My brother Dermot has a part share on a hill in the Wicklow mountains. It forms one side of the Glenmalure valley, falling back over into the top of the mountain and into the other side, the well known Glendalough valley. An idyllic place full of deer and sheep. Dermot is a keen bee-keeper and he runs a flock of 170 Lanark ewes because he always liked to have a few sheep around.

Glenmalure Valley, Co. Wicklow.

He was up on the hill late last October gathering with a few of the other boys who graze that area. They were gathering ewes to bring home to run with the rams to have them ready to lamb for the following April. Here’s the story Dermot told me when we met for breakfast a week ago.

Gathering ewes to run with the rams

Peter ‘the Tack’ Murphy came across the hill with 150ish ewes after gathering 10 or 12 hundred acres on the Glendalough side. Peter’s bunch of sheep would trickle into the 200 or so that Dermot had gathered coming from the rocks at Lugnaquille end. It was about 2 o’clock when the two boys met. Peter said “I was trying to ring ya”. That was when Dermot realised he’d lost his phone!

Needle in a haystack!

Looking back over the last 500 or so acres of heather that he and the flock he had assembled had just crossed, (not to mention the all the gathering in the rocks) Dermot allowed there wasn’t much point in trying to find a needle in a haystack. But Peter said “Here, I’ll ring it and you see if ya can hear it.” Dermot allowed this was just pissing in the wind but at the same time didn’t dissuade the Tack from trying!

500 acres just crossed

“ It is ringing anyway!” said the Tack, “at least it isn’t in a pool of water!” Dermot said he noticed his dog Lenny turning around and tilting his head to one side and then the other and was now looking in the direction they had just come from. Dermot got the phone from the Tack and walked about 200 yards in the direction Lenny the dog had been looking. Then he stopped and rang his phone again. Again Lenny angled his head to one side and then the other.

Dermot now set off in the slightly new direction that Lenny had been pointing with his peculiar head angling, this time for about 100 yards. When he rang the phone this time, Lenny went ahead of him through the heather for about 10 yards and stopped. Lenny gazed down into the heather. “Hardly?! …” Dermot said to himself. But when Dermot followed over to where Lenny was and looked down at where Lenny had been looking there was the glow from his phone ringing, lodged deep in the heather. Dermot told me that it was even more amusing as he couldn’t even hear the phone ring at that short distance with all the insulation around its resting place.

Dermot drives a few sheep ahead

Dermot had been reunited with his phone in what was easily a 500 acre haystack of knee-high heather. Lenny had bought himself a place at the top table now ha, no doubt that story will live as long as Dermot does.

A lot of stock men choose quads over dogs and I wouldn’t push them to do otherwise unless I thought they were of a certain mindset. Dermot has a good feel for situations in general and though irritated at losing his iPhone, he was listening enough to see Lenny indicating. And patient enough to let the dog use his initiative.

If there was a lesson to learn, I think it is that it is a combination of many moments like this that form our dogs over time so I always look forward to getting out for work with the dog on the hills.

Lenny jumping the fence

Our next job will be to go up and quill out a load (probably 60) Lanark hoggets from the mainly Wicklow Cheviot ewes that are on the hill at present. I want to have about 200 or 220 ewes for Heffernan’s Hill Trial next month so that the 50 or 60 runners can almost all have fresh sheep.

I will probably leave my phone in the jeep. It’s alright for Dermot but I wouldn’t try to catch lightning in a bottle twice!