The last time I witnessed a Fox Hunting scene was on the place mats my Granny used to wheel out to impress the visiting aunts and uncles. This would be accompanied by her best dainty China cups and saucers with matching plates. A variety of small fairy cakes and scones would then be presented on an afternoon tea cake stand. They would then gently position their morsel of choice in the centre of a doily and desperately refrain from wolfing it down in one go.
One could be forgiven for thinking that we may have been in some very posh suburb of Dublin or in a grand country home but all this occurred in Crumlin and I witnessed similar scenes in the three bedroom semi-detached on the Glasnevin/Finglas border where I grew up.
So I had always associated Hunting scenes with gentry and privilege. Over the last week I visited two events to try capture a sense of these occasions and discovered that nothing could be further from the truth.
Farmers, long distance truck drivers, publicans and all sorts meet at a pub in Stamullen, Co Meath. At the back of the pub all one can hear is the hounds in full cry desperate to get some exercise. The trailer opens and they pour out. Horse boxes litter the village and are abandoned until their return. They tack up and head out en masse into a local field not knowing their path for the next 2-3 hours.
I find a local man who’s daughter is part of the hunt and he graciously agrees to take me along and attempt to follow them in his 4×4. He’s very familiar with the local countryside and anticipates their moves around the vast area with a good deal of success.
My first impression is one of frustration as I have no clue how to ride a horse and everyone seems to be having such great fun. For the first time in my life I regret not learning how to ride (despite being a lad from Finglas).
Btw, I didn’t see one dead fox. In fact, I’m told it’s more common for them to return foxless. The Hunt would appear to be much more fun than the kill. Jumping monster ditches and fences is the prize and the priority.
Photographer Donal Moloney and writer Patricia Murphy visited the race track for an afternoon of pony trotting, harness racing and fascinating people and horse watching.
It’s a sunny Sunday in October as we pull into Portmarnock raceway. The retro burger wagon gleams in the sunlight as Chariots Of Fire plays out over the tannoy. Men clad in race colours akin to motorcycle super heroes saunter through the paddocks with mud splashed faces and cheeky grins. A slice of laid back Americana.
It’s not long before we are introduced to John ‘JR’ Richardson and Alan the ‘Wild Thing’ Wallace, seasoned veterans of the Irish Harness Racing (IHRA) circuit.
The bikes or sulkies lie to one side as owners, trainers and drivers prepare their prize pacers and trotters for the day’s races.
Out on the all weather track there is plenty of activity. Horses and drivers are warming up, the tractor loops around raking and sprinkling the surface between races before the moving gate lines up the competitors and they’re off to a running start.
Everything and everyone is in slow perpetual motion until a race starts and then it’s three minutes of focused attention, cheering and shouting.
Technically, we learn, there are a few differences between the races: Trotters follow a diagonal gait while the Pacers have perfected a lateral stride.Continue reading →
2016 was just the second year I had been to the Ballinasloe Horse Fair. I only travel down for Saturday’s activities. The photographic draw of both characters and animals is magnetic.
Last year a couple of online papers slated the photographs and some even accused me of supporting animal cruelty. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Whether it’s a horse fair or a dilapidated building, I find both photographically fascinating and exciting. I record the event and allow the viewer to make up their own mind. I’m a commercial photographer but shoot such personal projects like this for my own pleasure and for no financial reward.
I also enjoy speaking to those who attend and listening to how they manage their daily lives within a culture so far removed from mine. I don’t necessarily agree with some of their traits but I respect them. One also has to remember that the traveller community only represent a part of this huge community. Most punters are genuine equine lovers both buying and selling.
One farmer from Roscommon (who I also met last year) stood in the green for 5 days with 3 horses and sold nothing. He said that sales were way down this year and blamed it on Brexit and the “pound sterling”. It’s a hard old life but they’ll all be back again next year.
Few things are certain in life, for everything else there is an insurance policy. House, car, life, health, pet, travel . Every angle of our mortal existence is covered. Life is sorted and all at a premium. Or so it seems.
A short drive from one of our major cities is a small cluster of rural houses. Most of the residents have been lifelong neighbours. They farm together, they pray together, some have worked the railway together.
But that’s often where the familiarity ends and the isolation begins. Behind closed doors just like any neighbourhood is a story of love, loss, neglect and speculation. A whole world of uncertainty.
In the autumn of his life now, the owner of this house is no longer able to care for himself following a car accident. He left the priesthood to become a garda, never married and grew up surrounded by other males, namely his father and brother.
Locals say a visit to the house would be greeted with the front door being opened just a crack, just enough to have a quick chat and no more.
These men protected each other and showed little interest in widening their circle of friends. A day out was a dinner downtown followed by people watching from the side of the road as cars travelled back and forth to the nearby racetrack.
Yet despite this impenetrable defence, the selflessness of a few of the locals has brought glimpses of human warmth and kindness into their lives. Christmas dinners were prepared by neighbours wives and delivered year after year to the three men. The cats who still occupy the house are checked on and fed by a local lady.
The same lady who helped the current owner and last remaining son carry out basic day to day chores before he eventually went into care. She continues to bring him on weekly outings from the care home and takes him back to the house once in a while to check things over. She too is approaching the autumn of her years.
Nothing it seems is ever certain no matter how over insured and risk adverse we become but we can nevertheless make a few assumptions. Nature abhors a vacuum and will quickly rush in to fill in the gaps.
And love, no matter how we resist and protect ourselves against it, will wangle it’s way in and around us, embracing us and connecting us to the most basic but beautiful risk of all. LIFE.