After a year’s absence, the excitement was palpable around Carrick-on-Shannon at the weekend for the Midland and Western Livestock Improvement Society Winter Fair show and sale of commercial livestock.

Over the years, it has become the number one shop window and sales venue for commercial show stock.

It has grown to be a huge event, with over 450 entries entered in this year’s show on Sunday.

Winner of the young handlers competition Nicola Mulligan pictured with judges Jack Cronin and Cathal Gormley. \ Tricia Kennedy

Most of these then headed to the sale ring on Monday, where auctioneers Francis McGowan, PJ Reynolds, Tom Cox and Eamon Gaffney put in a mammoth 13-hour shift, selling late into the night.

Laois farmer Sean Ramsbottom stole the show with his February 2021-born Limousin heifer.

The Aberdeen Angus champion title went to Mark Smith for this heifer calf, which sold for €2,100. \ Tricia Kennedy

She attracted a lot of interest in the pre-sale show and was tapped out first in the Limousin heifer calf class by well-known fatstock producer James Alexander from Randalstown, Co Antrim. She then went on to win the overall Limousin junior champion title on Sunday evening.

The overall Simmental champion for Martin O’Connor, Elphin, sold for €3,800. \ Tricia Kennedy

Sired by the Limousin bull Ampertaine Elgin and out of a Belgian Blue cow, she weighed 433kg.

She was opened at €10,000 and, after a bidding frenzy, was eventually hammered down at €18,000 to a three-way consortium including Kilkeel, Co Down-based fatstock producer Gareth Small of Strathearn Commercials.

The McGowan brothers’ reserve junior champion in the Limousin heifer calf section sold for €9,800. \ Tricia Kennedy

The big money didn’t stop there, with the senior Limousin calf champion from Galway breeder Derek Forde also breaking records, the hammer dropping at €13,200 to another Northern Ireland purchaser.

Lot 98, a Belgian Blue heifer from Kerry breeder Neil Blennerhassett, sold for €5,800. \ Tricia Kennedy

Derek Forde sold three calves in the sale – for €9,800, €5,400 and €7,800 – totalling €23,000 and averaging €7,666/head.

The McGowan brothers from Leitrim also had a great day’s trading. They took home €9,800 for their junior reserve champion in the Limousin section. They averaged €5,250/head for four calves in the sale.

Mayo breeder Cyril Horan took home €6,900 for his Belgian Blue heifer sired by BB6010.

Clare breeder Martin Kileen took home €6,000 for his CSQ-sired Charolais heifer.

Donegal breeder Sean O’Brien sold this Belgian Blue butchers heifer sired by Affute for €5,000. \ Tricia Kennedy

Commenting on the sale, auctioneer Francis McGowan said: “I [have] never seen a trade like it to be honest. It was electric right from the beginning. It’s a great boost to breeders who put a huge amount of work into breeding these types of cattle and it’s great for them to get rewarded for doing that.

This Belgian Blue heifer by BB6010 from Cyril Horan sold for €6,900. \ Tricia Kennedy

“I have been selling animals here since 1996 and that’s the most expensive animal I have ever sold. It was great to be a part of that.”

What’s driving demand?

It’s a serious vote of confidence for Irish breeding to see the prices paid for commercial cattle in Carrick-on-Shannon on Monday.

Lot 340, a Limousin-cross heifer from Derrick Forde, Galway, sold for €7,300.

\ Tricia Kennedy

Another point to note is the age profile of both exhibitors and buyers at the sale, with the majority being young men and women.

There is a renewed confidence across the sector about shows going ahead in 2022 and people want to have the top cattle when summer 2022 comes around.

Lot 280, a Limousin heifer by Elite Ice Cream from Shane Giltinane, sold for €5,000. She is pictured with purchasers The O’Dowd Family, Elphin.

COVID-19 has changed a lot of things for young generations and no nightlife has meant there is extra money floating around to spend on show cattle. As the saying goes, it’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow some good.

Lot 271, a Charolais heifer calf by CF52 from Martin Harold, Letterkenny, sold for €5,200. She is pictured with purchasers, the Byrne family. \ Tricia Kennedy