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Obituary: Alison McNeil

By Newsdesk
Obituary: Alison McNeil

AN EXPERT sheep shearer and shepherdess who was well known in Dumfries and Galloway has died.

Alison McNeil, nee Jappy, 60, who was also a champion wool handler, will be sorely missed by family, friends and the farming fraternity across the country and overseas, mainly New Zealand.

She was born and brought up in the Scottish Borders with her three siblings.

While at school in Hawick, she not only proved she was a diligent pupil but also gained national recognition when she won the National Orienteering championship, first while she was at primary school and then again during her secondary school years.

Tertiary education started at Borders College where she took an Ordinary National Diploma in business studies before she headed off to Auchincruive in Ayrshire to study agriculture. She spent her practical year shepherding with her father at Westruther in the Lammermuir Hills.

Following her graduation, she headed to New Zealand, working for shearing contractors in the wool sheds on some of the large sheep stations. Weekends were spent travelling to the sheep shearing competitions and competing at wool handling. She also helped train shepherds who came over from Scandinavia to learn about shearing and wool handling.

Alison married Graham McNeil whom she met through shearing circles. Together they travelled, following the shearing seasons around the world and established a successful shearing business based at Rhonehouse, Castle Douglas running three shearing gangs, employing locals and New Zealanders.

Alison continued the business, after the separation from Graham.

Returning to Scotland in 1997, Alison was instrumental in staging wool handling competitions at all the major Scottish sheep shearing events. She won the inaugural wool handling competition held in Scotland and this led to her selection as part of the two shearer, two wool handler Scottish team for the World Championships at Gorey, Ireland 1998.

More victories were achieved in major competition wins in Wales, England and Ireland as well as notable placings in the World Wool Handling championships, taking individual fourth in Ireland 1998, fifth in South Africa 2000, third on home turf in Scotland 2003 and fifth in Australia 2005.

She was Scottish Wool Handling Champion for a decade. Following the World Champions in Scotland 2003, Alison retired from the competition circuit, taking on a role as a British Wool Marketing judge for wool handling and shearing events.

With a brief career as a policewoman, her focus in agriculture continued.

She was still working in the South West of Scotland when the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease pandemic struck. Recognising someone with good organisational abilities and a steely determination for what would be a very stressful job, she was asked to coordinate shepherds in gathering animals. Together, without a single day’s break, the team gathered thousands of animals every day for two months. This drastic action helped to control the spread of the virulent disease. It was a most distressing period for all those who loved animals.

She was both very proud and surprised when she was awarded the MBE for her efforts in this gruesome task.

Services will be held on June 9 to which all family and friends are invited: 11 am at Borders Crematorium, Melrose, and 12.15pm at Hope Church, Overhaugh Street, Galashiels.

Donations are welcome to the Greenhope Psalm 23 Garden Project at Hope Church.

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