One Man and His Dog and the impact of Brexit on farming

Neil Gillon’s Hill Trial had to be cancelled this year because a mist came down on the hill making visibility impossible, but as we say in Ireland, “its an ill wind that doesn’t blow some good”.

The fact that the Hill Trial was postponed meant that on the Sunday myself and John Heffernan were delivering a bitch to Scotland, we also got to meet up with Neil for a chat and run a dog in his trial.

Neil was a finalist in the World Sheepdog Trials with his dog Bhoy and he got through to the semi-finals with his Bhoy son, Shweep. Neil was the Scottish team captain for the International in Tywyn after winning the Scottish National with Shweep in 2016.

Paddy Fanning: I skipped over to Scotland there a few weeks ago. It was great from over there we got to attend Neil Guillen’s hill trial and we met fellows like Stuart McCrindle and on Maureen McTeer, and we’d a right bit of aul chatting. I asked Neil if he’d have a bit of a chat with me and give an interview. We didn’t have much time, but Neil agreed and it was quite interesting. So you can hear it now. We’re here at your hill trial, Neil. And it’s a smashing course. It looks like a hell of long way out. How far is it?

Neil Gillon: A least 700 yards? It’s not too rough, it’s manageable, but a dog needs to think about what it is doing and be used to running in this kind of ground.

Paddy Fanning: I’m looking at the O’s there and they’re tricky but they’re in great shape. How have they such good condition at this time of the year. I know they’ve had the whole summer, but is the grazing up here good?

Neil Gillon: It’s been the greatest that we’ve known for many years. The grass has always been growing so the ewes have a gotten into good condition. It’s been a good two months and they’re fat. Ewes can be soft and lie down, but they’re fat.

Paddy Fanning: That’s a big course and they’re do a lot of running to get around it. They look like by the time we take them off the course they’d be ready to go again if they wanted to. Your’re a contract shepherd right?

Neil Gillon: Yes, that’s right. I look after this farm, but I’m just paid on an hourly rate, self employed, but the neighbouring farms are contract farms.

Paddy Fanning: I was wondering what sort of numbers would you be working with between different places?

Neil Gillon: It’s 1100 between this farm and the neighbouring farm. I help another farmer with 800 and the farmer that owns this farm has a further 1000 or so.

Paddy Fanning: That’s big numbers. The first time I saw you was at Roscommon at the international trial. I saw you there with Boy and I remember I didn’t catch your whole run but I thought he had lovely balance and lovely control. You were fighting with him a little bit. I hear a lot of people saying that you can’t have a good work dog and a good trial dog all in the one dog. What do you think about that?

Neil Gillon: I think you can have a good work dog and run them in trails and you can win. But you’ll not win as many as with an easier trial dog. You can do more difficult trails and you’ll do better at a national and international trial level.

Paddy Fanning: That’s very interesting. You won the national in 2016 with your dog Sweep. Surely you don’t work him every day on the farm in all your regular sort of work?

Neil Gillon: Definitely. I mean, I don’t keep passengers. They have got to go out and do their work and apart from that we’re sweet. If you don’t get them out and give them work, it would be an accident waiting to happen.

Paddy Fanning: There’s definitely no doubt that your dogs have plenty of stamina to put up with this sort of ground.  What was it like going down to London to the One Man and His Dog trial? How did you prepare for that? Because that looked like a nice civilised course. What did you do for that?

Neil Gillon: I didn’t even really prepare for it. I just went down and hoped for the best. The circumstances, the way it was in the middle of the city, with many people going about you just have to play it by ear. There’s many people going around that can disturb the dog, disturb their hearing and spoil the event. But it went well and it turned out to be a nice place to have it because you could actually look over London and you were for the most part disassociated from the public. It was okay.

Paddy Fanning: It was a very urban environment compared to this one. I was wondering, when we were driving over we drove through a lot of hills and we could see a lot of sheep there in lovely wild countryside. And I wondered that after Brexit, with all that change coming, and if you have money coming from the EU, will change the way life up here. What do you think about that? How will Brexit change things?

Neil Gillon: I think it will change things because in Europe the farming voice is far greater than it is in the UK. I’m afraid that the National Health Service is always shouting for money, and the National Health Services is a vote winner. So I’m afraid that they’ll take some agricultural subsidy money and pump that money into the National Health Service just to win votes. So we’ll be left out I think.

Paddy Fanning: I love the hills and all the history, everything that involved with them, the tradition and all the experiences we have up here with sheep and dogs. I just think that people outside it, its not vital to them. Even though I think it is vital overall to a lot of us. Thanks very much Neil for having us over for the hill trial. It’s been great to meet you and the boys and get a look at your dogs in this big environment. You’ve given us something to think about going home. Thanks very much.

Neil Gillon: It was good to have you and I hope you enjoyed your day. It’s certainly an environment here that you’d want hold a trial in to better your dogs. There’s not enough of this kind of trials.

Paddy Fanning: Yeah, I agree and cheap too. A push button sheepdog would be no addition in this sort of an environment. Thanks very much.

If you’re still listening at this point, I assumed that you enjoyed the interview. The reason that we make these interviews at Churchmount Sheepdogs is that I often find that as a result of the conversation with somebody it sparks an idea in my head. That might lead me to change the way I’m training or change my thinking in some area for the better.

So basically that’s the reason we’re sharing these interviews in the hope that it might implicate an idea and somebody else’s head that could make an improvement for them. If you know anybody that benefit from this, please don’t hesitate to share it. Facebook or messenger or whatever way you like to share. Feel free to share because that’s my thinking behind making the interviews in the first place.