By Yvonne Blackwood
I have always known the Irish for their quality wool. Irish woollen sweaters, hats, and scarves have been known to last for a long time. In fact, I recall someone once stating that you only need one Irish sweater—it lasts forever. I was therefore expecting to see a few sheep in the countryside as I explored ‘The Emerald Isle’ a few years ago. I certainly did not expect the vast population that I witnessed.
After spotting herds and herds of sheep grazing in green grassy meadows everywhere we travelled, I asked our comical guide (an Irish friend from Toronto) the million dollar question, “How many sheep are here in Ireland?” After he cracked up laughing, and coughed a few times, he said, “Ireland has 4.3 million people, and it has 4.3 million sheep—one sheep for each person!” Then laughter erupted again.
There are many breeds of sheep in Ireland, and I saw a few as we traversed the country, heading for County Sligo. We arrived at St Columba’s Church of Ireland, in Drumcliffe. William Butler Yeats’s grandfather was once its pastor, and the cemetery there is the final resting place for Yeats. (I will cover this in a subsequent article).
The church property was separated from the neighbour’s by a low stone wall, and just beyond the wall a herd of sheep grazed contentedly. I had never seen this breed of sheep before. Little black faces peered out from under bodies covered with long, stringy wool; they hardly seemed real! They are known as Scottish Blackfaces, and are the most common breed of domestic sheep in the United Kingdom. They are known to be hardy and adaptable, and their long coarse wool shields them from moisture and harsh winds.