Preserving life: Nutmeg adopts quartet of Irish sheep

COUNTY KERRY, Ireland – Do you own a nice woolen sweater, scarf, or perhaps a blanket, with a label saying, “Made in Ireland?” The quality of such products is world-renowned, and with good reason.

Have you ever stopped to wonder exactly where and by whom in Ireland such wool is produced? Or how much is sacrificed in the process?

The provenance of many fine Irish woolen products is a remote area on the Ring of Kerry, between the towns of Kenmare and Killarney. Known as Moll’s Gap, it goes by another ominous-sounding name: The Black Valley.

Some say the mostly verdant area derives the moniker from the dark, distant hilltops of the Macgillycuddy Reeks. Locals offer another explanation.

“In November, December, January, February, you don’t see the sun, and it gets very cold,” remarks Noel Kissane. He would know. He’s lived here his whole life, and his ancestor, Moll Kissane, is the popular tourist rest-stop’s eponymous former inhabitant.

Noel Kissane shows off the Irish land on which his family has raised mountain sheep for nearly two centuries / May 23, 2017

For nearly 200 years, the Kissanes have farmed mountain sheep in The Black Valley. Noel is the latest generation to take up the cause, which requires intense dedication and a genuine love of animals. It’s hard work, and it’s not for everyone. Some of Kissane’s relatives decided it wasn’t for them and moved to Arlington, Mass., a suburb just north of Boston.

Noel stayed behind to become the latest generation to maintain the family and regional tradition. The business isn’t lucrative on its own, however. Each of the 2,000 or so sheep on the Kissane farm produces only €2 (about $2.13) of wool per year, while it costs about €50 to provide for each sheep’s basic needs.

Katie, a year-old sheep dog-in-training, puts on her game face in preparation for a demonstration of her skills / May 23, 2017

To supplement the significant shortfall, Kissane began offering tours of his farm to tourists, who, since 2005, have been treated to demonstrations of the farm’s humane shearing operations and adorable sheep herding dogs at work. Visitors are also afforded the opportunity to adopt and name a “baby lamb,” as Noel affectionately calls them.

An experienced shearer at Kissane Sheep Farm shows off the wool collected from the shearing of just one sheep / May 23, 2017

“Most people don’t realize I have to wake up every night at 2 a.m. to feed the baby lambs,” he explains in his thick, sing-song brogue. “I do it because I love them.”

Were it not for this additional income, many of the sheep might have to be sold for consumption (i.e., lamb meat). To avoid this needless fate and to help support a traditional Irish way of life, when Nutmeg visited Kissane Sheep Farm in May 2017, we adopted four “baby lambs,” promising to pay for their yearly expenses until the natural conclusion of their lives – thus guaranteeing that this newly-arrived foursome of three females and one male (pictured above) will live comfortably in Kissane’s care for years to come.

If you ever visit Ireland and County Kerry, please consider a detour to Kissane Sheep Farm, along the N71 Road. Ask to see Jeff, Angela (twin brother and sister), Fenn, and Brill, Nutmeg’s four adopted lambs, whose lives are being preserved by the generosity of Nutmeg’s many donors.

To help Nutmeg continue to support our sheep for years to come, please consider making a donation today. Thank you!