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The Art of Flying France
Mr & Mrs Hollinger - County Down, Northern Ireland.

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A bitterly cold easterly wind greeted me on my arrival in the seaside village of Millisle in County Down on Tuesday afternoon, I was in this picturesque part of Northern Ireland to visit the home of John and Jean Hollinger, the coldness is much to be expected living in such a plush location right on the shores of the Irish Sea a destination that carries as much warmth in the summer/autumn seasons as it does cold in the winter/spring seasons. John and Jean bought this fabulous property locally known in the pigeon world as “Dunard” a couple of years ago before the property boom went through the roof. Indeed such was the wasted space and land attached to this well established property John and Jean sought about firstly building an extension to the back of the property and generally modernizing this three bedroom property from the front door right through the house to the back door. The name “Dunard” incorporates the birth towns of John and Jean namely Dundonald and Newtownards.

Married to Jean for 47 years with two children John is now entering his 60th year of racing, a career that has seen many achievements within a varied amount of Club’s and organizations, including a record amount of winners recorded in all of the Clubs that he has had the privilege to race in, more recently the Millisle HPS a member Club of the East Down Combine they have now joined the Northern Ireland Provincial Amalgamation racing within that organization in a few weeks, for the first time. John is currently the Chairman of Millisle and finished Top Prize winner in 2007. Not bad for a man now entering his 70th year. John has previously served as a Committee man on the NIPA and EDC Committees. Many prize winners and award winners have entered and left the lofts of the Hollinger’s over the years all of which have been enjoyable as have been and continue to be the hours of enjoyment around the lofts with Jean’s unrelenting support and help. John openly admits that Jean has timed more French prize winners than he has himself.

A retired North Down Council Manager John is as fit and as eager as though it were 1970, when I arrived at his home he was to be found cutting and assembling hen boxes at the rear of the house. His enthusiasm and hunger is immense still to this day, of course taking nothing away from Jean who obviously has a special touch around the lofts, an awesome partnership that has more than proved its worth over the years.
When you come across a fancier that has been in pigeons for what seems an eternity you will always here very old and interesting stories many relating to the earlier days.
The strains of pigeons kept are a true reflection of the length of time this husband and wife team have been involved with pigeons establishing their lofts around the lines of the old Jock Reid pigeons, Walkingshaw, The excellent Willy Steele of Uttoxeter, not for getting the Lutton & Nummy lines from Banbridge, a partnership that finished runner-up in the Irish Kings Cup twice. With these pigeons and inspiration from good friend Alec Speirs of Dalry in Ayrshire, a three times winner of the RPRA Master Breeder Award, a fancier John reckons is one of the most knowledgeable fanciers he has ever had the privilege of meeting, how could you go wrong.

In 1997 John opted to bring in a speeder family to compete week in week out up Ireland and after months of searching he got in touch with Peter Nee of the Brownlee, Nee, Sons and Ward partnership who raced in the big Up North Combine. These boys have supplied many winners all over the country and Peter now considers John a very good friend and sends birds over to Ireland regularly without hesitation. John has told me these Staf Van Reet’s will even score from the cross channel events. One of the top stock cocks now owned by John & Jean is “Steady Eddie” a 1997 pigeon bred by Brownlee, Nee, Sons and Ward. This Blue cock is responsible for over 50 x 1st prize winners an absolute star of a pigeon he previously won the Skibbereen Open flying with the East Down Combine also breeding a number of children to win from Skibbereen. For John himself at least two that come to mind they finished 4th and 7th Open. More recently he is also grand/sire to Jim Burgess’s Classic Winner. John says you are guaranteed a winner in every nest, what a super pigeon!

French distance racing is what delights John the most, he just loves to see a pigeon return from France and judging by the Hollinger’s record they have seen quite a few. The walls are covered in beautiful framed winners Diplomas dating back to the 1970’s, I even came across a couple of Ulster Federation winning Diplomas dated 1905 and 1906 won by the extended Hollinger family. For John and Jean they include Champion’s such as “Elizamar” named after the local fishing vessel, this 1975 bred Cheq Pied Hen one of the best ever raced by the Hollinger’s flew the Kings Cup four times, 3 times for John with the best result gained in 1977 from Rennes finishing 15th Open she was then bought by the late Joe Ray of Carryduff who after breaking her to his loft scored with her from the Kings Cup the following year. In the 1977 Kings Cup race John timed 4 pigeons in the over-all result that particular year, the fourth pigeon timed was also a good one he finished 132nd Open this being his fourth French test previously flying Dinard, Rennes and Beauvais. Then we have “Glorious” a Red Cheq hen, 1973 bred she was timed from Dinard in 1976 before going to Falaise in 1977 finishing 6th Open, returned in 1978 to finish 9th Open another Super Star! The Red bloodline was coming down from Sam Bells good Red hen, when mated into the Steele pigeons from Uttoxeter.

So many good pigeons and so many very impressive results, John being John he doesn’t keep records, if they were all here what a portfolio this would be, probably putting John and Jean down as one of the best French racing teams in Irish racing history. In 1980 1st East Down Combine, 38th Open INFC Les Sables, 1st East Down Combine, 2nd Open INFC Beauvais. 1988 they won the Devine Memorial Trophy for the best 2 Bird Average from the O/B National Dinard timing a 2 year old Blue cock and a 2 year old Red hen within minutes of each other finishing 17th and 18th Open and only sending two entries. 1990 timed a yearling Blue Pied cock at 9.43pm from the Redon Kings Cup to finish 1st East Down Combine and 8th Open INFC, only 14 birds home on the day. 1998 1st East Down Combine, 5th Open Dinard O/B Derby. 2000 John & Jean finished 1st East Down Combine, 13th Open Kings Cup Redon. 2006 1st Section E.D.C. 3rd Open St Malo Friendship National. In 2007 they sent 5 yearlings to the hard Sennen Cove race and clocked all five in the prizes. The EDC had a prestigious 3 Bird Continental Club not easy won as you were competing against some of the very best in the business, John and Jean have a few of these also around the house. Other results coming to the head of John as we talk include 2nd Open O/B National, 41st Open Kings Cup, 4th Open Kings Cup Lerwick, 4th Open Y/B National, 21st Open Kings Cup, two in one shuttle from the Kings Cup this when you were allowed of course they finished 99th and 100th Open, only two birds away. Such prolific consistency has resulted in many famous awards at all levels including the Erwin Cup (National Champion Irish National Flying Club), Surgenor Cup (Best Ave First Three Cross Channel Races NIPA) and Devine Memorial Trophy (Best Two Bird Average French O/B National NIPA), just to name a few.

Something else interesting I came across was photographs of the original Barker pigeons that came into Ireland towards the end of the 40’s for Robert Brown of Newtownards the old history would tell you that the Dromore Kings Cup Winner Larry Burns raced these Barker pigeons with such ferocity which gained much respect for this family of birds during the 1950’s and 60’s. I have scanned the four photos for inclusion in this article to give you the fanciers an idea of what this great line of pigeons looked like.

Not surprising that the 2 x sectional Stock Loft which measures 15’ x 12’ with a rather large aviary along the front houses so many of these French prize winners including brother, sisters, sons and daughters. John and Jean do their best to mate together with a certain level of line breeding to keep the old families line alive which some would argue are nearing non-existent. It takes a very special pigeon to fly from France into Ireland many fanciers around the world consider this the hardest route to fly pigeons with many having to cross three areas of water. It takes a very brave and courageous pigeon.

The O/B teams are raced to a 5 x sectional loft which measures in total 30’x 8’ a flat roof with plenty of air getting in through the front, back and also doors on either end that remain open most days. Not sure if their was a stronger breeze outside the loft our inside, each section also has its own extraction system on the roof. Many, many pigeons I have to tell you all in marvellous condition, the O/Birds are raced both on Widowhood and Natural, Widowhood obviously for the 5 to 6 week period in the lead up to the longer cross channel events in which the natural pigeons would take over. The widowers are fed and watered in their own boxes, these number around the 15 mark. Prior to racing they would receive training from around the 20 mile mark but this would cease upon the start of the Old Bird campaign when they would be expected to fly around the home one hour morning and evening.

Nothing flash with regards the feeding and their never has been, John reckons the most important ingredient in the loft has to be grit, a cows lick is also used, the pigeons love it when feeding youngsters, I have in a previous report or two come across this same supplement. The water is either plain or added to with John’s home made Garlic mix, they tell me the whole of Millisle can smell it when he has it brewing in the kitchen a mixture of Garlic Gloves, Lemon and Sugar. He recalls years ago many fanciers using spring onions in the lofts. Now for the feeding be surprised John has always used McCausland Winter Mix, all year round, and purchases peas from the local farms, these are mixed together both for Young and Old, peanuts are the only other ingredient added to the mixture for the distance events, John does not believe in these expensive mixtures and supplements you would have to say it is the old feeding system being deployed and still getting the results, remember top prize winner in Millisle last year, and by a mile I might add. John considers times gone by when especially in and around the Ards/Portavogie coastal route when most of the pigeon men were also fishermen spending most of the week on a boat arriving home on a Friday feeding them and then sending them onto any said race. Now you must put the time into them to compete against the new professional generation of pigeon fanciers. It is all about knowing your pigeons individually knowing when they are ready and seeing the tell tale signs whether it is positive or negative.

John recalls upon quizzing him as to his biggest disappointment racing losing a very good multiple prize winner and also previous bird of the year a Mealy cock, from a training toss in preparation for his French test that would, had he have been successful gained him his deserved Hall of Fame Diploma, having already finished 15th and 71st Open Kings Cup. It was the only one not to return from the toss, bad luck or did John miss something? John would argue when you spend the maximum amount of time knowing your pigeons then you will not throw so many away needlessly also when you have instances like the one just mentioned you will not quiz your conscience as to whether you missed something with any particular failure. You just put it down to Bad Luck.

Y/Birds which number around the 50 mark are housed in a 12’ x 6’ another 2 x sectional loft, and once again with great levels of ventilation. Darkness is the preferred choice, although opted not to use it last year which resulted in the Y/Birds falling to pieces after the fourth race, so this year it is back on the agenda, and no doubt the Hollinger loft will be pushing for the Top Prize Winner crown once again. The youngsters are trained about 3 weeks prior to the start of the season, both personally and with the assistance of James Bunting of Portavogie. John reckons between his personally training and that of James’s transporter it keeps them of the Belfast Line which is paramount if you are looking to have a good pigeon on a race day, you can’t expect to be early if the pigeon has made its way across Belfast first of all. After consistent tossing prior to racing they will then get between three and four per week from a distance of 20 miles, once the season starts.

I will pen off by thanking John and Jean for their hospitality during my recent visit and having the honour of witnessing what must be one of the greatest collections of families relating back to the old original lines. You can be rest assured once this award winning husband and wife team decide to call it a day the sale will pull many of the racing pigeon greats together from all over the Emerald Isle, and no doubt further a-field. I wish them many more happy years racing and especially timing from their loved destination, France.

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

Mr & Mrs Hollinger Mr & Mrs Hollinger
The highly regarded husband and wife team of John and Jean Hollinger of Millisle, Co.Down, N.Ireland.
The excellent very well ventilated O/B loft of John & Jean Hollinger a loft that has timed many arrivals from France.

The Y/B Loft will be operating with ETS this year for the first Top Prize Winners last year will they repeat it this year ??

This is just a group of photos illustrating the excellent family of Barker Birds that entered N.Ireland in the Mid 1940’s these photographs were taken by Galways of Belfast in 1949 the pigeons photographed are all 1945 rung.

Blue Cock winner of 1st Club, 1st Section, 17th Open NIPA O/B Derby Dinard 1988.

Red Hen winner of 2nd Club, 2nd Section, 18th Open NIPA O/B Derby Dinard 1988, only two sent.

This Blue Pied Cock was a prolific prize winner from all distances with his top achievement gained from the INFC Kings Cup in 1990 from Redon finishing 8th Open.

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