NEWS FROM SCOTLAND
The Murphy Family Affair
My dad kept pigeons nearly all his life and I remember as a small boy in Dundee him showing me a ‘bill board’ at the end of a block of houses and he informed me that is where his pigeon loft used to be. We moved to Fife in 1952 as he obtained work in the coal mines and we were given a new 3-bedroom house in Kennoway. It took him a while to get the back garden sorted out as it was just a field of mud, but once fixed he built a small loft in the garden and obtained birds from his brother in law. At that time the pigeon club was a shed at the back of the Sunbeam Pub and even at the age of 7 or 8-year-old I was allowed to go on the ringer and this became my job during the season. At that time there were other boys about my age helping out at the club; Bill Mitchell, Norrie Smith, the Honeyman brothers. Once race marking was over the baskets were lifted onto the local coalman’s flatbed lorry and I along with some of the other young lads and older members of the club sat at the back of these baskets as we were taken to the railways station in Windygates about 3 miles away. Needless to say, we were covered in shaving from head to foot and once at the station we had to carry the baskets down the stairs to the platform and wait on the train coming. Methilhaven club members also brought their birds to the railway station and we all helped each other put the baskets into the waggons. On a Saturday morning I or my brothers had to go down to the local garage (they were the only ones who had a telephone) and wait on them putting up a note on the garage door; telling us the time the pigeons were liberated. There were times when after you got the news and went home the birds were already in the loft especially from short races in south west winds. I also remember at this time my dad had a red hen (my mother had red hair) and he called the pigeon ‘Dundee Jenny’ after her. This bird did them both proud as she won her fair share of the pools most weeks.
Joe, Kevin and Margaret Murphy
Break from the Sport
When I left school on Friday at 15 years of age the following Monday, I helped our next-door neighbour who cleaned shop windows in Cupar in Fife, and that very first day I noticed a sign in the Coop butchers window looking for an apprentice, so I went in and applied and got the job. When I went home at teatime and told my mum and dad that I had a job they could not believe it. However, as I had to work on a Saturday, that was the end of me being involved with my dad with the birds as I never got home till after 6pm and the race marking was over. I met my wife to be Margaret who worked as a Saturday girl in the baker shop next door and we married in October 1967. By 1969 I was working as a coal man delivering to houses throughout Glenrothes and one day a lady told me she had a pigeon coming about her garden. I managed to catch the bird and took it home and put it in my garden shed, (my son Mark’s toys and bike were moved to the other side and a wire partition was erected) I went over to my dad and got some food and a drinker for the pigeon. The next day when I came home from work Margaret was in the shed talking to the pigeon and had called it ‘Pigeonie’ she was so keen on keeping it that I went and got some late breds from my dad and his good friend Jim Slaven from Buckhaven and that was the beginning of my reintroduction into our sport. The stray belonged to someone from Wood Green in London not the famous Alf Baker I’m afraid. I flew in Glenrothes and Leslie club for the young bird’s season in 1970 winning a couple of soft tickets and we moved in December to Kennoway; and our 2nd son Kevin was born 3 weeks later.
A rather younger Joe Murphy
Husband and Wife Partnership
We joined the local pigeon club as Mr & Mrs Murphy as my dad was a member of the same club. We were competing against some top-quality fanciers and it was not until a few years later that we lost our novice status. Kevin’s introduction into the pigeon sport came at a young age as he was 3 years old when we all attended the Fife 3 Bird Championship Club young bird auction sale in Thornton. The fees for this club were £3 a year and this is all the money I had on me to pay for my fees. We sat and watched the auction and then the auctioneer shouts out ‘Sold Mr & Mrs Murphy for £3-50 pence’. I said, ‘No-No I never bought a pigeon’ and everyone was laughing, But Kevin had stuck his thumb in his mouth and the auctioneer saw this movement and thought it was a bid’. The next pigeon went for £14 (which was more than I earned for my week’s wages) so we left and went to Margaret’s parents borrowed the £3.50 and left the 2 boys with their grandparents. We had the last laugh though as this Dordin cock was bred by Charlie Scobie from Markinch and as a youngster he got lost. He returned on the very first old bird race the following year; he had never been into anyone and was moving with lice. He picked up and I entered him into a comeback race and again he did not home on the day. He returned and was given another chance and again went missing; this time returning at the start of the young bird’s season covered in oil. When I came in from work Margaret had him in the sink trying to get the oil off him. I said to her ‘What are you doing? She replied, ‘It is Kevin’s pigeon he came back covered in oil’. I replied, ‘Don’t waste your time just give it to me and I’ll dispose of it’. ‘No, it’s Kevin’s bird and I’m going to help it’. Needless to say, the birds were kept and had an excellent moult and the next year as a 2-year-old he turned into a ‘pigeon’. In 1975 he won 1st club Penrith; 3rd club Longtown; 6th club Longtown; 5th club Leyland; 9th club Worcester and flew SNFC Nantes 625 miles in race time. At this time, we had 4 pair of ‘show birds’ and I entered 5 of them plus Kevin’s Dordin cock to the Show of the Year in Doncaster he was in the flown 600-mile class. My total trip including hotel, bus, came to £11.00 and I won some soft tickets with our show birds, but Kevin’s cock won 5th in the 600-mile class and won £11.00 so paid for my trip. I had some great times with the Scottish Show Racer Society and both Margaret and I have happy memories of all these wonderful show fanciers. At this time my club mate Danny King and we decided to join the Scottish 1000 mile club and we joined the British Barcelona Club and entered into the Palamos race, which was 1026 miles back to our lofts in Fife. Danny sent 3 hens and we sent a red cock that had flown from Beauvais as a yearling. He managed to be the 13th bird home from Palamos into Scotland and Danny had two of his hens make it home (can’t remember their positions). I have included a photograph of a young Joe Murphy holding his Palamos red cock in 1976.
Joe Murphy with 1st Open National
Kevin would come out and help me in the loft from an early age like filling the bath for the birds, cleaning out the drinkers, scrapping the floor. I started to write in the BHW in 1976 as the local scribe as our area in the East of Fife as the local club winners did not receive any publicity and there were some outstanding fanciers in the area of Leven, Methilhaven and Kennoway clubs. At that time Margaret and I won 1st Fife federation 32nd east section 44th open SNFC Avranches from an entry of 5679 birds with our ‘White Headed Hen’. Her daughter ‘Beth’ won 1st club Fife federation Avranches 525 miles; the following year she won 1st club 30th east section 76th open Fife federation Weymouth 386 miles; then she won 1st club 3rd federation 31st east section 31st open SNFC Avranches after a 3-day holdover. Our chequer hen ‘Murphy’s Joy’ won 118th east section 211th open SNFC Falaise from an entry of 5967 birds, this same hen won 1st club 3rd federation 9th east section 10th open SNFC Nantes against an entry of 1872 birds flying a distance of 623 miles.
Kevin holding "Mystical Rose"
In 1983 I was contacted by the BBC to see if Kevin would participate in a documentary on racing pigeons for a programme called ’40 Minutes’. This was to involve the wonderful blind fancier Jed Jackson who won the Pau national with ‘Genista’ he was one of Kevin’s heroes. (We still have a copy of this on CD; you can see this on You Tube as Keith Mott has done a film on Jed Jackson). The following year we moved to a new house to Kirkcaldy as I was working in the mines and our two boys were both going to high school in Kirkcaldy. We had a lovely mealy hen ‘Sycamore Perfection’ who raced from Sartilly 7 times and won 75th 93rd & 96th open. In 1988 when Donaldson & Downie won the Nantes national we timed in a black white flight cock to win 14th open he was an egg from my good friend Wilson Noble of Fraserburgh being inbred to his champion ‘Black Rocket’ winner of 11th open SNFC Rennes from 663 miles after being 17 hours on the wing. By this time Kevin was as keen as mustard on the birds and when I got a job as an HGV class 1 driver, he virtually had to do all the work on his own and ‘I’ then became the 2nd partner helping out at the weekend. We changed the name to J Murphy & son, and you would have thought that as I travelled all over Scotland this would have been great for training the birds but alas it was not.
We had a good chequer hen that as a yearling was our sole entry into the Fife Federation Sartilly race and timed her at 22-45pm being on the wing for 16 ¾ hours to win 1st club 8th open Fife Federation Sartilly. I got a job as a miller in an engineering company and worked 2 nights overtime a week and sometimes on a Saturday morning. There were 2 other lads who worked with me both kept racing pigeons and the banter was ‘brilliant’. My zest was back into the birds and both Kevin and I put our heart and soul into doing well in the nationals. The above chequer hen was lost as a 2-year-old from the Gold Cup Rennes race, however she did turn up 3 weeks later not affected in condition or confidence and she still had her rubber ring on and had never been into anyone which pleased me no end. She had a good moult and paired up the next year and was back into the race team. We sent her to the Sartilly (1) national a distance of 515 miles and she won 1st club (only bird on the day 15 ¼ hours on the wing into a north west wind) she won 1st federation 1st section C 20th east section 83rd open from an entry of 3180 birds. She was then set down for the Sartilly (2) race and she again was timed at 09-41 in the morning to win 144th east section 236th open SNFC competing against 3673 birds. In 1992 I would get up at 03-30am and basket the birds and drive down to Jedburgh about 50 miles south and let the birds go for a trainer. Then back up the road and Kevin was already up and helped me with getting the loft ready and putting feeding down and changing the water prior to the birds coming home just after 7am. Then I was off to work, and Kevin did the chores at dinner time and flagged the team after his evening meal every night for an hour when I was working overtime. All this hard work paid off when our chequer hen whom Margaret named ‘Mystical Rose’ was again our main candidate for the first national but her mate died (believed poisoned). We tried to repair her but she was so aggressive and protective or her nest box and would not look at another cock. One evening while standing looking into the loft I noticed a young cock making up to her and when it was dark, I tried the cock in the box with her but left the door open. I anxiously returned to the loft early next morning to find the pair of them in the nest bowl and she laid on time to enable her to go the Sartilly national on her favoured nest condition 15-day eggs. We timed her just before 18-00 hours and she won 1st club 1st Federation 1st region C 1st east section and 1st open Sartilly (1) with 3292 birds competing doing a velocity of 1237 ypm. Other than the birth of our children this was our greatest day of our lives. I was often asked if she was going to go back in the nationals to win her Gold Award and the answer was always ‘No’. In 2019 I’m 72 years old and I’m proud and honoured to have been lucky enough to win a ‘Scottish National’ during my life time and this honour will stay with me for the rest of my days. Her sire was a red cock bred by Victor Lough of Dunbar being a son of ‘Tempo’ who scored 4 times in the SNFC; as a youngster he was 24th open Stafford 220 miles; 3rd open Dorchester 365 miles and 7th open SNFC YB national from Worcester 262 miles (all within 7 days) Tempo’s sire was ‘Champion Rhythm’ who won a SNFC Gold Award for 5 times a winner from the channel. The dam of ‘Mystical Rose’ was bred from a pair of eggs that John Bosworth of Elphinstone gave to Kevin when we visited his loft with 2 other fanciers. These were out of his 19th open SNFC Appledore winner. So, you will see that ‘Mystical Rose’ was ‘bred for the job’.
We had a fantastic year in 1992 as we won the ‘Fife Fanciers of the Year Award’ for our performances;
Dark chequer cock ‘Black Beauty’ won 84th east section 141st open Sartilly (1) 3292 birds. He was a son of the Wilson Noble cock winner of 14th open SNFC Nantes.
Chequer Cock ‘Rising Star’ 6th open Dorchester 2099 birds; 7th open Cheltenham yearling race; 39th east section 53rd open SNFC Rennes from an entry of 4501 birds. He was bred from a Bobby Carruthers hen a daughter of his SNFC Gold Award winner ‘4057’. ‘Rising Star’ sire was bred by Robert O Jones from Rosolven in Wales from his Lerwick family of pigeons.
A mealy cock named ‘Matt’ bred by Matt McLauchlan & son of Glencraig won 55th east section 75th open SNFC Rennes from an entry of 4501 birds. He was purchased as an empty pen at a young bird sale ( the McLauchlan partnership had won the best average East Section in the SNFC from ALL 5 national races ) The dam of ‘Matt’ was out of a hen bred direct from Jimmy & Jessie Keir & son’s ‘My Little Lady’ winner of 1st east section 4th open Rennes, The sire of ‘Matt’ was 2nd Fife Federation from Sartilly from a very hard race he is also the sire of 25th open SNFC Niort for the MacLauchlan’s.
Chequer hen ‘Lady Janet’ won 1st club 1st federation 1st region C 4th east section 5th open Sartilly (2) 2915 birds liberated at 08-30 into a fresh south west wind and we timed ‘Lady Janet’ at 19-42 pm. Her dam was bred by Billy Davidson & son of Coalburn being a direct daughter of their champion ‘Harry O’ winner of SNFC Gold Award when paired to a hen 913 who won 3 times in SNFC races. The sire of ‘Lady Janet’ was a full brother to Dennis Dall’s champion ‘Rowena’ winner of 1st open SNFC Niort 697 miles she won 5 times including flown Niort 3 times. We also timed in a late bred yearling red cock carrying 2 nest flights in each wing. He had been spare all year and 3 inland races then paired up to a daughter of ‘Rising Star’ with a nest on the floor at the side of the feeding bin. As I locked up the loft at night, I noticed this red cock on the perch and handled him he was ‘immense’ but was only a late bred so I put him back on the perch. The next morning when I went to the loft the red cock was covered in bloom displaying like he had a V neck jumper over his head. I was so impressed that even though he did not have the experience I may not ever get him in this condition again so he was sent to the race sitting on 12 day eggs to his 4th only race flying 515 miles and he won 18th east section 36th open Sartilly (2) 2915 birds. On this day Nick Faldo had won the British Open Golf and I named this late bred red cock ‘Nick Faldo’. His dam is a sister to John Ellis of Elphinstone Gold Award Winner, and his sire was a 1983 cock on loan from my good friends George & Gareth Rankin of Blantyre which on one side is the grandsire of their famous Gold Award winner ‘Red Rocket’.
Kevin after clocking another winner
I gave the birds up when I was diagnosed with ‘Pigeon Lung’ however Kevin started up the birds when he moved to Thornton and then to Ladybank again in Fife. He won his first SNFC diploma in 2000 where he was 35th Open from Lille, a distance of 465 miles with a daughter of the Old Nantes cock and 1/2 sister to Black Beauty. He was working at Angus College in Arbroath and when it came time for his daughter to start school the decision was made to move to Arbroath. Kevin has since gone on to win an impressive 115 SNFC national diplomas since 2000. He has been in the top 10 section prizes 11 times and some of his best performance were 4th open Alencon (573 miles) with ‘My Little Rachel’ a granddaughter of ‘Robbie’s Boy’ winner of 1st & 31st open SNFC Falaise for Gilmour Brothers of Leven, ‘Robbie’s Boy’ is also the sire of a 4 times SNFC winner and grandsire of 1st open SNFC Roye, and niece to 7th open Falaise for Jocky Scott of Kennoway. ‘My Little Rachel’ is dam of 26th open SNFC Falaise winner for Kevin proving that ‘Blood always Tells’ Kevin has also won 10th & 19th open Clermont (539 miles) twice 18th open from Ypres (454 miles). With one special pigeon that springs to mind being one of Kevin’s favourites, ‘Rocket’. As a yearling Rocket bred by Willie Donachie from Ritchie & Whyte of Fraserburgh bloodlines cross with Lowik Bothers ‘Dax Doffer’ bloodlines. ‘Rocket’ won 48th section, 305th open Newbury on the 8th June flying 360 miles against an entry of 4501 birds; Then into Eastbourne on the 20th June winning 422nd open flying 419 miles competing against 4243 birds. Then on the 4th of July he went to Ypres a distance of 454 miles and won 94th open competing against 1243 birds, he then went to Falaise on the 18th of July and won 12th section C 59th open flying 542 miles against a convoy of 1619 birds a truly remarkable yearling cock that also went on to win 15th section C 106th open from Ypres and 36th section 108th open Clermont as a 2 year old winning his SNFC Silver Award. He also won 7th section C 86th open Alencon in 2012 and then sent to Clermont where he was lost going for the coveted SNFC Gold Award. It is funny you never forget these ‘special pigeons’ or moments in your life as they live in your memory forever.
I keep the stock pigeons in my loft in my back garden while Kevin has the racers in Arbroath. He comes down and we go over the breeding of the stock birds (we are both eye sign men; I’m also a throat man) and use these methods when selecting our pairings however the most important aspect is the bloodlines and configuration of each bird. You will see from reading the above that the birds have to be bred as near as possible to the ‘champions’ and this is our benchmark even in the present day. We don’t always agree on certain things but the majority of time we are both on the same wavelength and by the time he is going home we have agreed on the stock pairings. I leave him to his racing birds as he flies them differently from when I raced them natural and he can hold his own in a top-quality federation with some excellent fanciers in it. I do help him with the training for the nationals as I meet him in the north of Fife and bring the race birds down to Thornton and give them a drink and liberate them later in the morning. This is about 40 miles back to Arbroath and is just right prior to the national races; I always send Kevin a text telling him the time the birds are released. We have a good ‘banter’ between us and speak on the phone most days so a happy environment all round. I have to say that the most important person in this relationship is my wife Margaret whom we both appreciate with all our hearts as she is the making of both of us. Kevin’s sons are not interested in the birds they will ask him how he got on at a race but do not participate in the loft. Our daughter’s wee boy Conner who is 7 used to love coming out to the loft with me and had his own scrapper but now that he is at school he doesn’t have time, however he will ask some days how the birds are ‘getting on’, and loves to come down when the babies are about ready to move from the nest. Which is good and hopefully when he gets older, he can carry on the tradition of ‘racing pigeons’ within the Murphy Family. I hope you have enjoyed my reminiscence of our time in pigeon racing; first and foremost, it is a sport that we LOVE and take delight with.
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© Compiled by Joe Murphy