100 years in Tinahely
3 MIN READ
This year marks the 100th anniversary of our Tinahely branch in the heart of Co. Wicklow. In 1918, the year the branch first opened, the First World War was finally ending, Willie Clancy the uileann piper was born, and Limerick won the All Ireland Senior Hurling Final.
It is the only bank in Tinahely, today.
17 years later, in 1935, the first Tinahely Agricultural Show was held and soon became one of the biggest agricultural shows in Ireland.
That the show has now reached its 83rd year is down a mixture of respecting local tradition and introducing a few innovations along the way.
Tradition and innovation
‘It’s always the event of the year for the area,’ says Colette Ryan from our Tinahely branch. This year, up to 20 staff supported the show. ‘They cater for all ages, groups and interests – country interests, you know. So you’ll have your ponies, your horses, your farm animals, and also your unusual animals.’
And, this year, those unusual animals include alpacas: An innovation in farming that has found a willing spokesman in Joe Phelan.
Alpaca Joe at the Tinahely Show
Joe Phelan works in Bank of Ireland in Dublin but, with a view to his upcoming retirement, Joe has invested in a herd of over 80 alpacas.
He breeds the alpacas to sell and generates cashflow to keep his alpaca business going by offering alpaca treks and by hiring them out as a special attraction at events. He brought some of his herd along to Tinahely Show to meet the crowds and to answer their questions.
The first question people ask is often ‘what’s the difference between an alpaca and a llama?’ ‘A llama would be about six foot tall,’ explains Joe, gesturing at the considerably shorter alpacas in the pen beside the Bank of Ireland stand.
‘Llamas have banana-shaped ears while alpacas have pointy ones. They are originally from Peru, Bolivia, Chile and both come from the same family as camels.’
Alpacas in Ireland
‘Do they cope well with the Irish weather?’ A lady asks Joe.
‘In Peru, they would be used to much greater extremes of weather,’ Joe explains. ‘They live at altitudes of between 12-18,000 feet and temperatures up there can hit +27 degrees Celcius during the day and then plunge to -20 degrees Celcius at night.’ So alpacas can definitely handle a wet winter’s day in Wicklow.
‘Alpaca wool has special properties that keep the animals cool in the heat and warm in the cold. Their wool is called fibre because it has a hollow structure and it’s this hollow structure that gives it its thermal properties. Alpaca fibre recorded a Guinness World Record, in 2017, as the finest fibre in the world.’
‘It is hypoallergenic which means it should produce fewer allergic reactions.’ As well as the wool fibre, Joe also offers treks with his alpacas from Kilruddery House in Bray, County Wicklow, and says that even some people who are allergic to horses are able to walk with the alpacas.
‘Can you sell their wool?’ Somebody asks. ‘Is there a market for it here?’
‘The Alpaca Association in Ireland has a deal with two mills in the UK where we can sell our wool into them. The prices paid per kilo for the alpaca long fibre and short fibre are many times the prices paid for sheep’s wool.’
‘How often do you shear them?’
‘They are sheared once a year,’ says Joe. ‘We sheared all of ours in May except for Senan there who was booked for weddings.’ Joe points out Senan to the crowd on visitors to the Tinahely Show who look suitably impressed.
‘What does he do at weddings?’ Joe is asked.
‘He looks good,’ says Joe.
How to shear an alpaca
‘Is there a special alpaca shearer?’ Asks someone who explains that they wouldn’t know how to go about an alpaca with a shears.
‘At the moment there are four in Ireland who go round from farm to farm,’ explains Joe. But they can be expensive enough to shear and that eats into the profitability of alpaca.
Joe goes on to explain that alpacas are now being used by sheep farmers to protect herds from foxes and especially from dogs whom the alpacas consider their deadly enemy. The questions keep coming for the Greystones man who has become a tireless advocate for alpacas in Ireland and he answers every one.
‘Every year you will find a new stall’
Colette Ryan has worked at the Show for the past 5 years for the Bank. Even though she says she is a ‘proud Wexford Woman living in Craanford’, Colette is familiar with a lot of the people and businesses that come to the show from across the South East. With a wide variety of stalls at the show and new ones appearing every year Colette says she ‘enjoys the Tinahely Show and being part of a town and community that come together to run a fantastic event every year.’
Find out more
The Tinahely Show takes place every August Bank Holiday. Find out more here.