Smithfield horse market dates for 2012: January 1, February 5, March 4, April 1, May 6, June 3, July 1, August 5, September 2, October 7, November 4, December 2

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Gentrified Dublin tries to rein in horse fair and 273 years of tradition


By Ed O’Loughlin in Dublin
Tuesday, 4 June 2002

Ireland is known for its sleek thoroughbreds and rugged steeplechasers, and events such as the Irish Derby, Goff’s bloodstock sales and the Dublin Horse Show draw the international horsey set in droves.

Ireland is known for its sleek thoroughbreds and rugged steeplechasers, and events such as the Irish Derby, Goff’s bloodstock sales and the Dublin Horse Show draw the international horsey set in droves.

But the Smithfield horse market in Dublin caters for a rather different crowd. Held in the traditional market area of the north inner city, this monthly fair deals in discount horses, ponies and donkeys to a demi-monde of small farmers, travellers, gypsies and working- class youths. On the first Sunday of every month the cobblestones ring with horseshoes as buyers and sellers haggle over draft animals, trotting horses and unkempt little ponies of a dozen breeds and none.

With Dublin desperately transforming itself into a generic modern European city, the Smithfield fair has become a tourist attraction, a glimpse of the older piebald Ireland fast receding into myth. Unfortunately, the authorities hate it.

Loosely organised and difficult to police, the fair has long been a source of anguish to an increasingly regulated city and, after a horse ran amok and injured three people last month, Dublin City Council moved to shut it down. To no avail: on Sunday, hundreds of people and dozens of horses, ponies and donkeys turned up anyway.

“This is a protest,” Bernard Fagan, of the Dublin Horse Owners’ Association, said. “There’s been a horse fair in this area since 1665. My family has been in the horse trade here for 273 years. It’s one of the few bits of culture we have left, and they’re trying to take it away.”

Dublin City Council says the cobbled Smithfield market square is not a safe place for horses. The Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA) says the market encourages poor teenagers from run-down areas of north and west Dublin to buy cheap ponies they cannot afford to keep. Neglected horses are a big problem on the outskirts of the city, often causing accidents when they stray on busy roads.

Robbie Kenny, a DSPCA inspector, said: “Some of these kids have no idea how to look after horses, and they don’t have the resources either. You hear stories of people keeping horses in their back gardens, and that does happen.”

As he spoke, teenage boys were galloping their ponies back and forth over the cobbles to try to impress potential buyers, a practice the DSPCA says can seriously injure the horses’ hooves.

Mr Fagan said the real reason for the authorities’ hostility lay with the creeping gentrification of Dublin’s inner city, which has halted on the edge of Smithfield square. “They want to turn this area into a new Temple Bar, all yuppie flats and restaurants and nightclubs,” he said. “There’ll be no room left for the people who live here now.”

The eastern side of the market square is dominated by a large new complex of apartments, shops and restaurants and a whiskey museum in the old Jameson’s distillery. But the redevelopment has failed to turn the area into the kind of thriving residential/ leisure zone that sprang up in the Nineties south of the Liffey river in Temple Bar.

Several of the new businesses have closed down, and the west side of the square remains undeveloped. Dublin City Council said the fair had been “temporarily suspended” until a new home could be found on the outskirts of town.

“The only people who participate are people who buy and sell horses,” Declan McCulloch, a spokesman for the council, said. “It’s not something that by any stretch of the imagination would be seen as a tourist attraction or a cultural thing.”

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