National Geographic: Ballad of the Irish Horse


In Ireland, horses are

an indelible part of the landscape...

of history and memory,

of a past and present

where the ancient magic

of the horse

still weaves its spell.

Their presence is pervasive,

as if horses help to define

what the Irish people are.

Horses are the Irishman's sport...

Ireland is the birthplace

of steeplechasing.

Horses are Ireland's tradition.

Showjumping originated

on this green land.

Horses are Ireland's business.

This is the Irish National Stud.

Horses are Ireland's pleasure.

Here people still ride across

fields and farms to the hounds...

and thousands of families

keep horses for recreation.

This romance of the Irish

and their horses

was born of the land,

nurtured by necessity,

and fostered by ancient bonds.

It is one of the oldest

love stories on earth:

The Ballad of the Irish Horse.


Ireland of myth and mystery,

of wild shores and soft rains,

lush pastures and rich soil,

where the past still lives.

Even today, Ireland remains,

as it has been

for thousand of years,

largely agricultural.

Here, the story of man and horse

stretches over the centuries...

A saga woven of threads

of tradition and history,

custom and religion,

that binds them

inseparably in the fiber

of Irish life.

While the rest of Europe

was transformed

by the Industrial Revolution,

Ireland remained essentially

untouched and unchanged.

Until only 40 year ago,

most families in Ireland

needed a horse

to plow the fields

through the week.

On market days,

the farmer hitched the horse

to a wagon to haul his produce.

On Sundays, horse and wagon

took the family to church.

In remote areas of the west,

the old Irish ways

and language survive.

And the people of

Ireland keep horses

in their lives

and on their landscapes.

Here, people still go ton fairs

at villages

and country crossroads

to buy and sell horses

as they have for centuries.

In Napoleonic times,

quartermasters from European armies

came here to buy

the famed Irish horses

for their elite cavalry regiments.

Today at the Great October Fair

in Ballinasloe,

the flavor of a lost age lingers.

If she's there for 50 pounds,

she's there.

The trading is still punctuated

by the slapping of hands

a middleman still brings buyer

and seller together.

And a bit of earth

on the horse's hindquarters

still shows that a bargain

has been struck.

Like his father and grandfather,

John Daly is a horse breeder.

He came to this fair

with his father.

Now he brings his son, Alan,

knowing the boy

will follow in his footsteps.

And today he has come to buy

Alan a pony.

We'll go and see

something else anyway.

Stand back a minute there, lads.

What do you carry on

the book down there?

Fourteen two.

The man says seven.

I'll give you eight.

Give him 1,000 pounds.

Give him to him for 1,000 pounds

and that's the price.

And after that, say no more.

I'll give you 800.

Well, I look at it this way.

Your lad will be

getting a good pony,

and he's a good rider.

And I like to see him

getting the pony

If you tell me

you'll take it for them

I'll divide it

the last 200 pounds.

That's 900, right?

Give him 1,000 pounds.

Go on, give him 1,000.

I tell you what I'll do.

I'll go away and leave you

for an hour to think about it.

And you might get a better lad.

I'm here to sell him.

That'll be 1,000 pounds,

the both of yours.

You're fiddling around there

like a fiddler.

That will be 1,000 quid

and get the money.

Give him a check then

for 1,000 pounds.

Will you break the board?

Go on. Give him to him now. Sold.

Hold out, hold out.

One, two, three, four...

God bless you.

After a few pounds are given

to the seller for luck,

Alan leaves the fair

with a Connemara pony...

symbol of his future

and his heritage.

Some 9,000 years ago,

man made his way here,

crossing a land bridge that

once linked Scotland and Ireland.

Horses arrived about 2,000 B.C.,

brought by Neolithic people

who introduced their farming

culture to this fertile land.

The island's placid existence

exploded around 500 B.C.,

as a wave of

Celtic warriors invaded

their battle chariots drawn

by hot blooded horses.

When the bloody days of plunder

and murder subsided,

the invaders became settlers,

and their Celtic legacy imprinted

its indelible stamp

on the soul and style of Ireland.

The blood of their fiery mounts

mixed with that of

the indigenous ponies,

producing a better, faster horse.

Over the centuries, successive

tides of conquering peoples

and ideas were

to sweep across Ireland

in her poignant

and tumultuous history.

There were Vikings,

Normans, and Englishmen.

There were St. Patrick

and Christianity.

All would create permanent changes

on the face of the land

and in the hearts of

the Irish people.

But certain things

would never change.

For thousands of years

and hundreds of generations,

man and horse continued

to share the soil of Ireland.

Today, in the west,

Connemara ponies

still run free

over the wild countryside.

Here at Lough Mask in County Mayo,

John Daly has kept

two stallions isolated

on an island through the winter.

The island is a short trip

by boat

from the lakeshore

and Daly's stud farm

Connemara ponies are, in fact,

small horses,

muscular and strong boned

Perfectly adapted to

the rugged western landscape,

they retain the iron constitutions

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