The dead pigeon story that is not showing any signs of dying off

Marty King with his 10lbs fish from the Money Hole on the Drowes.
Marty King with his 10lbs fish from the Money Hole on the Drowes.

The dead wood pigeon story simply will not die. After all the hullaballoo about hundreds of pigeons dropping out of the sky along the Antrim coast from Christmas right up to late last month, comes a report that the pigeon disease has spread to Co Tyrone.

Mosside veterinary surgeon WP McCullough had hoped to take delivery of some dead pigeons from around the Mosside area but I am afraid the foxes got to them first – as they did in the Glens of Antrim where the outbreak of the mystery disease was first reported a couple of days after Christmas.

This week Stanley Turkington of Sandholes near Cookstown emailed me to say: “After reading your article about the unexplained deaths of pigeons, I have noticed unusually large numbers (of dead pigeons) in the Tullylagan area and also at Glenhoy outside Clogher. Unfortunately, there was just feathers and no complete birds. I was wondering if there has been any update on the cause?’’ 

I checked on Tuesday with Mr McCullough to see if he had had any offers of dead pigeons suitable for post mortem examination but he said none had been handed in to him.

But he said he was checking with informed sources in England to see if they knew what the cause of the pigeon deaths could be. He got his answer on Wednesday. The sources said the deaths were possibly due to a canker called Trichomoniasis which is caused by parasites and is particularly virulent where big flocks of pigeons congregate. When the pigeons start to pair off the disease is likely to be less menacing. Mr McCullough again asked anyone who found a pigeon dead or dying in unusual circumstances to let him know before foxes get to it.

Meanwhile, the Drowes has seen more activity over recent days, after what has been the slowest ever start to a fishing season on the river. It has been the first time that only one fish was recorded in January and the first that no February fish had been taken by Valentine’s Day.

One fish was reported lost on spinner from the Black Hole on Saturday and another fish was lost at the Trout Pool below Lennox’s Bridge on Sunday.

On Monday, Paul McCausland caught and released a fish estimated at 6lb on a home-made Flying C from the Black Hole. Paul received a GoPro camera as it was the first fish to be released from the river this season. 
On Tuesday, Marty King had a 10lb fish on prawn from The Money Hole and a visiting German angler had another 10lb fish on Rapala from just above the Crooked Hole. Hopefully this will be the start of a more significant run of spring fish and will herald an improvement to what has been a very poor season thus far.

Nancy Hearne of Angling Ireland reported that fishing last week was quiet. Anglers on the Currane on Sunday needed a bit of central heating to keep their enthusiasm going. 
 Lough Melvin saw its first salmon of the season, weighing 9lb 9oz taken by Niall Sweeney, and caught off Bilberry Island.
On the Ballinlovane stretch of the Cork Blackwater, Jim Cotter caught an 8lb 8oz springer.

At Craigmore with the better weather, fishing was excellent with lots of big trout caught. Harry Divan had 29 to 4lb on mixed lures. Leslie Beggs had 23 mostly on pink lures. Martin Foster had 25 to 8lb on mixed lures and Davy Couples had 20 to 7lb on black lures and nymphs.

Jim Magill had 22 on bloodworm and damsels and Harry McAteer and Mark Cleland had, between them, 20 to 6lb on mixed lures. Gary Beattie had 18 to 6lb 9oz on black and green lures.

Other catches were: Martin Allen, 17 to 5lb 9oz; Adrian Jones, 15; Nigel Kernoghan and Davy Crow, 12; Paul Greer, 15 to 8lb; Ryan McAuley, 13; Brendan Baine, 12; John Hughes, nine to 6lb; Billy Hazlett and Gary Rock, eight; John Carson, nine; Gary Chivers.10; Jamie McMullan, seven to 7lb 10oz; Ruth Arnell, 5lb 10oz; Joe O’Neill, 4lb 10oz; David Bartholomew, two at 4lb; Gerard Lyness, 4lb 12oz; George Walker,5lb 4oz; Jim Simpson,5lb.

The Dail Marine Committee this week considered policy progress in sustaining coastal and island communities. Representatives from the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine on Tuesday to consider progress in the implementation of recommendations of a 2014 report on sustaining Ireland’s rural coastal and island communities.

The sub-Committee on Fisheries report, launched on Inis Oírr in January 2014, has called for government policy to focus on the survival of rural coastal and island communities by promoting a diverse range of activities. It outlined how aquaculture, inshore fishing, sea angling, marine tourism and seaweed activities can contribute to vibrant coastal and island areas

Committee Chairman Andrew Doyle TD said: “It is imperative that Ireland’s distinctive rural coastal areas and islands are developed in a sustainable manner into the future. As well as their rich influence on national culture and language, the communities have the potential to make a significant contribution to the wider economy in areas such as food, tourism and marine energy.’’

Somehow I don’t think that Kevin Hollinrake the Conservative Party’s prospective parliamentary candidate, standing in the next general election for the safe Tory Thirsk and Malton constituency seat in North Yorkshire will be getting many anti votes.

Raptor Persecution Scotland “very kindly’’ sent me a report on Kevin’s views on grouse shooting in North Yorkshire in a local newspaper, it said:

“Grouse shooting on the North Yorkshire Moors is worth millions of pounds to the local economy, says Kevin Hollinrake, prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for Thirsk and Malton, much of which covers the Yorkshire moors. Speaking at a meeting with landowners, managers and gamekeepers at Lastingham, he said that grouse moor management was worth £67 million and provided 1,500 jobs, as well as safeguarding 860,000 acres of heather moorland.

“He praised a £52.5 million annual spend on conservation on the moors, adding that the Moorland Association had played a key part in DEFRA’S hen harrier recovery plan, and lobbied for a crack down on wildlife crime.

“We have in this country, 75 percent of what is left of the world’s heather moorland. Shooting creates the necessary income for its upkeep, along with 42,500 days of work a year.

“It benefits many rural people, from food suppliers to hoteliers and clothing manufacturers to dry stone wallers. When calls are made to ban or license driven grouse shooting, thought is seldom given to the harmful consequences to rural economies and conservation.”

Raptor Persecution said (tongue in cheek, perhaps) that it was good that Kevin was lobbying for a crack down on wildlife crime. It said North Yorkshire was recognised as the worst county in the UK for reported raptor persecution incidents, a title it has held for six of the past seven years. It said Kevin has got his work cut out. For him and that it was, of course purely coincidental that the dominant land-use in North Yorkshire is driven grouse shooting.

I have been sitting on this story for close on 60 years so, on the grounds that a light should not be hidden under a bushel here it is. You can check it with the Evening Herald in Dublin if you don’t believe me.

It was on my last day as a news sub editor on the Herald before coming back to Belfast to join the Belfast Telegraph. The background to the story is that the 1956 national was being run at Aintree as crowds were flocking into the city for the meeting of Wales and Ireland at Lansdowne Road.

The Herald was due to go to print somewhere around 10 minutes BEFORE the Evening Press and the EP was making much of the fact that the extra 10 minutes was going to allow it to carry a much bigger and better report on the National on Page 1 that evening.

I was able to handle copy very fast and the Herald chief sub editor John Finnegan asked me if I thought I could squeeze ‘a wee paragraph’ about the National on to Page 1 that evening.

I said to John: “Why settle for a wee par? Why not go for a decent report on Page 1’’ John thought for a while and finally agreed to my crazy suggestion.

Journalists will know that on Grand National day the wires are humming from early on with reports of what we called ‘colour ‘ in the hours leading up to the off. In fact my last copy time was officially set at just BEFORE the race ended.

John negotiated a dispensation of a tight three minutes to get my report with the National winners on the printing press in time for the first edition.

It was an impossible task. But this is how the Herald hit the crowded Dublin streets that day and, in the process, made the Evening Press look a wee bit green around the gills with a pathetic few lines on Page 1.

I got the most interesting colour stuff set long before the race started and got three big banner headlines set in the hot metal of those days, minutes before the horses went down to the start of the race.

The first heading said ‘E.S.B wins Grand National’, the second said ‘Gentle Moya wins Grand National’ and the third said ‘Royal Tan wins Grand National’. They were first, second and third. I listened to the radio report of the race and all I had to do as the race ended was to write out one paragraph giving the winners and placings and have the top man in the composing room drop the E.S.B heading and the new introduction in on top of the colour stories and have him throw the other two headings away.

The MD Mr Dunne (I forget his first name) told me that the Herald sold 14,000 extra copies that evening while the EP, with its wee Grand national filler on Page 1, had more returns than usual that evening.

I can’t remember the composing room boss’s name but he was a lovely man and a real Dubliner. I think he was gobsmacked and a wee bit put out that he had been looking at the E.S.B headline naming the Grand National winner an hour before the race started and maybe didn’t back it.

The MD asked me to stay on with the Evening Herald but the die was cast and I was on my way back to Belfast that evening – a decision I did not regret.

By the way, I know nothing about horse racing.