Loft Feature – Mark Laffin, Lisburn & Dist

Loft Feature – Mark Laffin, Lisburn & Dist
Mark Laffin collects Sect D Champion YB award at NIPA Ladies Night 2017

Mark Laffin collects Sect D Champion YB award at NIPA Ladies Night 2017

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.




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













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About the author

Willie Reynolds

Covering the sport in Ireland for several years, scribe for both BHW & RP and a number of local newspapers including the News Letter (Farming Life Supplement) each Wednesday. Secretary of Ballymena & District for a number of years and currently PO for the Mighty NIPA & INFC. Watch out for the many articles/news items penned by HOMER.

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