“If there is any reason to come to Donegal on your holidays, this is it,” says PRO of Clonmany Agricultural Show and Sheepdog Association, Blaine McCarron.
Hosting the All Nations Shearing and Wool Handling Championships on 8 and 9 August this summer, the show committee are hoping the weather will be as good as when the Irish Open descended on the parish in 2018.
“Sky News took a shot from the helicopter of dolphins jumping out of the water that weekend; it was phenomenal to see how well the area looked,” Blaine recalls.
From the beginning
Established in 1966 as Clonmany Sheepdog Trials, classes were added over the years and it has become one of the most popular shows in Donegal.
Sheepdog trials are still very much part of the show and will see competitors and their dogs travel from Northern Ireland, some from Scotland and a large following will make the trip up from the southern counties.
Blaine, from a suckler farm in Clonmany, studied agricultural science at UCD. He works as sales and technical support with Eko Hoofcare during the week and duty manager at Ballyliffin Hotel at weekends. He joined the show committee in 2017 and has been going to meetings every Tuesday night since.
He credits the show site as being a factor in securing the All-Nations Championships this summer.
“The site has stood the test of time; it has been our showgrounds for over 40 years,” he explains.
“It is free-draining, sandy land that doesn’t flood. It holds up in all weather conditions.”
Blaine acknowledges the generosity of the landowners who join up to give access for show time.
Cattle pens stay up all year round and the land is in grazing, with mainly sheep keeping the sward low.
Shearing an advantage
When the committee held a shearing event in 2019, they contacted the Irish Sheep Shearers Association who supported Clonmany Show in the planning and preparations. After the success of this event, it was a given for the show committee that they would do it again.
With a lull in activity for the duration of the pandemic, the show bounced back, with shearing featuring on show day in the years since. With the All-Nations returning to Ireland, Blaine believes the show’s experience held sway for the Shearing Association.
“They knew we had the site, they knew we had the resources and they knew we had the experience,” he points out.
What can we expect?
“First of all, you can expect immense value for money,” says Blaine proudly.
Children go free and there is no charge for parking. It is €13 per adult or €25 per couple. Parking is on-site with no shuttle buses.
The grand prize draw introduced on the show’s 50th anniversary takes place as the show finale, with this year’s top prize a choice of a brand new Valtra tractor or jeep.
Introduced for 2022 was a marquee dedicated to nature. Inspired by the reconnection with nature during the pandemic, and based on the interest this generated last year, the committee are working to develop this section further this summer.
Along with a thriving home industries area and a pet show including classes for cats and rabbits, the committee is hoping that the biggest challenge will be being adequately prepared for sunny August days.
With a purpose-built shearing stage already on site, plans are in place to extend this so that the men and women from competing countries can take part simultaneously.
Entrants are expected to travel from Ireland, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, France and Wales. Competing single-handedly – not entering as a team – the wool handling is a talent in itself, with people travelling to compete in these championships as much as the shearing.
“There is a certain way in which the wool is tied, in which it is processed; they are competing against the clock as well,” says Blaine.
The show committee is tasked with sourcing the sheep for shearing.
With 1,600 sheep selected from the Inishowen area, 1,400 yearling ewes are expected to be prepared – docking tails and pre-clipping – with 700 shorn per day.
The sheep will be collected from the host farm on the morning of shearing and, once shorn, will be taken back to the host farm to get them back to a familiar environment as soon as possible.
“We just had a meeting dedicated to the welfare of the sheep. All the sheep will be under the shade of a marquee and plenty of drinkers will be available,” says Blaine.
“The Veterinary Clinic, Carndonagh, will be on site for the duration of the show.”
“Veteran sheep shearer George Graham will be commentating and keeping an eye out for the sheep’s welfare too,” he adds.
Adding to the experience, a local master weaver will be demonstrating the skill of weaving wool on a full-size loom. Clonmany has a rich history of weaving from the days of Clonmany Tweed factory.
Taking a break from shearing, wool handling and weaving, there will be jiving and line dancing competitions on both days of the show.
“Jiving is like a second religion around here,” says Blaine with a laugh.
“That competition might be as popular as the All-Nations,” he adds before continuing with the preparations.
TV personality and Donegal Person of the Year, Noel Cunningham recalls his first visit to the Clonmany Show
“There I was, a dapper Dan on a sunny day in pink suit and dazzling bow tie. I turned down a laneway as directed and before me lay a large expanse of beautiful farmland. Every farm animal you could imagine, tractors, crafts and bakery stalls, music and dancing.
“I was so inappropriately dressed for such rural pursuits that I could have bolted. Then I spotted Catwalk model agency getting ready for a McElhinney’s fashion show and Neven Maguire preparing for a food demonstration. That was when I realised this show is truly something else – I was hooked!
“Year later, my love for the Clonmany Show is as fresh and strong as ever. It is a true celebration of country life. Clonmany is in a class of its own. Key to its success is the inclusion of so much to so many.”
Make a holiday of it
Clonmany is one and a half hour’s drive north of Donegal town and 30 minutes south of our country’s most northerly point, Malin Head, so why not arrange a holiday to this most picturesque part of the country?
With the show site just over 500 metres from a white sandy beach, Pollan Strand, and plenty more idyllic beaches nearby, there is plenty of stunning scenery to explore.
Directly north of the show site, beyond Ballyliffin golf club on the Isle of Doagh, you will find extensive sand dunes. Take the Pollan strand walk out to Carraickabraghy Castle and on this peninsula, the Doagh Famine Village will bring to life the complexities of the region’s history.
The week of Clonmany Show coincides with the 54th Clonmany Festival. Running from 6-13 August, there are plenty of family fun events taking place during the day and by night, some of the biggest names in Irish country music will take to the open-air stage.