Irish Donkeys

My wife and I got married back in 1971. For our honeymoon we did much as we have done ever since. We went camping and on that occasion it was in the west of Ireland. It was living in a previous time back then. The west of Ireland was undeveloped and utterly charming and lovely. I’d like to say the people were all friendly and delightful. They probably were but we were young newlyweds and had little time for other people.

But here’s an example of that past age. Well, it was 43 years ago, but it seemed more like an age my grandad would have talked about from the early years of the twentieth century.


Yes, we have a donkey, complete with panniers, empty at the time, but which were used for peat (or as they say over there, turf). Almost everything in that photo represents something I just wouldn’t have seen in the south of England.

Over here, working donkeys were confined to beaches or donkey derbies. The panniers had clearly been made by a local hurdle maker. I’d never have seen anything like that. In the field behind the donkey we see a loose hay cock. No such thing would have been found in the south of England.

But things were on the change. There’s a new and very swish looking big house behind the donkey and the cottage on the right is either quite new or substantially modernised.

As L P Hartley opened his book, ‘The Go-between’, ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’

But now to a donkey which didn’t seem to lead a working life.


This donkey was a resident on the camp site we stayed at near Claddaghduff in Connemara. This chap had learned the noble art of begging. It called at any tents there were (not many) each evening, poking its head through any opening. We thought him lovely and gave him a biscuit each time he called. That kept him satisfied and he’d wander off to another tent to try his luck.

As the sun went down, he’d start singing a raucous duet with another animal on the island of Omey, a few hundred yards away.

We returned to the same campsite in 2011, to celebrate our ruby wedding. The same family still owned it and this time, being much older and not newlyweds I can assure you that the people are an absolute delight. We had taken copies of photos from 40 years earlier and the chap in his early forties who now ran things saw a donkey photo and said, ‘Ah! That’s Wellington!’ It seemed odd that, forty years after we knew the donkey, we learned its name. We had to go and see ‘dad’ who had been in charge forty years earlier. He was an old, frail and bedridden chap but he was pleased to see our photos.

For the record, the West of Ireland is much less in the past now but it is still a fantastic place. We enjoyed our return visit very much.


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4 Responses to “Irish Donkeys”

  1. Thom Hickey Says:

    Thanks. Very affectionate portrait. Lovely to read. Regards thom

  2. Janet Says:

    Memories! We married in February 1968 in Kenya. In August of that year I went to Ireland for the first time (not counting a brief stop over in Shannon in 1959 on a propeller plane en route to London). And therein lies a long long story (book?) of my impressions of life in the North of Ireland, Dublin, the West of Ireland, and all things Irish and American and in between.

    • locksands Says:

      Ah! My view is that bit more local, merely from the UK. But what a fabulous country Ireland is and what lovely people seem to occupy it.

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