We recently sent Jennifer and Richard on a fantastic tour of Ireland, with most of their time in Northern Ireland and the north-western coast of the Republic of Ireland. On their trip, one of their favorite days was the sheepdog demonstration in Connemara. We asked them if they'd be willing to write it up for our site, and they graciously agreed! All photo credits are to Richard Heath.
Our guide Eamon drove us to Joyce County Sheepdogs. The trip there was pretty typical of our travels through the northwest corner of Ireland, stunning views of fields and lakes, dotted with ancient brick houses and fields full of sheep. We crossed an old stone bridge without paying a toll to the troll who probably lived underneath, then beautiful Lough Nafooey came into view. It's located on the border of County Galway and County Mayo, not far from Clifden, Connemara National Park, and Westport, all places we recommend visiting too. These all are sites on the under-appreciated northwestern coast of Ireland, recently marketed as the Wild Atlantic Way.
Most of Joe Joyce’s flock of sheep live on commonage or shared land, across Lough Nafooey. So Joe takes his dog on a boat across the lake to bring in his sheep. Joe keeps Irish blackface mountain sheep. Their wool isn't very fine, it's used most for stuffing and carpets. Fine wool sheep aren’t hardy enough to survive outside all year like these mountain blackface. Have you ever seen the movie Marley and Me? There's a scene from the honeymoon where the couple gets stuck on a road filled with sheep. Joe, his dogs, and sheep made that scene happen.
A small part of Joe's flock stays on his side of the lake with his family and dogs. He uses those sheep to train border collies and offer sheepdog demonstrations. He usually breeds one litter a year, so we saw seven 12 week old puppies, a few 14 month old dogs, plus his working and breeding adults. The puppies were adorable balls of black and white furry energy. They wandered the yard with us during the demonstration.
Their father Spot was the star of the demonstration, and Joe whistled commands from the yard as Spot moved the sheep down the hill to us. One of the seven young pups kept trying to steal the show. While the other pups tussled and played in the grass, one youngster made a beeline for the small herd. She alternately stalked and fled the sheep, generally getting in the way of hard-working Spot, who still managed to bring in the sheep and run them through a series of gates and pens. All the guests who wanted to held puppies and got lots of photos. I resisted the urge to smuggle the trouble maker home in my luggage. Joe says he won’t sell his dogs as pets, they need to be working dogs and he’s shipped them as far as Australia. Other folks from our demonstration even held little lambs. A rare baby black lamb was the most popular.
The other folks at our demonstration all arrived in custom Morgan cars. They were driving around northwestern Ireland with a club from Switzerland. Here’s a picture of one of the Morgans parked in Joe’s driveway. Yes, his front yard is a lake!
We're so glad that Jennifer and Richard had a fabulous time in Ireland, and we can't wait to hear about their next travel adventure. (We won't tell you where they're going, next, but rest assured, we're in on the plan, since we're helping to book it!). If you'd like to visit Ireland and experience a sheepdog demonstration for yourself, just let us know! We'll make it happen!