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Part 8

by Keith Mott

Season 2014 represents another milestone in history for the British Barcelona Club, for this year is the club’s 50th anniversary. In celebration of this event it is intended to reproduce some of the articles on past winners that have appeared in the Fancy Press over the years. It is well worth remembering that here in this country we have just three racing organisations that cover the whole of the country, of which only one, the British Barcelona Club, encompasses the Channel Islands, making its races truly National events. To celebrate the Golden Jubilee every section winner in this year’s races will receive a special commemorative medal which will be presented at this year’s dinner at Days Hotel, Bournemouth. In the meantime it is hoped that readers will enjoy the exploits and methods of past winners of this highly successful club. For those interested, it is not too late to join and partake in this year’s celebrations. Good luck to our members for the forthcoming 2014 season. - Michael Shepherd (BBC Chairman).


1st Open BBC LAJUQUERA/PALAMOS (638 miles) 1987

Gerry Byrne was a good friend of mine from the 1970s until his untimely death about five years ago. The sport of pigeon racing lost one of its best long distance enthusiasts and characters when Gerry passed away. He was a founder member of the London & South East Classic Club and a great worker for his beloved British Barcelona Club. Gerry shot from the hip and always called a spade a spade, which was one of his great qualities, and he would help anyone in need. Gerry and his wife, May, were totally devoted to their wonderful family, sharing five children and several young grandchildren, who he always involved in his pigeon activities. I worked, on and off, with Gerry for many years and he was a first class bricklayer, running his own successful building firm for many years.

One of Gerry’s best seasons with the pigeons was in 1980 when he won several premier positions, including 1st club, 1st Surrey Federation, 1st open S.M.T. Combine Bergerac, 11th section E, 19th open N.F.C. Pau, 9th open B.I.C.C. Lourdes and 8th open B.I.C.C. Marseilles. After a break from the pigeon racing for two years owing to pressure of work, he decided in 1987 to have a go with his team of long distance birds and he came back with a bang. Two small but select teams were sent to the B.B.C. Palamos and B.I.C.C. Pau races, which fell on the same weekend. Gerry clocked his good Black Magic cock, ‘Magic Grande’, from Palamos to win 1st open, over £1,000 and a colour T.V. This fine cock had his first race from Palamos in 1985 when he returned 12 days later with a hawk hole in his back, over one inch in diameter. Gerry said he knew then that ‘Magic Grande’ would be a pigeon of the future, as the ordeal had not broken his spirit. In 1986 he was sent again to Palamos and recorded 4th section, 56th open, velocity 434 ypm, winning a trophy for the first bird into Surrey. Gerry said he was in first class condition when sent for the 1987 Palamos race and was sent on chipping eggs when basketed. From the B.I.C.C. Pau race Gerry clocked ‘Magic Grande’s’ nest mate, ‘Mystic Lady’ and she rated high in the B.I.C.C. open result with very few birds being clocked that day. She was sent to Pau feeding a three day old youngster and was pooled to £25 in the open International. This fine nest pair were bred from the Black Magic long distance bloodlines.

Gerry had raced pigeons for many years with superb results in his native Ireland and since starting to race young birds in this country in 1975 the loft has recorded many firsts in the Surrey and Croydon Federations. The 1980 season saw him win the supreme prize in Combine racing, 1st open Combine from the longest old bird race. Gerry’s Bergerac Combine winner was a yearling blue chequer hen called, ‘Miss Magic’, and she was a daughter of the Byrne’s good stock cock, ‘43218’. This stock cock was a grandson of Champion ‘Black Magic’, winner of 25th, 13th and 5th open Nantes (540 miles) with the I.N.F.C.

Gerry began keeping pigeons at the age of 12 with the usual assortment from here, there and everywhere, although his parents were not in favour, as the birds were supposed to be harbingers of bad luck. He kept them in an old storage shed, but after complaints from neighbours his father disposed of them all. After a while he worked them back in and housed them in his father’s old Ferret box and from then on it was pigeons all the way for Gerry. He said in those days he was a fairly fast sprinter and was the runner for McComiskey Brothers. He started racing in 1951 in the Gilford & District R.P.C. and two of his best birds were a mealy pied cock and a red chequer hen. He purchased some pigeons for 5 shillings each and could only feed them on crusts of bread. The mealy pied cock recorded many outstanding performances inland, including many first prizes. The red hen, NU 52 EE 9848, was Gerry’s first Federation winner, recording 1st club, 1st Ulster Federation (6,400 birds) Milford Haven in 1954.

The Byrnes emmigrated to Australia but returned to Ireland in 1961, when Gerry re-started in the sport. With stock obtained from McComiskey Brothers and Thompson Brothers, both of whom raced in the Gilford Club. The great fanciers bloodlines were still in Gerry’s loft to the present day. Gerry obtained his Fabry stock from Stan Bloomfield and said his Fabry and Cattrysse pigeons were adaptable and easiest to handle for club and open racing. The Fabry and Cattrysse families raced well in Northern Ireland and recorded some good results flying in the N.I.P.A. up to 1973 when the Byrnes decided to move to London in July 1974. Gerry built his present set up in Kingston and the offspring from his imported Irish birds formed his wonderful long distance team. Some of Gerry’s performances racing in the Gilford & District R.P.C., with N.I.P.A. from 1969 to 1973 were: 1st club, 4th section, 4th open Wexford (17,000 birds), 1st club, 4th section, 19th open Wexford (16,500 birds), 78th open Skibbereen National (2,313 birds), 1st club, 1st section, 3rd open Dungavan (20,000 birds), 1st club, 4th section, 10th open Arklow (21,377 birds), 1st club, 4th section, 4th open Dublin (19,287 birds), 1st club, 2nd section Wexford (7,706 birds), 1st club, 1st section, 2nd open Dungarvan (20,055 birds) and these outstanding performances go on and on. Two of Gerry’s best racers at that time were mealy cock, NU 69 T 83585, winner of 1st club, 1st section, 3rd open Dungarvan and 1st Bann Valley two bird Club and the black hen, ‘99’, winner of many outstanding positions in the mighty N.I.P.A.

Gerry’s Kingston loft set up was very neat and was furnished with open door trapping and a sharp sand litter. He liked the wind to rush through the loft and thought that type of ventilation made the birds harder. He also maintained that dryness was another important aspect of good loft management. Gerry used to hopper feed beans and the birds were never kept short, as he was only interested in long distance racing. They were fed old grain when racing and the cheapest mixture that Gerry could get his hands on in the winter months. He paired up his racers in March and wasn’t a hard trainer, with tosses being few and far between. He always said to me, his pigeons were his hobby and to keep dashing down the A3 to Guildford training every night after work would make it less attractive. The Byrne pigeons were raced on the natural system and Gerry maintained that each bird is an individual and can respond to different treatment on the natural for long distance races. He found the hens more reliable, especially at the long distance, and under bad conditions. Two main families housed at the Kingston lofts in recent years were, the ‘Black Magic’ and the late, Fred Meale pigeons for the long distance. The pigeons of the late Fred Meale of Hounslow were introduced in 1976 and Gerry rated Fred as one of the top fanciers. The two premier Meale racers at the Kingston loft were ‘Magic Lady’, winner of 19th open N.F.C. Pau and the brilliant ‘Southdown Lad’, winner of several premier positions in the Combine from France. All Gerry’s family were very interested in his pigeons, and his wife, May, clocked in many winners for him, when he had to work.

Gerry was eyesign minded and was a well respected authority on the subject. He learned a lot from the late Jack Humphrey of Tottenham. Gerry said, Jack was one of the greatest fanciers in London and his knowledge of eyesign was second to none. Jack put his theory in to practice and his wins from 500 to 600 miles were out of turn and he was always willing to teach anyone who was interested. Gerry was a man to be feared at the eyesign shows, lifting most of the cards where he showed and he was constantly being asked to judge major eyesign classes. Gerry Byrne was a real gentleman and a brilliant fancier!

TEXT & PHOTOS BY KEITH MOTT (www.keithmott.com)