First off all let’s dismiss a myth. It’s not cruel to shear a sheep. Does it hurt when you have a hair cut? No, unless the shaver is blunt and it rips the hairs out you’re not going to feel anything. Considering the shear is paid by the bundle and amount of sheep they shear you can be sure that those shearers and razor sharp. They even have competition to see who can do it the fastest. In the past large scissors were used. This would have been how the men of Aran would have gotten the wool off and ready for the women of the island to make the famous Aran Sweaters. You can see, and own one with a trip to Shamrock Gift.
Shearing sheep is a skilled job and the experts have been at it for decades. The skill is passed down from generation to generation. The sheep only needs the shear once a year. This usually happens in spring as they don’t need the coat over the winter and could overheat. The sheep can’t be wet and it has to fast for a day beforehand, you don’t want it to poo mid shear. They get fed again as soon as it’s done.
The sheep is tipped back and the tummy is started first. It’s important to keep the sheep comfy as the struggle otherwise. Sheep are very skittish creatures at the best of times. You work down from the tummy around the crotch and then to the back. Job done. Sounds easy? It’s not and this is why it takes a good few years to be at least proficient at it.