Pigeon racing career of Mark Laffin 1976-2017
I first started with pigeons at the age of 13 when my Grandfather gifted myself and my brother a pair of racers which he trapped on the roof of Rank Hovis
McDougal’s Mill, in the Belfast docks. Our Dad built a temporary loft structure from scraps of timber and netting wire and in 1976 the partnership of M&N Laffin Bros was admitted to Carrick & District HPS to race Young birds. So amongst the ranks of great pigeon men like Cyril Greenfield, Robert Reid, Tommy Binding, Billy Colwell, the Elliot Bros-Billy & David, Fred & Nigel Arthurs, Eli Burgess, David & Ned Armstrong, Winky Wilson, Kenny Lavery, Bill Creighton, Jim McJury, Mervyn Owens, Brian Kavanagh, Raymond and Harry Hamilton, Willy Barron, Sam Beattie and Stanley Wylie to name but a few, my pigeon racing apprenticeship began.
New rings, green plastic the first on printed paper were acquired, and the programme 2xDublin, 2xArklow, 2xWexford, Dungarvin and Skibbereen began. I still remember that first Saturday waiting for our entries from Dublin and not timing in to the bacolite Skymaster Ghost clock until 4.30pm. Most of the Carrick birds were home 4 hours earlier and we walked into the club to be pronounced the weekends strongest members…bottom of the sheet holding everyone else up, a position which as young novices we were to hold on to for some time….but we would not be deterred .
Things had to change though and our Dad was called upon once again to build the new loft, an L-shaped structure made from packing case timber sourced from deliveries to the ICI Factory. We won our first prize card in 1977 from 2nd Haverford West 3rd place with a velocity 1017.6ypm with a Rank Hovis special and were fortunate enough to make a life-time friend in Billy McElhone, a fellow member in the Carrick club who raced McNeilly Delbars and Putmans and who was happy to teach two willing students. He helped us both to realise that in order to enjoy the thrill of winning you must learn the grace to accept defeat.
Our first ‘big’ win was from the NIPA French Derby in 1979 from Avranches with a Blue hen, GB77C15209 hatched from a pair of eggs gifted by Billy from his McNeilly Delbars, and which was timed at 5.50 am early on Saturday morning, winning the Carrick & Dist club and being runner up to Barr Bros of Ballylinney in section C and finishing 10th Open the year Reynolds and Creighton of Dollingston won the Open with their good racing cock Black Gold. The following year we timed in the INFC Kings Cup race from Les Sables taking 136th Open on the second day with a Grizzle Sions cock purchased for the princely sum of 50 ‘bob’(£2.50 in today’s money).
Then came University, the end of the Laffin Bros partnership and a break from Pigeon racing for some 18 years until, now living in Lisburn and playing Bowls in Derriaghy, in 2001 I was encouraged to return by a fellow bowler and shrewd pigeon racer Jimmy Campbell and so I set out to join Derriaghy HPS. Alas all the best plans can go awry and due to a protracted issue with respect to gaining Planning approval it wasn’t until 2002 that I was able to restart racing Young birds. In 2005 I subsequently joined Lisburn & District, the ‘Big’Club and that’s where I continue to race today amongst the ranks of Spence Bros, Jack Magee, Sammy Briggs, Gary Benson, Alan Houston, Gary Smyth, Trevor Topping, Sammy Hanna, JackieWaring, Robert Kirkwood, the English Bros once again to name but a few.
The principal bloodlines that I restarted with were Dark chequer Huysken van Riel birds that were honest journeyman pigeons but which over time were proving difficult to break in to the top 12 positions in the Club. So following the advice to seek out a Good Fancier in your neighbourhood and purchase from him, in 2007 I bought some young birds from Ned Russell of Moira, today racing in the Hillsborough & Maze club and who at that time had the Davy Mawhinney line of Soontjens. These birds raced well from the offset and so the following year I went back to Ned and bought a racing kit of 20 YB’s and started to win
Club, Section and NIPA Open positions. At the end of that year I was the 2nd highest Prizewinner in Lisburn and District and had topped Section D from Tullamore on the weekend that the Westlink Tunnel in Belfast opened and then quickly closed again due to torrential rain and subsequent flooding, a nightmare weekend for NIPA collections around the clubs. In 2009 I was again 2nd highest prizewinner . The ensuing years saw me continue to compete at the highest level with more birds introduced from Ned in 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014.including in 2010 The Good Hen , who as a young bird won 8th Open 7th Section NIPA and the following year scored 26th North Section,46th Open INFC Sennon cove yearling National winning just short of £500.
Like most fanciers I started to look around to improve the team even more and so introduced occasional stock birds from Louella from their Adrie van de Rhee and Michael van Lint lines and in the winter of 2013 purchased some original Cock Crow birds of Herman Ceuster / Marijke vink and Van Loon lines from Richard Lawrie and his father in Ballyclare. This was a Chequer cock down from Drum and Agent Starling through Britney , a Chequer hen down from Queen L of P & J Roziers through Shinji Queen and Attila Son and a Van Loon cock of the Cock-Crow Rambo line through Rambo’s Brother and Young Rambo. These pigeons have proven to be Golden in the stock loft with Sons, Daughters and Grand children scoring regularly in NIPA and INFC including being grandparents of my NIPA Section D Young bird of the year for 2017. As time has passed I have endeavoured to purchase stock around the principal pigeons The Young couple – Galileo and Agent Starling, Drum, Dutchmaster and the Figo purchasing Grand children when possible picking up a cousin of Dirk van Dykes Kanon along the way.. not forgetting the Mariette van de Weyer pigeons purchased at Dublin show. Having a high genetic merit performance team of racing pigeons I have been fortunate to be able to concentrate on pairing best to best. This Gene pool blend of Soontjens, Van der Rhee, Herman-Ceuster Marijke vink and van Dyke and van de Weyers have helped me remain a top 6 fancier in Lisburn & District with perhaps the best weekend of my pigeon racing career happening in September 2015 when I came close to winning the INFC Skibbereen YB National.Finishing 2nd North Section, although there were 2 other southern section birds recorded with faster velocities flying shorter distances than the 245 miles into Lisburn, I also had 4 other birds finish in the result at 30th, 59th, 96th and 175th winning just under £1200 and also being 2nd and 6th in the inaugural Harmony HPS Gold Ring race purchasing only 2 rings and collecting a further £350 on a weekend I shall never forget. A Van de Weyer x Soontjen cross this pigeon is my star of the show, now christened the Highlander as his dam was a gift bird from G & B Hunter of Kingdom Spirit fame although not related to their 10 times France Scottish National Gold winner. As you would expect I have now concentrated breeding around this line which continue to score good prizes on the road including a grand-daughter who was 12th North section INFC Skibbereen in this years 2017 YB National.
I fly Old birds on roundabout to a wooden loft of dimension 16ft by 8ft divided into 3 sections and raised 2ft 6 inches off the ground as per the requirements of my planning permission authorisation, with a second loft 10ft by 5ft for young birds and finally a third structure measuring 16ft by 5ft for stock birds and as those who know me know, not an inch of space is wasted. My good friend Robert Reid our current president of the NIPA, once warned visitors to take a ball of string with them if they wanted to find their way back out.
As mentioned I fly the Roundabout system in order to get the best out of both the sexes and I think you can see from my performances that this would be the case. Birds are trained out to 50 miles in stages after the clocks go forward in March, then after races reach 150 miles birds are loft flown at home – Cocks in the morning and Hens in the evening. In this I am greatly assisted by my wife Jo. On Fridays I employ a chaos system where the Cocks and Hens are allowed back together in the breeding section shown bowls and allowed to reacquaint. On race day it’s also a kind of chaos system as first Cock home can pair to first Hen and vice versa until the natural pairs start to make it back although you do need to keep a close eye out to prevent unnecessary fighting…. so now you know guys why I’m nearly always last into the club for running off clocks.
Approximately 60 young birds are bred each year with 35 – 40 put on the Darkness system and the remainder allowed to develop naturally. I have honed my darkness system over the years. Now I tend to breed Young birds later, hatched March weaned April, put onto darkness from 1st May and then only until 2nd weekend in June. All this has to fit in with my Working hours 8.00 am to 5.00pm so for me hours of darkness are 6.30pm to 7.30am that’s 13 hours dark to 11 hours daylight . So the minute I get home during this time its Young birds out for an evening fly, then in and onto the Hens cocks having been flown in the morning. I worry less about darkened YB’s casting coverts coming up to the big races in mid September since I caught on that if you Darken in the spring you need to keep daylight extended to 16hours from mid to late July through to the last race in September. As for training, Young birds go into boot camp 1 week after coming off the dark and are trained out to 65 miles then reined back to twice a day 15miles 12 hours apart Monday to Thursday, so early morning starts are the order of the day. The object is to sort out the ones you’re likely to lose now before going to race and this works well with a minimum of losses during racing, This year my team of 38 darkness birds was reduced to 33 during boot camp with one reported and the bulk of these have stayed together as a team of 33 with only 3 races to go including 4 selected for Talbenny, Wales, 3 home in 6minutes winning the YB nom for Sect D and the 4th weighing in on evening of the race. To date this team has accumulated 21 NIPA open diploma’s between them.
As for feeding I always feed the best I can afford. I like the Gem brand of corns available from local corn merchants Robert and June Kirkwood and have found the advice given by Neil Frazer regarding his Frazer Supreme Own brand and the Matador range of corn at affordable prices, invaluable. I always feed clean grit which I blend into their corn mixture not in a Galli-pot on the floor and constantly add garlic cloves to the drinker to produce a garlic fermented water. With my breeding program I innoculate Old birds for Paramyxovirus in December so that the adult immune response is developed in order to stimulate a passive immunity when feeding their young in the Spring. Young birds themselves are inoculated at between 6-8 weeks of age depending on the success of floating 1st and 2nd round eggs but all young birds are injected at the same time as determined by the youngest in the team. I use a microscope to determine if and when the birds require treated for Worms, Canker or Respiratory disease administering an off the shelf product from my local corn merchant should I identify a problem which has to be resolved.
I have had a thoroughly challenging and enjoyable time with my birds and have enjoyed the crack with my fellow fanciers down the years. Unfortunately I now find time is moving on and with family living some distance away including my daughter now living on the UK mainland, I have reached the decision that now is the time to give back of my time to them. So I have decided to let the birds go in a Complete Clearance Sale Lock Stock and Barrel, of a team of Breeding and Performance Racing Birds with a reputation second to none, which would not normally come on to the Open Market in this rare dispersal opportunity. To this end I have enlisted the service of Wesley Sawyers as Auctioneer in order to conduct Two Sales of approximately 65 birds each, in the Banbridge HPS clubrooms, Banbridge British Legion Hall on Thursday 16th November 2017 followed immediately the next week on Thursday 23rd November 2017 with a combination of primarily Soontjen and Cockcrow Herman Ceusters on View and for Sale on the first Sale Night followed by PJ Fox Syndicate Lofts, Louella and Highlander Soontjen/ Van de Weyer birds on offer at the Second and final sale.
SUMMARY OF RACING PERFORMANCES Mark Laffin LISBURN & DIST. HPS.
I have enjoyed many top performances in my club Lisburn & District HPS, known locally as the Big Club due to having 100 plus members in the past, but here are some of my
performances which made the Top 100 in the NIPA & INFC Open over the last 5 years.
Date Section D Position Open Position Racepoint Birdage
14/05/2011 14th 62nd Roscrea 12355
27/05/2011 4th 32nd Pilmore Beach 20842
31/05/2011 14th 49th Roscarberry Ylg. Cock Nat. 6172
09/06/2011 INFC 46th Sennon Cove Ylg Nat 4882
10/06/2011 7th 24th Fermoy 5-Bird 2488
10/06/2011 11th 30th Fermoy 5-Bird 2488
11/06/2011 17th 97th Bude 7397
10/08/2011 10th 28th Roscrea 19768
09/09/2011 10th 30th Fermoy 5-Bird 1413
17/06/2012 11th 89th Bude 4489
17/06/2012 8th 50th Fermoy 5-Bird 2405
28/07/2012 20th 26th Tullamore 2811
28/07/2012 21st 27th Tullamore 2811
28/07/2012 22nd 28th Tullamore 2811
28/07/2012 24th 30th Tullamore 2811
28/07/2012 25th 31st Tullamore 2811
22/09/2012 INFC 32nd Skibbereen YB Nat. 3425
22/09/2012 INFC 68th Skibbereen YB Nat. 3425
22/09/2012 INFC 99th Skibbereen YB Nat. 3425
04/05/2013 8th 54th Clonmel 26833
19/06/2013 INFC 33rd Sennon Cove Ylg. Nat 4474
31/08/2013 22nd 50th Roscrea 24557
31/08/2013 23rd 51st Roscrea 24557
31/08/2013 41st 92nd Roscrea 24557
31/08/2013 22nd 93rd Roscrea 24557
17/5/2014 10th 52nd Roscarberry OB Nat. 5669
20/7/2014 24th 37th Mullingar 1148
20/07/2014 29th 40th Mullingar 1148
25/07/2014 8th 8th Tullamore 2716
25/07/2014 9th 9th Tullamore 2716
16/08/2014 15th 48th Clonmel 20424
23/08/2014 12th 42nd Fermoy 17824
23/08/2014 17th 54th Fermoy 17824
30/08/2014 2nd 8th Talbenny 3002
13/09/2014 3rd 16th Roscarberry YB Nat. 3782
Date Section D Position Open Position Racepoint Birdage
20/06/2015 18th 71st Roscarberry Ylg Nat Hens 1558
19/07/2015 5th 5th Mullingar 896
19/07/2015 33rd 33rd Mullingar 896
19/07/2015 34th 34th Mullingar 896
19/07/2015 35th 35th Mullingar 896
29/08/2015 40th 64th Roscrea 11240
12/09/2015 10th 23rd Roscarberry YB Nat. 4003
12/09/2015 12th 26th Roscarberry YB Nat. 4003
19/09/2015 2nd Nth 4th INFC Skibbereen YB Nat 3623
19/09/2015 30th Nth 36th INFC Skibbereen YB Nat 3623
19/09/2015 59nd Nth 81th INFC Skibbereen YB Nat 3623
19/09/2015 96nd Nth 130th INFC Skibbereen YB Nat 3623
18/06/2016 7th 32nd Sennon Cove Classic 2586
06/08/2016 21st 74th Gowran Park 20150
08/04/2017 31st Not placed Mullingar 1706 in Sect
29/04/2017 22nd Not placed Gowran Park 1981 in Sect
06/05/2017 12th 140th Corrin 22877
23/05/2017 INFC 88th Skibbereen OB Nat. 3722
03/06/2017 25th 122nd Rosscarberry Ylng Cock Nat 1553
16/07/2017 17th 17th Mullingar-1 995 16/07/2017 28th 28th Mullingar-1 995
16/07/2017 38th 38th Mullingar-1 995
22/07/2017 9th 16th Mullingar-2 1528
22/07/2017 11th 18th Mullingar-2 1528
22/07/2017 14th 25th Mullingar-2 1528
22/07/2017 19th 26th Mullingar-2 1528
22/07/2017 17th 28th Mullingar-2 1528
22/07/2017 30th 37th Mullingar-2 1528
22/07/2017 32nd 39th Mullingar-2 1528
22/07/2017 33rd 40th Mullingar-2 1528
22/07/2017 34th 41st Mullingar-2 1528
29/07/2017 2nd 23rd Tullamore 20315
29/07/2017 41st 153rd Tullamore 20315
05/08/2017 37th 170th Roscrea 22899
05/08/2017 58th 256th Roscrea 22899
05/08/2017 76th 292nd Roscrea 22899
05/08/2017 79th 299th Roscrea 22899
26/08/2017 41st 126th Roscrea-2 11014
26/08/2017 83rd 241st Roscrea-2 11014
02/09/2017 34th 260th Fermoy-2 11180
15/09/2017 12th North Section INFC Skibbereen 1466
17/09/2017 20th 110th Rosscarberry 3023
STOP PRESS …Just announced..MARK LAFFIN COLLECTS NIPA YOUNG BIRD SECTION CHAMPION FOR SECTION D 2017 at the NIPA LADIES NIGHT presentations held in the TEMPLETON Hotel , Templepatrick