12 Random Facts about the Old Irish Goat
It was the only goat breed in Ireland from the earliest of times until the beginning of the twentieth century when ‘improved’ breeds were brought in to Ireland.
It was a multipurpose breed. and supplied milk, fat, meat, hide, hair and horn. It was the goat of the megalithic tomb builders, the Celts and the Vikings. It found its way into Irish myths and legends and in time gave its hide to the Bodhrán (Irish drum) and parchment for monks to write on. It is certainly both symbolic and emblematic of Ireland’s history and often made the difference between want and starvation for the population during hard times, especially at the time of the famines.
Large herds of Old Irish Goats were imported into England and Scotland during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They were purchased and gathered by drovers who ushered them on to Scotland, Wales and England. They sold the milk and nannies along the way, as they proved to be a very popular hardy cottager goat. Their appearance in towns and villages was regarded as a harbinger of spring.
In 1908, there were around a quarter of a million goats in Ireland, practically all of which belonged to the Old Irish breed. Eighty years later, it was clear that they were heading for extinction in domestication and that the Old Irish base of the breed as a feral animal was being eroded away by introgression (crossbreeding).
Reasons for its Decline
As a native or landrace breed it could not be equaled as a hardy, cost-effective animal: ‘the poor-man’s cow’. However, goats of improved type – large, hornless, smooth-coated and better milkers – were imported from England at the end of the Nineteenth Century. From their main points of disembarkation (Dublin and Belfast), they moved across the country from east to west, replacing the old breed as they went. Goats of improved type (Swiss-based breeds and the Anglo-Nubian) reached the west of Ireland during the last half the Twentieth Century.
The numbers of remaining Old Irish goats in Ireland is not known, but they are extinct in domestication. They are now only found in scattered feral herds and numbers are declining fast.
The World Watch List incorrectly classifies the Old Irish Goat as ‘not at risk’ while the latest edition of the Mason Dictionary declares it as ‘extinct’. Neither are correct, the Old Irish Goat is not extinct, but it is at risk with a poor conservation outlook despite.
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