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Meet birdwoman of Magheralin: Teen named UK Pigeon Fancier of the Year

Co Down teenager flying high in the world of pigeon racing

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UK Young Pigeon Fancier of the Year Keelie Wright with one of her race pigeons

UK Young Pigeon Fancier of the Year Keelie Wright with one of her race pigeons

UK Young Pigeon Fancier of the Year Keelie Wright with one of her race pigeons

The world of the pigeon fancier conjures up images of old men in overcoats and cloth caps.

But for Co Down girl Keelie Wright (15), it's a world she's already been involved in for over a decade after following a traditional family flight path.

On any given evening, she'll be found among the feathers with her dad Eamon and grandad, also Eamon (86), clearing out the lofts, feeding and caring for the almost 200 racing pigeons she keeps in her grandad's lofts.

Next week the Magheralin teen's love of pigeons is to feature in a CBBC documentary, and it culminates with her reaching lofty heights in last month's Royal Pigeon Racing Association Show of the Year in Blackpool where she was named UK Young Pigeon Fancier of the Year.

"That was a real shock," Keelie said.

"I wasn't expecting it at all."

Keelie has been building her successful career on the pigeon scene for over 10 years.

"I can remember going along to pigeon club with my dad and grandad when I was four years old with a big bag of sweets," she said.

"I became the youngest and first female member of the Lurgan Social Homing Pigeon Society when I was 10 and I've been racing and showing my own pigeons ever since.

"It's a real commitment though, especially in racing season.

"The pigeons are kept at my grandad's house and I go there every day to clean out the lofts so it's something you really need to be dedicated to doing, but I love it.

"Once I started, I just couldn't stop."

The life of a pigeon fancier gets even more demanding when racing season starts.

"When spring arrives it'll be races nearly every weekend," Keelie said.

"On Friday nights I'll be at the club getting the birds ready to go wherever the race is from. Then on Saturday, all day, I'll be glued to the skies watching for them to come back.

"I've had a few friends come around to see the lofts and I know a lot of them think it's all a bit strange, but it's not to me.

"This has brought the family so close together. My grandad has taught me and my dad everything we know and I'm so happy to spend the time with him around the lofts."

There is a bit of in-family rivalry though, with all three members willing their birds to be the first to arrive home.

"Whoever loses has to make the tea," said Keelie, who will soon have to fit her pigeon routine in around exam revision for her studies at St Ronan's College in Lurgan.

Keelie's navigations through the highs and lows of the 2019 season will be featured on CBBC on Tuesday, February 25 (5.30pm and 7.35pm).

She narrates My Life: My Pigeons and Me, which reveals how her unlikely hobby has strengthened the family bond and allows them to spend many hours together as they look after their birds.

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Keelie and Aaryan at a pigeon show in Blackpool

Keelie and Aaryan at a pigeon show in Blackpool

Keelie and Aaryan at a pigeon show in Blackpool

She even hands out tips to another young fancier, Aaryan (12) from Rochdale.

"My grandad has been doing this for over 40 years now. I think he's delighted to see me keeping the family tradition alive," she said.

"We have so much in common and have a wonderful time with the pigeons."

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