Connemara National Park and Park Ponies


Connemara National Park
Connemara National Park

Connemara National Park

The story of the Park ponies must begin when James and Mary Ellis and family decided to move from England to this remote spot west of the Connemara mountain ranges of the Twelve Bens and the Maumturks, in 1849.  At the time poverty and famine were endemic in the area and this Quaker family came to work as benevolent missionaries in a forsaken famine-plagued land.  They were in a good financial position and purchased 1,800 acres of land, mostly bog and mountain.  Here they created a model village, Letterfrack, in the shelter of Diamond Mountain, establishing a school, a farm providing employment for large numbers, a dispensary and doctor’s house, a Meeting house, Courthouse and shop and a large family house, as well as workers’ cottages, and a Temperance Hotel.  For about a decade the family drained, planted and farmed the land and provided training and employment for local people, until ill health forced the Ellis’s to return home:  thankfully their project continued in operation.   /The property changed hands a number of times and finally came into the ownership of the Catholic Archbishop of Tuam.  An Industrial School for boys, run by the Irish Christian Brothers was constructed and opened in 1886, catering for as many as 150 boys up to the age of 16 years. Times were hard and social ‘mores’ and the justice system in Ireland at that time were not attuned to anything other than work, harsh physical punishment, and worse, for these boys, who were sometimes orphans, or minor delinquents, or simply and sadly children whose parents were unable to care for them: these child rejects of the era were sent to Letterfrack. The little headstones in the boys’ graveyard nearby tell a sad tale of small children from the age of four and up, buried there. Advantages were that the boys were fed, educated and taught a trade as well as learning to work the land. The old Ellis house was the Brothers’ residence and became known as the Monastery.  The Brothers bred some Connemara ponies and one of these was Clonjoy out of Joyce Grey; he was the first son of Clonkeehan Auratum to join the Connemara Societies approved list in 1960.

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  While Connemara West acquired the Industrial School and the outbuildings, the State in 1976  purchased the vast area of mountainous land along with some land from the Kylemore Estate. The Connemara National Park was opened to the public in 1980 and is now administered by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Dept. of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government.  It is open year round, while the Visitor Centre (formerly the farmyard area) is open March through October.  Last year the Centre recorded ‘a footfall’ of 126,000 people while many more roamed in the Park, and since paths were laid to the top of Diamond Mountain two years ago, the area and its wonderful views are enjoyed year round by thousands of visitors and locals alike, a fantastic and much appreciated facility – and it’s all free!  Here you may see wild flowers and heathers, birdlife, the Connemara ponies, and if you are lucky you may spot wild red deer or goats in their native habitat, or perhaps catch sight of a fox or hare or rabbits     
Park Visitor Information Centre, in Winter
Park Visitor Information Centre, in Winter

The Visitor Centre has an audio visual show, an interpretative centre with an excellent 3-D exhibition portraying the development of the Connemara landscape over 10,000 years, with information on the bog, land use, the human element, and flora and fauna of the area. There are activities for children based on fun with nature, while a series of evening talks on nature and wildlife in general are organised in summertime.  Information sessions on the Connemara pony are organised by an experienced Connemara Pony breeder on three afternoons a week.  If you would like to know more go to their Website at  www.npws.ie

Connemara Pony Knockdoe Walnut at RDS in 1992
Connemara Pony Knockdoe Walnut at RDS in 1992

Next post will be on Connemara Ponies in the Park.

 

 
Connemara West Centre and part of Furniture College to-day
Connemara West Centre and part of Furniture College to-day
 
 
 

 

 

 The school buildings built for the Industrial School – which closed its doors in 1973 – were purchased by the community development company Connemara West, who have since set up an employment and social and industrial complex there, second to none, in use by a multitude of organisations and offering a wide range of services. To-days students attend the School of Fine Woodworking and Design – voluntarily I might add –   and their lifestyle is a far cry from the experience of generations of their former younger predecessors incarcerated in the infamous Industrial School.

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Part 2 Ponies in the Connemara National Park


I wish to thank most sincerely all of the ‘Park People’of  the National Parks and Wildlife Service who gave me information and the use of photos, Noel Kirby, Breda Brady and  Ger O’Donnell and to the four custodians who helped out, Stephanie Brooks, Madeline Hannigan Joyce, Siobhan Cazabon Sullivan and Cathy Snow Coyne, Go raibh maith agaibh.

 PARK CONNEMARA PONIES

President Childers accepts gift of ponies from Sean Kean President CPBS
President Childers receives gift of Connemara Ponies from Sean Keane President CPBS

 

 In 1974 Six Connemara mares were selected and purchased by a Connemara Pony Breeders Society committee and presented to President Childers at Aras an Uachtaráin, to graze in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.  However, sadly, President Childers died shortly afterwards and by the late seventies the ponies had been dispersed to Agricultural Colleges or National Parks around Ireland.  

Four of the original mares were relocated in the Connemara National Park in the year before its official opening in 1980.   (The filly Silver Fort had been born to Fort Hazel in the Phoenix Park but in the Connemara Park she was a pony who apparently always wanted to be on the other side of the fence and so she was sold on to Clifden breeder Joe Gorham. With the Gorham family she was to become a top show mare and a producer of Champions for many years after. ‘Perhaps the grass on the other side was greener after all!’  See Post in July ’08).

 
Ganty Heather early nineties in Connemara Park
Ganty Heather early nineties in Connemara Park

These four were Ganty Heather by Carna Bobby X a Dun Lorenzo mare, Illiona Beauty, who was bred by Joe McNamara of Craughwell: Funny Girl, a golden dun by Cream Cracker X Lettery Tempest bred by Mrs. G. Crehan of Ballina in 1972:  Knockdoe Walnut by Marble X Walnut Brown bred by James Healy from Claregalway and Fort Hazel by Marble X Fort Sapphire bred by John Brennan of Galway. 

Funny Girl, early nineties in the Park
Funny Girl, early nineties in the Park

 

Fort Hazel
Fort Hazel

 

Knockdoe Walnut in Park in nineties at age 22
Knockdoe Walnut in Park in nineties at age 22

By 1981 the first foals were born and the native herd was comfortably settled in the natural Connemara habitat of the newly opened Park, which now stretches over 2000 hectares of spectacular wilderness. (see post on Connemara National Park)

Park Erica with foal. Erica was by Murphy Reberl out of Ganty Heather
Park Erica and foal. Park Erica was by Murphy Rebel X Ganty Heather
Two or three foals were born each year and between ’81 and ’96, altogether 21 ponies were foaled in the Park. The herd then averaged 10 ponies with 2 to 4 foals born annually. The breeding policy was in line with the conservation quidelines of the Park and the Park area is certainly a great shop window for the breed.  Not all youngsters stayed in their birth place; colts were generally sold at weaning and some ponies were sent to other National Parks, such as Killarney or Wicklow, to please the viewing public and enhance their Parks. 2 showing Pics  In ’92 and ’93 some Park ponies were shown at local Shows such as Galway County, Clifden, Ballyconneely, and Claddaghduff by Madeline and Park staff and some also paid a visit to the Dublin Horse Show in ‘92. In 1990 there was some excitement as the ponies in the Park were visited by Queen Beatrix of Holland and three filly foals were named in her honour after Dutch Royalty: they became Park Julianna, Park Beatrix and Park Wilhelmina.
Knockdoe Walnut at RDS with Madeline in '92, was Reserve in class
Knockdoe Walnut at RDS with Madeline in '92, was Reserve in class

 Some progeny of Knockdoe Walnut

She is a lovely example of a Connemara pony and now alive and well at the great old age of 37, (is this a record? )She was taken to Shows in her younger days and usually came home with rosettes. at Dublin 

The last surviving mare of the original Park ponies, Knockdoe Walnut is also the last of the original Phoenix Park ponies.

Knockdoe Walnut in the Park age 35
Knockdoe Walnut in the Park age 35

 She is a 138cms. pony with good bone, a pretty head and a sweet nature and is very popular with children.  She is by Marble  (by Rebel Wind X Callowfeenish Dolly 2nd) and is out of Walnut Brown (by Clonjoy X Derry Glen Rebel.) Pic Walnut in Park She was bred near Claregalway by James Healy and had several foals including one filly Park Maeve, by Loobeen Larry who grew quite tall although Walnut was a relatively small pony.  Park Maeve’s daughter, Park Stephanie by Abbeyleix Owen is currently used at Errislannon as a ‘school mistress’ pony as she was gifted to Stephanie Brooks on leaving the Park after many years of service. (This pony appears in the blogs August Post ‘posing’ as a creel-carrying pony in the Working Ponies display. Requisitioned at short notice, that morning was the first time she had seen or carried creels, so with her docile nature ( like her grandam Walnut) she carried it off without protest.  Park Stephanie is much loved by the Pony Club children at Errislannon).  Walnut also foaled a gelding son Park Peppermint by Murphy Rebel.

 

Knockdoe Walnut with Cathy Snow Coyne '07. Pic R.Downes
Knockdoe Walnut with Cathy Snow Coyne '07. Pic R.Downes

An early custodian was Stephanie Brooks of Errislannon Rding Centre. She writes fondly of the ponies in her book ‘Sea Horses’, and during her term there and also during the stewardship of Madeline Hannigan (who came in ’92 and cared for the ponies  ‘til ’98), the young stock were regularly taken to Errislannon for backing and training for riding. Madeline and the custodian who succeeded her, Siobhán Cazabon from ’98 to 2005, and currently Cathy Snow Coyne and husband Martin (now 4 years in the job), all give great care and attention to the Park ponies, looking after their every need and giving talks and demonstrations to visitors during the Spring and Summer months.  Stables, which were built soon after the Park opened to the public, were unfortunately damaged by a fire in the early days but have since been rebuilt and are used as needed, for instance when the custodian gives talks on the history and management of the ponies  The Connemaras of course live out all year round; in the summer some are to be seen in the park area near the visitor centre until they are moved to winter grazing in the late Autumn.  Since 2003 the Connemara Pony Breeders Society has taken the lease on over 100 acres and they now manage and care for the ponies

Stables at the Park
Stables at the Park

 

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Blaithin and Ardnore Sea Breeze in Park Feb 09
Blaithin and Ardnore Sea Breeze in Park Feb 09

There are currently 8 ponies in the Park, some of them young stock, and three mature mares. Ganty Walnut is of course the Queen and next in line is Ardnore Sea Breeze by Abbeyleix Owen X Sea Bird who has had quite a few foals and Blaithín who is byWings of Victory X Ervelough Niamh by                                                                                                                             If you know of or have pictures of any other Park ponies, please feel free to send them on for the blog.

PART 3 CONNEMARA PARK PONIES


WHERE ARE THEY NOW  ??

 Some progeny of Ganty Heather

Ganty Heather’s  daughter Park Erica, (seen in part 2) by Murphy Rebel, was a Clifden prizewinner, taking a 2nd in a mare class. 

Park Larry in denmark in 2008
Park Larry in Denmark in 2008

Park Larry a chestnut gelding by Loobeen Larry X Ganty Heather, had a top-class showjumping career with the O’Brien family of Athenry, and is now still jumping in Denmark at the age of 21. Erica’s colt foal in ’96 was named Park Rebel.  He is a bay gelding by Loobeen Larry.         Some welcome news in red below on Park Rebel which I, mea culpa, forgot to add to this Post before now.   

RachelPosted September 6, 2009 at 9:22 pm | Permalink | Edit

Hi! The pony above, Park Rebel, is my pony, currently living in Norway. He spent a while jumping in England with William Whitaker and then Chloe Lowther. Since bringing him to Norway i have won a grand prix on him and he is the sweetest most honest pony in the world. Recently we have had some problems and he hasnt been enjoying himself in the ring but still loves to fly at home. He is my baby boy and i will never sell him, he is the greatest.       Rachel Gilbert

 

Park Rebel, Eric's son by Loobeen Larry
Park Rebel, Eric's son by Loobeen Larry

 

Park Wren, an ‘04 daughter of Park Erica by Annilaun Archie is now a promising dressage prospect with Siobhán Cazabon and Wren’s foal by Janus is due shortly. Another Ganty Heather’s daughter, Park Heather also produced foals for the Park. These included Park Osric by Annilaun Oscar. 

 

 

Some Progeny of Fort Hazel 

Park Filbert with Eoin Ryan in '97 at Pony Club Championships.
Park Filbert with Eoin Ryan in 1977Seen here jumping in fine style at a P.C. Championship cross-country course in Askeaton

Park Wilhelmina was a daughter of Fort Hazel and was by by Loobeen Larry. 

Park Wilhelmina with Madeline at Dublin in '92
Park Wilhelmina with Madeline at Dublin in '92

She is seen here at Dublin in ’92 with Madeline.

 

 

Some progeny of Funny Girl. 

Funny Girl, a golden dun that Mrs Brooks felt had been in the wrong hands for a time after leaving the Phoenix Park,she carried permanent scars and was always afraid of men or any strangers and remained forever hard to catch. 

Park Beatrix in the Park in '07
Park Beatrix in the Park in '07

Her foals, Park Fieldfare, and Park Maoilean, were both by Loobeen Larry, while Park Julianna  and Park Beatrix (Maoilean’s daughter by Ashfield Alex) were two of the ‘Royalty’ ponies.

 

***In relation to the piece on Knockdoe Walnut and her great age, Nicky Crosby has been in touch about another recently deceased aged Connemara pony. 

“Something that may or may not be of interest to you:  Baby Perry Reg 5587 Dun Connemara Born 1972 has only 2 weeks ago passed away.  She was a great age at 37 and served all of our family well.  My father purchased her and her half sister Atlantic Star in Connemara back in the 70’s. 

Baby Perry aged 37, owner Nicola Crosby
Baby Perry aged 37, owner Nicola Crosby

 Baby Perry was by Rebel Wind ex Star of Tully she was a trooper of a pony and loved a good gallop in the fog! She won at Spiddal and in Working Hunter and Connemara classes in the 80’s and 90’s.  She was also used as one of our riding school ponies.  Perry was the last of our “old” stock and will be sadly missed ”.

 

 

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