The lure of the Emerald Isle
Horse & Hound|September 23, 2021
Brilliant breeding, top-class competition and the ultimate challenge for hunting enthusiasts, Ireland is a Mecca for all horse folk. Helen Sharp sums up its appeal
Helen Sharp

FIFTEEN Irish-bred horses competed across three disciplines at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. These included Oliver Townend’s team gold mount Ballaghmor Class, bred by Noel Hickey of Co Limerick. Ireland remains a must-visit for equestrians to holiday and to compete. Ballaghmor Class epitomises Ireland’s famous quality breeding and its constant ability to produce modern champions. But what is it about this tiny island nation that offers so much for equestrians, and how can you share in a bit of its magic?

Olympian Cian O’Connor describes Ireland as “a synonym for horses and education”. A great place to start that education is with some of the best hunting in the world. Hunting remains a tradition hugely supported within local communities in Ireland and a rite of passage for its young horses and jockeys.

With always a warm welcome, the Fermanagh Harriers are one of Ireland’s oldest and most prestigious hunts with commendable respect for the borderlands they hunt. For the thrill of relentless high walls, head to the Galway Blazers or the Clare Hunt. The famous Scarteen Hunt in Co Limerick is not for the faint-hearted as its huge double drains with sliding banks offer up a challenge for the most seasoned of hunting people. The Fingal Harriers tackle colossal ditches and looming hedges across the north Dublin landscape.

THE ancient atmosphere at the Curragh in Kildare is unforgettable for racing fans, with its vast open plains spanning 5,000 acres. The Curragh is at the centre of Ireland’s thoroughbred industry – do yourself a favour and get up early to watch the morning mists lift to reveal Irish thoroughbreds glistening around the gallops. Alternatively, grab a hot port at the Laytown Races in Co Meath and watch as the tide recedes and horses thunder along the sands.

Any equestrian worth their salt has to put the Dublin Horse Show on their bucket list. It is held each year at the historic Royal Dublin Society showgrounds in the heart of Dublin town. Watch every type of Irish horse doing their thing before a Guinness in the legendary Long Bar, watching the riders warm up before the nail-biting Aga Khan Cup. Steeped in 147 years of equestrian history, there is nowhere quite like it. Perhaps lesser known outside Ireland, but a firm favourite among Irish showjumpers, is Millstreet at the Green Glens Arena in Co Cork. With one of the most stunning views of any Irish arena, it hosts the CSI3* international showjumping each August, plus an international horse trials.

For eventers, there are also Ballindenisk and Camphire three-star horse trials. These challenging courses are now two of the premier eventing tests in the country. Legendary Olympic eventer Lucinda Green MBE extols of Camphire: “I have been to so many international events around the globe, but I would always want to come back to Camphire, with its excellent courses and fabulous going.”

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