THE WAIT has been a long one - but now, finally, it seems that the Kilkenny Pigeon Racing Club is to have a home of its own.
For 25 years now, they have been using the community hall at the Butts green for their social activities, and for pre-race tagging of birds. While the club is grateful for the use of the facility, it is not an ideal location for thousands of birds to be brought in, and they have been trying to find a home of their own for some time.
But now, a site has been found, and a council vote is the only box left to tick before planning can begin. The club is now trying to raise the funds that will be required to put things in motion.
Formed in the late 1940s, the club today is as strong as ever - with almost 40 members.
Patsy Dowling, the club’s chairman, has been a member since 1974. He says there is a social edge to it, as well as the pastime aspect of rearing and racing the birds.
“It’s getting stronger, it is county-wide,” he says of the club.
“It’s a hobby and a sport, and people love to take part in it. There’s also a camaraderie with the lads in the club, and a competitiveness.”
Fred Malone, current treasurer of the club, first got involved in the pigeon racing scene when he was 14 years old. Living in Cuffesgrange, he has about 150 pigeons at the busy point in the season. He also organises many of the races.
The ‘old bird’ season begins in late April, and runs until the end of June. The ‘young bird’ season then gets underway in mid-July, running until late September.
Last weekend, members took part in a national race at Bantrycove. Races can be sprints on land, of around 140 miles, or longer distance races, often from the UK or France, of up to 400 miles.
The birds can travel at speeds of up to 50mph as they navigate their way home. Race winners are calculated by determining the velocity of birds, as each distance is different for each competitor. The winner is that with the fastest rate of travel, yards per minute.
Like many sports, pigeon racing has made huge advances in recent years, and some aspects have become very technical.
Most events now use Electronic Timing System (ETS), which involves a band with a microchip attached to each bird. A scanner automatically records the bird’s arrival back to the loft.
ETS doesn’t come cheap either. Patsy’s system set him back the best part of E850.
In addition, the birds themselves are kept in peak physical condition.
“Diet is a huge thing,” says Fred.
“You don’t just thrown in some corn.”
The sport has evolved to where the birds are essentially small, feathered elite athletes, with a dietary regime that would rival that of any olympian.
A quick glance in Patsy’s shed reveals dozens of sacks of feed, with at least nine different varieties for young birds, old birds - as well as different types for different days of the week before a race, for sprint racing birds or longer distance. There’s some with extra fats, others with low protein, more carbohydrates.
To some extent, this has naturally developed out of the increased popularity of the sport in foreign destinations. And like association football, the game has been changed by big money. In certain countries where the sport is very popular, such as Taiwan and China, the top pigeons can change hands for tens of thousands of euro, and betting on race outcomes is a multi-million dollar industry.
In Kilkenny, however, the focus remains firmly on the enjoyment of the sport and hobby, and it is hoped that the new home will further the club’s fortunes.
The location of the proposed site remains a secret, but it will have full parking facilities and is easily accessible via the ring road. An upcoming meeting of Kilkenny Borough Council will put the location before councillors for formal approval. If this is secured, planning at the site can go ahead.
Local Borough Councillor Joe Malone, who along with Joe Reidy, was originally approached by the club to help them find a place, says that that the venue will give Kilkenny Pigeon Racing club a big boost.
“It’s great that they have found a home,” he said.
“I’d have to compliment the council in this, in particular John Mulholland. He was anxious that this would take off for them.
“If you have a permanent base, you will get more people - it’s like any club. It will grow from there.”