BY MICHAEL GALLAGHER Their plans had read well and there was no doubt about their desire and determination, but I often wondered what the Old Irish Goat Society was actually going to achieve in a physical sense. They were making people aware a rare breed of goat lived in the hills overlooking Mulranny and explaining what a special resource the breed was for the Irish state. I really appreciated that and admired their unstinting work but a conservation-heathen such as I needed to see something solid.
I needed to look a goat in the eye and say, “This is what the Old Irish Goat Society are actually achieving.” Then I took a trip to Mulranny to see the results of their captive breeding program and everything changed! Wonderful little goats gamboled around my feet as their regal heads surveyed the visiting humans with a lot of interest and no fear. Their patterned coats provided a colour palette that was food for both the eyes and the soul as the sun danced invitingly in the heavens.
The kid goats were historic creatures – the produce of nine females and three males, all excellent examples of the Old Irish Goat. The 12 prospective parents had entered the pioneering captive breeding program a few months earlier and the fruits of their efforts were there for all to see. The kids had all been given names – Colleen and Davideen were the most prominent of the new arrivals, but there were other wonderfully- christened youngsters lurking in the background.
Their parents were also given regal-sounding branding with Croaghaun, Richard and Ned the three father figures of the group. Accompanying me into the midst of the goat families were Maeve Foran, a talented young conservationist, Carol Loftus of Mulranny Tourism and Sean Grady who works with the program on a daily basis ensuring that the goats have everything they need. Sean’s wok involves twice daily visits to water and feed the goats various oat and beet pulp mixes along with straw, hay and leaves and he displayed great knowledge and care for his four-footed friends. Maeve’s enthusiasm for the project is quickly gaining legendary status.
The Cork woman arrived in Mulranny as an intern and remains immersed in the project even though her internship is now over. “It’s such an exciting program. There’s something about the Old Irish Goats that draws one in. To prove that the breed is a rare one that stretches back through time is just wonderful and to work with the new breeding program, even in a voluntary capacity is very exciting,” she explained before Carol quickly cut in to add another dimension to the whole thing. “Maeve came here to work as an intern on the project and before her we had Rob (Corrigan). Both of them have been absolutely invaluable to us but they have also fallen in love with Mulranny and are now living among us with their partners. That’s just another wonderful aspect of the whole program – the Old Irish Goat is already attracting new people into our community,” she added enthusiastically.
Carol’s spirit of excitement was infectious and the goat project was wonderful from a scientific viewpoint but I wondered how it would benefit Mulranny on a day-to-day level into the future. “These goats were once domesticated here in Mulranny. They were the poor man’s cow, but that all changed in the past century and they moved to become a feral race for a time,” Carol added. “We hope to continue this breeding program and eventually come to the stage when we can have a Mulranny goat farm where they can alternate between their time on the hill and in the farm.” The possibilities of domesticating the goats are very strong if my visit to the breeding program is anything to go by.
Goats that were captured on the hill for characteristics such as stocky build, long dish face, small ears, long coat, cashmere undercoat seemed well accustomed to their new surroundings and Maeve was delighted with their progress. “We monitor everything here from their dung samples to their feeding patterns and it has been a great success. The project can now continue, safe in the knowledge that a healthy breeding population is being fostered that’s genuinely representative of the Mulranny Old Irish Goat,” she concluded and I was convinced that our regal friends were in safe hands with a wonderful future guaranteed in the hills over one of Ireland’s truly magical communities.