Meet the people of Ireland: shepherd Martin Feeney

Martin Feeney

On the coast of County Sligo, some of the best sheepdogs in the world get to work

Under the watchful gaze of mighty Ben Bulben mountain, Martin Feeney’s sheep roam freely – or so it seems. As visitors are quick to learn, there’s a lot more to sheep farming than meets the eye. “Everybody comes to Ireland and they see sheep on the mountains, they see postcards with sheep on the roads,” says Martin. “But people don’t think about how they get up there – and how they get down!”

“We’ve had people from the middle of New York City who’ve never seen a green field, never mind a sheep!

Martin Feeney

How they get down is through the masterful work of Martin and his seven Atlantic Sheepdogs. All Border Collies, the pack works year-round, expertly herding the farm’s flock of 900 sheep and lambs from one end of this busy farm to the other. With the dogs in charge, the sheep move seamlessly – a woolly ball of energy that flows across the field on silent demand.

One man and his dog

Talking to Martin, it’s clear that working with these dogs is his dream come true. He grew up on a farm learning from his father, himself an expert sheep handler, and has been winning shepherding competitions since he was a young boy. But it took years before he began sharing his dogs’ skill with a wider audience.

Once [people] see the dogs working, you hear the ‘wow’

Martin Feeney

"The idea of opening it up to people was completely by accident," explains Martin. "We’re right beside the beach, so people used to stop and look and they’d be asking questions." After running their first tour as a favour to a local tour guide five years ago, it was natural to continue. These days, “we have people coming nearly every day…from Australia, New Zealand, Israel, America, China... I don’t think there’s a corner of the world people haven’t visited from."

A day on the farm

Martin’s love for his animals is clear and he’s filled with pride when speaking about his “right-hand man” Jack, who has reached the semifinal of the World Sheepdog Trials, making him one of the top 25 sheepdogs in the world.

Most years we have a couple of lambs sitting in front of the fire in a cardboard box, trying to keep them warm

Martin Feeney

Between lambing season, sheepdog competitions, shearing and tours, life on the farm isn’t easy but Martin knows he’s one of the lucky ones. “I’d heard about people getting the chance to do what they love, and I love meeting people, I love working with the dogs and I love farming. The busy times come and the busy times go… you just take what comes.”

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