Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Saturday 19 August 2017

Celebrating Tipperary's equine heritage

A new museum in Fethard is showcasing the county's horse racing and hunting tradition

Michael 'Mouse' Morris, Jamie Morris Aidan O'Brien and Simon Marsh at the opening of the Fethard Horse Country Experience. Photo: Pat Moore
Michael 'Mouse' Morris, Jamie Morris Aidan O'Brien and Simon Marsh at the opening of the Fethard Horse Country Experience. Photo: Pat Moore
Minister Paul Kehoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber do the honours at the opening of the Fethard Horse Country Experience Museum
The skeleton of legendary stallion Sadler's Well is one of the main exhibits at the Fethard Horse Country Experience Museum
The Tipperary Foxhounds heading off from a meet at Coolmore Stud earlier this year. The locally-based stud and hunt both feature at the Fethard Horse Country Experience Museum
Siobhan English

Siobhan English

Down through the years the small town of Fethard in Co Tipperary has become a popular tourist destination not only for its association with horses, but also its rich culture and heritage.

Now both interests have been brought together as the 400-year-old Town Hall, the Tholsel, has opened its doors for the Fethard Horse Country Experience Museum.

Having undergone a €1.6 million make-over, the 17th century building, which once served as an almshouse, is now home to this exciting new project which tells the story of the town's history and its strong association with the bloodstock industry down through the centuries.

Fethard boasts several medieval ruins and a good portion of its original 14th-century town walls remain intact.

Minister Paul Kehoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber do the honours at the opening of the Fethard Horse Country Experience Museum
Minister Paul Kehoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber do the honours at the opening of the Fethard Horse Country Experience Museum

Along the walls, the North Gate is the last remaining of five original gates.

The town is also home to several fortified townhouses including Edmond's Castle and Court Castle dating from the 15th century.

Generously supported by Failte Ireland and the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, the project is also backed by Coolmore Stud which has been a key source of employment in the Fethard area for over 40 years.

Not surprisingly the story of this world-famous enterprise is one of the focal points of the Fethard Horse Country Experience, with the skeleton of the legendary stallion Sadler's Wells the main attraction.


Bred in Kentucky by the late Robert Sangster, this legendary son of Northern Dancer was a multiple champion on the track, but went on to be even more successful as a sire, with some his offspring - most notably Galileo, Montjeu and High Chaparral - also becoming important sires at Coolmore Stud.

The story of the stud itself is truly fascinating.

The skeleton of legendary stallion Sadler's Well is one of the main exhibits at the Fethard Horse Country Experience Museum
The skeleton of legendary stallion Sadler's Well is one of the main exhibits at the Fethard Horse Country Experience Museum

Originally inherited by Tim Vigors in 1945, what was to become Coolmore Stud started out as a small agricultural farm.

Champions

John Magnier, in conjunction with his late father-in-law, the outstanding horse trainer Vincent O'Brien, and Robert Sangster took over the 350-acre existing farm from Vigors in 1975 with the objective of creating a world-class thoroughbred stallion operation.

Today, Coolmore has a long list of champions on its past and present rosters.

Many of these champions were trained nearby in the world-famous Ballydoyle Stables, established by Vincent O'Brien and from which Aidan O'Brien now trains.

Over 500 local residents and guests were in attendance on the opening night and many were delighted to meet Aidan O'Brien in person and also learn about his incredible success as a trainer.

For the past 20 years the Co Wexford native has brought Flat racing to a new level, with Rock of Gibaltar, Camelot, Galileo and Johannesburg among the dozens of horses to have passed through his hands before going on to stand as sires at Coolmore.

Fethard is also well-known for its strong association with hunting, and the kennels of the Tipperary Foxhounds are located at Tullamaine, just a few miles outside the town.

They were formed by the Barton Family of Grove Estate in the early 19th century.

The family were keen foxhunters and kept a private pack for several decades before William Barton officially founded the hunt, then known as The Grove Hunt, in 1820. Captain Jacob of Mobarnane bought the pack from William in the mid-1830s and renamed them The Tipperary Foxhounds.

Currently overseen by huntsman Gavin Shorten, they are the only pack in Ireland to hunt four days a week - Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Also among the well-known horsemen and women featured at the Fethard Horse Country Experience Museum is another famous local trainer, Mouse Morris.

His many accomplishments include winning the Aintree Grand National for the first time in 2016 with Rule The World. He also won the Irish version the same year with Rogue Angel.

The museum was officially opened by the world-famous composer Andrew Lloyd Webber who has lived at nearby Kiltinan Castle for the past 25 years.

"The museum is an extremely welcome addition to Fethard," he said.

"The town hall has been lovingly restored and it is the perfect canvas to showcase Fethard's rich history.

"Through Kiltinan Castle Stud, my wife and I feel a close affinity to the horse culture which is an intrinsic part of this area and we hope that the museum will play a key role in attracting more people to this beautiful and historically-rich part of Ireland."

The Fethard Horse Country Experience is open from Wednesday to Sunday inclusive from 10am to 4pm. For further information visit www.fhcexperience.ie

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