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The Professional - Alan Darragh - Cullybackey Northern Ireland
5 x 1st Irish National (INFC)     -     5 x Section B Fancier Of The Year (NIPA)
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Alan Darragh
pictured recentley at the Annual Cullybackey &District Prize Night along with some of his awards.
INFC President Ken McConaghie
presents the masterful Alan Darragh with one of his many National awards at the 2006 presentation held
at the Stormont Hotel in Belfast.
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In any walk of life you normally have to pay to see or indeed talk to any professional figure, that’s the feeling I had when spending the evening in the company of Alan Darragh from Cullybackey in County Antrim.

Already many influential figures within the pigeon fraternity are talking about the racing exploits of Alan Darragh as will the future generations of pigeon fanciers on this Island of Ireland, and indeed further afield. Spending time in the company of Alan and indeed listening to his understanding of pigeon racing and methods involved in achieving continual success is nothing short of amazing, Alan has a fantastic concept as regards pigeon racing something that makes him stand out from the rest of excellent fanciers that I have had the pleasure of spending time with. A very successful and extremely busy joiner by trade Alan duplicated this gene of success into the art of pigeon racing and has accumulated an excellent CV that would stand head and shoulders alongside many of the greats currently in the World of Pigeon Racing. Remembering of course he is still young as far as Legends are concerned and has a frightening hunger and appetite for further success that nears the level of scary.

Much has already been wrote over the years with regards Alan’s fantastic racing achievements, I had in my original plans hoped more to emphasize on the racing systems and practices put in place at Swallow Brae Lofts to maximize the changes of a fancier becoming a winner firstly at Club level never mind Section Fancier of the Year or winning an Irish National. That all changed on talking with Alan for close to three hours. I know before I go any further how simple this system and organizational aspect of the Darragh loft is going to come across and a lot of you the readership will be amazed, but take it from me we had a frank talk no holes barred and anybody who knows Alan can vouch for me that black is black and white is white with this man, if he didn’t want to answer a question he would tell you so, rather than a lie, thankfully all mine were answered with just one tip that he would rather not print with reference to the bathing of pigeons prior to races which I will duly honour.

Just to give a brief break down of the man in question up until the present day. Alan Darragh has been involved with pigeons since 1962 when as a young boy he learned his regimental winning apprenticeship from his father Jack a World War served Royal Marine with the British Forces. Joining Cullybackey HPS as Alan Darragh he was to win the Novice Cup two seasons later in 1963, a prize presentation memory that still lives strong with Alan as he can still recall that such occasion with deafening applause from some of the Cullybackey greats at that time including the formidable E G Leckey who was always willing to help a novice and an excellent ambassador to National racing in Ireland.

As we all do, well most of us anyway, we search for the other birds come a certain age and Alan was no different, capturing a star in Betty who he was to later marry and set up home a couple of miles from his parents home. Settling down to married life Alan kept a hardened relationship with the feathered friends visiting his family home as frequently as he possibly could, but with age Alan’s father Jack decided to call it a day in 1976 and this prompted Alan to move the birds to his new home that he had settled into with wife Betty.

Alan continued to fly with Cullybackey for a further 2 - 3 years before through working friendships joined a Club in the neighboring village of Ahoghill in 1979 were he enjoyed many enjoyable season’s of success, up until 1984 when an enjoyable season turned into an amazing season as Alan was to become Irish National Flying Club Champion after timing pigeons from all 5 Cross Channel races, you may say so what, but that particular year seen an outbreak of Newcastle’s Disease which meant all races were from the North Road. Many races had very few birds home, but Alan was to time from them all, even up to this day some 23 years later Alan still holds the record as the only fancier to time from five cross channel races from the North Road in one seasons racing with the Irish National Flying Club.

The following year 1985 saw a new house being built for Alan back in his original village of Cullybackey, a couple of miles to the North of the Cullybackey Clubrooms which prompted a move back to racing with the Cullybackey Flying Club as it was at that time. Young birds were raced that year with a fair level of success being achieved even with the turmoil of yet another move, but this was more of an establishing time as far as a winning team was concerned for the new address. What a job he did that year as the first of Alan Darragh’s five 1st National’s was to come with a pigeon named ‘Independent Ranger’ in 1986 from Les Landes in Jersey flying 432 miles in a headwind and nothing like starting at the top as not only did ‘Independent Ranger’ win a National it was indeed the Kings Cup which is the top honour for any loft racing into Ireland.

'Independant Ranger'
winner of the INFC Kings Cup in 1986

‘Swallow Brae Lad’ in 1989 was to be the second 1st Open National winner for Alan winning the Yearling National from Sennen Cove 332miles and a tidy sum of £4,000 but the icing on the cake was winning the car pool and a new car.

'Swallow Brae Lad'
winner of the INFC Yearling National 1989

‘Swallow Brae Surprise’ was to complete the hat trick in 2003 after winning 1st Open Irish National Flying Club Friendship National from Fougeres some 503 miles to the Swallowbrae Lofts, Alan was also 3rd Open that day and secured the 2 Bird Average. I must also point out that these are only the National winners I am listing leading up to the present day but their have been two many 2nd Open ’s to name just when I recall 2003 with Swallow Brae Surprise’ I must not forget ’Swallow Brae Dawn’ who in 2002 finished 2nd Open in the Kings Cup for Alan nearly winning the much sought after award twice.

'Swallow Brae Surprise'
winner of The Friendship National in 2003

2004 and the Wadebridge Young Bird National was nearly yet another 1st National having just been piped into the 2nd Open spot, but Alan wasn’t to wait long for National win number four, that came about by a new race that the Irish National Flying Club started namely the Old Hens National from Wadebridge, this National is held in conjunction with the Y/B National from the same destination to try and encourage a bigger return of youngsters with the experience of the seniors. Alan just didn’t get one return but two together to finish 1st & 2nd Open in the National result, the 1st Open winner was named ’Swallow Brae First Lady’ .

'Swallow Brae First Lady'
winner of the Old Hens National from Wadebridge in 2004

Records were broken in 2006 when Alan clocked yet another National winner once again, winning the Friendship National for the second time in three years, this achievement made Irish National Flying Club history as Alan Darragh is the only fancier ever on the shores of Ireland to win 5 x 1st Nationals.

This winner was named ‘Swallow Brae At Last’ and homed in from Portland after racing was prevented from France due to the fear of an outbreak of Avian Bird Flu. I think you will all agree some achievement by any means of the imagination, indeed anybody who sends to National’s will know how hard it is to get one home never mind winning the Open not once but five times and remembering that Alan flies an extra 150 miles further from the shortest flying member in the South Sect of the INFC.

'Swallow Brae At Last'
winner of The Friendship National in 2006

All the above success Alan puts down first of all to good birds, when he says good he means tried and tested, as for channel racing he maintains you will need a level of Irish Blood in the pedigree of your potential winners that you send to face the stiff channel should it even be Alan’s favored North wind. Alan openly admits to trying new families over the years as the old Irish blood will not be around forever. One family that has impressed him is that of the Boscheind Flyers namely Andre Van De Wiel and Jan Schreuder he rates them highly as very brave and intelligent pigeons that will face any test put in front of them, something Alan has always done is test every pigeon first of all before it enters the stock loft and more importantly before it enters the breeding chain.

Individuality is something that Alan prides himself on, throughout the lofts from the Stock Loft right through to the Young Bird lofts, seeking to find what delights and what excites any one individual pigeon as he puts it no two are the same like humans we have a lot in common but we are all individual and what ones likes the others may not. When Alan starts to talk in lengths and with a fearful but common sense understanding like this, its very understandable why he is were he is today as regards pigeon racing.

Alan recently sat on a Ligoniel & District Quiz Night panel in Belfast along with Les Green from Manchester and Mike Staddon of Crewkerne in aid of the Childrens Cancer Fund, so a lot of what is mentioned now will be familiar to all who were fortunate to be in attendance. I know for a fact that many fanciers who attended that night were highly impressed with Alan Darragh.

Widowhood racing is what Alan practices best right through to the longest event from France. The pairs are mated mid December, sometimes eggs from the stock pigeons are switched below pairs of racers pending on what he is looking or what is required. When the youngsters are about fourteen days old the hen and one youngster are removed to the young Bird Section, the cock rears the other youngster. The pairs are mated again to have the pigeons on eggs for the first race. On the Thursday, day before dispatch on the Friday, the hens are taken away. When the cocks come home on the Saturday the boxes have been cleared and the cocks home to the box, no hen is given. For the next fortnight the cocks are confined to their boxes perching on up turned nest bowls only leaving the loft for an hours exercise morning and night I must point out now that the widowers are trained approximately 10 times prior to the first race starting from the distance that they encountered as youngsters on their first toss about 12 miles. Taking them back to the original place allows for the penny to drop and also gives the pigeons a sense of understanding as to what is required once again over the coming months.

Something Alan admits to is that it isn’t necessary for the cocks to see the hens before being basketed every week, a lot of Alan’s theories are based around the work level and what is required and necessary around the loft without giving yourself undue work that inevitably will not better your position on a race day. Another thing he is very alert to is not getting the cocks to pumped up and over excited as he admits this can do more damage than good, pending on the level of feeding over the week with reference to distance and prevailing weather conditions he openly admits you can ruin your winning chances at the last hour, explaining that when a widowhood cock gets over excited he is burning energy up, the pigeon should be reserving this for his destined race although a lot of fanciers would see this as a plus not this Legend. Another small tip is that with extra small seeds being added to the last feed on a Thursday evening a cock that eats up the maize should be kept at home, you should be paying attention and looking for the ones that are only interested in the small seeds.

As for the feeding Teurlings was the preferred mixture for a few years due to sponsorship from them, but until last week their was no agent here for their corn so it just wasn’t productive for the company nor Alan having to bring in large amounts at one time although with the new sole agent being Keith Kernohan from Ballymena Teurlings may very well be the preference once again. Currently Alan mixes his own with a combination of Superior Widowhood Mixes, ideally he is looking for approximately a break down of around 40% maize with a varied amount of small seeds. With the completed mixture he prefers to see three different types of maize in it.

As for the lofts what an array Alan Darragh has, I must mention these at this point as Alan can hold certain cocks back to mate up at different times during the season pending on what particular race he has them ear marked for, normally one month prior to the race which will see them being sent on a small youngster his must preferred and successful nesting condition over the years, but at the same time he keeps the rest of the widowhood team to hand, to work so many exemplary systems and different conditions you need the room and space that Swallow Brae Lofts offer. The widowhood pigeons are raced to 3 lofts namely 10ft x 8ft, 24ft x 7ft and an 8ft x 8ft which are adequately sectioned off accordingly. Amazingly the start of the season would see about 44 or 45 widowhood cocks, spread over these three lofts no overcrowding. The widowhood hens that are not raced are kept in a loft 8ft x 5ft plus an 8ft x 5ft aviary. The widowhood hens which are raced stay in one of the Y/B sections, about 8ft x 8ft.

Young Bird racing is something that Alan tends to take a back seat with, seeing it more as an educational time for the years ahead. Alan normally rears around 100 but this has increased over the last few seasons due to the number that he annually gives towards good cause‘s this year I heard the figure of 30 donated to worthy causes, the remainder are housed in a seven sectioned loft which measures in total 44ft x 8ft, so again over crowding won‘t be found here. The loft has seven sky lights, with around half of them darkened, the first round of youngsters are kept in two sections. The second round are kept in two more sections and so on. This system prevents the later rounds from keeping the older youngsters back, and also prevents the later youngsters from being taken away by the older ones when roaming commences, and possibly dropped.

When the youngsters are mature enough they are separated and kept that way up until the 2nd or 3rd race when they are all on a level par as regards training a racing then they will be allowed to roam and mingle between sections selecting mates if they wish, ideally this is the best time frame to have youngsters in a nesting condition for our extreme Y/B distance events which will see us competing from Penzance in Cornwell some 329 miles, for a youngster this is the ultimate test and no man knows that better than Alan Darragh.

Natural resistance is what Alan aims for with his pigeons, having been known for not only excluding a sick youngster but seeking it’s parents out also, this no nonsense attitude he credits for his continual high performances, no rubbish is accepted regardless of what the pedigree says and what money was spent. As for supplements again very few, with much of them coming from Natural sources, Garlic is used in the water most weeks with Honey used should the pigeons encounter a difficult race, something to keep in mind with honey is not to dissolve it in hot water, I was guilty of that, Alan tells me that I am killing the Vitamin that the Honey holds by using hot water, he recommends putting it in the drinkers the night before and it will be dissolved the following morning.

Now for something that he has started to use over the last few years ‘Norban Products’ supplied by John Norris, Alan tells me they the best products he has ever used and with that strong a recommendation nearly 90% of his fellow club members in Cullybackey are using his system that incorporates four of the products that John Norris offers and guess what Cullybackey has been clear of Y/B Sickness since. (I spoke to John Norris with regards the above products and he tells me that the Northern Ireland Agent for Norban is again Keith Kernohan of Ballymena who carries all his products and is happy to help anybody looking information or indeed purchasing any of the products). That just proves the type of fancier Alan is honest and straight to the point, you ask him any question and he will answer it as regards performance, systems and supplements. I would even go as far as to say Alan’s systems and the preparation of National winning pigeons would merit a hard backed publication on its own, as many fanciers have did on the mainland and across Europe.

As with many successful fanciers they all have their own thoughts on medication Alan is no different, he treats for canker once every two weeks and coming up to the distance events sometimes once a week he thinks this is very important. No treatment for Cocci has been given in years and Alan added that if your loft conditions are correct meaning dry with no dampness and you have a good level of ventilation this isn’t necessary, sawdust is used on the floors and in the boxes, although not used as a deep litter; the lofts are scraped once every day with a fresh sprinkling of sawdust. A blowtorch is used from time to time on the floor and boxes etc. Worms are not treated for either, after the first round of youngsters is reared, the pigeons receive neither food or water for three days, this he says takes care of the worms. They tell me during the quiz panel at Ligoniel recently the worming issue raised a few eye brows only for Alan to tell them not to go back to the loft after the first or second day because you will feel sorry for them and no doubt feed and water them. All Alan’s birds have access to grit, black charcoal and an abundance of picking stones (the latter he tells me is very important). I will pen off for now but hope to follow up on this article towards the end of the 2007 racing seasons when who knows Alan Darragh may very well have broke more records. I wish Alan a man I class as a true credit and ambassador to Irish National Racing every luck in doing just that in the coming seasons.

Listed below are some of the Awards and Trophies won by Alan Darragh of Cullybackey over recent years.

1984 racing with Irish National Flying Club he won the following Erwin Trophy for Best Average in all National Races, The Presidents Cup, Best Average O/B, Yearling and the Two Young Bird Nationals and Diamond Cup, The Best Average O/B, Yearling and Y/B Channel National.

1986 seen Alan again at the National dinner after winning The King’s Cup, First bird in The Old Bird National, Diamond Cup, Best Average O/B, Yearling and Y/B Nationals and Presidents Cup, Best Average O/B, Yearling and the Two Y/B Nationals

1988 racing with the Northern Ireland Provincial Amalgamation (NIPA) he was to win the Bertie Fletcher & Son Cup, after winning the Skibbereen Inland O/B Derby

1989 seen him back to the INFC lifting the Nelson Corry Cup, for winning The Yearling National.

1992 was to see him win the Section B Fancier of the Year Award along with an RPRA Meritorious Award he also lifted the following awards at the NIPA Annual Ladies Night, The McCluggage Cup, Best Average in all Channel races including Derbies, The Major Lewis Cup, Best Average in all races from England and Wales and the Devine Memorial Trophy, Best Average Two Birds in the Old Bird Derby.

In 1993 he won The Robinson Cup with the INFC after finishing 14th Open King’s Cup from Rennes in France.

1994 back with the NIPA he won a Bronze Award presented to a pigeon making the prizes twice in the O/Bird Derby from France.

1995 again with the NIPA Section B Fancier of the Year, The B Fox Cup, Highest Position by NIPA Official, Committee Man or Club Delegate in the Old Bird Derby from France, The Harper Cup, Best Average in the Old Bird and Young Bird Derbies (France & Wales)

In 1997 he retained the Section B Fancier of the Year crown as well as winning in the Gold Ring Y/B National Race and £1,000 with the INFC.

1998 staying with the NIPA he won the following B Fox Cup, Highest Position by NIPA Official, Committee Man or Club Delegate in the Old Bird Derby (France normally Dinard) and The McCluggage Cup, Best Average in all Channel races including Derbies

Another top season in 1999 lifting The McCrory Cup, for winning the Penzance Old Bird Derby, The J H O’Neill Cup for winning the Penzance Classic, Surgenor Cup for the Best Average 2nd Talbenny and Penzance, RPRA Meritorious Award Winner for the Best Single Bird Performance 251-450 Miles and last but not least another Bronze Award for a pigeon twice in the prizes from the French O/B Derby.

The turn of the Millennium was an excellent year for Alan winning a Silver Award with the NIPA for a pigeon three times in the prizes from the French O/B Derby as well as lifting four awards with the INFC namely The Reid Trophy, Best Average French Old Bird National and Inland Young Bird National, The Diamond Cup, Best Average Old Bird, Yearling and Young Bird Nationals, The Presidents Cup, Best Average Old Bird, Yearling and the Two Young Bird Nationals and not forgetting a tidy sum of £2,000 for the Gold Ring Award from the Talbenny Y/B National.

2001 turned out a golden year after being presented with a very rare award namely the Gold Medal only presented for a pigeon four times in the Prizes from the NIPA O/B Derby from France (great achievement) Alan also won The Devine Memorial Trophy, Best Average Two Birds in the French Old Bird Derby, The B Fox Cup, Highest Position by NIPA Official, Committee Man or Club Delegate in the Old Bird Derby from France for the 3rd time.

2002 and yet another Section Fancier of the Year Award and to join it yet another Bronze Award for a pigeon twice in the O/Bird Derby Prizes from France and to cap off 2002 with the NIPA he was to win an RPRA Mileage Award for 451 miles and over. Not finished 2002 with Irish National Flying Club (INFC) was just as productive with yet another four awards, The Nelson Vase, The First RPRA member in the Redon King’s Cup Race after the Winner (2nd Open), The NIPA Cup, The first NIPA member in the King’s Cup Race from Redon, The Jack Gilmore Cup, The Best Average in The Old Bird National and The Yearling National and The President’s Cup, The Best Average in The Old Bird, Yearling and the Two Young Bird Nationals.

2003 was yet another National winning year this time The Friendship National from Fougeres in France, he also collected The H Beattie & Son Cup for The Best Two Bird Average in the same race.

2004 witnessed yet more dominance in the NIPA from the Darragh lofts winning The Erwin Trophy, The Best Average in all National and Classic Races, The Waring Trophy, The best Average in all National Races, The B Fox Cup, Highest Position by NIPA Official, Committee Man or Club Delegate in the Old Bird National from France for the 4th time, The Devine Memorial Trophy, Best average Two Birds in the French Old Bird National, The Best Single Bird Award for any Distance, another Bronze Award and finally the President’s Cup.

Another 1st National was recorded in 2005 after winning the Old Hens National from Sennen Cove and Alan also won The H Beattie & Son Trophy for Best Two Bird Average in the Friendship National for the second time in three years. In the NIPA Alan was yet again awarded two Bronze Awards for birds that had made the prizes twice in the O/Bird National from France.

Records were broke in 2006 when Alan recorded his 5th Irish National Flying Club win namely the Friendship National from Portland (the only fancier in Ireland to win five) and also recorded his 5th Section Fancier of the Year Award with the NIPA and to cap of a magical year he also won another Silver Award for a pigeon three times in the O/B National result and also an RPRA Mileage Award (250miles - 450miles).

In conclusion what a record Alan Darragh has, especially timing pigeons from the distance events, I am sure this man will go down in Irish Racing history as one of the best or indeed the best fancier ever this Island has produced, on reflection I feel it a privilege to know him and indeed regard him as a friend not just to me but my family over the years. A racing Genus in the Making.

Adie McCormick - (NIPA Press Officer)
Tele. 028 92604778

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