It was almost 10 years ago that Old Irish goats were discovered among the feral herds of Mulranny mountains; a hardy animal that had survived thousands of years of harsh Irish winters and lack of animal husbandry, an animal that had served a mighty purpose keeping people alive in times of extreme suffering and poverty, an animal that was all but forgotten and abandoned to the remote hills and mountain landscapes of Ireland.
Now, after a decade we have a story to tell. How this goat was recognised and given back due value, how science was used to validate unique Irishness, and how these goats can once again serve our communities, be placed back into Irish agriculture as a charismatic tourism attraction, used for conservation grazing projects and become a farm animal again.
The dream has changed over the years as boundaries shifted. First, it was the dream of simply catching a few of these smart wily animals. Then it was establishing a safe place to look after them and starting a breeding program. Confirming their identity with DNA studies was certainly necessary if we were to herald them as a unique Irish breed, distinctly different from any of the European breeds that had infiltrated the herds of Ireland over the last 100 years. The dream to have the breed nationally recognised was always in the forefront and to expand the breeding program to keep the DNA refreshed was a pressing concern with the limited stock. This drove a search nationwide to discover Old Irish goats scattered in remote locations around the country. It was quite an adventure!
All these measures took time and money that the Old Irish Goat Society took responsibility for. The Department of Agriculture and other grant agencies assisted with small funds to keep the animals cared for and covered the costs of DNA studies. This attracted the attention of the media and the public became fascinated with this long-haired, large horned goat of Irish heritage. They wanted to know more, but the small society herd remained private. It has grown from the original 3 captured in Mulranny back in 2011 to 75 as successful breeding began.
A small exhibition centre and gift shop opened when the society acquired the lease of an old Garda station a few years back while the herd remained safely ensconced in a walled garden 30 km away.
However, all that is about to change. Soon they will return to Mulranny where a sanctuary and renovated centre is in the process of being established.
Here visitors will be able to see them close up, view a film documenting the journey from the beginning and be fascinated by the display in the exhibition space. The gift shop will be filled with handcrafted items, all made locally by the talented ‘Gift of Hands’ group with recycled textile offcuts from the Foxford Woollen mills.
To watch goats cavort on Goat Mountain and be amused by the antics of the ‘kids’ in the goat playground will be a treat for the whole family. Visitors will be fascinated by this heritage animal, saved from extinction in the nick of time!.
The Centre and Gift shop will be open by August 2020 and the Sanctuary will be open to visitors in the spring of 2021.