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Lismore farmer Archie ‘Skinny’ McGillivray beat a life-threatening bout of Covid, and all other competitors at Saturday’s Lismore Agricultural Show, to lift the champions of champions trophy, a coveted wooden cut-out of the island, nicknamed ‘the big fish’.
‘I am delighted and very happy,’ said 78 year-old Skinny, a legendary Highland games runner in his day, who now farms at Achuaran. ‘I have been farming all my life. My father died when I was 10. I took up the family farm after that with an aunt.’
Earlier this year, he faced another big uphill challenge in his life, when he was struck by a serious case of coronavirus, leaving his family fearing the worst.
‘I was six weeks in hospital with Covid,’ he said. ‘They called my family and everything.
‘I had to learn to walk again. I was on a zimmer. I have recovered, but I still have a numbness in my left foot as a result of nerve damage.’
But ‘the Lismore Lazarus’ triumphed over the lethal virus, and his fellow island farmers, to win the show’s top prize at the weekend, when his Belgian Blue heifer was crowned cattle champion, and then champion of champions.
If it was not for his son Calum’s help, Archie said, the win would have not have been possible. ‘I am delighted and could not be happier,’ Calum said. ‘He deserves it. He has been through a lot.’
The judge of the cattle classes, Willie MacLean from West Ferlochan Farm, Benderloch, said: ‘She caught my eye, as soon as she came in. Her length, width and character.’
Overall, he said the cattle classes were ‘tremendous’. ‘The very young class of calves were outstanding. They would compete against any show. We will see a lot of them in the future.
‘It is nice to see the locals coming together and supporting each other. It is a nice family show. It is a privilege to be asked to judge.’
The sheep classes were also ‘tremendous’, said their judge Ian Watt, from Gargunnock, Stirling. ‘The quality on some was superb. The standard is as good as anywhere on the mainland.’
‘That’s a braw class of lambs there,’ said one Benderloch crofter, admiring the ewe lambs. ‘The quantity and quality. The shows are getting less and less. It is a credit to those here producing that.’ The shows around Stirling would struggle to get even half that number, he added.
‘They had nice coloured faces. That is a fashion at the moment. You have to breed for what the market wants. You need to get every penny you can get. You need to breed as best as you can, especially with the costs at the moment.’
On the champion sheep, a blackface ewe lamb brought by John Carmichael of Baligrundle where the show is held, the judge Ian Watt said: ‘It was a very correct sheep, very well bred. It was the kind of sheep I would like to breed myself. It was what a good blackie sheep should look like.’
On the reserve champion, a texel, he added: ‘That is the type of sheep I would like to buy. When you are judging, that is what you are trying to do.’
Despite fears over Brexit, the sheep trade has been as good as ever, he said. ‘The input costs are killing – the cost of feed, fuel and fertiliser, the three ‘f’s. As long as the price stays up, we should be okay.’
This was the fifth Lismore Agricultural Show, after a break for two years during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
‘Everything is a lot harder now,’ said its chief organiser, Neil Carmichael: ‘It’s the cost of everything. We struggled so much to get insurance. Thank you to everyone who helped set it all up. We would also like to thank Argyll and the Islands Agricultural Trust without their donations the show may not have gone ahead.’
Two year old Dougald Kelly, of Achinduin, Lismore, won the prize for his pet lamb. ‘The first of many, and one more than his dad,’ joked Dougald’s father Robert. ‘He was helping his grandparents feed it,’ said Dougald’s mum Kara Willis.
Praising the effort that went into the show, the horticulture judge Alan Campbell, from Lochawe, said: ‘Some of it was absolutely champion. The floral art was very cleverly done. The single roses are very difficult to do.’
The season, he explains, has been ‘dreadful’: ‘It has just been cold and wet, an awful year for everything. We have had more than an angel’s share of rain.’
The prizes were presented by retired Lismore farmer Donnie MacCormick.
‘Lismore was famous, especially for the lambs,’ he said. ‘They have got good ground with the limestone. Good breeding grass: short, sweet, green.
‘Lismore people were called “sheep”,’ he added, ‘and I’ll tell you why. The boat docked in Oban nearly 100 years ago. There was a mat on the gangway. The first person jumped over the mat. Then they all jumped over the mat. They would say: “Meh. Meh. Meh.”‘
Donnie won a first prize in a lamb class. ‘My son was second – I beat him,’ he smiled, triumphantly.
Blackface ewe lamb cup – J Carmichael Blackface champion- J Carmichael
Pure bred Champion – J MacCormick
Cross sheep champion – J Carmichael
Best sheep trio – J Carmichael
Best pet lamb – D Kelly
Overall Sheep Champion – J Carmichael
Junior cattle Champion – A MacGillivray
Breeding Cattle Champion – A MacGillivray
Cattle Champion – A MacGillivray
Dog Champion – R Campbell and Bill
Champion of Champions – A MacGillivray
Adult baking most points – D Willis
Adult baking Best exhibit – K Willis
Children’s baking most points – E Walker
Children’s baking Best exhibit – I Cook
Jams and chutney Best exhibit – M McDonald
Junior Handicrafts most points – D Kelly
Junior Handicrafts Best exhibit – E Walker
Adult Handicrafts most points (joint) – H Dixon / S Mcdonald
Adult Handicrafts Best exhibit – L Savill
Best exhibit in flowers – M Mcdonald
Most points in flowers – M Mcdonald
Best vegetable exhibit – J Hough
Most points in Vegetables – R Kelly
Best art exhibit – H Morton
Best Adult Photography Exhibit – J Hough