The Emerald Isle

The Irish National Stud was established at Tully on the western edge of the Curragh in 1945, its main aim being the improvement of the quality of bloodstock in Ireland. The stud had been formed in 1900 by an eccentric Anglo-Irish breeder, Lord Wavertree, who, believing in the powers of astrology, had skylights installed in the stables to ensure that the power of the moon and stars would be transferred to his horses. Today, parts of the stud are open to visitors, and there is a museum where, among other things, can be seen the skeleton of the great Irish steeplechaser, Arkle, which won England’s Cheltenham Gold Cup three times in a row in the 1960s; and it must not be forgotten that Red Rum, another three-times winner of a great English steeplechase, the Grand National, was also Irish-bred. For all enthusiasts of equestrianism, whatever their favored discipline, the social highlight of the year is the Dublin Horse Show in August, which attracts contestants, particularly to show jumping, and spectators from all over the world. Many of the horses competing here will have been purchased at Ireland’s bloodstock sales, the most important of which are at Kill, County Kildare, or at the main national hunt sales, Tattersalls, at Fairyhouse in County Meath. To the average horse-lover, however, the best and most enjoyable events are the traditional non- Thoroughbred fairs which have been part of Irish life for centuries. The oldest and most famous of these in Ireland, and once one of the three greatest horse fairs in Europe, is Galway’s Great October Fair, held at Ballinasloe. Back in the 18th century, agents of the great powers of Europe came to Ballinasloe to buy cavalry horses – including, so tradition has it, Napoleon’s horse Marengo (though this is denied by those who run the July horse fair at Cahirmee in County Cork, which also claims to have supplied Napoleon with his famous steed). Today, the Great October Fair is a lively occasion, offering thousands of visitors horse racing and street entertainment as well as the horse sales. The Emerald Isle FAIRY HORSES The grant is a small fairy horse that features in the folklore of both Ireland and Britain. It warns of approaching danger, uttering piercing cries to warn others of its kind or mortals who may have tamed it. Grants are most often found in dense forests and are extremely shy. In England, a grant may adopt a particular village and has been described as resembling a yearling foal with sparkling eyes. He prances about the village streeets at midday or sunset, often capering along on his hind legs and setting the dogs barking. Those who see him fear that their houses will catch fire or that a imilar misfortune may occur. In 1211 Gervase of Tilbury described the grant as a demon, having already pronounced it to be a harbinger of death. But during the Second World War, several villages claimed to have been warned of approaching air raids by their fairy horses. 149