Sheepherding in Glenbeigh, Ireland

On this trip we are visiting my grandfather’s family who mostly live in Counties Cork and Waterford. But his wife – my grandmother – was named Mary Foley and she also emigrated from Ireland, from a town called Glenbeigh in County Kerry. We aren’t in touch with her family to the extent that we’re in touch with my grandfather’s family, but we did make a point to drive through Glenbeigh so that we could see where she came from, which for me was very meaningful.

I never met my grandmother, who was called Nanny, as she died a few years before I was born. But the way she’s talked about by those who knew her – from my older sister, my parents, my cousins in Ireland – is that she was full of life, laughed often, and was a consummate hostess. By many accounts, she and my grandfather were an immigrant success story; they moved to Ireland (separately) in the late 1920s, met and got married in America, and by the mid 1940s they owned their own home in Woodside and a dry cleaning business in Elmhurst. I wish I could have known her, though I’m grateful to at least visit where she came from.

Nanny emigrated to America in 1928, one year before Grandpa. She came from a sheep herding family in Glenbeigh.  Our tour guide, Dermott, knew this and made arrangements for us to make a stop with a sheep herder in Glenbeigh who has created a side tourist business for himself, explaining to his visitors how he uses sheep dogs to herd his flock of sheep. His name was Brendan Ferris and he was wonderful. Brendan invited us visitors to glimpse into his daily routine of herding the sheep via sheep dogs.  These canines are all work and no play (though it looks like they truly enjoy the work)!

It was fascinating to learn how Brendan directs two dogs at the same time.  He uses a basic set of commands, like “Go”, “Stop”, “Right”, “Left”, and so on.  And each dog is taught its own language for these commands; in effect, a different set of words for each dog. This is to ensure each dog understands only that set of commands that Brendan intends them to follow. Brendan helped us understood what he meant by highlighting the fact that we, the visitors watching him, were bifurcated into English and German speakers (there was a German-speaking tour group watching this along with us). Brendan would explain himself, then pause, and wait for the German translator to explain what he had just said. Brendan highlighted to us taht those of us who understood English made sense of what Brendan was saying, but those of us who didn’t know German (myself included) tuned out the German translation and only focused on the English. And vice versa, the German speakers likely made no sense of what Brendan said, but they could understand their translator.  The dogs act similarly: they listen for and obey only the signals they’ve been trained to understand.

Brendan explained it takes about 6 months to train the dogs, and they don’t start training until after a few months of age.

It was so enjoyable to get a glimpse into the daily life of a shepherd and his dogs…a recommended stop if you are ever traveling through or near Glenbeigh.  You can learn more about Brendan here.

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