These are exciting times at Athenry Co-Operative Livestock Mart which celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2021 and recently appointed a new manager.
Kilkenny native Brian Hogan took up the position vacated by former manager Alan Barry on September 28 last and is looking forward to the challenge of running one of the busiest and oldest marts in the West of Ireland. Strategically located on the outskirts of the Co. Galway town, Athenry Mart was built in 1960/61 and held its first sale on October 24, 1961. It was formed by a group of local farmers who sought a more organised way of selling their stock to the traditional fairs.
Former long-time employee Paddy Ryan recalled in an interview a few years back: “In the 1950s, there was a very active branch of the IFA in Athenry. Some of the members became interested in building a livestock mart. After a number of meetings, the idea took root and a committee was formed under the chairmanship of Padraic Rafferty and secretary Eugene Duggan. In that period, there were very few marts in the country and most were privately owned. However, Athenry was to be a co-operative farmers’ mart. This meant a lot of hard work for the committee in collecting share capital.”
Athenry Mart has undergone many changes in the intervening years. First was the construction of a second sales ring and extensions to the yards and penning. This was done so that heifers could be penned and sold separately from the bullocks. A third sales ring and penning for store bullocks was later added, while both the sheep and cattle yards were roofed. The mart is also home to the local IFAC branch which provides accountancy, audit, payroll and financial planning services.
The Co. Galway mart continues to operate as a co-op under the chairmanship of Michael Francis Murphy, whose family have been involved since the mart’s inception. Terry Cooke from nearby Monivea has been the resident auctioneer for the past 30 years. Not only is the mart an important employer in the area, it is also part of the social fabric of Athenry and its surrounding hinterland, and contributes enormously to the local economy. The mart is easy to access and boosts ample parking facilities. It is part of ICOS (Irish Co-Operative Organisation Society) whose core business is to provide vision, leadership and value to the co-operative movement in Ireland. ICOS member co-operatives and their associated companies collectively have over 150,000 members, employing 12,000 people in Ireland (and a further 24,000 abroad) and have a combined turnover of almost €15 billion.
The mart comes alive every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday when the sales take place. Cull ewe and heavy lamb sales are held in the sheep arena, which is in the outer yard, on Mondays. Tuesday is the general cattle sale (cull cows, heifers and bullocks), while weanlings, suck calves, in-calf heifers and in-calf cows go under the hammer on a Thursday. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the cattle sales are currently confined to the two main sales rings.
In addition, the mart hosts general ram sales each August / September and one-off breeding sales for bulls during the springtime. For the mart to operate successfully, it needs both buyers and sellers. A steady supply of buyers gives the sellers’ confidence that there will be a certain level of demand for their product. Buyers are increasingly indicating that they want an animal with potential to finish as a top-class slaughter product.
They travel from all over Ireland to purchase stock in Athenry. These buyers constantly report that the animals thrive very well, but are often disappointed with the fluctuation in prices of the finished product.
“We attract buyers from right across the country. The sellers are mostly from the Galway area,” Brian explains.
“Athenry is synonymous with heavy cattle, and we attract a lot of heavy factory men from Northern Ireland in particular. The town also has a great name for heavy lambs, up to 60kg, which attract butchers from as far away as Dublin. We pride ourselves on the quality of our stock, our top-class livestock auctioneering service, our friendly staff and our state-of-the-art facilities, which we are continuously improving and upgrading.
“There is always room for improvement, and we’re looking to invest in auction management software which provides all the information buyers and sellers need to know about each animal.”
Health & Safety has always been taken seriously at Athenry Mart and never more so than in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, which has posed huge challenges for marts. Under Level 5 restrictions, farmers can only drop their cattle and sheep at the mart, with no buyers allowed in to bid at ringside. Only online sales can take place, and while poor internet in many marts has caused issues for marts and potential buyers, Brian feels that it has worked well for the most part.
“There is no substitute for being ringside, but in unprecedented times like these, we are fortunate to have an alternative and have found online sales to be very beneficial. About 40% of our clearance has been online since the COVID restrictions were put in place,” he says.
Brian hails from a beef and sheep farming background in Kilmanagh, Co. Kilkenny and is also a qualified accountant. He still farms in Freshford and has been attending marts since he was a young boy.
“My father James Hogan was on the Kilkenny Mart committee and I went to marts with him from the age of four or five. The old Kilkenny Mart was in Barrack Street where I also did my accountancy training with IFAC. I’ve been around marts for most of my life and intend putting the knowledge and experience I have acquired to good use in Athenry.
“Athenry Mart is known far and wide for the quality of its cattle and sheep, and my aim is to build on that tradition. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the mart’s committee members and customers for making me feel so welcome and I look forward to working for and with them in the months and years ahead,” he concludes.
Here’s to the next 60 years of Athenry Mart!
Athenry Co-Operative Livestock Mart
Telephone: 091 844072 / 086 1002994
Email: [email protected]
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 9 No 2, March/April 2021