Strong push to give Old Irish Goats rare breed status

By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR

It would probably be fair to call me a stalker – in the nicest sense of the word, of course.
This feral goat is currently in captivity being treated for injuries. Doesn't he look like he's smiling?This feral goat is currently in captivity being treated for injuries. Doesn't he look like he's smiling?

For at least a decade, I have stalked Old Irish Goats all around Mulranny, Co. Mayo. I desperately wanted to photograph them with their shaggy, unruly coats and huge, almost other-worldly horns.

Friends had advised me to drive the curvy Belmullet road. “The goats are always there on the hillside,” they said. Yet, no goats, no matter how many times I drove the route.

“They are always in the town (Mulranny),” friends said. I had never seen them there until one evening when we went to dinner at the Park Hotel and the most magnificent, regal Billy Goat, sporting a long, grey beard, was there, busily snacking on the hotel’s specimen plantings. Of course, I didn’t have my camera!

Every spring when I visit Mayo, I stalk these amazing-looking creatures. There are said to be about 70 inhabiting the hills around Mulranny.

This May, friends visited from Co. Westmeath and, because it was raining, we decided to have lunch at The Beehive on Achill Island. I asked them to stop in Mulranny en route so I could run into the Tourist Office (totally manned by volunteers and exceptionally helpful.) As I exited the car in the parking lot across from the office, I spotted two Old Irish Goats huddled against a small yellow house seeking shelter from the storm. I grabbed my camera and took as many shots as I could before they hopped over a hedge and disappeared down the hill.

Later that week, we spotted one of the goats on the Great Western Greenway that runs from Westport to Achill Sound. We pulled over and took pictures until a car roared up behind us and we had to move on.


So, why would anyone feature goats in a pre-holiday column? Well, because the effort the people in Mulranny are making to save the Old Irish Goats is a “feel good” story about volunteering and giving back and rescue and about the Irish and their efforts to preserve heritage and wildlife. It all goes with this giving season.

To me, the Old Irish Goat movement mirrors the wonderful efforts made down in Co. Cork at The Donkey Sanctuary, where rescued donkeys from all over Ireland are taken in, fed, and cared for. There are currently more than 650 rescued donkeys at the sanctuary ( in Liscarroll outside Mallow.

Paddy Barrett and his family started a donkey rescue many years ago that linked up in 1987 with The Donkey Sanctuary, based in Sidmouth, Devon, UK. Since the effort started in Ireland, more than 3,800 donkeys have been cared for there. To date, the two groups have taken in more than 12,500 donkeys in England and Ireland.

Visitors are welcome at the Liscarroll Sanctuary and one of their fun projects at this time of year is the “adopt-a-donkey” program. Adopters receive details of whichever donkey they choose, with a drawing and adoption certificate. They also get a bi-annual report on their donkey. It’s a great Christmas gift and hopefully heightens the sensitivity of the recipient to the benefits of rescue for these animals that are too often neglected after having spent their lives working hard on Irish farms. I “adopted” a donkey several years running for my young Pittsburgh granddaughter, who seemed to enjoy the information and the gift.

For more details, visit the website where you can see five donkeys from which to choose, including Jacksie, who was brought to the sanctuary at two days old because his mother’s milk had dried up. Jacksie was bottle fed every two hours around the clock, thrived and survived.

There is a major undertaking now in the Mulranny area to have the Old Irish Goats win rare breed status, which would hopefully keep them from being destroyed by angry homeowners whose gardens they have destroyed. Even a small group of these critters can devastate a garden overnight so they are not wildly popular with Mulranny residents who have spent effort and money on greenery.

The goat project, according to Sean Carolan, chairman of the Mulranny Environmental Group ( was stimulated by the work of Dr. Ray Werner, a noted authority on goats in England and Ireland, and “is a collaborative effort between the Old Irish Goat Society and the Mulranny Environmental Group.” The latter group, working with the tourist office in Mulranny, offers films and guided walks of the area.

With funding from the Department of Agriculture, stuffed goat heads – three from Westport House alone – have been collected so genetic typing could be done from DNA to prove that ancient goats that thrived on marginal land have the same DNA as today’s feral goats. One of the stuffed heads dated from 1895 and was owned by a local farmer. The goats have a long lineage, said to stretch past the Neolithic Age to the Ice Age.

Dr. Ruth A. Enright (no relation) was working with the Mulranny group last spring to study DNA and propel the effort for rare breed status. She did her PhD thesis on feral goats, animal behavior, group composition, and how herds work.

While there are many goats roaming the hillsides in Ireland, there are few that are pure Old Irish Goats, she said. In other parts of the country, such as the Burren, goats have bred with dairy and other domestic goats so the Mulranny herd is unique.

In his wonderful Saturday column – “Another Life” – in The Irish Times, Michael Viney writes: “This was not the best of winters in which to be a goat, at least not one of the wilder sort that Robert Lloyd Praeger described in “The Way That I Went” – ‘See them on some rocky place – a herd of them, of all ages – led by a grand old patriarch with huge curving horns! They fit in so naturally among heather and gnarled rock, and mount a miniature Matterhorn with such a regal, king-of-the-castle air!’

“Praeger’s glimpse, getting on for a century ago, was of the ‘wild’ goats around Mulranny, tucked beneath the mountains at the corner of Clew Bay in Co. Mayo. They’re still there, browsing the bushy Mediterranean heather above the road or, on the rawest days this winter, even clattering into the village to sample garden shrubs across the walls. What Praeger didn’t know (apart from the fact that it’s the oldest nanny goat that is the leader) was that Mulranny’s goats – some 50 or more – could be descended from some of our oldest animals, at least as native and Irish as red deer or the Kerry bog pony,” Viney wrote.


Cheryl Cobern-Browne is one of many devoted volunteers working to save the goats. A rehabilitation area has been set up in an abandoned house on her Mulranny property where injured goats are treated before being released back to the wild.

Cobern-Browne also runs an arts retreat center (EOM) for small groups in Mulranny and hosts groups of visitors “for the Mulranny experience.” On her website,, you can see courses offered, accommodation and meal specials, spectacular views from her lovely home and, of course, the goats.

Her ten-bedroom home is a short walk from the beach and in a round tower building down the driveway there is a large, bright studio where she offers classes in making glass beads, landscape photography, botanical drawing, and more. Guest workshops are also offered during the season and there are themed bio weekends, one of which focuses on the Old Irish Goats. Sounds like great fun.

Cheryl also leads a volunteer group, called “Gift of Hands.” The group works in the studio and makes functional items from textiles, glass, and other recycled materials. There are 20 regulars and visitors are welcome to join them in crafting or just stop by to purchase accessories to wear, items for the table, the wall and floor as well as handmade glass buttons and jewelry. Scraps are donated to the group by nearby Foxford Woolen Mills and are used to weave rugs, hats, scarves, and gloves. Many of the items made there are also for sale in the Mulranny Tourist Office.

“We find a skill level for everyone,” Cheryl said, adding that guests at the Park Hotel in town are invited to join the group as part of their Irish experience. “The only pressure here is that they have to do the project right!”

Several years ago, Cheryl came up with the idea to make wonderful, goofy Old Irish Goat hand puppets. Each one is handmade and has a comical face, curly beard, and the funniest boots. Sales benefit the Old Irish Goat project.

See these websites for more: and


Back in the States, a VIP reception and Winter Gala Concert, featuring Julie Feeney, from Co. Galway, will be held Dec. 18 at the House of the Redeemer, 7 East 95th St., New York City, to benefit the new Education Center at Kylemore Abbey in Connemara.
Suggested donations start at $500. For more information on the evening, please contact Mary Reed at 914-420-3517 or send an e-mail to To make a tax-free gift, please contact All funds raised will go toward building the new Education Center for College Studies.

The Benedictine Nuns plan to establish an Education Center at Kylemore, which they envision will be utilized by many American colleges and church groups.


We wish all our readers very happy holidays with the hope that the New Year brings them much health and happiness.