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I’m still not entirely sure even now that I would be able to find my way to Corrard Shoot, the venue for this years Irish Retriever Championships. It is one of those rare gems set somewhere along the shores of Upper Lough Erne in Enniskillin that only the most determined souls will find on a cold wet day in middle winter.
We were here by the kind invitation of Mr Robert Hogg and Guns. This would be the first time Corrard Shoot had hosted the Championships and I know that a huge amount of effort and work went into preparing the ground throughout the year and continued throughout the duration of the Championships. From the moment we drove across the narrow land-bridge on that dark, cold, Friday morning on the 14th of December, the shoot’s manager Mr Ivor Glenn could not have been more welcoming or accommodating.
Our judges this year were Mr Michael Corr ( Ireland ), Mr Gary Wilson ( Ireland ), Mr Keith Bedford (England ) and Mr Les Mclean ( Scotland ).
As always this event relies on the generosity from our hosts for allowing us to attend their ground and also from donations received by the various retriever clubs throughout the country and also from long time supporter of Irish dog sports Connolly’s Red Mills.
Accessed by a land-bridge the shoot ground unfolds out into the lake. The slight rise in topography keeps the water, for the most part, at bay but leaves it nonetheless exposed to whatever extremes of weather that inevitably occur when wind and rain travel across wide expanses of water in the northern parts of Ireland in winter….and it was the weather that became the dominating factor as the competition progressed.
Extremes of weather however, are part and parcel of why our gundogs were developed the way they were and, of all the groups of gundogs, it is the retriever breeds whose roles have perhaps become the most diverse. They are companions not only of the gun on a driven shoot but also to wildfowlers and rough shooters. They must be patient enough to sit and wait for long periods of time by the peg, the foreshore or the pigeon hide; yet alert enough to be sent at a second’s notice to retrieve a wounded bird moving quickly through cover or across water. Weather and ground are the two biggest influencing factors in hunting affecting the way scent is carried and how birds work
As we left the shooting hut and made our way up the path a faint promise of daybreak lightened the horizon. An east wind, though, may have been a cautious reminder from the lake that we were here on her terms and that she would carry the ultimate decision in how events might play out in the coming days.
This year 37 dogs qualified for the Championships. Of those 7 did not run. Two handlers started with two dogs, Mr Matty Lambden running FTCH Ulverton Punch and FTCH Tamrose Aragon, and Mr Gerard Murdock running Astraglen Assault of Dunamoira and Stauntonvale Terrano of Dunamoira. All dogs running were Labrador Retrievers bar one Mr John Williamson running a Golden Retriever bitch Tealcreek Isla.
I stayed with Judges Mr Michael Corr and Mr Keith Bedford who took the uneven numbered dogs for the first drive and their first round of retrieves, the competitors took their places at the top of the hill. They were well back from the line of Guns below us, who formed a wide arc spanning from the lake shore to our left and spreading out in front of a birch mixed wood across a narrow ditch and into the grass field to our right.
The even numbered dogs and handlers followed their judges, Mr Gary Wilson and Mr Les Mclean down the hill and across a bridge to our right where they lined up at the back of the drive against a hedge which offered some respite from the relentless wind.
Under Irish Kennel Club rules each dog takes a single retrieve from one side of the line and then moves across to the other side. In this way judges on both sides of the line have the opportunity to see all dogs early on in the competition.
As the dogs and handlers settled themselves in line the horn blew signalling the start of the first drive and the judges gave their first instruction to their charges to remove their dog’s leads and put them away.
From our vantage point at the top of the hill we could watch the drive unfold. The spaniel men worked their dogs to the back of the wood and slowly wielded their way towards the gun line. They kept their dogs tight, quartering close and moved with precision changing the direction of the beating line as required, ensuring birds broke evenly and in small bursts rather than large flushes.
The birds flew well rising quickly through the trees to clear the hill behind the guns. Those that broke through the line untouched whistled low past the dogs at the top of the hill as they made their way to cover behind. Not a single dog moved, they remained steadfastly focused on the action down below in front of them. As the drive continued and the spaniels worked deeper into the woods from across the lake behind us, an east wind started to gain momentum. It pushed up the hill and found its way into every exposed piece of skin. Handlers started to shuffle simply in an effort to keep warm but the dogs remained resolute, they stayed quietly and stoically attuned to where the birds fell and what action would be required of them once this drive was over.
Somewhere in the distance a horn sounded, signalling the end of the drive. As the guns and spaniel men drifted away, the job of clearing the ground quickly commenced. The wide open spaces and a strong wind bringing low temperatures were going to influence the dog work greatly, something which became more apparent as the initial birds were picked and the dogs needed to find the trickier birds that might have fallen into pockets of the marshy ground at the bottom of the hill. Two dogs were lost from the uneven numbers in the first round FTCH Corrib Darcy and FTCH Copperbirch Mandela, both failing to find. Word reached us that, from the even numbered dogs, both Crosstone Trickster and Ffynongain Celt were also gone.
Second round retrieve dogs started to arrive from the other side of the line and FTCH Derryad Moss and Int FTCH Drumgoose Warlord , a previous Championship winner, both completed their respective retrieves in quick succession. One bird remained to be found on our side and this proved to be the undoing of both FTCH Watergreen Jasper and last year’s winner Int FTCH Miller McDuff. Both dogs cast well to the area given and handled extremely well, holding and covering the area and hunting very efficiently but failed to find. A third dog, FTCH Watergreen Hunter was tried. His handler, Mr Tom Lowry, cast him slightly more to the right and perhaps being a slower paced dog or turning on the wind at just the right time he found the bird.
With our ground complete and swept again we moved down the hill to the relative comfort and shelter which the hedge offered where the four judges had the opportunity to confer and compare notes before moving onto the second drive.
I followed my two judges and their charges across another narrow little bridge, then through a wood where we were met again with the full force of the wind that tore across the lake. White horses whipped up against the dark grey water of the lake and already chilled from our earlier stint at the top of the hill, humans and dogs alike rounded their shoulders and turned their sides to protect themselves as best they could against the onslaught.
Once again from,somewhere far away, a horn sounded signalling the start of the second drive. In my mind this was a particularly hard drive for dogs to endure. Not only because of the relentless wind and cold but because of the unusual direction from where the birds came from. They flew from behind us where they followed the shoreline rising to clear the woods at the end. One bird fell with a splash just ten meters in front of where we stood and this proved too much for FTCH Cherrymount Anorchist.
It was from this drive that, in judge Michael Corr’s opinion, the retrieve of the day took place. Dog No. 30, a black labrador bitch named FTCH Carrickview Holly, owned and handled by Mr Tadgh Kelly came to the line for her third retrieve of the day. A pheasant had been brought down out in the water but with the strong wind it had drifted out along the shoreline behind a bank of reeds. She took the cast along the shoreline, pushing through the area where birds had been picked before her and when asked took a clean left cast into the water in front of the reeds. She swam out against the foam caps pushed up by the east wind until asked, then responded promptly to her handler where he needed to push her back into the reeds to find the bird. It’s hard to portray how difficult it is to work a dog at a distance in water with the distraction of wind noise and cold, but she took each instruction as given and, against a high chop and frigid water temperatures, she stuck to the task, picked up the scent and brought the bird to hand.
Three other dogs that also caught the judges attention on the first day were Highwalk Galway handled by Mr Tony Rodgers, Shimnavale Jasmine of Drumnamoe handled by Mr John Barr jnr and FTCH Tamrose Aragon handled by Mr Matty Lambden, they all stood out for their excellent clean handling and game finding abilities.
The light which the day might have promised at dawn never came, and by late afternoon, when each of the fourteen dogs remaining had completed four retrieves we returned to the cosy little shooting hut where a warm coffee was much appreciated in an effort to thaw numb fingers and toes.
The start of the second day saw eleven dogs brought forward to the line:
No. 3 – Tealcreek Isla Handler Mr John Williamson
No. 4 – Int FTCH Drumgoose Warlord Handler Mr Billy Lundy
No. 7 – Luna Ruff Handler Mr Eamon Murphy
No. 9 – Trefaldwyn Kribensis of Shadowbrae Handler Mr Richard Johnston
No. 15 – Astraglen Assault of Dunamoira Handler Mr Gerard Murdock
No. 17 – Listooder Great Handler Mr Daniel McKelvey
No. 21 – Highwalk Galway Handler Mr Tony Rogers
No. 23 – FTCH Tamrose Aragon Handler Mr Matty Lambden
No. 27 – Shimnavale Jasmine of Drumnamoe Handler Mr John Barr jnr
No. 30 – FTCH Carrickview Holly Handler Mr Tadgh Kelly
No. 31 – FTCH Rosenallis Enzo Handler Mr Jim Carnegie.
A yellow storm warning was in force. We were thankful the wind had dropped off but the low cloud brought a steady rain that alternated throughout the day from heavy to very heavy….it was wet!!
The first drive was situated in a field that fell away to the lake on our left and a long mixed deciduous wood in front. Two guns were placed in the field with the remaining guns placed along a narrow track that cut along the base of the woods.
After been thoroughly tested the previous day with long periods of steadiness in line the start of the day offered a series of quick shots and prompt retrieves as the dogs worked throughout the drive. Here retrieving, while acknowledging the fall of a second bird, was tested. The warmer temperatures and increased moisture no doubt played a significant role in aiding scenting ability and very little separated the dogs as we ended the sixth round of retrieves and headed to the beet crop where everyone knew the final cut would be made.
So, after two days of testing dogs, where the weather played as much a part as the ground in how retrieves played out, we were down to our final seven dogs:
Int FTCH Drumgoose Warlord Handler Mr Billy Lundy
Trefaldwyn Kribensis of Shadowbrae Handler Mr Richard Johnston
Highwalk Galway Handler Mr Tony Rodgers
FTCH Tamrose Aragon Handler Mr Matty Lambden
Shimnavale Jasmine of Drumnamoe Handler Mr John Barr Jnr
FTCH Carrickview Holly Handler Mr Tadgh Kelly
FTCH Rosenallis Enzo Handler Mr Jim Carnegie
One yellow labrador and six blacks spread out across the top of the game crop. Hard weather, no matter how prepared one is for it, takes its toll, it wears you down, numbs the senses. We expect a lot from our dogs and, although I would say the ground was not testing in relation to cover, it brought different challenges where weather and wide open spaces proved the undoing of some quality dogs. It was a trial of endurance for dogs and handlers and the ones that came out on top in the end showed tenacity, an ability to remain steady under high pressure situations, superior handling, casting and game-finding abilities.
After a further two rounds of retrieves where we lost one further dog, FTCH Tamrose Aragon, the judges were satisfied they had a result.
The final 6 dogs took their obligatory water retrieve and we returned to the shooting hut where the presentation took place.
Championship Chairman, Mr Damian Newman addressed a packed and steamy shooting hut. He thanked the markers, stewards, number changers and also Mr Gary McCutcheon for the loan of his quad over the two days. Thanks and appreciation was also extended to the clubs for donations towards the cost of running a Championships and to Connolly’s Red Mills for their generous sponsorship.
The Chairman then invited the judges to say a few words and Mr Keith Bedford stepped forward to speak on behalf of his fellow judges. He said he was honoured to be asked to judge at such a prestigious event. He thanked the shoot owners and commended the keeper on the amount of work he did over the two days, assisting them in any way he could. He spoke of how well the guns shot under such testing conditions throughout the Championships and re-iterated the quality of dog work he witnessed over the two days. Keith took his seat back with his fellow judges and the Chairman commenced the presentation.
First Place and Judges Choice No. 27 – Shimnavale Jasmine of Drumnamoe Handler/Owner Mr John Barr jnr.
Trophies received by the winner: Redmills Perpetual Trophy
Winners Trophy- sponsored by Mr Albert Titterington
The Knight Frank Ganly Walters Perpetual Cup
The Barbara Eustace Duckett Memorial Trophy
The Maude Perpetual Challenge Cup.
She also won: The Fred McGuirk Perpetual Cup as the highest placed bitch.
Irish Countrysports and Countrylife Perpetual Trophy for Guns Choice.
The Cromlix Perpetual Trophy for the best Labrador Retriever in the Championship.
Second Place No. 9 – Trefaldwyn Kribensis of Shadowbrae Handler/Owner Mr Richard Johnston.
Trophies Received: The Auckland Perpetual Trophy
2nd Place Trophy
Mr Johnston was also awarded: The Ballyfrema Cup as breeder of the winning dog/bitch.
The Sam Jennett Raughlin Trophy as Breeder of the winner of The Irish Retriever Championships presented by Mrs Lillian Jennett.
Third Place No. 21 – Highwalk Galway Handler/Owner Mr Tony Rodgers
Winner of The Robert O’Farrell Triple Crown Perpetual Trophy
Fourth Place No. 30 – FTCH Carrickview Holly Handler/Owner Mr Tadhg Kelly
Winner of The Barra Flynn Memorial Perpetual Trophy.
Diploma of Honour No. 4 – Int FTCH Drumgoose Warlord Handler/Owner Mr Billy Lundy
Diploma of Honour No. 31 – FTCH Rosenallis Enzo Handler/Owner Mr Jim Carnegie.
Shimnavale Jasmine of Drumnamoe , winner of the Championships at just two and a half years old!!. I had watched her on the first morning of the Championships take a 150 yard retrieve in a single cast, from the top of that very cold hill down through a band of dead grass, across a drain, over a fence and promptly find the bird she was sent for. She had done enough to leave an impression on the judges the first day and continued to shine through in atrocious conditions on the second day displaying game sense beyond her years. Surely a bright future ahead of her. Well done to her owner Mr John Barr jnr and her breeder Mr Richard Johnston.
Until next year….enjoy the rest of your season, be safe.