I’VE lived and farmed in Craughwell, Co Galway all his life. Married to my wonderful wife Mary for 46 years, I’m a proud father of four children and grandfather of eight. I enjoy golf, bowling and I’m a keen GAA follower.
I retired as a linesman from the ESB after 40 years service and now focus my time on drystock farming and horse breeding.
1. You’ve bred a globetrotting and Dublin prize-winning mare in Brilliant Lulu Lemon (Brilliant Lad - Emma’s Delight). Proudest moment as a breeder?
My proudest moment was when Brilliant Lulu Lemon was at Dublin Horse Show in the hunter classes. I gave Lulu to William and Laura in 2014 as a foal, for their wedding present so it was a very proud moment to see her in the hunter championship in the RDS main arena. William, my son-in-law, had Lulu broken and trained by Tom McNamara and his daughter Maria, who live up the road. It was a great few days out in Dublin and it was lovely to spend the time up there with William, who shares my passion for horses.
2. Tell us more about breeding ‘Lulu’?
I bought Lulu Lemon’s mother, Emma’s Delight (Huntingfield Rebel), at a Goresbridge sale. Brilliant Lad was a lovely horse and bred great jumpers. One of his progeny won the world-famous Hickstead Derby: Glenavadra Brilliant, bred by another Galway man Frank Fahy and ridden by another William: William Whitaker.
My father was a longtime customer of the Geoghegan family. I clearly remember him breeding a mare with Atlantic Boy back in the 70’s and they also had a nice stallion called Powerswood Purple which my family used as well.
3. Breeding horses - a sideline on the farm, hobby, labour of love?
I was brought up with horses. There would be a dispute in our house every morning; my father would get up and feed the horses first thing and my mother would ask if he fed the cows. He would say: “Horses reared families” and my mother would reply: “So did cows!”. It’s part of my heritage.
We used to keep the horses on the Rahasane Turlough in Craughwell. I would ride our mares down to [stallion owners] Finns, we had some lovely chestnut foals by Vinegar Hill. Chesnuts aren’t popular anymore as they are seen as too temperamental but, in my experience, I never saw any difference.
I worked with horses all my life. We didn’t get a tractor until the 1970s so I ploughed and tilled with them a lot. I always loved working with Irish Draughts. When I went to work as a linesman in the ESB and farmed full-time, I didn’t have the time to put much into the horses and drystock took over. This was in the 1980’s and farming was hard with little gains to be made and prices were low for livestock and horses.
When I retired, I saw it as an opportunity to rekindle my passion and I bought another Irish Draught called Amber Leah and I showed her for a few years. She won five shows in 2010 and that gave me the motivation to stay going.
Maybe one day Laura and William will have our horses back on the turlough in Craughwell and that would be lovely to see things coming full circle.
Brilliant Lulu Lemon and Fraser Valley Hunt master William Donnellan out hunting. Also pictured is Margot Vilvang and her off-the-track thoroughbred Margot’s Eye Candy \ Birgit Berghofer
4. How many broodmares do you have now?
I have two broodmares at the moment; Emma’s Delight, Lulu’s mother, and Judes Sunny Day (Young Carrabawn - Amber Leah). I also have a filly foal called La Brea Samhraidh, Judes’ full-sister.
I like Irish Draughts. They were great work horses, have good strong bone, they are easy to get in foal and I haven’t lost a foal yet thankfully. They have a great temperament, nimble and make for great mothers. Draughts are great hunters and utility horses. They were work horses, hunt horses or cart horses; whatever you needed them to do, they could do it.
5. Describe your regime for keeping stock.
My horses are out and covered with rugs for the winter. I keep them together to make it handy for feeding and feed two or three together. They’re fed every day with haylege, meal and wet beet pulp.
6. Do breeders get enough recognition?
I breed for the love of it and not for recognition. My hope is one day that one of my grandchildren will ride one of my horses in the RDS. That would be enough recognition for me.
I am lucky that a few of the grandkids, particularly Allie, Iarla and Tiernan, seem to have a great interest in horses at the moment, so maybe my wish will come true.
7. If you could have bred any horse in history?
It would have been Flexible, I would love to have bred something from him. What a fantastic jumper.
8. It takes a team, who’s on yours?
My great friend Gerry Murray, from Ardrahan, was a brilliant help when I started back with horses. He is a great judge of horses and I value his opinion highly. The McNamaras have broken a few horses for William and I now, they really make a great job of them.
I’m also very lucky to live right next door to Parkroe Stud and Tommy McMahon, the owner of Young Carrabawn and other stallions, they’re just down the road. William McMahon and Grace Maxwell Murphy, who had winners in Balmoral and Dublin this year, are our neighbours too. They own land that joins mine, so it’s great to be surrounded by other horse enthusiasts.
Craughwell is a great horsey parish. We have the famous Galway Blazers here in the village who hunt on my land and numerous racehorse trainers in the locality.
9. Best advice you ever got?
The best advice I got was “Never get too big and always live within your means”. That applies to the farm and life in general.
10. If I could invite six people out for dinner?
Joe Canning, Henry Sheflin, Eddie Macken, Conor Swail, John Connolly, I better say my wife Mary! And if William was home I might bring him along too!