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Homers Odyssey - 12-01-21

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Homers Odyssey

While I am waiting on club reports to arrive and updates on some Loft Feature’s I will cover some items from my archive which I am updating on a weekly basis, it takes a bit of time as does putting a column together.  Last year I managed 100 pages for News-Letter on a Wednesday, and not one week missed, I can only try to keep up to that level.  I have plenty of material, it just takes time to go through the years and turn those into reports.  Most of the early details I have are for the coverage in Mid Antrim although in the early days few photos were included with the reports, James Martin “Provincial” was the main scribe, although I was to follow-after that myself.

Any old info can be sent on to be included, old cuttings, or photos just scan or take a phone photo if you are modern. Kells & District always-had a good display of info at their prize presentations and something from there could be sent for additional coverage.  If necessary, items can be put in the post and returned the same way. Racing could be a long way off, I think we will be getting plenty of time to work on this project.  The website is updated weekly and again it takes a lot of time, but I suppose it keeps me sane.  The Forum had a lot of items listed in the various boards, and the main website is updated regular.  I had mentioned before the front page also has the link to the INFC History, a lot of items are listed there, and I am learning all the time on how to do updates and list new items on this section of the site. The programme is Wordpress same as used by both the NIPA and INFC, a modern programme and very simple to use, when you get stuck a lot of info and directions are available on YouTube, although having said that I find it necessary on occasions to call in the experts and big problem with that is the cost factor.

So far, we have not had much to celebrate in this New Year of 2021, the hope was it would be a lot better than the year previous. Bird Flu has been confirmed at a site in Clough, County Antrim just North of Ballymena and at Maghaberry which will affect a large number of lofts in the Lisburn area, a Temporary Control Zone has been put in place.  On the top of that we have a further Lockdown covering the whole of the UK mainland including Northern Ireland and restrictions could be in place until February or March depending on circumstances.  In the meantime, the NIPA had arranged a Zoom meeting to consider a race programme and will also sort other AGM related business with the usual meetings probably unable to take place.  

Sammy Thompson rang me to let me know his wife Edith had sadly passed-away she was in her 90’s and had been in a Care Home in Coleraine for a few years. Sammy himself has had a few health problems and like Edith is in his 90’s we hope he continues to make good progress.  The pair were regular visitors to the big prize nights for the NIPA and INFC and both presented awards on numerous occasions especially for the RPRA (Irish Region) and Sammy was a long-time member of the various pigeon committees and had in recent years retired as RPRA Councillor, Sammy carried the very highest respect among the pigeon fancy.

New North Flying Club – 1976

Over 100 members and friends attended the New North Flying Club’s annual prize distribution held last weekend in the Adair Arms Hotel in Ballymena. The top table party included Mr & Mrs D Campbell, Mr & Mrs T Harper both Ballymena, Mr & Mrs W McClure from Kells, Mr & Mrs S Brown from Crumlin, Mr & Mrs E Leckey from Cullybackey and from Londonderry Mr & Mrs S Quigley and Mr & Mrs L Boyle from Dromore.


Premier winners at the New North Flying Club presentation held in Ballymena, from (l) special guests Mr & Mrs L Boyle from Dromore, R Doyle, R Law, W Erwin, B Smyth, T Harper and T Patterson.

The Chairman of the club Billy McClure welcomed the guests and said how pleased he was to see Lyndon Boyle the NIPA Chairman present. He went on to pay tribute on behalf of the club to the racing performances of Secretary Tommy Harper, and also the help given to the club by Mrs Harper. Sandy Brown replied on behalf of the guests. Mr D Campbell then assisted Mrs Boyle in the presentation of the prize money. The Old Bird race from Weymouth was a disaster and only four birds were clocked by club members. 1st J W & T Harper Ballymena £168, 2nd W Erwin Ballymena £60, 3rd J Prentice & Son Moira £40, 4th R Telford Annaghmore ££101.

The Young Bird event was flown from Dungarvan after a one day hold over. Top Ballymena & District fanciers Bobby Law and Smyth Brothers took the first two positions. The race was a major success for the Muckamore partnership of J Patterson & Son. They took four open positions in the Top 9 – 4th, 6th, 7th and 9th. The prize list was as follows. R Law Ballymena £122, Smyth Bros Ballymena £65 plus clock, J Houston & Sons Harryville £42, J Patterson & Son Muckamore £248, McClean Bros Broughshane £56, R J Elliott Ballymoney 22, R J Goudy Muckamore £52, L Mairs Cullybackey £84, Mr & Mrs Swann Harryville £103, Wray & McFadden Harryville £52, R Doyle Lurgan £22, Campbell & Francey Harryville £52, W V Troughton Portadown £77.50, W McIlroy Ballymena £22, F Marks Ballymena £88, Nineteen other small amounts were won. The total payout was £2,200.


From a few years back a joint presentation dinner for Harryville and Ballymena & District HPS.

The silverware was then presented by Lyndon Boyle and was as follows. McCabe Cup (Weymouth) and H A Montgomery Cup (Best Ave 2 Races) won by J W & T Harper Ballymena.  Presidents Cup (Dungarvan) won by R Law Ballymena. McIlwaine Cup (First bird over 190 miles) won by Smyth Bros Ballymena. Barr Trophy (First bird under 190 miles) won by R Doyle Lurgan. Sawyers Cup (Best 2 Bird Ave) won by J Patterson & Son Muckamore. The Savage Trophy (Best 2 Bird Ave Weymouth) was not won.

Mr Boyle then spoke firstly thanking the officials and members for inviting himself and his wife. He then commented on the New North races of which he said were very keenly contested. But even so it was a great credit to the household names of the sport to maintain the top places. This helps to keep competition at a very high standard when every fancier will be endeavouring to do better than this. At this point he took the opportunity to congratulate Tommy Harper on what must be called an exceptionally fantastic season and on behalf of the fancy he wished him much success in the future.

Mr Boyle who is Chairman of the NIPA had just returned from an RPRA meeting in Cheltenham made two further points. Firstly, he said the Blackpool Olympiad to be held in January 1977 would attract many overseas visitors and would be a great exhibition. To have sufficient funds the RPRA at the minute have on sale ballot tickets to cover such an occasion, and he asked all fanciers to give it their support through their clubs.

Secondly, he mentioned inflation and stated that if the NIPA were to remain the biggest organisation in the British Isles and one of the greatest in the world, membership would have to be increased. Old age pensioners should be helped where possible through their clubs and new members and school boys should be coaxed to participate and be made welcome.

Sam Quigley from Londonderry thanked the club for his second invite and wished then every success. The final word was left with the Secretary Tommy Harper and he said of his own success that luck was with him. The birds he raced were the same as the previous season and if anything, his success at club level in 1975 was greater. On a word to novice’s, he said the road to the top was hard but to remain there was even harder. Finally, as he stated at the beginning of the year the time had come for the club to be led by a younger and more energetic man. He had been Secretary from 1964 and was ready to give up active duties within the club. In the dance that followed members heard and enjoyed songs from Sammy Smyth and Davy Campbell.

The NIPA trophy winning list has just been published and this column would like to congratulate the local winners. G F Whiteside Cup (2nd Arklow Old Bird) won by E Maternaghan & Son Ballymena. Dickson Trophy (Best Ave Okehampton & 1st Wexford Young Bird) won by Campbell & Francey Harryville. Waring Cup (Best Ave all Derbies), McCluggage Cup (Best Ave all channel races), Erwin Cup (Best Ave 3 Derbies), Devine Memorial Trophy (Best 2 Bird Ave OB Derby) all won by J W & T Harper Ballymena. Fanciers are reminded the Ballymena & District dinner will be held in the Adair Arms this Saturday evening 7 o’clock.

We long remember the good fun racing with the Ballymena based New North Flying Club and run for a lifetime by one of the greatest racers in Ireland the late Tommy Harper. Those were the days. 

Tommy McLean. INFC Champion Fancier by Milne Mairs


Tommy McLean with his INFC trophies

One the most difficult Championships to win in the British Isles is that of the Irish National Flying Club whose race programme consists of six races, two each from Ireland, England, and France. Four of these races are for Old Birds starting with Skibbereen on the South West corner of Ireland, a 270- mile fly to those at the furthest end of the North Section. This race point is also the location for the last of the six with the season's Young Birds facing the same journey. Second up is the Yearling National from Sennen Cove at the tip of Cornwall, which has got to be the most exposed race point in South road racing in the British Isles, situated as it is on an Atlantic coast in Cornwall. 150 miles of open sea to the nearest point on the Irish mainland awaits these pigeons once the transporter flaps drop, with wind direction and weather playing a huge part in the result of this race. The third race of the six is the big one, the King’s Cup, hundreds of fanciers in Ireland target this race each year, using their local club races as a training programme in an effort to win the biggest prize in Irish pigeon racing. Over the last number of year’s it has been flown from St Allouestre in Northern France, with measurements of around 370 miles for the shortest lofts right up to 535 miles to the longest flyer Eamonn Quigley up in Donegall. With the dividing line between the INFC South and North Sections being the Irish Border it's hard to believe that Eamonn has to race in the South Section. The final Old Bird race in the programme is the Friendship National also flown from France, with either Quimper or Lamballe used as the race point, flying distances around 30 miles shorter than the Kings Cup. The 5th race is the Young Bird Channel event from Penzance not too far from Sennen Cove, where basically the Young Birds are asked to fly the same race as the Yearlings with the same huge water jump. This race often turns out to be one that shatters the dreams of potential INFC Nat Champions if weather conditions are not perfect.

That then is what's involved in winning the Irish National Flying Club's Championship to become the Club's Fancier of the Year, and in 2018 the man who stepped forward to receive this award at the Club's Annual Dinner and Prize Distribution was Tommy McLean of Annaghmore.

The 2018 Championship kicked off from Skibbereen on 29th May when Tommy took a very respectable 58th North Section against 2,532 pigeons picking up a useful £133. From Sennen Cove Yearling National, a favourite race for a lot of fanciers being the best supported of any INFC cross channel race with 3,384 birds entered Tommy timed 3 pigeons to make the prizes, taking 26th, 49th and 126th. Top racing against a strong field of yearlings from a difficult race point, with winnings of £400. First bird home in this one was a Soontgen’s of Jim Newell breeding. Focus was now on the big one, the King's Cup, with an entry of 8 well prepared pigeons presented at the Waterloo Road marking station on the outskirts of Lisburn. No race generates the buzz of excitement quite like the King's Cup as fanciers come and go throughout the afternoon, and many acquaintances are renewed as men from Cork to Derry make their annual pilgrimage to the excellent facilities at the equestrian centre. Whilst some of the more distant men may amalgamate to transport, for a number of members, there are those who prefer to travel many miles with maybe only a single pigeon in their basket. When the last bird was put through 2,826 pigeons were heading South to France and 674 fanciers started to dream the dream. Liberation took place on Friday 6th July at 8.30 am some 2 hours later than would have been expected, the reason being poor visibility on the French coast due to fog. With otherwise good conditions it was expected that some pigeons would make home on the day, but this was not to be with none recorded as darkness fell. Alarm clocks started ringing pretty early in pigeon land the next morning, much to the annoyance of wives and partners I'm sure, but hey this race was still there to be won. Tommy was in the garden at 5.00am and with the ETS on decided to take his young birds a toss leaving a neighbour to keep an eye out for any arrivals. Returning from the toss there was still nothing home including the young birds, so he went into the house for a minute or two coming back out just after 8.00am to be told the young birds had just arrived but one of them had gone around the corner to the big loft. On checking the ETS Tommy discovered a King's Cup bird recorded and found a Cheq Pied hen on the floor. He had heard on the grapevine that there had been a bird recorded a few miles short of his loft shortly after 7.00am so knew the Pied Hen wouldn’t beat that, but didn’t have to wait too long to find out that he had finished well up in the result.

The hen was sent in tremendous condition with her first flights just showing, and his good friend Gary Benson had picked her out as the one that might do well. Being someone who has 2 Hall of Fames and 3 NIPA Silver Medals Gary knows a good distance pigeon in form when he sees one, and he was spot on with his assessment of this hen. Lightly raced having only flown 2 inland races and Talbenny in South Wales she was then given plenty of training prior to the King's Cup which proved to be just the right amount of work, to take 2nd Open in the race with only 72 pigeons timed in three days. This was Tommy's, best ever King's Cup result and the hen was named “Tammi's Girl” after his Granddaughter. Although he didn’t time any more birds in race-time all his 8 entries were home within a week which was good going, as the majority of fanciers had no returns.


Tommy's granddaughter Tammi with Cups

Tommy first started in pigeons back in 1970s moving to his present address in 2006 where he has a great garden area beside his bungalow to house the birds in a range of lofts including one that is divided into individual breeding pens. Set in the orchard County of Armagh the rural aspect is excellent for pigeons and they exercise freely out over the surrounding countryside. The main base of his team are, Walkingshaw Irish long distance, Busschaert, Soontjens and some Dutch long distance pigeons that have seen him only fail to clock from France one year since 2006, which is a tremendous record considering many of the really bad races we have experienced over that period. For 2021 the stock loft has been enhanced by a number of new distance pigeons, and having handled some of them have to say I have never seen so many top quality breeding couples all in the same loft. They are quality with a capital Q, smashing pigeons that I'm sure will keep the McLean name to the fore in French Nationals.

A team of around 50 stock birds are kept with 150 racers currently housed which are raced on both roundabout and natural systems with a great deal of success as results would imply.

Natural Old birds are hopper fed with the roundabout team getting a measured amount twice daily, and young birds also fed morning and night, the feeding being supplied by Frazer’s Feeds of Banbridge, who are race sponsors for the King's Cup. As well as loft flying the birds are road trained cocks one day, hens the next, which would see both sexes down the road at least twice a week.

The main loft houses a team of distance pigeons as good as any you are likely to find anywhere in Ireland, and the one containing approx.. 24 individual breeding pens is full of pigeons that would grace any loft in the country. The lofts all have a front section with wire grid floors and rippled obscure perspex covering the roof and front which allows plenty of fresh air to blow through whilst keeping rain out, and the pigeons are wintered in these sections on vee perches.

LoftRound    LoftYB

The McLean Roundabout loft                                                                          The Young Bird loft of Tom McLean

The breeding of Tammi's Girl is an interesting story in which I, unbeknowingly at the time, played a small part despite the fact I had never met Tommy. In 2014 the NIPA St Malo National turned out to be a hard race, won Incidentally by a neighbour of Tommy’s namely Hector Cordner ,who timed the only pigeon on the day just after the hours of darkness. This meant the bird received the opening time of 4.30am the following morning which was good enough to win the Open. At 5.56am that morning I clocked a Cheq. Pied Hen to finish 6th Open when only 103 pigeons were home by the end of the third day.


Tommy with ''Tammi's Girl'' 2nd Open in Kings Cup

About a month later Gary Benson called with me to collect some perches I had made for him, and in conversation I mentioned that I was going on holiday to visit one of my daughters who lived at that time in Bicester near Oxford. Gary offered to look after the birds while I was away and I told him to bring a ring down as the Pied Hen had just hatched a single egg mated to her own son, and he could have the young bird. This he did and the youngster turned out a striking Dark Pied Cock which was loaned to Tommy 2 years later in 2016 to Sire the 2nd Kings Cup pigeon.

Sometime previously Tommy also acquired the loan of ''Malconey's Dream '' a Red Cock that had won the INFC 2006 Kings Cup R & S Malcolmson. This pigeon had changed hands a couple of times for considerable four figure sums and was then owned by Maurice Weir of Loughgall for whom he had stopped filling eggs. With the cock 12 years old and in very-poor health Maurice brought him to Tommy to see if he could do anything for it, with the proviso that if he could get the old cock back to some sort of good health Tommy could have the loan of the bird for a season. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth as they say, Tommy set about bringing the cock into good enough condition to run it with one of his top stock hens, a double g.dtr of ''Adam'' a pigeon that had won two Welsh Nationals. This mating took place in an individual breeding box to eliminate the chance of a third party being involved, and low and behold a little over a month later came the hoped for sight of egg shells by the side of the nest bowl, with one of the two young birds in that bowl, a Cheq Pied Hen, going on to be the Dam of Tammi's Girl. Maybe the company of this younger female put a spring in the old fella's step, this along with Tommy's instant ardour concoction certainly did the trick. So, Tammi's girl has 1st INFC Messac National and 6th NIPA St Malo National for grand-parents, certainly bred for the job.


Tommy holds dam of ''Tammi's Girl

Buoyed by that great King's Cup result Tommy put together a team of 7 pigeons for the Friendship National a week later, with an entry of 900 birds liberated at 6.30am in Lamballe on 13th July. Less than 20 of these pigeons made home on the day in another very tough race, with some of the shorter lofts flying less than 350 miles. Once again, he was right up there with the leaders taking 7th Open in the race won by N Black & Son of Dromara, arguably Ireland's top distance loft. Tommy timed a yearling Pied Cock of Ken Hine breeding, and also, clocked a 2year old to take 84th in a race where approx. 120 pigeons made home in race time. Following his King's Cup result this performance was the icing on the cake as far as French Nationals were concerned, and thoughts of becoming National Champion were beginning to be a possibility.

Race 5 of 6 took place on the 9th of September with 1,326 young birds liberated at 7.45am in Penzance. The INFC YB National Penzance is a race that has seen the birdage drop significantly over the last number of years following some very disappointing returns when weather conditions were less than perfect, but despite proposals for change of race point the majority have voted to retain Penzance. Tommy wasn't going to miss the opportunity of having a real go at becoming National Champion and filled the entry sheet with 20 of his best young birds. Knowing that this race could leave you with an empty clock no matter how many you send, I'm sure the sight of his first bird sweeping onto the landing board in good time brought great satisfaction and maybe a certain amount of relief. Flying 301 miles making a velocity of 1201ypm this young bird of Starview Busschaert x Gary Benson breeding kept Tommy right on track taking 16th Open, and was followed home by two others to take 50th and 67th a very satisfying result. Last race of the season was Skibbereen YB National and although he didn't make the Open result his velocity was good enough to give him the best average over all races to become INFC Nat Champion Fancier for 2018.

Over the years the name Tom McLean of Annaghmore has been one that appears on the result sheet of the big races with great regularity, so it should come as no surprise what he achieved in 2018. A look through the INFC results show many top performances especially from the hard channel races. Yearling National, 2016..52nd, 2017...9th, 2018...26th & 49th, 2019...58th. King's Cup, 2017...31st, 2018...2nd, 2019...115th. Friendship National, 2012...8th, 2015...43rd, 2016...104th, 2018...7th & 84th, 2019...11th, 22nd, 42nd. YB Channel National, 2018...16th...50th...67th, 2019...6th...26th...91st. Add to that he has won an INFC Triple Crown Award for a pigeon winning Open prizes in the Penzance YB Nat., Sennencove Yearling Nat and King's Cup in consecutive years, a difficult award to win with some years no winners at all. In fact he was the first INFC North Section fancier to win this award when he timed his good Blue Hen 'Jamie's Girl' in 2009. I won't go into his club results racing with the NIPA Annaghmore Club whose members have won 14 Nationals between them, but Tommy has topped the Open from Penzance, winning the Penzance Classic in the process.

The 2020 INFC season was written off by the dreadful Corona Virus that left the organisation unable to race-mark for any of the proposed races, so fingers crossed we will get back to normality in 2021 when I expect the name Tom McLean of Annaghmore to once again be up there with the best of them when it comes to National results. Tommy has also joined the growing number of Irish fanciers who intend to fly with the BICC in 2021, the intention being to compete in races that would see the pigeons fly around 600 miles to his loft. Good luck to him and all the other local fanciers on that venture.

Finally, Tommy is very appreciative of the support of his wife Pamela and their four daughters, all of whom he speaks highly of, and his Facebook page shows photos of the whole family enjoying his big night at the 2018 INFC Prize Night presentation. Milne Mairs PO 

HOMER. Willie Reynolds

Tel/Fax: (028) 256 44683

Mobile: 07538 238364

Twitter: willie reynolds@homerbhw>

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