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The Physicial Configuration of The North West of Ireland
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There are many difficult areas in Ireland to be faced and conquered by the racing pigeon as it competes but there exists a strong contention that the physical lay out of the 'north west' of the island is by far the most difficult. Now that point of view, if accepted, is not to deny that racing pigeons face numerous difficulties whatever point of the compass they may be homing towards. For aside from the terrain of an area there are many enemies to our birds progress whether in training and racing. However the north west traditionally has been the area acknowledged by the neutral fancier and those from the area as being the toughest to overcome. So often expressed in fact that the contention has been countered by some as an excuse for failure arising from poor stock and/or poor preparation. Therefore within this article I will reflect upon the area concerned and the effect which it may have upon our pigeons when training and racing. The subject however has a universal relevancy.

There are many difficult areas in Ireland to be faced and conquered by the racing pigeon as it competes but there exists a strong contention that the physical lay out of the 'north west' of the island is by far the most difficult. Now that point of view, if accepted, is not to deny that racing pigeons face numerous difficulties whatever point of the compass they may be homing towards. For aside from the terrain of an area there are many enemies to our birds progress whether in training and racing. However the north west traditionally has been the area acknowledged by the neutral fancier and those from the area as being the toughest to overcome. So often expressed in fact that the contention has been countered by some as an excuse for failure arising from poor stock and/or poor preparation. Therefore within this article I will reflect upon the area concerned and the effect which it may have upon our pigeons when training and racing. The subject however has a universal relevancy.

Where the sport is concerned the geographical entity known as the north west is that part of the counties of Derry and Tyrone which share the hills and the mountains known as the Sperrins. As to the number of pigeon clubs in the area there are four in the city of Derry, one each in Limavady, Omagh, and Strabane respectively. The city of Derry has a Federation based upon their four clubs. The club members are in Section A (West) of the Northern Ireland Provincial Amalgamation (NIPA) and there have been successes over the years by fanciers from the area. Also in relation to the results of the Irish National Flying Club (South Road) north west fanciers have competed quite well including a third position in the Irish National.

There are many factors or elements underlying the nature of the reflection now undertaken, for example we could enter the theoretical field of pigeon orientation and after deliberation reach a puzzling impasse arising from the fact that a theory is not a fact. Yet can we pursue our reflection without the use of theory? For example does our birds home purely by the means of instinct alone, that is, what as been defined as 'a blind tendency to some mode of action, independent of any consideration on the part of the agent of the end to which its action leads'. In our case the pigeon would be the 'agent'. And the essence of the latter definition has been the answer to the often expressed question- 'How do homing pigeons manage to return to their homes?'. But really can we afford to support such occultism as someone defined it for surely our thoroughbreds are possessed of more than likely extreme powers of sight memory, observation, endurance, and a super animal intelligence.

But in accepting the existence of these abilities is it not a contradiction then to conclude or support the idea that geographical configuration do have an negative and or positive effect on the homing ability of the pigeon. That is in one respect the non existence of the Sperrin mountains would ensure that the flatter configuration reality would have a positive effect on our pigeons while training and racing. Resulting in speedier returns and a better return rate. A more equal playing pitch so to speak with the rest of the NIPA membership beyond the north west such as for example those in Down, Armagh, and Antrim. Of course the question of distance would still erode the hopes of the fancier in search of equal potential for the question of velocity or yards per minute would favour the bird from Antrim if it is a good one rather than the good bird from Derry or Strabane. That is if the flying conditions are favourable to both upon release and over the journey.

Deliberations upon the subject elsewhere so far tends in the direction of confirming the opinion that land configuration plays an important part in the sport of pigeon racing inspite of the above referred to abilities of the birds. In other words the effect of encountering a hilly and mountainous environment in a race slows up the performance of our candidates. Is this perhaps based upon an inherited fear that their number one enemy dwells primarily in the hilly and mountainous environments and therefore because of this race memory of possible feathered predators ready to attack a brake is put on further flight progress. Although primarily an inbred fear the progress is also slowed by the birds attempting to go around the cause of their fear rather than over or through the configural gaps or valleys. In addition to the latter birds have given up pursuing their objective of reaching their home loft and in turn become strays. In fact within the context of our deliberations relating to the north west many good pigeons from fanciers beyond the Sperrins over the decades have been reported from the towns of Coleraine, Portrush, and Portstewart- the latter towns sitting on or near to the steps of the mountains. Thus it would appear that the Sperrins have a negative effect for I am aware of cases in which reputedly good pigeons from Limavady entered lofts in Coleraine rather than continue the extra miles (approximately 14 miles by road) to their own lofts.

The latter could not according to discussions with fanciers from the Coleraine triangle area be caused by tiredness or stupidity for the majority were confirmed of being in good nick and whether being leaders or followers were not far from their own homes. Interestingly and with relevance the Irish founder of long distance pigeon racing in England, J.W. Logan, in his writings relating to an enquiry into races from Rome to Brussels and from St. Sebastian into England in the early years of the twentieth century concluded that geographical configuration effected the outcome of the Rome race negatively. Logan wrote: ' It is evident, therefore that there are some inherent difficulties in the route from Rome to Belgium, as compared to the route from St. Sebastian to England, possibly some vast difference in the configuration of the country that the birds have to fly over'. This in the aftermath of the facts that those racing from Rome had to face the Alp mountains and caused the participants to take nine days to complete the journey into Brussels (735 miles). The Alps being the negative influence on the race. Whereas the race from Spain to England took thirty hours to reach Liverpool at a distance of 720 miles. The latter race in continuous rainfall after a good weather start but lacking major natural configurations. Now there may have been other factors involved in the result of the Rome race but Logan opined that the cause was the natural configuration of the mountains. The timed contestants being forced to undertake an indirect route through necessity. Relating to the above race memory theory would this have been as a result of inherent fear rather than the physical reality of the course?

Relatedly arising from our status as an island nation it is possible that the reality of water crossing is not a fear factor to our well prepared birds in good atmospheric conditions to the extent that has been traditionally believed. Confronting hills and mountains however generates a fear and/or confusion within our birds which only the best will overcome. In the addition of poor atmospheric conditions however the race can or maybe defined as a smash. And it is only the bravest that comes through in the latter. In atrocious conditions and after hours of grinding flight I have seen pigeons timed into Limavady in the past that had to face the mountains straight on and as I recall the occasions the pigeons had to be the bravest of the brave.

As I near conclusion the reader may perhaps be no wiser than when he or she first began to read this piece. I would counter with the fact that I am being but speculative and being fully aware that truth can be most elusive. Therefore from this type of limbo I tend in the direction of the race memory theory of fear as the negative influence upon our our pigeons as the latter encounters the reality of physical configuration while training or racing. Thus the pigeon facing the Sperrin configuration on its journey to the north west of Ireland and which best overcomes the inherited fear and all else being equal will be the winner.

Now because of the latter phenomenon, plus distance, racing into the north west of Ireland is confirmed as being a most difficult route and I recall the curious statement of my late father 'birds from beyond the Sperrins were still flying when those who accompanied them over two waters were fed, watered, and shut eyed plus.' I now realize that unconsciously he was not referring to additional distance alone.



Liam O Comain  -
by: Liam O Comain

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