Reviews - What do customers think about The Irish Draught Horse: A History?
Irish draught horses - as sturdy as the Irish themselves...... Feb 2, 2008
Dairy farms operated by my near and distant relatives dated from the late-1800s to the mid-1900s, with their farms resting in a small geographical location on U.S. soil. Because many relatives were first and second-generation Irish Americans, I assume their farming methods imitated those in Ireland. Horses on the farms were big, especially by my small-tyke standards. Work horses they were called, not Irish Draught horses, but they did the same thing and looked just like the horses in our book. Maybe their sires and dams emigrated from Ireland. I'll never know. The horses and relatives are gone. When my father was young, work horses pulled the plow and pulled the wagon to church on Sunday, which is what the Irish Draught did. These recollections provided enough impetus to pique my interest in McGrath's and Griffith's book.
So we're off on a journey to acquaint ourselves with the noble Irish Draught horse, whose lofty perch in Ireland's cultural history rests up there with the leprechauns and fairies, the thatched roof and the clover. For the Irish Draught was and is a focus of myth and folklore, with names of Celtic pagan gods frequently deriving from equine creatures. The husband of goddess Aine boasted the name Echdae, meaning `horse-god.' Enya herself pays instrumental tribute to the Celtic horse-goddess Epona, and those old enough to remember Stevie Nicks singing Rhiannon probably don't recall that she honored a Welsh name identifying the same mythical Epona.
The Irish Draught horse---breed or a type? To answer, McGrath and Griffith begin with a roll call of other Irish horse breeds, among them the renowned Irish hobby. The hobby `possesses a fine head and strong neck, a well cast body, strong limbs, is sure of foot and nimble in dangerous places, and tough in travel.' Standing about twelve hands high, the hobby was sought by royalty and wealthy classes all over Europe. The hobby probably began its existence in Spain and was subsequently imported to Ireland.
Another horse, the Byerley Turk, was a warm-blooded Eastern stallion that, commencing in the 1600s, found popularity among Irish breeders. Referred to in lore as a `heroic, high stepping animal with a gleaming coat,' the Turk was among the first Irish of the Thoroughbreds finding a place on the race track and show circuit of the Emerald Isle. At the time, fearing ridicule, a jockey did not dare ride a mare in an Irish horse race.
Although horses existed in Ireland as early as 4000 B.C., give or take, forbears of the Draught Horse arrive on Irish shore during the Norman period of conquest, which began, roughly, in 1016 A.D. At the time agrarian Ireland used oxen to till the rocky land, but oxen were slow. With the advent of the harness and plow a natural progression to the use of the horse evolved over the next few hundred years. However, Irishmen required specific attributes from their horses. The farm horse must pull the plow and pull the family wagon to church on Sunday. It must accept the saddle or be ridden without one, whatever economics or preferences demand. The horse, like the dog, must not kick when children walk behind it. Soon the clever Irish began to breed horses for size--which was a desirable fifteen hands high---and to breed for strength, and for gentle disposition. What evolved was the breed of Irish Draught horse.
The Irish Draught Horse book boasts a rich catalogue of lithographs, photographs and paintings honoring the book's subject matter. Much of the depiction of the horse's place in early Ireland's culture is, understandably, captured only on canvas or lithograph. The authors describe the rich colors and human emotions locked in paintings dotting almost every page of their book. Unfortunately, all of the book's paintings and pictures exist only in black and white, so it's a stretch to visualize colors of the horses. In one drawing a merciless landlord sits passively astride a black horse as hired goons evict a hapless family from their farm. A painting shows members of 1850's Dublin Anglo-Irish society riding in horse-drawn carriages. Dressed in their English finery, the ladies avoided the horse-filth lining Sackville Street by stepping directly from the pavement to the vehicle, while a short distance from Dublin native Irish are starving to death in the grips of the Famine.
As with any breed of domestic farm animal, situations arose threatening the Irish Draught. Over the centuries disease took a toll on the Irish horse population, at times almost eliminating the breed. During the Famine horses became expendable when their owners faced starvation. With the rise of mechanized farming and the automobile, less of a need for farm horses became the norm. Further, purebred Draught mares were often mated to Thoroughbred stallions to produce Irish Sport horses---jumpers, steeplechasers, and the like--thereby diluting the bloodline. Ultimately, so few pure Irish Draught Horses existed in Ireland that the breed's number was reduced to 2000. Fortunately breeders stepped in to register the line of remaining purebreds and to arrange for future selective breeding. Today horse enthusiasts worldwide are assured of getting nothing but the real item when they purchase a registered Irish Draught Horse for show.
As previously noted, the Irish Draught Horse is an Emerald Isle icon and an important cog in its cultural wheel. The authors do a credible job of detailing the evolutionary history of the breed and providing a wealth of Internet resources for those interested in learning more about the Irish Draught horse. Also, delightfully, on the Internet you can view these fine animals in color.
Mary McGrath currently breeds and shows Irish Draught horses. Joan Griffith is an Honorary Life Member of the Irish Draught Horse Association
A vanishing Irish icon explored Apr 13, 2006
Mary McGrath and Joan C. Griffith's THE IRISH DRAUGHT HORSE: A HISTORY provides an important survey of a horse which is an Irish icon: the Irish draught horse pulled the farmer's plow, helped him hunt, and even pulled field artillery; yet in 1950 over 24,000 were exported for slaughter. THE IRISH DRAUGHT HORSE: A HISTORY celebrates their uses and important in the Irish landscape. While today it's a vanishing working horse, this history assures it won't completely be forgotten.
Review of The Irish Draught Horse: A History (McGrath) Nov 18, 2005
This book is a wide-ranging and excellent history of the Irish Draught Horse in Ireland. Includes interviews with horse dealers, breeders, and includes many old paintings and photos. Quality hardback format. I found it an excellent complement to my Alex Fells book, with surprisingly little overlap between the two.