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The Kings of Carrickfergus
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The costal town of Carrickfergus in County Antrim has always been regarded as a stronghold, regardless of how far you go back in the history books. When you talk about Carrickfergus many automatically link it with the famous castle, to this day it remains the best preserved medieval structure on the complete island of Ireland. The Castle which stands an impressive 90 feet tall and is almost completely surrounded by water has played host to many battles during a period of 750 years and has been besieged in turn by the Scots, Irish, English and finally the French in 1760 which accumulated in mass robbery of the castle and surrounding town, upon setting sail with their cargo of un-lawful gains under the leadership and command of Francois Thurot they were apprehended by the British Navy at sea. So if any of you the readers are ever on a visit to Northern Ireland pencil in Carrickfergus Castle for a tour, it was handed over to the Government in 1928 and from then until now many thousands of pounds have been spent in restorations of the castle internally, it is without doubt now a sight to see, and is open to the pubic all year round.

Then on the other hand if its pigeons you want to see, there is one loft you just can’t go past for the D & J Armstrong & Son partnership have dominated and competitively fought off the vast majority of the competition in the town which boosts a membership of some 60 fanciers spread across two clubs for some 13 years, David, Jim and more importantly Jim Junior who now captains the ship have amazingly took the crown of top prize winner in the clubs they race in 25 times out of a possible 26 over the space of 13 years starting in 1995 the only blip was in the Carrick and District HPS in 1997 when the Top Prize Winner that year was Des Patton. What a dominance this partnership have achievement in this day and age of competitive racing well over 150 x 1st‘s, including 9 x 1st Section’s, with an average weekly birdage of 5,000 pigeons.

I called early at the home of Jim Armstrong Junior on Sunday morning, just to get an insight as to his thoughts of pigeon racing and how the partnership have gone about their rich vein of winning ways.

The D & J Armstrong pigeon partnership have been in existence for over 40 years, always racing into the town of Carrickfergus, young Jim started to get involved with the pigeons in 1984 and took on a few years of intensive training from his elders about the art of pigeon racing, but as time has proved with advances in life nearly in everything you lift, the sport of pigeon racing hasn’t been left behind also in its advances towards the future, for long gone are the days of spending week day nights in the bar after work going home on a Friday after work and putting a few birds into a basket, of course many years ago this was generally the run of the mill for a vast amount of the pigeon competitors, many of the current day elite have quoted to me “that pigeons races now aren’t won from the pub”. Many are of the opinion that indeed the sport of pigeon racing is now a full time job, and for those of us who still work full - time, the pigeons are classed as your second job, for no sooner are you home till your in the loft until bed-time and especially during the breeding and racing seasons as many hours are spent there from early morning before the paid work starts. Jim Armstrong certainly fits into this category, a more enthusiastic pigeon fancier I don’t think I have come across and I have had the privilege of meeting many.

It is no hidden secret that fanciers who win and enjoy winning so much that it inspires them to win more which they do, aren’t often liked. Fanciers can call it luck but as Jim Armstrong said when I set him the question re his favorability with a town that he had dominated for so long, his answer was simple in admitting that if the winning was luck, it seems the more he works with the birds and the harder he tries the more the luck come seems to come, good answer if you ask me.

The partnership race an average of 50 O/Birds in any given season, this racing involves a mixture of Widowhood and Natural with both cocks and hens raced, this year 2008 has seen the introduction of a new system called “Roulette” no more info on this at the minute but should the partnership produce the results this year again I will certainly pose the question for you at the end of the year, I can tell you at this stage the birds aren’t Black and Red !!!

The garden to the rear of the property is of considerable width which is as you would imagine filled with different lengths of lofts of all shapes and sizes as you would come to expect with a partnership of 40 years racing behind them, all of wooden structure 3 of these are used for the O/Bird racing regime, all with felted roofs as Jim personally thinks that tiled roofs create a coldness within the lofts, and he aims to make the lofts as comfortable as possible for his many champions. Versa Laga is the preferred choice as for feeding with no particular preference to any particular one, just what is available at any given time, again mixtures have been mixed to create a combination of corns that carry a great selection and variation. The Widowhood cocks will be always feed in their boxes, as for the other two systems Natural and the Roulette Hens being hopper fed. As an agent for the Dutch Master Van Der Sluis it is of no surprise that these are the only products used and ones that Jim swears by, as he quite rightly says the market is absolutely absorbed with pigeon related products everything you can think of promising heaven and earth, but very few coming up to the mark, as he quotes he wishes he had in his pocket all the money he has spent on different products, trying always to improve his pigeons further. The amount of products you could use in any one week, would require a 31 day week so to speak, a product that is never advertised is grit, no money to be made in it, but as Jim says one of the most important things to have in the loft, with Jim opting to mix it with different types of minerals and has it readily available at all times in the loft. Feeding is twice per day as is the changing of the drinkers, tap water most of the time, but as with many of the top boys I visit now they are all using Still Water when using medicines or supplements. All the O/Bird racers are treated for canker every 3 weeks, this routine is never missed.

Training is 3 days per week as well as flying around the house an hour in the morning and evening, not flagged. If they have enough in the tank you should have no need to flag, tossing is from Moira which gives a flying distance of around 27 miles to the lofts, they are released in batches of 10 - 15 depending on what way they are spread out over particular hampers. Something I noticed when walking through the different lofts was battery operated dispensers on the side of the walls in all sections, never seen them before, so as you do you have to ask, to be told that they are herbal air dispensers, which go off every 15 seconds. How can you pose questions when you’re looking at winning portfolio of their caliber, I thought. Floor grills in all sections which limit’s the amount of work spent scrapping in the loft, Jim’s father has now a chest complaint and is unable to go into the lofts, so there is a considerable amount of work to be done on a daily basis, never mind trying to stay at the top of your game, so anything that can save time and allow more time to the more important elements can only be welcomed. As like many other fanciers in Northern Ireland the Armstrong’s have fitted the ETS which again can only assist in their bid to stay at the top, most of the top lofts have taken on this for additional improvement in clocking times.

Y/Birds will number 100 which if you want to compete will have to be raced on Darkness according to Jim, these once again will be raced to 3 lofts 2 x 8ft and a 6ft loft and a further 10ft x 6ft loft, again all wooden construction with felted roofs, these birds will be vaccinated mid May and training will commence on the 25th of June from a distance of 4 miles this distance increases as the confidence grows which will see them coming from Dundalk which is an average of 50 miles to their base in Carrickfergus, total tosses before the start of the season is around 15, as well as this they are expected to fly 1 hour morning and night without a flag as quoted when talking about the O/Bird’s Jim reckons you have a problem with your pigeons if they don’t fly an hour without a flag. As well as flying around the loft they are expected to complete a training toss every day also, weather permitting. Feeding is again Versa Laga Gerry Plus is preferred but once again this can be mixed to get a good all round mixture which is appealing to the birds. Must also point out that small aviaries are also fitted onto the frontage of the sections housing the youngsters just enough for them to venture out if and when they feel like it.

A further 16ft x 10ft loft with an attached 6ft x 9ft aviary hold the 20 stock pair owned by the partnership, no great amounts of money used to be fair, with Jim putting a lot of the success down to hard work, although concedes that a bad pigeon will never be good one regardless of work given to it, but hit me back with a good pigeon will do become a better pigeon when worked harder. The basis of the stock focuses around 3 different outlets, firstly you have Frans Van Wildemeersch pigeons from the late Bertie Fletcher, how much these pigeons have given back to the fanciers just not in this country but across the water it is nothing short of a dynasty, the originals are no more but Jim tells me 2nd and 3rd generations of those first ones bought in 1994 are still producing winners. When you have a family all ready breeding pigeons to have you at the top it makes bringing in different families some what easier because they either match what is being achieved by the original family or they don’t stay, selection then is very important and so far so good the Armstrong’s have got it spot on.

Bob Fenech was the next man being watched by Jim and with a major sale for Bob in Blackpool in 2003 with the Cooreman pigeons, Jim selected 4 that he fancied from the sales list, equipped with more than a few pound he attended the sale only to leave disappointed in not purchasing any of the four that he had spent much time researching, all the pigeons were sold for more than an arm and a leg so to speak, Jim did have time to talk with Bob and explained the story before leaving. When he returned home on the Sunday, Bob phoned on the Monday and told him he had a pair for sale if he was interested, this come about as a punter who had bid on a pair in the auction room never went on to purchase the “Blackpool Pair” as they are now known. Jim explained to Bob that there was no way he could match the price that those birds made in the Auction Room, understanding the man that Bob Fenech is, a price was agreed and what an institution that pair have become, winner after winner after winner. Every single nest holds the goods, already 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Open NIPA to name but a few and big, big birdage.

The third and final family was the Gaby Vandenabeele these come about through Y/Birds that were ordered from M & D Evans and raced, no nonsense with these boys, no good putting them into the stock loft unless tried and tested, they were added to that particular year with a batch from a partnership in Doncaster by the name of D & J Hawkins, again Vandenabeele. These were incredibly successful with 4 out of the 6 finishing 1st prize winners.

Then with much justified hype within the inner winning circle of pigeon fanciers in Northern Ireland Jim set about making contact with Peter Fox of Syndicate Lofts with regards the Wal Zoontjen pigeons agreeing to let Peter select a pair for him, what a job he did as the pair in their first year mated produced three babies. All winners they were, with the pick of the bunch being 1st Club, 1st Section C, and 1st Open NIPA Rosscarbery Y/B National, beating 4,111 pigeons and winning £1,100. This Blue hen named “Too Hot To Handle” was sliced with wires around the front of the house when starting to get her confidence about her as a Y/Bird, so bad was the cut right down the front she was near in the bin, had it not have been from the prompt intervention of father Jim, who advised him to give the pigeon a chance, it may have never been, Jim Jnr. was telling me that she joined the team and got herself fit again. So just shows, better to give them a chance if you can.

So in an over-all review of this NIPA East Antrim based Section C Loft, they have since 1995 only once not finished Top Prize-winner in the local Club, well over 150 x 1sts in that time, 9 x 1st Section C Diploma’s, many Top 10 finishes in the over-all NIPA Open, 1st Y/B National NIPA, Section C Fancier of the Year 2005, the only Carrick loft to win Section C Fancier of the Year, clocked 4 pigeons in 2006 from the St Malo O/B National NIPA, the only fancier in the NIPA to do that with the first and fourth pigeon clocked both Cooreman‘s, some achievement.

I will pen of by wishing the Armstrong team every success in 2008, and I am sure they will be trying very hard to retain the Top Prize-winner spot in both Carrickfergus Clubs yet again.


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

Jim Armstrong pictured here receiving the Y/B National Cup from Ned Marshall of the NIPA at last season's NIPA Ladies Night held in the Templeton Hotel just outside Antrim

Jim Armstrong Junior of the Carrickfergus based D & J Armstrong and Son holding one of his many champions, the partnership have won over 150 x 1st's in 13 years racing.

Jim awaits his arrivials from Clonmel in the Widowhood loft when I called with him on Sunday morning.

This is a fantastic montage showing the now highly regarded "Blackpool Pair" with some of their winning generations.

This again is a well designed montage showing the partnerships class Y/B National Open Winner with the back drop of Carrickfergus Castle in the background.


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