From Rosmuc to London — how the Connemara ponies made their debut 100 years ago
Michael O’ Malley
By Aislinn Connaughton
In 1912, Michael O’ Malley brought his two ponies, Irish Dragoon and Eileen Alannah to Olympia in London. He did this in order to highlight the plight and potential of his beloved Connemaras. This was the first time that Connemaras were seen on the international stage . After another 11 years of Michael's passionate prompting and letter writing, it eventually led to the foundation in December 1923, of the Connemara Pony Breeders’ Society.
Michael was a Rosmuc man. Rosmuc today is a quiet parish, but that was not the case 100 years ago. In 1912, the roads only existed as rough tracks and the Connemara traffic was overwhelmingly by sea. Hundreds of boats of all types, including the indigenous hooker, gleoiteog and currach, provided the district's passenger service. The boats by sea complemented the work of the ponies on land.
The Connemara pony is Ireland's native pony although it can be found all over the globe. It is known worldwide as the performance pony par excellence. Connemara Pony Societies exist in 17 countries apart from Ireland.
When Michael O’Malley's two Connemara ponies made a surprise appearance at the great Olympia Exhibition of Breeds in 1912, the breed was facing extinction at home.
For several years O’Malley had written passionate letters to the press and had tried to form a society to save his beloved pony. The epic journey O Malley took with his friend Jo Walshe, the stallion Irish Dragoon and the mare Eileen Alannah, revealed Ireland's traditional pony to the outside world for the first time. They came, mainly, by rail and by boat but the ponies were ridden through Dublin and London.
British breeders have been the Connemaras' best friends outside of native shores, thanks to O’Malley promoting the breed in London. Cynthia Spottiswood deserves special mention for her pioneering efforts in bringing Connemaras to Britain in the 30s and 40s, as do John and Phyllis Meade, Susan Bowen and historian Pat Lyne among a host of others.
In 1960, the Connemara was being promoted internationally by two of the best showjumpers of the day, Dundrum and Stroller. This trend was continued recently when another halfbred Connemara, Portersize Just a Jiff, by Crosskeys Rebel, represented Ireland in the three day Eventing at the London Olympics.
In 1923, nine years after O’Malley's and Walshe's visit, the Connemara Pony Breeders Society was formed. The new society embarked on a development programme which continues to this day. It included opening a studbook and holding an annual show. Inspections for entry to the studbook take place every spring and autumn. The annual show takes place in Clifden on the third Thursday of August. The Connemara 'type' is now firmly established and champion showjumpers like Ashfield Bobby Sparrow, Dexter Leam Pondi and Ballyowen Maybelle Molly are housey names across Europe.
On this special occasion the Connemara Pony Breeders Society happily acknowledges the pivotal role of Olympia, not only in the 1912 promotion at the exhibition of Breeds but its continued support and promotion of Ireland's native pony.