29 September 2023

A very Irish celebration of Boorowa's sheepish heritage this long weekend

| Edwina Mason
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herd of sheep running down road

An event not to be missed this weekend is the Running of the Sheep during Boorowa’s popular annual Irish Woolfest. Photo: Woolfest/Facebook.

It may not be Pamplona but it’s a darn sight closer and far less dangerous and perfect for a long weekend ramble in the countryside.

Unlike the northern Spanish city’s summertime ritual of letting a small group of bulls and people run loose in a sectioned-off street, the Hilltops town of Boorowa has taken the concept of the Running of the Bulls to a whole new level.

No bull. Or bulls. But sheep. Not quite as fraught with danger – for one, because there’s no requirement for running people, only sheep.

So if you’d like to see a flock of 150 sheep barrel along the main street of Boorowa helped along by some enthusiastic sheepdogs and a local farmer, this is the event for you.

The Running of the Sheep is the signature event of Boorowa’s annual Irish Woolfest to be held this Sunday, 1 October.

Within only a 90-minute drive of the Australian Capital Territory and a highlight on the Hilltops region’s spring calendar, this is the perfect day trip to experience the best of Boorowa’s heritage.

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Boorowa is world-renowned for its fine Merino wool – always has been – and the suggestion of a dedicated event to showcase and celebrate its contribution to the local economy (and the nation’s development) can be traced back to the 1990s.

Even then, amid wool shows, wool workshops and shearing displays, sheep led a colourful street parade on a merry dance to the showground.

Now in its 25th year, the week-long event has been condensed to a day where Marsden Street is closed to traffic.

Who doesn’t love a beef and Guinness pie-eating competition? It’s just one of the events at this Sunday’s Irish Woolfest at Boorowa. Photo: Woolfest/Facebook.

And now, as the name suggests, there is a rich embracing of Boorowa’s Irish roots.

In the 19th century, a Catholic nun was reputedly asked, “Have you been to Ireland?” “No,” she replied. “But I have been to Burrowa.”

Boorowa’s Irish connection dates back to the 1820s when cousins Roger Corcoran and Ned Ryan arrived in the area on a ”Ticket of Leave”.

They had been sentenced to transportation to NSW from Clonoulty in Tipperary.

Their crime was participation in the destruction of a hospital that a garrison of English troops planned to occupy.

They were later granted a ”Ticket of Freedom” and played prominent roles in the settlement and growth of the area.

Numbers of visitors continually increase to the Irish Woolfest, not just because of the fine line-up of performers, dancers and musicians giving an Irish lilt to the day but the irresistible draw of tournaments such as the beef and Guinness pie- eating competition and Irish accent contest.

Old Kentucky’s Animal Farm Patting Paddock adds a bucolic air to the day, alongside the black and coloured sheep display, the llamas, a shearing demonstration, working dog demo, yarn bombing, antique engine display, woodchoppers in action, a blessing of the fleece and even a gold trail reenactment.

And in between there are street stalls, an art show and exhibition, whipcracking, a bowls tournament, comedy show and car club display.

The festival runs for most of the weekend, starting on Friday night with the official opening of the art show but Sunday is the main day, with events kicking off at 9 am with a Poets Breakfast, the official opening at 11:45 am, street parade and Running of the Sheep at 12:30 pm, culiminating in that other great pastime – the Rugby League grand final at 6:30 pm for the massively committed.

Entry is free and for more details of the program visit the Irish Woolfest website.

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