Ireland and the Worlds, 2023

By Anne Wheatley (*Photo Credit to Anne Wheatley and Christine Jobe)

Cath I have always wanted to go to Ireland and what better excuse than the Internationals and the World Sheepdog Trials being scheduled there within days of each other in September 2023. We planned to spend two weeks so that we could attend the trials and see some of the country.

Ahh, Ireland, where the fields are a patchwork of greens defined by hedges, beckoning me to work dogs in each one. Particularly those that overlook the ocean.

Our trip first got interesting at Dublin airport when we were told that our checked luggage was still in Toronto. Tim Horton’s coffee, a gift for Boggy Warmington from Carol Guy within. Readers might remember Boggy judging Ontario trials in the past. 3 days later the bag showed up to our relief and Boggy’s. It surprised me a bit how losing my stuff could put a real damper on the beginning days of the trip. It also surprised me that Boggy likes his Tim’s so much. You should have seen his face when it finally appeared.

It’s worth noting that driving in Ireland is different from what we’re used to. The country has narrow winding roads and big trucks and those who seem to wish they were driving Maseratis. Once I had to access a 4 lane highway from the equivalent of a side street. Jeez!

The Internationals were held in Wicklow County near a town with a name I love - Blessington. It was hot and sunny until the final day. Then it poured. We were prepared with umbrellas and rain coats and pants as we’d heard that in Ireland it rains sometimes. It was fun to watch and try to judge. I miscalculated the winner. It turned out that Cath had quite a long chat with the nervous mum of the young winner before he ran. His name is Fraser Shennan. He started herding when he was 17. Now he was 20 something. Remarkable! We found the Irish very friendly and spent quite a bit of time chatting with people we met. We had a lovely time chatting with Boggy. I can see why Carol sent coffee to him, half way across the world. He’s such a kind and knowledgeable guy.

After the Internationals we went west to see the impressive Cliffs of Moher. As we were driving north from there one day we stopped to say hi to some donkeys on the beach and ran into Tierney Graham. This was a small world event for sure!

After that we visited Sligo, the centre of Irish music. It’s a pretty town on a river. Our hotel was downtown and next to the river. While we were there an environmental organization was removing garbage from the river, walking in it with hip waders on. Although we saw coal for sale for heating on our travels, there were other indications that Ireland is trying to lower its carbon footprint, like wind turbines everywhere we looked.

We visited the dark hedges where scenes from the Game of Thrones were  filmed, and Sliabh Liag, the second highest cliffs in Ireland, as well we saw the Burren and the Giants Causeway. We ate excellent Irish stew, and classic fish and chips, saw gardens, and an Irish beach where I suspect the weather is almost never suitable for hanging out. We met people we know from the US and Peter and Melanie from Ontario and of course our Canadian team.

At the World Trials we met cheerful shuttle driver William who put 100 miles a day on his van transporting spectators from the car park to the trial fields.

The Worlds were so exciting. Like being at the Olympics but knowing so many of the competitors. We had a 4 day pass and grandstand seats at field one where the semi finals and finals would be held. There were 2 other fields running as well as field one for the two qualifying days. We were thrilled to see George Stambulic had scored a 176 early in the day while we were driving to the site. We watched Tracy Hinton run Lad on field 3. They had a nice run, but I didn’t think the score reflected that so much. 155. Then Scott Glen ran Mist and retired on the drive away. Things were not going well. Better to cut your losses and retire gracefully. Kevan Gretton and Bud scored a 132. Not their best run but very respectable.

As Canadians, the real excitement came when Scott ran Pip and made it into the semi finals. From there the top 16 would move to the final day. Scott was sitting 7th or so and we thought it was a slam dunk he’d be in, when there were only that many left to run. Everyone would need to beat his score to eliminate him. But then there was radio silence for what seemed like a long time when no scores were published. Turns out there was some issue with Scott’s score that they were trying to resolve. It was adjusted downward. I can only imagine an adding or transposition error had caused that. We held our collective breath until it was confirmed that Scott and Pip had snagged the last spot for the final day.

Scott’s run in the finals was incredible to watch. It was all pretty good until that one collared ewe just wouldn’t play nice in the shedding ring and turned 17 mins to shed and pen into 3 seconds to pen. In true Scott style he slammed the pen gate closed with one second left on the clock. Everyone loves the one second pen and they told Scott that with whoops and cheers!! Scott came 3rd overall.

This time I picked the winner before it was announced, on a group chat with friends back home. I said maybe that young guy Petter had the best run - not wanting to sound too sure. Ha, I had it right that time. Petter Landfald from Norway won the World trials. Kevin Evans from Wales was second. Scott was a very close third.

After the Worlds we travelled to County Donegal and stayed in a hotel that was first purchased for the equivalent of about $800 in 1845. There we ran into the Laferty’s, Tresa and Don, whose names I’d heard but we’d never met. We were in the diningroom having breakfast. I was wearing my Kingston 25th anniversary T shirt and Don a World trial jacket. He said hi. I have new fb friends now.

I’d recommend Ireland. It’s a beautiful country with even more beautiful people. Everyone was so friendly. The Irish won the team competition. They are pretty darn good at sheepdog trialing.

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