a tetter totter -- couldn't go forward, couldn't back up, it was just hanging there -- one of the little kids in the group rescued the thing.  

Joe and his neighboring sheep herders keep their sheep intermingled on a mountainside six miles long by a mile up -- five times a year they bring all the sheep down from the mountain using the dogs.  At the bottom of the montainside is a long lake -- Joe says he often stands in a small boat on the lake and using hand signals and a whistle is able to direct the dogs at the top of the mountain to do what he wants -- their hearing and eyesight is that good as well as their training.

Thoroughly enjoyed the experience!

Next moring, it was back to sea kayaking.  THis time it was a private lesson/tour using a more advanced kayak -- which is code for "makes it easier to screw-up"! Ali had competed for about ten years all over the world on the professional kayaking circuit (yes, there is such a thing) before getting a job as a school teacher (he has a degree in marine biology) and giving lessons/tours during the summer. 

When I first sea kayaked three weeks ago, the group stayed fairly close to shore (50-60 yards out), Ali decided he'd give me a much different experience and that we'd actually kayak out across Galway Bay and visit a couple of deserted islands -- meaning we'd be out there about half a mile from shore where the water is a "lot" deeper!  It took a little while getting used to the kayak -- it was narrower, went faster but wasn't nearly as stable (the least little shifting would get the thing rocking like it was going to flip) -- need I say I was really focused on this trip, no more daydreaming like the last time.  

It was fun and went well -- one island we stopped off at had been an active community until the 1950's when its inhabitants left en masse for the mainland.  Walked around and into some of the stone houses/buildings which looked like they'd been abandoned for hundreds of years -- apparently they had thatched roofs and once the roofs failed, it didn't take long for the structures to start falling down.  He actually knew a few people who had spent time on the island before it was abandoned.  

Had some wild blackberries and tried something called sea asparagus -- apparently quite the delicacy and very expensive in gourmet stores -- it was interesting. Thjen back in the kayak and off to the other island, passing thru a flock of cormorants feeding in the water -- it was great but nerve-wracking -- they'd dive for a fish and then suddenly pop back up a foot away from the kayak, then one on the other side, then one in front of you  -- startled the cr*p out of me!

Altogether, we went around six miles and were out for maybe three+ hours -- and I didn't come close to fliping once, even when we got into kelp beds and some choppy stuff.  Can't wait to go again!

Ali, probably in his early thirties, was a wealth of information re Irish history.  Pointed out one of the houses on the bay where the leaders of the 1916 Uprising (against the British) planned their attacks -- learned about Grace O'Malley, the Pirate Queen of Ireland in the 1400's who lived in the area, ravaged English ships fought with nearly everybody and won and finally met with the Queen who ended-up pardoning her -- learned how slave traders from Northern Africa raided Irish villages for hundreds of years, sometimes taking essentially the entire village prisoner -- Ali was quite an interesting guy to go kayaking with!

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