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Kieran Shannon is helping to conserve the pure bred Galway, Ireland’s only native sheep. The Galway sheep has been granted Rare Breed status. Kieran and his wife Bernie are growing their flock and now have around 40 of the breed at their farm north east of Miltown Malbay. Photography by Eugene McCafferty

Clare sheep farmers fight for fair price with Galway breed

A KILFARBOY couple have come together with eight other ‘dyed in the wool’ sheep farmers to champion a rare Irish breed and to campaign for a fairer price for their produce.
Kieran and Bernie Shannon are among the founding members of The Galway Wool Co-op, who overcame the challenges of lockdown, to champion the merits of the Galway sheep.
On Saturday last (June 26), members got to meet in person at Athenry Mart, when they took part in a ‘Wool Meitheal’ and sell their wool to a major processor in Donegal.
“Wool prices are shockingly low,” Bernie explained. “An awful lot of wool is now coming in from China and our aim is to get a better price for Galway wool.”
The award-winning farmers have 37 sheep currently and also farm suckler cows on their 100 acres.
Kieran, a fourth generation farmer, said that while breeds like the Galway sheep produce high quality snow-white wool, many buyers are no longer prepared to pay a fair price. “This has been a problem in recent years,” he said.
“My late father, Kevin, would go to Gort to sell the wool and he would get the prize of his fertilizer out of it. Nowadays, you wouldn’t get the price of a bag of chips. It’s down to 20 cent a kilo.
“We’re very grateful to Chris at Donegal Yarn who is buying the wool from our co-op and we want to get the message out there about this great product. Maybe the Kardashians will get on board like Taylor Swift did with the Aran geansaí!”
The new co-op was set up last October and its ten members come from as far afield as Kildare and Galway.
Bernie worked on an application for LEADER funding and all members are volunteers. Kieran describes the co-op as being “run by farmers for farmers”.
All of them are dedicated to the Galway sheep breed. “They’re all white with a kind of bobble on their forehead and a furry sock on each leg,” he said.
“They are the best wool producers; their wool is really thick and snow white.”
Because the Galway only gives birth to one lamb in each litter, the breed has fallen in popularity.
“Merino wool has overtaken wool from the Galway,” Kieran explained. “Once the Aran jumper would have been knitted from the wool of the Galway sheep, but that has changed. Wool is now imported from Australia, China, India, Morocco and Turkey and the co-op said that many Irish tourism products, including blankets and sweaters, are made from overseas materials.”
Donegal Yarns, who sell finished wool to knitters and weavers in Ireland and internationally, is the first client of the co-op and have offered a good price for the first 5000kgs of wool, which changed hands on Saturday.
While the Wool Meitheal was closed to the public, due to pandemic restrictions, the Shannons hope it will mark the start of an upward trend with wool prices.
“We all got our wool heads together during lockdown,” said Kieran. “We realised we would have to do something. This is the best wool and can be used for all kinds of things. We want to get the message out and to get a fair price for a great product.”

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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