On Monday the 2nd of February 2009 the Carndonagh Livestock Mart celebrated their 50th Anniversary. The late P. J. McCarroll, (Jim to those who knew him,) was the local vet who came up with the idea to set up the Mart in 1958. The basis for the mart was that it would be based on co-operative ideals, run by farmers, for farmers, with everyone owning a share of the business. Seven men were elected on to the committee at the initial meeting in Canny’s Hotel on the 15th of July 1958. These They were P.J McCarroll, Chairman, Carndonagh, George Doherty, N.T., Culdaff, Stephen Butler Jr, Carndonagh, James McLaughlin, Muff, Charles Scott, Tulnaree, Michael Deery, Malin, Angus Mills, Culdaff and P.J. O’Doherty, Secretary, Carndonagh.
THE COW PARK
In order to raise the funds for a building the committee decided to sell shares valued at £2 each to local farmers and businessmen. The contract for the erection of the Mart went to the McLaughlin Brothers (The Masons) from Carndonagh, and cost £3,370. Construction was underway in late summer 1958 on the site off of the Main Street in an area known as “The Cow Park”. The new building had room for 250 head of cattle with room for expansion.
The official opening of the Mart took place on the 29th of January 1959 and was performed by Mrs A. Mills from Culdaff, who was the president of the Inishowen Agricultural Society at the time. The Rev. H.A. Weedon, the Rector in Carndonagh spoke at the event, saying, “Let us all, regardless of class or creed, take an interest in it (the Mart). Do not let us say, I am not a farmer and it does not interest me. It does, because farming is vital to this country. It is one of its vital industries.”
The Reverend Weedon also acknowledged the initiative and spirit of the enterprise, in a world where it was fashionable to leave such matters to the state. He praise the committee for taking matters into their own hands and setting up the Mart, commending the local community, saying that Donegal was the “vanguard of progress.”
THE FIRST SALE
The first sale of cattle was held at the Mart on February 2nd 1959 and attracted a lot of interest. Buyers flocked from Derry, Tyrone, Donegal and Sligo. The cattle entries reached a capacity of 216 and included good Aberdeen Agnus crosses, crossbreds, quality springers and finished cattle. Jim McCarroll Sr’s big worry was that no one would turn up for the day with their cattle. But he needn’t have worried as it was a case of “If you build it they will come.”
THE LATEST SALE
The sale on Monday last (February 2nd), began under Campbell Rankin, Muff’s auctioneer, who sold the very first cow at the mart, fifty years ago to the day. Also in attendance were Pat Temple, (who bought the first animal) and Gerard McMonagle, Mart manager for over thirty years. Jim Carroll Jr. (P.J.’s son) opened the day’s celebration speaking of his father’s original dream. Robert Creary, a former mart worker also spoke of how the farmer’s reacted to this new modern method of showing and selling animals.
Comparisons between the first Livestock sale and the 50th sale
2nd of February 1959
Number of animals sold on the day = 216
The first Cow of Sale sold for £21 and 6 shillings, weighing in at 9.5 cwt. The buyer was Pat Temple.
The top price for a springing cow was £76 sold by Charlie Scott.
Four prime bullocks were sold for prices ranging from £7 and 1 shilling to £7 and 5shillings per cwt and sold by John McColgan, from Corvish, Carndonagh.
Robert McEldowney form Glack, Culdaff was a well-known breeder and sold 5 Heifers for the impressive price of £48 and 10 shillings each.
2nd February 2009
Number of animals sold on the day = 263
One difference to note first is that the weights have changed from cwt and pounds to kg and euro…
The top price paid for a cow and calf was €1710 sold by Martin Doherty to Patrick Houghton.
The top price paid for a fat cow weighing 928kg was sold for €1490 by Irwin McCandless to William Scott.
A prime bullock weighing 706 kg was sold by Seamus Breslin to Thomas Wachope for €1240.
The first heifer was sold to Jim McLaughlin for €1330 by Michael McGonagle.
OLD AND NEW
The Mart brought real benefits to farmers and the town of Carndonagh from its very first days of trading. The old system of trading cattle revolved around dealers calling to a farm, or haggling over the price of an animal on Fair Day. Farmers were not aware of the true value of their animals, as they were selling in an isolated and fragmented market. Some traditional dealers were initially very opposed to the idea of a Mart and thought it was destined to fail. The dealers were still offering tempting prices to the farmers as they walked their animals to the Mart, but farmers declined and decided to take their chances in the ring.
The big plus of the auction market system was that cattle were weighed for the first time and the price paid was according to their weight and quality of the animal. Farmers were also able to compare each other’s animals to assess their quality. The Mart day is still held on a Monday, as it was back in 1959 and still acts as a social occasion, but not quite in the way that it did in the early days.
Initially when the mart began it was the norm to have a farm worker who spent the day in the auction. His wife would often accompany him. Here they would meet friends, chat and hear local gossip, and usually end up in one of the local pubs. Nowadays the pace of life is faster and because a lot of farmers have no staff, they tend to go to the market, sell or buy, and go back to their farms quickly. The buzz of excitement is still there on the day of sale though even if it isn’t quite as long as it was.
MILESTONES IN THE CO-OP
Due to the level of demand and a growing population, the Carndonagh Livestock Mart has expanded over the years. Additional pens were added in 1967 (at a cost of £5,575). By this time the Mart was also selling sheep. In 1968 the Inishowen Farmers Co-Op and the Clonleigh Co-Op established a feed mill in a joint venture. Share prices rose to £5 each and a piggery unit was opened in 1972. In 1974 a special meeting was held to amalgamate the three local Co-Op’s; the Mart, Stores and Piggery. In 1975 these three Co-Op’s were put under the management of Donal Noone with the title of The Inishowen Co-operative Society Ltd. The agricultural co-operatives established in both Moville and Buncrana in 1919 were amalgamated with the Inishowen Co-Op in Carndonagh, retaining stores on both towns, where they are still flourishing and offering a unique service to the local agricultural industry.
Many memorable sales have taken place over the year. One that stands out was in 1961 when a record 360 cattle were sold well into the night. Several sales lasted until 5 am the following morning, including one in November 1983 when 1200 cattle were auctioned. In the early years the workers would head into Canny’s Hotel for dinner at two or three in the morning and were met as though it was the middle of the day.
The Mart has been catering for the needs of farmers around Inishowen through a lot of changes in the industry, not to mention an attempted raid on the takings in the 1960’s. Neil Faulkner and Benny Doherty saved the day when they were attacked by two raiders on their way to lodge the takings. They heroically fought the raiders off, saving the loss of thousands of pounds.
The Mart has moved with the times and the present day cattle auction system is a lot faster and more efficient than it was. The system in place at the moment frees farmers up so they don’t even have to go to the Mart to sell their cattle, as they can be sold directly to abattoirs from the Co-op. The industry is also far more heavily regulated by the Department of Agriculture who’s job it is to ensure Ireland's high status in relation to animal health and welfare. This is of critical importance given the economic and social importance of agriculture to the country. Health and safety for farming practices has been greatly improved, as has the prevention of diseases. All cattle are now totally traceable back to the farmer, which ensures the trust of customers who buy the meat in Ireland and Europe.
From small beginnings back in 1959, to a turnover of millions, the Carndonagh Co-operative founder members would surely be proud of its success over the years and the current committee and staff are looking forward to many more years of successful trading and being the backbone of a whole community that is feeding the nation. Last weeks turn out at the Mart tells us that it is as popular and vital as ever to the community.