Bill O'Herlihy investigates the breeding, training and racing of pigeons.

Worldwide 150 million pigeons are bred annually and there are seven million pigeon fanciers around the world; 200,000 in Britain and Ireland alone. The sport of pigeon racing appeals to people from all walks of life.

That's the real attraction, the secret of the sport's popularity, it's classless.

Rather than being a cooing nuisance, blighting the city streets, a pigeon fancier rates his racing birds as highly as a horse breeder prizes his thoroughbreds. There is a big difference between a street pigeon and the racing variety, and a good long distance pigeon is a valuable commodity.

In a recent Belfast sale a blue cock that came sixth in a race to France sold for £580. The other birds that were in the top five in the race sold for over £1000. A single bird known as 'The Flying Dutchman' sold for the sum of £900.

Dan Kenneally from Cork, one of the best known breeders and racers in the south of Ireland explains how a pigeon is trained. A good bird is one capable of flying long distances and repeating that performance.

Dan explains the training process for a pigeon and while he may start off training 20 pigeons, if he is lucky he will finish with half that amount as a number of the birds will fall prey to hawks, power wires, or be shot.

Irish homing unions in Belfast and Dublin control the sport and from April to September birds are sent by rail for weekend races in Ireland, Britain and France.  

The birds are released together, but for each it is an individual race for distances to cities and loft vary. Timing and differences are scrupulously supervised for races are decided by the number of yards a bird covers in a minute.

There are cash prizes for each race and the pigeon classics are very profitable. Irish races are not as lucrative as those in Scotland or England although the Grand National into Belfast offers £5000, with the winner collecting £500.

Some fanciers with a good stable can bring home £1000 a year in cash prizes.

Dan explains how the betting pool works. While betting is a big draw, he is adamant pigeon racing is a credible sport as everyone is waiting to see their bird come home.

A ‘Newsbeat’ report from 11 May 1967. The reporter is Bill O'Herlihy.