Castleblayney and Cattle

A small stream feeds into Muckno Lake in County Monaghan.

CASTLEBLAYNEY – Castleblayney is a quaint town just shy of the Republic of Ireland’s border with Northern Ireland. The hospitality and kind nature of the locals is reminiscent of the famed southern hospitality of the United States.

Passers-by greet you with a smile and sometimes invite complete strangers to an afternoon of tea and biscuits. Castleblayney is also home to rolling green hills, a large lake and, most importantly, cattle.

Tens of cattle wait in their stalls to be ushered out to the ring for the auction.

This border town’s agriculture industry might encounter serious issues in the future if a hard border is implemented due to Brexit. A hard border would mean formal customs limitations between Northern Ireland and the Republic.  However, judging by their chipper demeanor, this concern is far from the minds of the people of Castleblayney.

We visited Castleblayney in part to attend one of its cattle auctions. Our noses told us we were in the right place. As soon as we entered the barn area, the stench of manure overwhelmed us, somehow made all the more intense by the steady rain and the humidity. My reporting partner Katherine and I were fairly concerned about carrying the smell with us for the rest of the day.

Packed into several stalls we saw about 50 cattle of varying shapes, sizes and colors. A few dozen farmers from both sides of the international border lined up along the manure-littered sidewalks, joking, chatting and pondering which animal would become their prize for the day.

Connell Nugent, cattle auctioneer and Castleblayney local, sits at his post to lead the auction.

The auction was an elaborate show. Connell Nugent, auctioneer and real-estate agent, was a charming man who inherited the auction business from his father.  He spoke at a speed that did not seem humanly possible. With his heavy Irish accent, the only discernible words were numbers like “three” and “six.”

As helpers corralled each of the cattle into the pen, Nugent would start his unintelligible auctioneering. Each cycle would last a few minutes, and then the cattle were promptly ushered out of the ring, without a single hand raised to indicate buying interest.

After a good amount of time standing in utter confusion, Katherine asked a farmer what was going on. The farmers had been indicating their interest, she was told, by subtly pointing to the ground or winking at the auctioneer.

At the end of the day, the cattle auction was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip. From the friendly population to the endearing cultural practices of the cattle auction, Castleblayney is a prime example of an Irish town where borders and past problems have no effect on current hospitality practices of the people.