Sean McGee Lattagloghan, receiving the Irish Texel Sheep National Hall of Fame Award from Minister Pippa Hackett at the presentation and banquet in the Sheraton Hotel, Athlone.

Texel farmer inducted into Hall of Fame

A Crosskeys farmer was honoured to be inducted into the Texel Hall of Fame at a recent awards event.

The award is the culmination of Sean McGee’s lifetime in farming during which the biggest honours were obtained. In 2014 he won the All Ireland National Flock competition, and in 2017 he lifted top prize for the North East region; another of the top awards. Show rosettes were gathered in such volumes that a presentation board his son constructed ran out of room five years ago.

Had Sean not won a single honour you suspect he would still have felt his time breeding Texels and participating in the society was well spent.

The Donegal native has a passion for the breed and huge admiration and fondness for his fellow Texel Society members. The respect is reciprocated. It’s thought that once Sean was mentioned for the Hall of Fame, the eight strong council were in such agreement that no other farmer’s name was put forward country-wide.

Sean’s Navac flock has built a strong reputation over the years, but the Celt wonders about the origins of the curious name.

“I had to come up with a name for the flock and Lattaglahan, the townland here, is a very long name.

“Cavan spelled backways. I was laughing to myself because when the Cavan boys saw it they said, only a Donegal man would get away with that!”

Sean’s not averse to buying in quality to bolster his flock’s credentials. His purchase of Glenside Roller – from the same blood line as the famous Razzle Dazzle – proved key to winning the All Ireland in 2014. However he balks at the eye-watering money that intermittently make the headlines, such as when Double Diamond, a Texel from the Sportsman flock, went for £368,000 in Lanark in Scotland a couple of years ago. Sean says that kind of money is “for the birds, crazy”. A consortium of big farmers bought it to sell its semen.

However, buying the descendants of such headline grabbers isn’t so outlandish. Sean and another sheepman bought a grandson of Double Diamond, called Midlock Dorito which he breeds off.

Sean outlines what he’s looking for when introducing new genetics into his flock.

“You are looking for confirmation: you need a leg in every corner. You can’t have two front legs stuck together. It has to be the same width all the way for the length. And a nice tight fleece, not a loose fleece. And then good colours – black nose and black eyedrops and good white hair on the face and legs.”

Sean was born on a farm in Donegal’s Fanad Head “any further north and you’d wet your feet,” he quips. There he was detailed to take care of the family’s crossbred milford sprickle-faced sheep, then help to milk the cows before heading off to school.

Like many before him Sean set off for New York to work on building sites “to make a few pound” where he stayed for 15 years. The Big Apple was where he met his future wife, Cavan woman Rosaleen Reilly and they decided to move home. Rosaleen was from the townland of Moher, and they found a farmstead with 30 acres perched on top of a drumlin with spectacular views not too far away in Lattagloghan where Sean lives to this day. There they reared their family of four, and are blessed with a flock of grandchildren. Sadly Rosaleen passed away last June.

He kept crossbred sheep for a good few years, but his interest in Texels was piqued at a show in Ardee in the mid-1990s.

“I saw this pair of purebred Texel ewe lambs, they looked the part. ‘Jesus’, I said, ‘first chance I get I’m going to see if I can get a Texel’.”

He bought his first Texels in 1995, and joined the society five years later.

“I found them to be very easy to keep. Unless you have the place fenced properly for crosbred sheep, they’ll take to the country. The Texel is very docile, very quiet, and if you put them in a field they will stay there.”

Sean didn’t have the land for the size of flock required to support a family, so his sheep rearing enterprise always remained a part time job. Sean worked with Ascon, constructing motorways and mostly based in Dublin.

“I used to be under pressure. I would come home here, I was on high-doh between traffic and work and everything. I used walk out to the fields and a few oul sheep would walk up to you – it’d be like therapy. I’d just get grounded. I would walk around through them, and go into the house and I’d be in different form. I found that about them, they were great for letting go of everything and winding down.”

Sean’s induction into the Hall of Fame means so much to him.

“I enjoy what I do with them, but to be recognised is an honour - that the other breeders think that much of you. The amount of messages I got on my phone from all over the country is serious.”