Slainte! Three Cheers for Ireland and Its Horses

Thanks to Eleanor D. Van Natta over at Sage By Nature for getting us in the mood to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. You can find more of her writing on her horse blog, and don’t forget to wear your green on the 17th!

Irish Countryside

It was April, 1998, a pivotal point in the struggle for Irish independence, the Good Friday Agreement. I was young, single, and independent myself, and a devout horse lover. I was also an American clothed in my rich Celtic genes, hoping that I would blend in with the locals who would all clearly see my “Irishness”.

It was my first time traveling, and I was going to go somewhere that I could fit in easily enough and not have to tackle a new language. The only Gaelic that I armed myself with was a phrase that meant “I want some whiskey”; fortunately, I never ran into anyone who did not speak English.

Most people appreciated my small attempt at learning Gaelic, and it did come in handy on my tour of Bushmills when I became I volunteer whiskey taster. Never underestimate the power of volunteerism.

But what I really wanted to see were some Irish horses!

Horses Are Woven Into the Fabric of Ireland

Irish SheepWhen you think of Ireland, pictures of sheep probably come into your mind, dotting the hillsides like popcorn on a plush, green carpet. However, horses are also very much a part of the history and culture of the Emerald Isle.

Genetically speaking, if you have some Irish in you, it will be difficult not to see a horse without some trigger of emotion. A love of horses can be knitted into your genes as much as fair skin, freckles, a long, slender nose, and yes, maybe even your temper!

You simply cannot talk about Ireland, or its Celtic history without mentioning Equus. The two are entwined like the never ending circles in knotwork gracing the ancient Book of Kells and stones.

Ireland has a history rich with horses, as rich as the limestone bone-building fields of grass the stud farm horses graze on. From Ireland’s Celtic roots when horses were used for farming, funerals, weddings, reflections of their goddesses (Rhiannon and Epona), trading, and more, to today when horses continue to be a dominant force in the country.

One can see that there is something special in the relationship of the Irish with horses.

A Racing Tradition

Irish Horse Racing

Today, Ireland is well-known for producing top racehorses and sport horses and, of course, the Connemara pony.

Kevin Duffy, in his 1996 book Who Were The Celts thinks that the Celts use of, and relationship with, the horse is reflected in events of modern times such as The Dublin Horse Show.

What else could I do as a traveler with Celtic genes but go to Ireland and put a visit to the Irish National Stud Farm at the top of my list of places to see? I was simply responding to genetic memory and my lineage.

There is a horse museum dedicated to horse racing along with two beautiful gardens to stroll through, Saint Fiachra’s Garden and the Japanese Garden. However, the most memorable part of my visit was touring the giant pastures with lush grass and seeing the mares with their foals frolicking about and grazing the Irish grass.

If it is horse racing that you love, then after the stud farm you could visit one of the 27 racecourses in this country of only about 4 million people.

Irish Horse RacingOne place that was unfortunately not yet built when I made my trip in 1998 was The Dartfield Horse Museum and Heritage Center. This museum is dedicated to the Irish horse, the Connemara ponies, and Irish dogs. The museum is situated on 350 acres and also offers horse rentals for all levels.

Pick Your Travel Partners Wisely

My traveling companion on that first trip to Ireland was trying to give up cigarettes at the time; if I could put up with her withdrawal symptoms, then the least she could do was indulge me in a visit to see some horses.

On a visit to Ireland, I hope you will be blessed with experiencing the beauty of the land, the hospitality of its people, and seeing some of its beautiful horses and ponies with an indulging travel partner.

Horses in Ireland Are Multi-Talented

One final note: when you get to Ireland, you may discover some curious behavior of the horses over there. sheep herding.

Links to More Resources

A few helpful links to Irish information.

Travel Information
Northern Ireland Horse Board
Irish Tourism
Discover Northern Ireland
Official Dublin Tourism Site

Places to See
The Irish National Stud
Historic Dartfield Horse Museum and Heritage Centre

Horseback Riding Vacations
Equestrian Holidays Ireland
Dingle Horse Riding
Horse Riding Ireland

About Eleanor

EleanorEleanor Van Natta is a wife, a mother of two little girls, and a caretaker to one dog, one cat, and one horse. She has a Zoology degree from the University of CA, Davis, and prior to becoming a stay at home mom she had a career in environmental and pharmaceutical sales. You can find more of her writing on her website: Sage By Nature.

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You can find more quest posts from Eleanor in the Guest section and be sure to subscribe to her Sage By Nature blog for her latest info.

Sheep Image from StrudelMonkey