IRISH eyes were smiling when James McGee, of County Donegal, was crowned world champion at the 2011 World Sheep Dog Trials – and the Irish handlers landed the overall team championship.
Mr McGee and his dog Becca, fourth at the last World Trials in 2008, achieved their biggest-ever success in the fourth International Sheep Dog Society World Trials (ISDS) – the ‘Olympics’ for sheep dogs and their handlers.
The four-day event, the first to be held in England, was staged at the Lowther Estate when 240 dogs and their handlers from 23 nations competed for the title in front of television cameras.
Sheep farmer Mr McGee and eight-year-old Becca are among the top triallists on the sheep dog circuit, having secured countless accolades, among them two Irish Nationals and high placings in International Trials.
He said: “I am delighted, more so for Becca than myself. She is probably the best dog I have ever owned and will be retired now.”
Runner-up was Serge van der Zweep and his four-year-old dog Eve from the Netherlands.
Mr van der Zweep, of Heteren, near Arnhem, a multiple National Trials champion in Holland, also finished third in both the 2002 and 2005 World Trials.
In third place was another Irishman, the youngest member of the team, Michael Gallagher and his seven-year-old dog Cap, from Armoy, County Antrim.
Second place in the team event went to Norway, with the Netherlands finishing third. Prizes were presented by the Earl and Countess of Lonsdale, with the individual champion receiving £3,000, plus a gold dog whistle from dog food maker Gilbertson & Page.
The 2011 World Trials were also supported by a food and country festival, which, due to severe weather conditions, was curtailed to the final two days of the event.
Tim Longton, of Quermore, English president of the ISDS, said the television exposure would be great for the area and described it as a ‘coup’ for the event organisers.
“This will not only provide a massive boost to the World Trials but also the Cumbrian region,” he said.
Daisuke Takanami travelled from Japan with his fellow team member Shinjiro Kigawa to compete with his dog Ben, who was bred by two-time World Trials winner Aled Owen.
Speaking through an interpreter, he said: “It is our first time entering the trials. It was really big challenge for us.
“There are only 10,000 sheep in the whole of Japan so it is not a very common pastime.”
From New Jersey, USA, was Michelle Brothers, who was visiting England for the first time and competed with her two dogs Snap and Roy.
“It has been a beautiful event. The sheep are wonderful and it is a fantastic course - you couldn't ask for better.”
Other placings in the final were: 4 Tom Lawrenson and Clyde (Brindle, Lancashire), 5 Erik Holmgaard and Joe (Fakse, Denmark), 6= Kevin Evans and Mirk (Modrydd, Brecon, Wales) and Roddy MacDiarmid and Jim (Cairndow, Argyllshire, Scotland), 8 Arthur Temple and Meg (Holmrook, Cumbria, England), 9 Denis Birchall and Bill (Dunlavin, Co Wicklow, Ireland), 10 William Gallagher and Groesfaen Roy (Kilcar, Co. Donegal, Ireland).