On the banks of the Lee
With the winter solstice now behind us, we can look forward once again to the gradual return of longer days. The weather in the 'real Capital' has been very mixed of late being cool for several days, then turning milder and unfortunately bringing with it plenty of moisture at times. Although it's nothing that we aren't used to, Spring will be most welcome indeed. If the last few years are anything to go by it probably won't be too long before the daffodils awaken once again. Most fancier's I would imagine will have any preparations or alterations to their lofts finished or in the process of being finished in anticipation of the season ahead. The winter, although not behind us yet by any means, I believe commands great dedication from the fancier because let's face it with the weather conditions we have i.e. the short, damp, and gloomy days it is a continuous endurance test in particular for the older generation so I am sure the extra daylight will be most appreciated.
Regardless of the climate, Cork always has plenty to offer if one is looking for somewhere to go or something to do. Recently or should I say more in the way of late Autumn I finally made an overdue visit down to see our very own Majestic Museum and I have to say a trip well worth making such was the fantastic display of history on offer and all this with no entry charge. If the Museum doesn't float your boat all you have to do is step out from within, for you will step out onto the spectacular grounds of Corks Fitzgerald's park. Fitzgerald's park is a public park, but I believe it must surely be rated up there amongst some of the best kept parks in the country or even Europe for that matter. The park is roughly about 12 acres in size and contains some fabulous features including a beautiful pond surrounded with a selection of bench chairs for people to sit and relax. The park also features a huge children's play area, cafe and a variety of spectacular greens containing an array of beautiful flowering giving both a tranquil and magical effect. All this beauty lies upon an area of Cork called the Maradyke, a famous part of Cork history.
Cork's Fitzgerald's park.
The Maradyke is a piece of Corkonian natural treasure and is more commonly known to many of us as the 'Dyke'. Geographically the 'Dyke' itself sits in a valley between two branches of our great river Lee. One branch of the river runs down through the side of the Dyke via Wellington bridge and down the north channel along by the Mercy hospital and out under the famous Christy Ring bridge and the other branch of the river runs down through what was and is known to many a fisherman as the ducks pond and continues through the UCC grounds, down the south channel along by where we use to call the old multi-channel and down Morrisons island towards the harbour. The 'Dyke' itself has several paths leading and linking the public into Fitzgerald's park and also across the famous Daly's bridge which is known to us all as the Shakey bridge.
Many thousands of students, parents, children and common folk cross the Shakey bridge every year to take advantage of the surreal facilities and amenities the park and the Maradyke has to offer. The Shakey bridge is a beautiful iron suspension bridge that links the public from the Maradyke across the river and onto Sundays well/Wellington road. The iconic footbridge is 160 feet in length and has a 4.5 ft timber planked walkway. It's official name Daly's bridge is taken from the Cork businessman James Daly who contributed to the cost of the bridge which was completed in the year of 1926. Over time the bridge picked up its nickname the Shakey bridge due to the continuous slight movement when walking or running across it. Many a Summer was spent making memories at the Shakey bridge be it with a rod and reel or a pair of swimming trunks either way, we had fun. As of late the bridge has been dismantled for some much-needed repair work to be completed. It's removal was a tedious operation but was perfectly executed in the end. I believe it is scheduled for the bridge to once again carry its passengers in April 2020.
Our own beautiful Shandon
Continuing on from the previous article and getting back to the pigeons I'd like to introduce to the reader's two of Corks very own brightest talents, namely Johnny O' Donovan and Stuart Murphy. Both are very talented fanciers who contribute and help to make this great sport what it is. Both also have the added advantage of having youth on their side and hopefully this youth can also contribute to the continuing existence of this great tradition as without youth there can be no future. Starting with Johnny Donovan, pigeon racing and fancying for Johnny was a natural process for its very simple, pigeon racing is in his blood. John being the son of another fantastic Cork fancier, James O' Donovan. A father and son partnership for a long time there could be no better education and schooling for young John. Father James flying a good pigeon down the years and is currently still very much one to watch out for and particularly the last few seasons where James's name would continuously pop up on a regular basis such was the form of his loft and credit to him. Pigeons without question are a way of life for the Donovan family.
A proud Johnny at his lofts with the hen in hand.
Young Johnny learned his trade flying in his father's company and like most do at some stage eventually Johnny would himself fly the nest and for the last four years has been flying on his own steam. Johnny to his credit has nicely settled his own family and his family of pigeons to their new location and once he got them going, he like his father is also one to watch, no surprises here. In amongst the loft Johnny has already in a relatively short space of time found a special little pigeon, the dark cheq hen. This dark hen has now flown the channel from Scotland into Cork 4 times. In 2018 after a gallant performance this hen was to make her mark for Johnny being clocked from Perth flying 375 MLS (roughly) to Cork city. The hen had given her all and to her credit took a 3rd federation for her efforts. This brave hen also has an 8th fed Girvan and 11th fed Mauchline to her credit. Once again in 2019 this game little warrior returned to the battlefield and showed her undoubted class being timed in again from Perth one of the all-time great Scottish race points. Scotland is still today a great challenge for all Irish fanciers and is especially challenging for the fanciers flying into the deep south down into Cork and its neighbouring counties. From what I can see and what I have seen, it is now a very different ball game so to speak in comparison to the days of long ago. It seems to be getting much harder to fly pigeons today not just from the channel races but the land races and training respectively.
Johnny Donovans dark cheq Perth hen.
With all the current day obstacles in front of the pigeons and the sport in general, when a good pigeon comes our way, I think we should try and enjoy every moment of it. Back to Johnny and on enquiring he informed me that on each occasion the dark cheq hen was sent to Perth, she was sent on a single young bird each time and while racing from Girvan and Mauchline she was sent on eggs. A game pigeon with a big heart. Next in line another fancier with hopefully a huge future in the sport, he is Stuart Murphy. Stuart resides in Knocknaheeny a place located up high on the Hills of Cork's Northside. To say Stuart is passionate about the pigeons would be an understatement for he is absolutely dedicated. Not just is Stuart committed but it's great to see that the bug has also spread to his daughter Saoirse. Saoirse has a keen interest in the birds and even has her own little loft in which she takes care of with great enthusiasm. Stuart himself loves all aspects of the sport but loves and accelerates when it comes to racing time. Although Stuart had a quiet season last time out, he is a definite darkhorse if the previous year is to be considered.
Stuart Murphy proudly holding his blue hen.
Saoirse tending to her loft.
Stuarts pigeons flew very consistently the previous season and right up to and including the channel races they were never to leave him down. One pair of birds in particular would reward him indeed. These were a pair of gay hens coupled to each other and were they happy! The first hen out of the pairing was coincidencely another dark cheq hen, this hen went on to deliver a super result for Stuart and after flying her heart out from the channel she was recorded to win 1st Fed Mauchline flying 301mls from the Scottish race point into Cork city. The second of the pair is a fabulous blue hen, on enquiring Stuart informed me this blue hen was flown in every training toss and every race all the way to Mauchline. Indeed, she did not to let him down even when the water came into view.
Stuarts dark cheq winning hen from Mauchline.
The blue hen was recorded on the same day as his winner and was to be his second bird home to record 20th fed Mauchline. Both hens were sent sitting on the same pair of chipping eggs which were slipped in under another hen while awaiting their return.
The man who bred these two hens was a legendary character, he was the late great Cork pigeon fancier Mr. Thomas Crean. Thomas gifted Stuart some pigeons before he sadly passed away and boy did, they do him a turn! Thomas Crean was a great fancier in his day flying a great pigeon out of Scotland and also flying Thurso and winning it to top it off. Outside Lerwick, Thurso averaging 500mls into Cork city was and still is the ultimate of races to compete in for most Scottish channel enthusiast's. Thomas was an absolute gentleman and was widely known in all circles via birds ,dogs etc. He will always be fondly remembered and greatly missed, may he R.I.P
On a final note I would like to thank both Stuart and Johnny for their assistance and I have no doubt we will be hearing a lot more about these two fanciers in the future.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy & healthy New Year for 2020, Roll on the spring........