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.
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
Next post will be on Connemara Ponies in the Park.
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.