With Northern Ireland politics in the melting pot, Upper Bann Jonny Buckley MLA confirmed a permanent ‘open Border’ at the weekend – through the family’s pigeon tradition!
The Annaghmore HPS partnership of Glen Buckley (Jonny’s dad) and Son sent 20 birds from their six lofts of 200 ‘residents’ to the opening race of the season to Mullingar, County West Meath. They all flew back over the border, in double-quick time!
“There are invariably lots of impediments - nothing political - along the way,” said Jonny, youngest unionist MLA and the Assembly’s sole pigeon fancier. “These include hawks, electric lines and, believe it or not, aircraft. The races used to follow the east coast of Ireland. But there were snags near Dublin Airport, and the races moved inland.
“Maybe politicians could learn a trick or two from the pigeons, for they are adept at avoiding all these pitfalls. They usually avoid hawks, for example, and take cover.” He adds that political hawks are a different breed entirely!
And in the future, the pigeons won’t be leaving the European scene, with the main races taking them as far away as France – venues like St Malo and Vannes – and those will continue whatever the outcome of Brexit. (Jonny is a firm Brexiteer!)
Now that he’s a fledgling MLA, the DUP man admits that his dad is the major pigeon man in the family lineage, which dates back four generations, with Jonny focusing his energies on politics. The Buckleys have a proud history in the sport, with nine national victories and over 10 ‘opens’ to their credit.
The top bird - Buckleys’ ‘first preference’ pigeon – is ‘Kildarragh Queen’ a blue white-flight hen. She flew many times from France (500 miles) including a second spot in the prestigious King’s Cup, being the first pigeon home in Northern Ireland.
Jonny’s political career mirrored those achievements. When he first stood in the ABC Council, he was first home in the Portadown electoral area, and he was the second Upper Bann candidate to land in the recent Assembly election – both were his first campaigns at those levels. The council victory coincided with his graduation from Queen’s in politics and history.
The history of the homing pigeons fascinates him. For example, in the First and Second World Wars, pigeons gained the majority of the famous Dickin Medals (the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross!) Of the 53 awarded during World War Two, 32 went to pigeons.
And he rattles off the names of famous fanciers – like Queen Elizabeth II, Elvis Presley and Clint Eastwood.
“We’re in lofty company,” he said. “Everyone from Royalty to rock stars!”