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‘If a beast opens at a high price, I find bidders do not get in online’

As part of this week’s On the Rostrum series, That’s Farming speaks to Larry Gilligan, who reflects on 40 years of livestock auctioneering.

Larry Gilligan, a Granard, County Longford native, began his career in the livestock mart industry nearly fifty years ago.

He joined Granard Mart as a general operative, overseeing calves, in 1975 before moving to fill a clerical position.

“After that, I had the desire to become an auctioneer. Granard Mart have been very good to me; that is where I got the chance to break into it. Paddy O’Hara, director and Tommy Quinn, the then chairman, had no objection to me getting started,” Larry Gilligan told That’s Farming.

“When I was starting, I made lots of blunders and mistakes, but they stayed with me, and thank God I made it. The first beast I would have sold was in Birr Mart.”

“The auctioneer, Teo Robinson, and his brother, Cecil, used to come to Granard Mart at that time. Cecil used to sell in Birr Mart every Monday, so I went to Birr Mart and sold there.”

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“It was still very hard to break into auctioneering at the time to get into the marts. They were all seating campaigners, directors and family members who were following the profession. Paul Murtagh, an auctioneer who worked with me in Granard Mart, was a great help.”

“Eventually, bit by bit, I got in. I did not get too many full-time jobs. I would mostly do relief work and part-time work in the busier times of the year. Besides, I did a little bit of bar work, and we were farmers. So, I would never have been short of work.”

Other venues that Larry auctioneered in include Edgeworthstown Mart, Ballymahon Mart, Ballyjamesduff Co-operative Mart, Trim Mart, Ballymote Mart, and Loughrea Mart.

Job opportunity

Larry recalled taking up an offer for a full-time auctioneering position with a co-operative mart group, which led to “disappointment” for him.

“I did an interview with them and got a full-time position with them. But, unfortunately, it never came into probation as there was a break-up in the company.”

“That was the biggest setback at the time. Then there were other things you think you would get into and get a full-time job, and it would not happen.”

Auctioneering schedule

Now, Larry can be found on the rostrum each Monday and Tuesday at Carnaross Mart and a Wednesday at Granard Mart.

On a Thursday, he works in Ballymahon Mart and Gort Co-operative Mart, while on a Friday, he sells in a Cavan Mart, and on Saturday, he auctions in Ballinakill Mart.

“It took a good few years to get into it, but eventually, I made my mould in it. After that, I would have tried to do property auctioneering on a few different occasions.”

“However, it was something I could never really aspire to, and I never really liked it. I was never good at client keeping or paperwork. I did not have the grá for that.”

“The thing I liked was selling cattle, and I stayed at that. I am very happy at that. I got a great living out of it, and I would have had great times going about the different places. Furthermore, I would have built up a circuit around the home when I worked in Granard.”

The man in the middle 

The sound of “big for weight, big for money, and big for size” are common phrases associated with Larry’s auctioneering style.

“You would always try to give a picture of the animal or your take on the animal. You would be aware of cattle on their quality and ones that will sell.”

“Generally, you have to do the business for both people. Especially the seller; if the seller does not bring in the cattle, you are at nothing. If you do not get them sold, you are at nothing.”

“The whole aim is to get them cashed at the finish. You would know if you see a good quality beast in and around where to be.”

“Previously, I used to do a car auction in Mullingar, but it has ceased trading since the Covid-19 pandemic. It did go online; the person that owns it has retired.”

“That was a colourful outing as you were selling old second-hand cars. It was a different fraternity to the cattle, and it was something I enjoyed doing. I used to get a great kick out of it.”

Changes

Among the changes in the mart industry for Larry include the sale of cattle by weight, cattle sales through online platforms and more minor cattle sales.

“The biggest change we would have seen is the online bidding. That was due to change a few years ago, and everybody said it would never work. However, when the Covid-19 pandemic came, it got the big push, and it got going.”

“Online trading is going to stay; there is no doubt about that. However, if you had asked me three or four years ago would business be done online, I definitely would be hesitant.”

“Back through the years, people would come in on the morning, have their breakfast and hang around and buy a few cattle. Now, they can go home, look at it online and buy cattle online.”

“In some cases now, it is unbelievable. Even when there would be 50 to 60 people back in the mart, there is 50% to 60% of the business done online. So, it is definitely something that is going to stay.”

Larry outlined the disadvantage of online trading.“I find that with the online system, cattle are opened an awful lot lower. But, the ones that opened lower, there are far more bidders.”

“If a beast opens at a high price, I find the bidders do not get in online, but if they open them ridiculously low, you will have an awful lot of bidders. That accumulates at the end as some of them will stay bidding.”

Advice for aspiring auctioneers 

Larry, who has over 40 years’ of livestock auctioneering experience, shared some advice for aspiring auctioneers.

“I would highly recommend it. But, at this stage, it can be hard to recommend it to someone as a full-time profession because it is just hard to get the mart business as consistent. There are a lot of marts falling off the pile and not doing as well as they were.”

“It is definitely for people who have a property business and a bit of farming along with it; it is a very good life.”

“You are involved with people, and you know what is going on. So, I would recommend it highly for any young person that would have the grá for it.”

Future

Larry feels the livestock mart industry is reseeding and a “good business” to work in. He hopes to continue manning the rostrum for years to come.

“I am getting to the age where I will be winding down a little bit at this stage of my life. I would not be as busy as I was. It probably suits.”

“I love doing what I am doing, and I never wanted to do anything else. I always look forward to Monday morning; some people would talk about having to go to work. Honestly, I love going to work and get a kick out of it with a bit of banter.”

“It is not all sunshine; there are problems now and again. In the last few years, we had to change our licencing system, and there was a lot of red tape to get the licence,” Larry Gilligan concluded.

Do you work in a livestock mart? To share your story like Larry Gilligan, email – catherina@thatsfarming.com

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