Over the last several months I have had the amazing opportunity to do some traveling. A dear friend of mine, who has been living part time on the south west coast of Ireland, has been increasingly involved with documenting the horse fairs and horseman of County Kerry. She asked me to come along to help with some of the research. Sally Savage first began photographing the “men and their horses” after stumbling upon a small rural horse fair in the tiny village of Milltown. Her interest in the fairs and with the people who attend them , along with her passion for horses and farming, gave way to a project she was well suited for…a book of her own incredible photographs and words capturing the history and tradition of the horse fairs in rural Ireland, specifically County Kerry. Hopefully, the book will be published later this year. I’ll keep readers posted! UPDATE: The book is published and can be ordered here: www.afairday.com.
For me…well, let’s just say, “Ireland is breath taking”. Traveling the country side, attending the horse fairs and meeting the wonderful Irish people who made my visit unforgettable, has become one of the life experiences I will forever cherish. Leaving the farm here in Maine is always difficult but to visit a landscape that is dotted with sheep and cattle, Irish horses and donkeys, is my kind of traveling.
My first visit was two summers ago to attend the Puck Fair. Puck is held in the town of Killorglin and is claimed as Ireland’s oldest fair. The fair celebrates the reigning of king Puck, a billy goat who is brought to town during the three day festival. There is great history about how the fair and tradition began and to better understand its origins, I will offer this site: http://www.puckfair.ie/history.php . It is worth checking out and will give a reader a glimpse into what takes place during the three days of Puck.
In November, it was the horse fairs at the Gap of Dunloe and Killorglin. The horse fairs in Ireland are unlike any I’ve ever experienced here in the states. They don’t require the organization or formality we often see and expect at our own country fairs. No one is waiting at a gait ushering horseman and their animals to specific sites, all simply arrive with animals in tow, horses, donkeys, chickens, and goats, all of whom mingle freely amongst buyers and sellers. I’ve not seen anyone get stepped on or run over or even tripped by man nor beast, this leading me to believe that the assurance and confidence of the fair goers and horsemen is reflected in the overall scene .It is refreshing to experience the lifelong tradition of buying and selling…and attending…a venue that doesn’t require administrators to get the job done. The fairs have the unique quality of blending excitement and practicality rolled into one.
It has been great fun to help Sally with her project, I have been learning a lot about Irish history and culture. It has been interesting to learn a bit about their farming practices, I’m envious of their long season to graze animals and their green, green grass. Of course, coming from a part of our country that is seeing a resurgence in farming, particularly with small diversified farms, I have been curious to see how other parts of the world are growing food.
My friend lives on the outskirts of a small village, it is amazing to me that this little town supports 3 butcher shops and a fish market. The bulk of the meats are sourced locally and much of it is grass fed. One of our favorite things to do after a day of interviews and roaming the countryside was to visit one of the butcher shops or fish market and pick out something for our evening meal. Sweet tender rack of lamb, home-made sausages, moist and succulent chicken, freshly caught sole on the bone…you get the picture. Between this and the little bakery down the street which features a display case of locally sourced artisan cheeses, our meals became a 5-star dining experience.
I will let readers know as Sally gets closer to having her book on the market and will continue to share some of the adventures we’ve had traveling in Ireland.
For now, having returned from my visit to the Emerald Isles, my attention is again focused on the chores and activity of my life here in Maine. Sheep soon to be lambing, firewood making a steady stream into the house, and seed order forms to fill out…oh, and thoughts of green grass returning to our own part of the world.