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The Glencolmcille Sheep Farmers’ Cooperative and Ardara Sheep Fair, 1983

Updated Monday 4th April 2016

Seán McCloskey, the manager of the Sheep Farmers’ Cooperative described how it functioned as the most active of the farmers’ associations in 1983.

The Sheep Farmers’ Cooperative was the most active of the farmers’ associations in 1983. Seán McCloskey, the manager described how it functioned.

Transcript: Glencolmcille Sheepfarmers’ Cooperative, 1983

PAT JESS

Right Sean, you’re the manager here in the Sheep Farmers Cooperative; what exactly is going on today?

SEAN MCCLOSKEY

Well at the moment we’re starting off an auction. Here for us on offer for us today is ewe, ewe lambs and wethers and rams. It’s just the general run of the sheep. Normally, this is the first time for this to happen this year, normally we wouldn’t have this going on; we usually sell the wether lambs off by weight. This last 12 years we’ve been doing that. But we’ve sort of created another option for the farmers to sort of give as a produce. They normally went to a local market which is about nine, ten miles away, but the cost of transport and things like that now have encouraged us to get involved in selling by auction at this place here, you know.

PAT JESS

So you think actually the farmers are going to get a better price.

SEAN MCCLOSKEY

Well, they, even if they don’t get a better price here, they have saved their money in transport ways and they have, when they go away it costs them about £3 a head, you know, to transport, along with feeding themselves for that day and all the rest of it, you know, whereas they’re quite local here, they can skip home for a meal or and they don’t have any costs here, you know.

PAT JESS

Well what sort of distance are they coming to get here?

SEAN MCCLOSKEY

Well the longest distance today is 14 miles, you know. Our area of the cooperative itself, it catches about 27 miles radiational in County Donegal. We go from say Bruckless to Ardara area generally, the Glencolmcille peninsula itself.

PAT JESS

Even though William lives within the area served by the Cooperative, he seems reluctant to move entirely over to that form of marketing.

His reluctance, and remember he could be regarded as progressive, mirrors a generally conservative attitude towards innovation, a suspicion about new methods. People wait and see.

WILLIAM FULLER

I am a member of it yeah.

PAT JESS

But?

WILLIAM FULLER

I don’t, I just don’t send the lambs to it. Although they didn’t send away that many lambs this years all together; they only sent away something like 400 lambs or something, 400 to 500. So like there’s men still waiting on where to get them away and they haven’t got them away yet so that’s no good either like, you know.

PAT JESS

And what happens to them then?

WILLIAM FULLER

Well they just have to take them out and sell them as I did.

PAT JESS

Yes.

WILLIAM FULLER

At local marts.

PAT JESS

Yes.

WILLIAM FULLER

You know.

PAT JESS

Yes, yes well are you guaranteed the price at the local market?

WILLIAM FULLER

No, no.

PAT JESS

You just take a chance.

WILLIAM FULLER

Just take a chance.

 

The traditional way of selling sheep was at the local sheep markets, such as the Sheep Fair in Ardara.  

Transcript: Ardara Sheep Fair, 1983

PAT JESS

That type of marketing originated at the time of the old fairs where farmers brought their sheep to the town and waited for someone to agree their price. Fairs like this one at Ardara have now nearly disappeared. They’re also a social event where the farmers exchange news and information. The auction day at the cooperative fulfilled something of this social function, but it lacks the wider social context of the fairs traditional setting in the local town, with shops and bars and a greater mix of people.

The fairs that have survived are a relic of the past co-existing with modern structures. The more recently developed Cooperative on the other hand is linked to a wider economy through the markets for sheep elsewhere in Ireland and Britain and through grants from national government and the EEC.

 

In 1983 it seemed that the Sheep Farmers’ Cooperative intended to survive but this would depend on wider and ultimately adverse economic circumstances as Seán McCloskey described.

Transcript: Seán McCloskey: 'The future of the Sheepfarmers’ cooperative'

PAT JESS

What sort of assistance do you get from government, from the EEC?

SEAN MCCLOSKEY

Well at the moment we get, the governments give us these grants here for, actually for the Cooperative itself to develop a new system. The system that we have in at the moment, you get 40% of a grant of the overall costs, and if we want to develop a new system, the same thing goes, you know. It’s because we’re in the Gaeltacht area. You know, we’re supposed to speak Irish, we develop the Irish culture and all the rest of it, you know.

[Auction]

But the EEC give us I think it’s 7.50 at the moment for a ewe premium, a ewe breeding premium. They will come and inspect us round in June/July and inspect the ewes and they cull any old ewes or broken mouths or something like that, and the government then give us a premium as well to maintain the ewes.

PAT JESS

Agriculture in South West Donegal is heavily dependent on subsidies. Given the size of the farms and the costs involved, it’s not surprising that the area is  considered severely disadvantaged. But this cooperative has to become self-sufficient to survive, yet wider and often adverse economic circumstances will inevitably affect it.

SEAN MCCLOSKEY

The co-op intends surviving in, when we started this programme up originally, we were to survive on our own after five years, but we ran into the recession here and it hit us quite badly here. So they have give us another three years to produce figures that we would be able to run on our own, and at the moment we’re on a breakeven point. You know, we can sort of maintain ourselves without going with assistance.

PAT JESS

So things are beginning to look good.

SEAN MCCLOSKEY

Such things are beginning to improve definitely. 

 

Now move on to read about Culture vs the manufacturing industry, 1983.

 

See all the articles in this series

See all the series in the Change in the West of Ireland collection

This article is part of a collection on the 'Uniqueness, Interdependence, Uneven Development and Change in the West of Ireland'. To find out more about the collection, a good place to start is the introduction, Change in the West of Ireland. 

 

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