CORK PREMIER R.P.C.
"The Wizard of Wicklow"
Upon the eastern shorelines of Ireland and lying just south of our capital city is the magnificent blue and yellow county of Wicklow . Famed for it's dramatic beauty, Wicklow's abundance of scenery along with the sense of peace and tranquillity would literally take one's breath away. The dynamic and vast Wicklow mountains and valleys are just a sample of the treasures this magnificent county has to offer.
Approximately 2 miles outside of Wicklow town is a place known as Silver Strand, it is in this unique place that another of Wicklow's treasures can be found, this is where you will find the great Liam McCall. Liam was born into the world in the year of 1948 to parents Mary and Jim McCall. Liam has one sibling in a sister named Imelda. Having a perfectly normal childhood Liam grew up and would eventually fly the nest by way of meeting Gertha his best friend and now wife of 44 years. During these years a family of 3 sons James, Noel and Keith along with a daughter named Wendy have been reared. In regards to pigeons Liam made me aware and wanted to acknowledge that his son Noel a dairy farmer himself was always at hand to help him if and when help was required with the birds and this also applied equally to daughter Wendy. Liam laughingly went on to tell me about Noel's love for a particular white pigeon once upon a time but unfortunately when the white pigeon disappeared so did Noel!. Liam McCall was a hardworking man all his life being employed at the local builder providers, as a matter of fact I was surprised to hear that Liam enjoys the job so much that he still does a short day here and there, fair play Liam. Residing upon the Silver Strand everything is completely natural being surrounded by sheep men and the continuous smell of slurry that fills the air. Liam's love affair with pigeons began like so many others .i.e. young lads and stray pigeons. Liam the fancier would soon emerge, and the moulding of a legend had begun. In 1971 Liam's racing days would commence flying on the north road and Liam was quick to remark and acknowledge that the birds were reliable and hadn't the obstacles back then that they do today. Holding his own Liam was to have great success from the Scottish race points such as Girvan, Newpitsligo, etc. The National average was won for a couple of years and that in itself was no mean feat. Racing was done with the Irish North Road National Flying club/ Eire National and on one special occasion Liam's wife Gertha was to time in two hens to be 2nd and 3rd open Thurso winning the 2 -bird average and the famous Dan Keneally Cup. In 2002 Liam would turn his attention from the North road to the South road and adapt he did, in fact he adapted in style. A worthwhile observation to take note of is in 2003 Liam would also win the INFC Harkness rose bowl 2 - bird average from Messac in France an achievement done by very few if any at all. Another worthwhile observation was in that Messac race Liam went on to time 3 pigeons and 2 of these pigeons had previously been timed from Thurso in Scotland, food for thought. The Messac race was an extreme hard race and no birds were timed on the day. The following day Liam was to clock his dark Cheq 4 year old hen to be 1st club, 13th open. Soon to follow was his 5 year old mealy cock taking 2nd club, 16th open. The next day being the 3rd day and again with nothing being timed on the first day Liam would again smile when his third pigeon a red Cheq cock would arrive to take 20th open, there were only 21 birds in race time. This 3rd pigeon was to become a once in a lifetime pigeon, following his 20th open position from Messac in 2003 he would in 2004 be timed again taking 13th open on the day and to top it all off the following year in 2005 the red cock would again be timed on the day being 25th open and in that winning Liam a hall of fame award, an incredible achievement and honour. This great red cock is known as Red Laddie. In 2014 the name of Liam McCall would once again be to the forefront winning the IHUNFC St. Malo National race flying 13 hours on the wing, not content with that Liam was to come back even stronger in 2015 and in a two week period was to win 1st open IHUNFC National Penzance and two weeks later went back to St. Malo to again triumph flying 8 and a half hours and for the second year running winning the St. Malo National. This 2015 St. Malo National winner is named after Liam's precious granddaughter Chloe and no the story doesn't end here! Chloe would become the pigeon that has now put Liam’s name in the history books forever. In 2016 Chloe was sent to St. Alloustre in France with the I.N.F.C. and was to return out of race time.
In 2017 Liam being persistent felt she was again ready and prepared Chloe for the St. Alloustre race once more, she was certainly not to disappoint, Chloe was to fly her heart out with a performance of a lifetime to win one of the most sought after trophy on the Island of Ireland. i.e. the King's cup with the I.N.F.C with the added bonus of also winning the single bird challenge.
Liam & Gertha McCall
Everything at the McCall lofts is done as natural as is possible and certainly no overcrowding is tolerated here. 70 birds are wintered, this including stock and old birds together and an average maximum of 30-40 young birds are normally reared for racing. These teams are kept in a tidy well ventilated double decker timber loft measuring 30 ft in length and are comprised of 3 sections, one for young birds and the other two for the old birds. Stock are kept mainly by way of retired racers and a total of roughly only 4-5 pairs are kept. All birds [stock and old bird race team] are mated in late February sometimes with maybe a week between them if need be or is more suitable to Liam himself. All birds are vaccinated on a yearly basis as is the norm and everything is kept as simple as can be in these lofts. On enquiring about the little things like grit ,minerals etc, Liam stated that he felt these were very important and all are links in the chain and would every now and then add some garlic or apple cider vinegar. Liam is not a deep litter fancier and his preferred choice is to scrape out the lofts daily. Birds are bathed on a weekly basis which is so beneficial to the birds. Another notable feature is that no artificial lights are used in these lofts, life for the McCall pigeons revolves around the rising of the sun in the east until it sets in the evening on the western front.
The following are a series of questions that I also put to Liam on the day which I’m certain will help many, many fanciers going forward, here goes...
Q1. Who would be one of your biggest influences throughout your life in pigeon racing?
Ans. Ronan and Connaire McVeigh having met father Ronan in the 1980's, my 2014 St. Malo winner is also bred via the McVeigh blood. I also loved reading about the distance and learning from the old stock long ago.
Q2. Do you breed off your race team and if so how many?
Ans. A couple are taken from the chosen few performance pigeons and I might float a couple also.
Q3. Do you put hens with ybs when weaned off?
Q4. Do you believe in eyesign?
Ans. I have no real opinion on it.
Q5. Are your birds allowed much free time?
Ans. If I’m at home there out!
Q6. What type of mixtures do you use for breeding/racing/moulting?
Ans. Breeding mixture is used mostly with a bit of gerry plus, homoform and some layers poultry pellets which Liam feels gives them softer feather.
Q7. Do you measure by spoon or hopper feed?
Ans. I hand feed and they always get enough. In winter moulting mixture and some malting barley is added.
Q8 What strain of pigeons are kept?
Ans. My own family of old lines which I blended together and some snootjens which I feel fly well to Penzance.
Q9. How many weeks do you think a pigeon can hold its form whilst racing?
Ans. 2-3 weeks cycle depending on the nesting conditions.
Q10. If your birds lost form during the racing season what would you do to try and get them going again?
Ans. I'd make sure they were clean for health worms ,canker , resp, etc and also to have patience and just keep on top of it in general.
Q11. Would you give the birds anything in particular on return from a race?
Ans. Electrolytes, conditioner/small seeds.
Q12. Do you breed off your best racers after the season is over?
Ans. Yes I breed from the birds that have flown France.
Q13. Regards breeding do you line breed, cross breed or best to best?
Ans. I breed best to best but I also try keep the old lines alive.
Q14. How far do you train your old/young birds?
Ans. 18 miles old and young and then onto the local transporter.
Q15. Do you keep young birds hungry or in a tight feeding routine etc?
Ans. A very light feed in the morning and as much as they want in the evening.
Q16. Do you have any theory regarding pigeons back, wing, eyes etc?
Ans. They have to handle well and be solid.
Q17. What was Chloe's preparation last year in getting her ready for the king's cup race which she won?
Ans. Chloe had four land races, 2 Skibbereen’s and 2 Barleycoves - 189 miles and then flown around the house for 3 weeks with short tosses prior to the race. Extra hemp, homoform and pellets are used at this stage also.
Q18. Picking a pool pigeon what would you look for?
Ans. Previous form.
Q19. How far do you race your yearlings and young birds?
Ans. Yb's get 4 races and I like to get the yearlings to Sennen Cove for the Yearling National with the I.N.F.C.
Q20. Which route do you prefer North or South?
Ans. In today’s world it's South.
Q21. If you had advice for a novice what would it be?
Ans. Not to build a big loft as the bigger the loft the more you will tend to keep and with a small team of birds good stock should tell if there in the right hands.[An ounce of breeding is worth a tonne of feeding].
Q22. Is there anything in the sport you would like to achieve that you haven't?
Ans. To win a Gold Medal.
Q23. Which part of the season do you enjoy most?
Ans. I enjoy the racing most, but the moulting is a very important time also for me.
Q24. Have you any other interests outside of pigeons Liam?
Ans. I love walking, gardening etc, I also one time used to play a lot of football/soccer with the local teams and some G.A.A. was also played.
Q25. Is there anyone in particular in the pigeon circle you would like to thank?
Ans. I must thank Ronan and Connaire McVeigh for their friendship over the years, we enjoy the banter and slagging ,long may it continue. I must also thank all the club members in the Wicklow South Road pigeon club. It is a very well run club and has a fantastic secretary in Eamonn O' Brien, Liam informed me jokingly that Eamonn is a great man to talk and he would have made a great Parish priest.[haha]
Liam and longtime friend Ronan McVeigh
Upon arriving at the concluding stage of this article I would firstly like to thank Liam for giving up his time in order to make this article happen. For me personally composing this article has been a real pleasure and an honour for such a genuine gentleman fancier. I hope that many, many fanciers can gain something from reading and understanding a little about one of Ireland's greatest fancier's, our very own Wizard of Wicklow - the great Liam McCall.