The most unique event that Jan and I had the pleasure of experiencing was the Smithfield Horse Fair in Dublin. It has been happening on the first Sunday of each month since 1665. I was so happy that we were going to be in the city on that day.
There was no indication were it was - no signs, no advertising and no one that we asked had ever been there. And there it was, tucked away just a stone's throw off the busy street by the River Liffey.
It's highly controversial right now with city council working at putting a stop to it and horse traders determined to keep it going. One fellow told us very empahtically - 'They don't want us, but it is written in the law that we can be here. It's the LAW."
I can certainly see in this regulated-to-death world we live in, where the issue comes from. There's no one in charge. It is not organized - it just happens. Nobody to take responsibility. Folks start showing up at dawn with their animals and that's it. They stand there with their charges and hope that someone comes along who is in need or want of what they have to offer. It is the 'looseness' that in fact is the charm and draw of it. It was totally different than I expected and far from anything I have ever seen or could have imagined. We were delighted to get to experience it.
I was picturing our type of sales, where horses are brought in one by one and auctioned. Not so. There were just here and there - well over a hundred horses, ponies and donkeys. It was a remarkable sight for a horse lover like me. It was a darn good thing that it wasn't even a remote possibility for me to have one, or else I would have come home with a few new friends for sure.
I was especially enthralled with the Irish Cobb horse. Beautiful beasts - thick and strong with flowing hair down their legs. They look like a Clydesdale but are smaller - just the size for our farm. Brian would have been worse than me for wanting to bring one home.
Reading about the sale, there is some negativity from others who are not buying or selling. They talk of danger to people with animals not contained. Well, yes - I can see it. One certainly should have their wits about them when they walk amongst horses any time. I grew up with horses and have a healthy respect for them. It was quite amazing to see so many animals in a space like that, often just contained with a skinny rope halter. I expect that there are times that there's a dust-up between the animals. Get out of the way fast would be wise. But how wonderful to still be able to experience something the way it was before our Litigation Paranoia. The sight and sound transported one back the past like nothing else could. I read one article where a city Councillor said it was 'of no interest to tourists'. How wrong he is.
The market has been in the same spot for hundreds of years. Now that they're developing that area with more upscale apartments and businesses, the residents don't like the noise and congestion. Or the horse poop. That doesn't bother me a bit, in fact it is an organic fragrance that brings warm and happy memories to me. City folk, well - they'd prefer the smell of vehicle emission fumes I suppose.
What a sight. There were newborn foals and lovely donkeys. There were some sad old droopy horses and some magnificent creatures. Some of the controversy is that some animals aren't cared for properly - with the homes they're coming from or going to. That, unfortunately is a reality regardless of how they are sold. Another complaint was that 'money was exchanging hands' that couldn't be accounted for. Well there's a good reason to put a stop to a centuries old tradition.
A horse sale is difficult for me at any time. I always feel badly for the poor animals having to leave the homes that they know and go off with strangers. When I was a kid I used to write songs and poems about it. It still troubles me as much, but it's reality, plain and simple. I feel the same when I have to give up my precious donkey babes. But I take comfort in knowing that they are going to have be loved and cared for and will have a wonderful life with their new family.
It certainly was a fascinating, wonderful morning for Jan and I. We were very pleased to get to experience such a unique event in the authentic way that it had been happening for generations. If you would have closed your eyes, the clop of the horse's feet, galloping across the cobblestones could carry you back a hundred years.
It will be interesting to see who will win Smithfield controversy. For a host of reasons, I am cheering for the horsemen. I wish them the luck of the Irish in their ongoing battle. It is a Dublin tradition that I feel greatly honoured to have gotten to witness.