Developed from ponies belonging to Vikings, descendants of a now-extinct pony dating back over 700 years, or a chance result of a 16th century Spanish shipwreck? The exact lineage of the Connemara pony may be hazy, but the breed’s Irish roots are crystal clear — as is its reputation for athleticism, versatility and hardiness.
Considered Ireland’s only native pony breed, the Connemara was first recognised as a distinct type in the Connemara region of County Galway in western Ireland. Arabian blood was added to local pony stock in the 1700s, and they were also commonly crossed with thoroughbreds and hackneys. Some feared that the bloodlines were at risk of becoming too diluted, and so the Connemara Pony Breeders’ Society was founded in 1923 and a studbook established in 1926. The Connemara pony has since become a popular breed around the world and is bred in many countries, including Australia — however, the name will always be synonymous with Ireland.
Built in the late 1800s by Mitchell Henry MP, a wealthy businessman and liberal politician, Kylemore Abbey showcases what can be achieved in the remote wilds of Connemara. Inspired by his love for his wife, Margaret, and his hopes for his beloved Ireland, Henry created an estate boasting “all the innovations of the modern age”. An enlightened landlord and vocal advocate of the Irish people, he poured his life’s energy into creating the estate. Horses played an important role in everyday life for Mitchell Henry and his family, as in those days they were used to work the land and as a means of transport.
Since 1920, Kylemore Abbey has been owned and run by the Benedictine community, with nuns fleeing Belgium during the First World War taking up residence. For over a century they have been a force for social good in Ireland, developing Kylemore as a girls’ boarding and day school, which saw 3,000 students pass through its doors before closing in 2010. The impressive castle and surrounding walled garden, set on a 1,000-acre estate on the edge of Pollacapall Lough, captivated more than half a million tourists from around the world each year before the global pandemic struck.
HORSES RETURN TO THE ABBEY
Early last year, the Abbey welcomed an exciting new addition. Connemara broodmare Fern gave birth to a beautiful, strong colt; he was named Peaceful Paschal to symbolise rebirth and renewal. Peaceful Paschal was to be the first-ever Connemara born at Kylemore Abbey.
The addition of a Connemara herd to the estate is not just fitting due to the fact it is in the region where the breed was first developed; the name of the lough (lake), Pollacapall (Poll a Capall), comes from a legend and means “place of the horse”. A legend popular among children, it tells of a beautiful white horse that rises from the lake in front of the Abbey every seven years. In 2011, some staff members at Kylemore Abbey were almost certain they had seen the legendary white horse when on a windy day, the gusts whipped up the water into wispy white clouds that raced back and forth across the lake’s surface. One could easily imagine this was a beautiful white horse racing to and fro!
The birth of Peaceful Paschal came about as the result of a vision from Kylemore Abbey’s executive director, Conor Coyne. Assuming the role in early 2019, he now leads the Kylemore Trust, a non-profit organisation and registered charity that operates and manages Kylemore Abbey and the Victorian Walled Gardens.