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THE GALWAY ONE LOFT RACE 2008: Final Race Report from Galway

Mick Flannery organiser of the Galway One Loft Race flanked by his brothers Dave and Martin with another brother Kevin in Chester with the Race team. A truely family affair.
From the (l) enjoying the atmosphere at the 2008 Galway One Loft Race from Northern Ireland Eamon Curran, Gerard Campbell both Armagh, Malachy Maguire Newry and good friend Joe McCavanagh from Balbriggan.

Snapped enjoying the day are Francis Corcoran of the Alpine One Loft Race with Joe Brennan, Derek O’Shea, Robert Lacy, Mary Brennan and Marguerite Keegan.

Members of the local Galway RPC established in 1984 who attended to support the Flannery family they included founder member Harry Lumpton pictured with Sean Nally Martin Huney, Kevin Nally, Kevin Anderson, Eamon Flatery, Tommy Murray, Gerry Small, Ann Craig, Killian Nally and Sharon Nally.

This snap was taken early in the day, the marquee already full with the many visitors both from the North and South of Ireland spilling out onto the fantastic fields which over look the famous ‘Fields of Athenry’.
A nice shot of the proceedings under way within the marquee on Sunday at the 2008 Galway One Loft Race an endless amount of food and alcohol which was available all day for free.

Davy Carmichael of Ballyvestor Lofts flanked by his good lady Maureen on the left with Ann Hussey on the right, the party travelled down from the coastal town of Bangor.

Pictured after admiring the wonderful lofts is John Keane with daughter Sara who also brought her friend Clodagh Malone along for the day.

Maura Flannery on the left welcomes another group of spectators to the Galway One Loft Race pictured are Kathleen and Michelle Coady, Dolores Forde, Christine Kavanagh and John King.
The group played all day long with many singing along, after making enquires I heard that they are named ‘Tig A Ma Jig” and consist of Gary Quinn and brothers Mick & John Keane all from the local area.


Trust and honesty in my opinion, are the two most fundamental aspects and necessities of any successful One Loft Race and on top of that its of paramount importance to keep the entrants informed with as much detail on a daily basis, as often as humanly possible.

Last weekend I had the privilege of taking some time off both from my unpaid regular weekly column and more importantly my full time paid work, times I wonder which I put more hours into. Accompanied with my wife Celeste we set of at 5.30am on Sunday morning having closed the restaurant just a few hours earlier at 1.00am, distained for a two night stay at the Claregalway Hotel. The reason for my visit to Galway was to take in the final race of the newly organized Galway One Loft Race run by the Flannery Family.

It is quite a journey down to Galway from Lisburn with very little difference time wise dependant on what route of the three available that you take, we decided to go via Enniskillen and Sligo on the way down which took around 4 hours, which was  good, helped of course with the earliness of the morning and on top of that it was a Sunday. Perhaps next year especially after seeing so many fanciers from the North of Ireland still with an interest in the race at the final stage and indeed the many fanciers accompanied with their partners who were present at the final race, surely it could be transformed into a coach trip, lasting perhaps a couple of days, with plenty of shopping for the ladies and the annual Galway Horse Racing on the same weekend for the gents. As for the hospitality well it is no surprise that the Irish are well known for their hospitality and my weekend in Galway did absolutely nothing to diminish that World renowned Fact.   

We decided firstly to head straight to the Hotel which is a fantastic spot and very good value for money, upon getting unpacked I wired up the lap top and after clicking on the very well displayed Westwingslofts website I discovered that the pigeons had been liberated at the Chester Race Course at 7.45am witnessed by around 10 local fanciers from the area, these fanciers were called upon to witness and observe that all was above board, photos were also taken to confirm same, just one of the many exemplary steps that the Flannery’s took during the whole year to keep the entrants up to date with what was happening with their pigeons, always opting to have as many parties not connected with the operation around at all times when pigeons were on the move whether it be training, hot spot races or as stated the aforementioned final race. So with the birds liberated we didn’t delay and headed onto the main Galway Road and turned right onto the Rosscommon Road and from there it was only a matter of minutes before reaching the Loft, of course made all the easier with the many directive signs that were put in place days before the final event by the Flannery Family.

Upon arriving it was very evident that something was taken place around the Flannery household for the large already purchased white marquee could be seen long before approaching the loft, the amount of cars was also a tell tale sign as was the noise coming from the back of the property where the large crowd was congregating. I was met firstly by Maura, Mick’s wife who is just a fine example of what Galway has to offer with regards her warm welcome and continuous hospitality just not on our arrival but during the course of the two days that we were there. It wasn’t long before Mick was on the scene and he made me aware at this point that the Gibb & Byrne Stud based in Lisburn and made up of the father and son team of Ian and Peter Gibb of Lisburn and Henry Byrne of Dublin had purchased the two Charity Birds that were placed in the race for a combined sum of 1,500 Euro, talking with Henry after my return he made me aware that the Charity which the buyer had the choice of selecting would be the locally based Chernobyl Housing Project, a very fine gesture by last years Europa Classic Winning team.  Also during the day Siobhan Flannery went around the large attendance with a 'Guess the Time' of the first arrival, that collection will be donated to the Galway Hospice. Before I go on and forget I would like to congratulate Mick and Maura on the birth of their first grandson Lennon who was born on Sunday morning at 6.11am weighing 6lb 11. Funnily enough just before I left on Sunday morning I sent Mick an email wishing him all the best having finally after months of very hard work and heartache had the birds already on their way for the final of the Galway One Loft Race 2008, I posed the question what was he going to do now every day, but with the birth of their new grandson I suppose my question was answered.

During the course of the afternoon the crowd swelled to 250 at one stage and to say the atmosphere was electric would be an understatement I met many people for the first time and I hope many life long friends, this on top of unrelenting feasting especially the delicious BBQ and as for the drink, there was enough to do the same crowd again even after I took my share, so you can guess their was a lot. All Free I might add. No stone was left unturned in their attempt to make it a day to remember something that I think all attending would agree they mastered with such professional ease to the point for a stranger would have assumed they had a long history of doing such events. Traditionally with the Irish population when there is a vibrant party atmosphere it is never left without music, this was catered for by a class group known locally as ‘Tig A Ma Jig’ now when somebody is talking about an object in general conversation and they can’t remember its name it is generally named as a ‘thing a ma jig’ so when you add the Irish twang then you get ‘Tig A Ma Jig” this was my answer upon quizzing the group members Gary Quinn and brothers Mick & John Keane on how they had come about the group name, they were superb for a local group and one that would certainly make money in any establishment if they toured.

All the day needed to be an out and out success was an arrival from Chester and as 9.00pm approached it wasn’t to be, the Flannery family are an amazing bunch and nobody took no arrivals more than Mick Snr who had worked tirelessly over the last few months with all the pigeons entered, it was common knowledge long before fanciers entered, that this was going to be a hard fly I suppose this is the ultimate reason that so many fanciers entered and strived to succeed upon with their own crafted family of pigeons, questioning had they got what it takes to fly this race ?? With only 88 pigeons making the final race it was always going to be hard with such a small convoy to have anything cross the Channel, you need a lot of luck and more importantly a lot of factors to come right on the day, with wind being the one that strikes me as one of the important factors, of course rain and visibility is also another, amazingly with such bad weather all week in the lead up to the weekend they couldn’t have asked for better, although not everything was perfect but based upon what the country had seen this year it was now or never as far as a liberation was concerned. Even as far as pigeon related organizations were concerned they all raced on Sunday rather than Saturday because of the better forecasted weather. Not only were the Galway pigeons getting it tough so was the well run Europa Classic whose convoy of 1,100 + pigeons were liberated in Edinburgh at 7.30am flying inland 300 miles to Cardiff they also had none on the day. Celeste and I decided to call it a day around 9pm and head back to the hotel. The following morning a good crowd had assembled at the loft once again in glorious sunshine and were treated to unrelenting hospitality for a second day, although had you have followed the weather forecast on Sunday you would have believed you were rising on Sunday morning to wet conditions with the rain moving into Ireland from the Galway area, but even with conditions holding up for much of the day the race was closed at 9pm without any arrivals making it back to the loft, this was always the plan before the liberation that it would be a two day affair. I can tell you nobody is more disappointed than the Flannery Family and I have been very encouraged with the response from many of the fanciers who entered the race the majority understand how hard they have worked and ultimately you need luck even with weekly racing, but to set your stall out at the start of the season for a named one day, luck is a large percentage of the overall success.    

Many have already booked their places for next year, I for one will have pigeons in it, that’s provided there is room, with many I spoke to declaring that they will send larger teams. Now to be fair the organizers have released the following detail for next years race, at this stage they are still unsure on the race point but be assured there will be a Galway One Loft Race, they won’t be rolling over and going away due to no returns instead the prize money will be rolling over making it 50,000 Euro for the winner and with the Euro sitting at 1.17 per pound I make this a 1st prize of £42,000 making it the biggest single prize in European Pigeon Racing. Many fanciers who attended the event will have noticed posters for next years event already displayed and will have noticed that they will be increasing the entry capacity to 750 pigeons. This in itself will upon the numbers being filled increase the prize fund by 50% compared to this years allocated prize fund that was 40,000 Euro, so the prize fund will rise to 60,000 Euro with 30,000 Euro for the winner and when you add on the winner’s cheque for this year 20,000, then you have the 50,000 first prize. Now you may say what about the other prize money that was to be paid out this year, well having looked at all options it was decided that since all this years entrants paid for this prize, each entrant will be given 50% discount on a bird for next years event, to me this is a very fair and obviously all fanciers who entered this years race will have first option next year. Remembering that had you put money on a horse in the Grand National and the horse completed the first lap and fell doing the second the bookie wouldn’t give you anything back. This way the prize fund rolls over you get discount next year on a bird with a chance to win it and you have first option of an entry.                       

It only seems like a few months ago that Mick Flannery senior contacted me with regards his thoughts about starting this challenging One Loft Race that was to go one step further than any other that was currently on the market within Ireland. A race from East to West rather than North to South or vice versa, this meant taking in the Irish Sea with a race from Chester to Galway. This was something different and unique for the fanciers as many of the other well run one loft races were mainly centered on inland racing. Their was never any doubt about how hard it was going to be, with many distance enthusiasts admitting that it would take a special pigeon to fly the channel and then upon wherever entering the Island of Ireland would have to fly from one side of country to the other a total distance of 244 miles.

It was and is a super idea and had the appeal factor that seen fanciers from just not Ireland North and South but England and Scotland scrambling for entry forms with all 500 places filled in a record amount of time. So much was the demand that they could have very easily filled the loft twice (I personally spoke with many fanciers from the North of Ireland who were bitterly disappointed not booking their places on time), but this being their first year in the one loft market they decided very bravely to walk before they would run.

In hind sight they couldn’t have picked a more difficult year weather wise to start a one loft race, for like many of their competitors who run one loft races they have all suffered at some time or another some more than others at the hands of what can only be described as one of the most erratic weather years in living memory for racing and training pigeons. But beyond that, loses this year have been at their highest level also in living memory with many theories behind this.  

On completion of this article I will leave the final word to Mick – “It has been a long and hard journey and things didn’t go right for us when we needed them to, but we are really trying to make this a fair, transparent, enticing, rewarding and satisfying race and we hope that you stick with us to make it happen. It is our ambition to make this Galway Race a short break for you the fancier and your family in Galway, with facilities within our 40 acres of land for tents and campervans and we hope next year to make it a night out as well as a day out with entertainment planned for the evening as well as the race day. My son Mike Junior created a web site that has had many compliments from all over the world, especially the Hot Spot Movies, this is a field that Mick excels in and one that he is already looking forward to for next year with more movies planned and web cams bringing you all the latest from the loft as it happens (A Pigeon Big Brother so to speak might be a good way to get the woman interested). We really do appreciate your unrelenting support this year and I really hope you try again next year. I would like at this stage to thank the many members of my extended family who assisted us on this our first year including my brother Kevin who went to Chester with the 88 hopefuls and last but not least the many members of the local community who rallied round with their support with many learning about the art of pigeon racing for the very first time”.     

Adie McCormick
Ireland’s Own Pigeon Auctions
Tel. 028 92 604778.

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