"On the banks of the Lee"
'Joe Freyne, a Leeside legend.'
Joe Freyne with his 3 International winners
Joe (Josser) Freyne was born on baker's road, Gurranabraher in Cork city in the year of 1959. Joe or Josser as he is fondly known to many is one in a family of ten children. Big families were a common feature in these times and in reality, they are something of a rarity in today’s world. The Freyne family is made up with an equal ratio share of 5 boys and 5 girls, Michael the eldest of the boys, William, Joe, Patsy and Martin and the girls namely Noreen, Kay, Sheila, Marie and Veronica. Joe being the 6th child born to his parents Michael and Sheila. Joe's family are steeped in tradition and the name Freyne is renowned not just in the county of Cork but throughout this great land and beyond. In the earlier years the Freyne family were cattle dealers with Joe's grandfather steering the reigns. The business was based in the famous village of Blackpool across from the old Glen hall. The area of land behind the business was known and is still remembered by many as the Pole field. Like a lot of things throughout life the Pole field now exists only in one's memory bank as it has long been banished to the history books being replaced by more modern industry. The cattle game was no easy trade but it was a way of life and with cattle bought in for Horgan’s many hours were spent rounding them up and in those times they would then be coerced down along Coburg Street and down for the boats to be shipped out. Pigs were also part of the family furniture. Joe's father Michael also did his trade learning the cattle game but in time moved on to work for the famous Goulding’s fertilisers. Michael was also a sports enthusiast and enlisted himself upon our native sport of hurling. Michael hurled many a sliotar playing with the famed club Glen Rovers known in Gaeilge as 'Fànaithe an Ghleanna'. Joe reminisced through his memory of the great times his father would be in the company of the likes of the legendary great Sonny Buckley. Great memories of great times! Joe's mother Sheila Freyne was herself from a family of three and was a native of Blarney Street, Cork city, a very famous area of Cork and being within walking distance of the city centre. Sports were also ingrained on this side of the family with Sheila's father playing for Sundays well. At the young age of just seven years old Joe's introduction to racing pigeons would begin. The main reason Joe got interested in pigeons is mainly down to one man. This gentleman is the great Cork pigeon fancier Mr. Sèamus O' Hare. Winding back the clock temporarily we return now to times gone by. Not too far from where Sèamus currently resides it all began. Sèamus living in the flats at the time wasn't long in the birds and before long a young 7-year-old Joe along with Seamus's brother in law would become frequent visitors. Joe's fascination was growing on a daily basis and his enthusiasm, desire and love for the birds unquestionable. Sèamus embraced his young understudy and immediately put young Joe under his wing. After only a few short seasons had past one of Joe's greatest memories would be upon him. Believing it to be in the year 1969, the young pigeons were liberated in Swansea for a cross water channel race which in turn turned out to be a real disaster with poor weather made up of rain and fog setting in. Unfortunately, no birds were to make it home on the day of liberation. After an uneasy night the morning would emerge but also emerging once more were the damp and foggy conditions to dampen down any resurfaced spirit. The fog on that particular morning was so dense that the outside perimeter railings were no longer visible. With that Sèamus decided he wanted to go to mass leaving his understudy Joe on duty. Joe excitedly continued to watch out and his perseverance was to reward him. Suddenly and out of nowhere a little flicker came over the flats and with that a blue & white young bird hen was on the landing board. A sudden surge of adrenaline and excitement was to come over young Joe and he would duly clock in for the very first time. The story doesn't end here for this was just the beginning. Little did they know at the time, but this blue & white young bird would later go on to be the mother/Dam of a very special pigeon, Lerwick Colleen. It was nine years later in the year of 1978 a blue hen now named Lerwick Colleen was to break the records for Sèamus & John O' Hare. Brother John had a big say in the decision to send the hen whom having flown Thurso over 500mls three times previously this was a hen that had already shown massive endurance, stamina and heart but she wasn’t finished yet. She was duly prepared once more, set up and sent for the mammoth task ahead. It takes an incredible pigeon to fly from Thurso on the northern edge of Scotland down into Cork lying on the southern edge of Ireland but to take on Lerwick is an even more daunting challenge where very few will prevail. Lerwick is roughly a distance of 636 miles fly into Cork city a challenge to say the least. Lerwick is based in the Shetland islands well over 100 miles north of Scotland. At 11.04am on the Sunday morning after 21 hours 4 minutes on the wing a piece of history was made and a special blue hen had earned both her place and her name in the history books, Lerwick Colleen. This particular race in 1978 was as hard as they get with the very best Thurso birds from previous years all falling to its mercy. As time went on Joe now a young man was to be meet Carmel his best friend and on the 27th of March 1981 would be married. Soon after a family of their own was to commence in which was complemented by a daughter Yvonne and a son Gary who are now both grown up and have in turn have blessed the family further with four grandchildren. Pigeons continued to play a big part in Joe's life along with his other passion 'the drag'. The drag dogs were always a part of the family too and the connection with the dogs goes back to the earlier years when Father Michael worked in Goulding’s out in Blackpool where there were many doggy men connected. Joe himself joined the Clogheen harriers in around 1967 and from there never looked back winning five international races altogether up to now. The dogs that are responsible for these fabulous victories are known to all as 'Not now man' (senior & puppy international), Not now Norman, Jack the lad and Not now Kato. Moving on and getting back to the pigeons, for a couple of seasons Joe opted to fall in so to speak with fellow fancier the great Paddy Hickey who now resides in Youghal east Cork which is another hotbed for pigeon racing. Joe fondly recalled the story of the 4 yr old Mosaic hen who went on to be clocked in from Perth in Scotland. Paddy had originally got the hen via Tom Cahill who is without doubt is another legendary Leesider. We should stop for a momentary pause to absorb a very simple fact; Cork has over the years and still has today a vast array of very committed and talented fanciers with an abundance of characters throughout. The Mosaic hen was both a consistent and a game hen. In the build up to the Scottish races the hen was prepared for Ballycastle one of the longest inland race points from a Cork perspective. Training consisted of 6 tosses from a place called Hospital in the county of Limerick. She didn't let them down taking 1st club 3rd fed. The focus for Joe and paddy quickly shifted and all eyes were now focused on the Perth race from across the channel in Scotland. In preparing the hen she was made up by leaving her on overnight duty with a young bird and removing her the following morning. Again, once more she wasn't going to leave them down and with very few birds timed the Mosaic hen was clocked in the following morning to win the club again. On that occasion fed honours went to mallow another historical pigeon town with some phenomenal flyers all down through the years. Joe sharing some of his golden memories of his younger years when the fancy would gather at Michael Dennehys stores known to many as Michael Dennattis.The Dennehy family are a very well-known family in Cork from both a business and a sporting perspective. Joe also reminisced upon the days when he was young lad and would help with the process of loading the pigeon baskets onto the carriage of the train, how things have changed! Now to shed some light on Joe Freyne the modern-day man. Today Joe continues on with great enthusiasm and purpose looking forward to all aspects of the season from the selection in Winter right through to the basket. Joe loves to relax amongst his flock and firmly believes that getting a few birds home is the main thing. Joe's flock is mainly made up of the great Walkinshaw bloodlines and a great strain of pigeons they are proven to be. Joe's family of racers are housed separately with the old bird team residing in a 10ft x 5ft timber loft and the young bird team taking the 12ft x 5ft loft. Joe uses an old-style sputnik and it does its job exactly to suit Joe's requirements. ETS is the method of timing used here and Joe finds it very beneficial indeed in this the modern world. A small but tidy team of birds are kept with only around 12 or 13 pairs of old birds in entirety. No stock prisoners are kept with the basket being key to the future at all times. A young bird team of less than 30 would be considered a typically normal season in the Freyne lofts. The breeding season normally commences around Valentine's Day on the 14th of February. For the weeks ahead Joe will have nature on his side and that comes in the way of natural daylight. The pigeons are exercised freely twice daily, and Joe likes to scrape out the loft on each occasion. Old birds are required to rear one nest of young birds and after that are placed on the roundabout system. The roundabout system is in operation until the birds have reached around the two-hundred-mile mark. After this goal or target is reached the birds are then repaired for the water races that soon follow. Feeding is relatively straightforward feeding lightly for short races and heavy for long races with the feeding adjusted according to the distance increase or decrease. Joe prefers the distance racing with the preparation involved and the excitement being second to none. North to Scotland is the preferred choice of direction in these lofts but although some south road racing is carried out also. In fact, in 2016 Joe timed a fabulous blue cheq yearling ck from the south road race point Bude to be a respectable 9th open Bude old bird National(ihunfc) with nearly 1,300 pigeons competing in the race. Young birds are flown out once a day and they are practised on the darkness system as Joe feels to compete with young birds it is an absolute necessity. Joe insisted not too have it too dark and to also make sure that you do the system to suit yourself. Joe finds the times of 6.30pm in the evening until 8.30am next morning are the hours that suit his own lifestyle best at the present time. Linebreeding is the main way in these lofts but with the exception of an odd cross in or even sometimes where a little bit of inbreeding is deemed necessary to strengthen the blood again. Joe's preferred type of pigeon would be of medium size with a strong back along with strong constitution. Eyesign is not really considered a belief but Joe likes to see a nice rich eye. No quarter is given with regards to training and the pigeons both young and old are expected to train hard up to the forty-mile point. Young birds are kept a close eye on, and a few are known to be withdrawn early in the races with the following season always being considered. If possible, a few young birds will be kept on the wing racing until at least Dundalk if possible. Joe was quick to inform me that from his own personal point of view he is not a particular lover of late bred youngsters. Joe likes to bath the pigeons once a week and with that bath salts are added on a regular basis. Another old natural remedy Joe likes to use is buttermilk and from October onwards it is given to help aid the birds through the moult. Plenty of rest follows for the birds and are only given their liberty once a week during the Winter which can be a hazardous time with the ongoing bird of prey problem which is there all year round. Joe personally has concerns of the clear blue sky when it comes to birds of prey feeling the risk is much higher at this time. Upon asking Joe about a possible loss of form during the racing season and how he would respond to it he insisted that if the health is ok then he would simply give them a rest. To aid the birds naturally Joe finds that honey is of great use and gives it to the birds regularly. Another would be the Dandelion stating they are of great benefit and the pigeons head out to the fields in search of these specifically. Generally speaking, other than something being amiss nothing else other than plain water is used at all times. As we approach the final chapter, I asked Joe the following questions?
Gary Freyne with Not Now Paris
Question. What would your advice be for a novice?
Answer. Look for the best fanciers in the area and try get a few young birds, late breds or eggs.
Joe & Carmel Freyne
Question. Would you like to see anything change in the sport?
Answer. Yes, I would love to see all the fanciers in Cork come together and race together. For me it's not about money but to see the pigeons come home.
Question. Who from within the sport would you like to thank?
Answer. I have many friends in the sport and too many too mention but I would like to especially thank Sèamus & John O'Hare. I would also like to thank Michael Crean for his help over the years, Billy McCarthy who every year bred ybs for me, Pat Horgan, Thomas Murphy, Barry long & Long family, Georgie Busteed, the members of North West club and all the pigeon fraternity throughout the city and beyond. I must also take this moment to mention a very special person and that is my wife Carmel because with my health i could never manage without her help.
Question. What is your fondest memory in the sport?
Answer. No doubt it would have to be Lerwick Colleen flying 636 miles for Sèamus and John O'Hare. The O'Hare's and Lerwick Colleen still hold this record into Cork.
Upon closing this article, I would like to thank Joe for his time and I would also like to take this opportunity to wish Joe and his family all the very best of health and happiness for the future.
Cork Coat of Arms
North Cathedral and Shandon
Not Now Cato, Damien Wade and Gary Freyne
Another terrific fancier Michael John O'Sullivan & Joe Freyne with their show winners