We lived all our lives in Tralee town, but we built a house out here in Farmer’s Bridge. I’m overlooking Tralee Bay and the town. It’s spectacularly beautiful.
My father was just a diehard horse man. As well, he was very involved with Siamsa Tíre [Ireland’s national folk theatre]. It started in our kitchen because Fr Ahern, who started the whole Siamsa movement, was a great friend of my father’s.
They put on the Passion Play and my father played the part of King Herod, he grew a beard for it. We were only small children that time, but I remember it well. Fr Ahern went on to start Siamsa after that.
My father was a semi-professional Irish dancer with Siamsa Tíre and they travelled all over the world, himself and my mother.
He actually died on the stage back in Dingle. They were opening a new cultural centre, it was a sod cutting ceremony with all the dignitaries around and he died on the stage. It was a big, big blow to us. We were all very young at the time.
The world over
I didn’t get the dancing gene – I’ve two left legs – I got the horsey interest. My three kids now as well are passionate about it, it’s great.
I supply a lot of the equipment, the showjumps and that, to the shows. We have them on hire and we design the courses as well. I used to go abroad quite a bit, so I did an international test and that allows me to do all the international shows. I would be involved in Millstreet and I assist in Dublin every year. I used to travel more before the kids were born. I don’t really have the desire to be away too much anymore now.
I was lucky enough to assist Robert Splaine, who was Chef d’Équipe of the Ireland equestrian team. I spent six years as his assistant.
We travelled to a lot of the top shows in the world. The highlight of that particular period was the London Olympics when Cian O’Connor won a medal. It was great to have a part in that, albeit a very small part.
Honey Heather was then bought by Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. She came to the show here in Tralee once in the late 90s.
A show start
I used to ride quite a lot one time and even when I was riding I was involved in the local show, the Kingdom County Fair. There was always a hard-core group around the horsey scene locally and I got to know them through my father.
I kept up those friendships after he died and I drifted into the show more than anything else, just go and give a hand. Before you know it, you’re a committee member and you’ve taken on more responsibilities as years go by.
We used to run the show in the Army Barracks in Tralee for a long time. Back when all the top international riders were based here in Ireland it would be no surprise at all to have Eddie Macken, Paul Darragh and some of the army lads down for the show.
I remember clearly what became one of the best Irish horses of all-time starting his international career in Tralee, he qualified for the Dublin Horse Show here. He was called Buccaneer that time. He was sold and the army bought him. He became known as Rockbarton.
Robert Splaine came down here, he rode a horse called Heather Honey for the first time ever in Tralee. They struck up a fantastic partnership. They won all over the world.
Honey Heather was then bought by Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. She came to the show here in Tralee once in the late 90s. It was a bit like a scene out of a movie with secret service guys around by the perimeter walking it all in the morning. My wife Amanda took Sarah Ferguson’s mother into town shopping for the day.
David Soul, the actor from Starsky & Hutch, appeared one day. He was looking for a suitable horse to buy to take back to the States with him.
Back in business
This year is our 72nd Kingdom County Fair. About 30 years ago it seemed to be easier to keep shows running and make a bit of money. We actually bought a building here in Tralee, it was an old Methodist Church. We held meetings there.
Then a bit of land came up for sale outside of the town. We decided we’d try and buy it. We sold the church to partly fund the purchase. We bought the land, but we never ran a show there until now, because we were well facilitated at Tralee Racecourse.
This is our first year running it on our own site, which is 20ac and about three miles from the town. It’s in Ballymac parish. We fully intend to drive on and develop it to keep it as a permanent showground.
The show is taking place Sunday 8 May. There’ll be horse and pony classes, showjumping, we’ve a great cattle section and a dog show.
It seems to me that probably all the shows will benefit from that national sense of something bad having passed, being back out again and being back to some sort of normality.
We always give a nod to the people who went before us and then there are those that are coming up the ranks. I’m delighted to say that my own girls have organised some school friends and transition year students to give a hand. So maybe we’ll be able to get them infected with the show bug and they might return.