The Corrigan name is synonymous with breeding Wicklow Cheviots. No surprise really, given this year will be Pat Corrigan’s 75th year exhibiting at the Wicklow Cheviot Sheep Owners Association’s premier sale in Blessington on 2 October.
At the mere age of 14, Pat’s talented eye for sheep was quickly identified as he walked his sheep into a field up by his school in Hollywood.
That same day, the sheep owners association was hosting a sale across the road and before Pat knew it, he had the yard of buyers looking at his 15 rams.
Pat said: “All the buyers left the sales yard and came to buy off me instead. I had 15 sheep and I sold them all at £15 apiece. After that, the sheep owners association made me join straight away.”
But what was it that made them want Corrigan’s sheep so much? Pat added: “They were different. They were good sheep, but they had great bone and wool and looked like rams.”
A lot has changed for Pat’s farming enterprise since then, with the flock now amounting to around 1,000 ewes roaming the Ballysax area of the Curragh.
These are all run commercially, with around 50 of the best rams then sold for breeding as hoggets.
It’s far from a one-man show now though, with Pat’s sons Andrew, Paddy and David, as well as grandson Patrick, all involved in some part alongside outside jobs.
Sheep shearing is also well embedded in the family history, with Pat a 13-time all-Ireland champion and both Andrew and Paddy also collecting titles. This legacy continues, as this week Patrick competes at Balmoral Show.
His son Andrew added: “Some people go to the pub, others go to bingo and others go to matches. We go to shearing competitions and have done all my life.”
In the 1960s and 1970s, exhibitors at the main sale were allowed up to 30 rams. However, this is now back to 10.
Numbers of breeders exhibiting has also reduced. There were at least 50 breeders at one time, but this now stands at around 25.
This means that while Blessington will be the first stop, the Corrigans’ flock also regularly sells in Kenmare and Dowra later in October.
Pat said: “There has been ups and downs, as would be expected in all breeds, but I think that demand now is better than ever.
“The sheep have stayed the same, but the wool has got better, so there is always a man to breed the crossbred. Now, since rams are getting scarcer, it’s proving better for the breeder.”
In 1978, Pat headed to Scotland in search of new genetics, looking at North County Cheviots. He didn’t see the attraction though and never bought.
However, others did and he feels this didn’t do any favours for the breed. Instead, Pat has stuck to buying his stock rams at Irish sales.
This has stood to him well, as throughout the years he has claimed champion at the main premier sale on no less than seven occasions. While he may have won at several, he has invested in many champion rams too throughout the years.
He said: “You always have to keep buying. Most champions go very well at the sales, but at the end of the day the buyers are judges.”
When asked about the highlights through his 75-year career, two quickly come to mind.
“Along with the championships, one of the highlights was when a champion 10 years ago sold for €4,200. More importantly, that ram went on to breed four champions too.”
The second was in 1988 when Pat sold 15 hogget rams at a massive average of £750.
“They all haven’t been good years; on some days I’ve come home with half unsold,” he was quick to add.
However, perhaps the biggest achievement of all is that Corrigan sheep can be found in all corners of the country. So no matter what happens next, the genetics of the flock are firmly instilled in the Wicklow Cheviot breed for many years to come.