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.