As we move towards our 100th issue in January, we’re shedding some light on the best articles in our archives that never caught sight of the internet. This piece on pigeon fanciers — taking in crimelords, cat-trapping and cups of tea — is particularly good.
Words: Conor Creighton / Photos: Con O’Donoghue & Conor Creighton
We’re barrelling along at such terrific speeds that the rattle from the back door is probably audible all the way back in Dublin. Our car, normally used as a delivery van, is stacked high with magazines that have long since broken loose of their bindings and are whipping
around the backseat like a paper cyclone in the gust coming through the open windows. My coffee’s spilt all over my jeans and the ham and cheese sandwiches we bought earlier this morning are just a buttery mess beside my feet. Admittedly they weren’t great sandwiches but it’d been a long morning, we’d been on the road since six and at that stage we’d have eaten anything.
And then we spot them – a group of small black flecks high in the sky in front of us – barely perceptible bobbing up and down on the current, and all thoughts of wet clothes, hunger and safety are cast to the back of our minds.
The car jumps forward again and we get the cameras at the ready. Two weeks ago, the only thing I knew about pigeons was that if they shitted on you it meant good luck. Now I’m chasing them across the countryside on an Easter weekend when anyone else in their right mind would be fast asleep in their bed, dreaming of lamb, mint sauce and chocolate eggs. Pigeon fancying, or even pigeon journalism, for that matter, is not for the faint hearted or people who enjoy lie-ins. Finding a pigeon in Dublin city is not hard; all you need do is locate a fast-food outlet, a stretch of water, or a statue of a patriot and there you’ll see them in their thousands.
However finding pigeon fanciers, the men who breed, train and race the birds to Olympic levels of athleticism, is a lot harder. There are around four thousand fanciers in the city today. Ten years ago there were double that amount. The preferred sport of taxi-drivers, celebrity gangsters and the working classes is in decline. The dedication, caring and patience required to maintain a small flock of birds are not qualities this generation, brought up on instant gratification and convenience, has in abundance. So after a long week of phone calls, false-leads and taxis I’m finally directed, via an inner-city pub, to a terraced house in Drumcondra: home to the President of the Irish Homing Union, Paschal Mooney.
“In some quarters of Dublin I’m the biggest bastard there is,” he says, dunking a McVities Digestive into a cup of milky tea. He’s invited me into his home, told me all about the love he has for his grandchildren and fed his pigeons peanuts from his mouth, so far I can’t think how anyone could call him a bastard. But then presiding over a union as old, revered and as shrouded in officialdom and secrecy as anything in the mind of Dan Brown – or should I say Michael Baignet and Richard Leigh – could come up with, means he’s had to make some important decisions in his time, and maybe step on a few toes.