On February 21, 2001, Ireland’s multi-billion pound livestock industry goes on full alert for signs of foot-and-mouth disease after the first outbreak in the United Kingdom in twenty years is confirmed in pigs. This epizootic sees 2,026 cases of the disease in farms across most of the British countryside. Over 6 million cows and sheep are killed in an attempt to halt the disease. By the time the disease is halted in October 2001, the crisis is estimated to have cost the United Kingdom £8bn (US$16bn).
The first case of the disease to be detected is at Cheale Meats abattoir in Little Warley, Essex on February 19, 2001 on pigs from Buckinghamshire and the Isle of Wight. Over the next four days, several more cases are announced in Essex. On February 23, a case is confirmed in Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland, from where the pig in the first case had come. This farm is later confirmed as the source of the outbreak and the owner, Bobby Waugh of Pallion, is convicted of failing to inform the authorities of a notifiable disease, and later of feeding his pigs “untreated waste.”
Several cases of foot-and-mouth are reported in Ireland and mainland Europe, following unknowing transportation of infected animals from the UK. The cases spark fears of a continent-wide pandemic, but these fears prove unfounded.
Ireland suffers one case in a flock of sheep in Jenkinstown, County Louth in March 2001. A cull of healthy livestock around the farm is ordered. Irish special forces snipe wild animals such as deer capable of bearing the disease in the area.
The outbreak greatly affects the Irish food and tourism industry. The 2001 Saint Patrick’s Day festival is cancelled, but later rescheduled two months later in May. Severe precautionary measures are put into place throughout Ireland since the outbreak of the disease in the UK, with most public events and gatherings cancelled, controls on farm access, and measures such as disinfectant mats at railway stations, public buildings and university campuses. The 2001 Oireachtas Rince naa Cruinne, or Irish Dance World Championships, is cancelled as a result of these measures. Causeway 2001, an Irish Scouting Jamboree is also cancelled. Three matches involving the Ireland national rugby union team in the 2001 Six Nations Championship are postponed until the autumn.