We are delighted to publish and highlight profiles of some of our existing members and we hope you enjoy reading their stories and their love of donkeys!
MARY F. MC ATEER
Donkeys and my love for them did not start in childhood.
Summer holidays on my grandmother’s farm in Co. Cavan meant that my earliest memories from the post-World War 2 years were of pony and trap transport to the town of Virginia and to Sunday church. By 1950 the car had replaced the pony and trap and, as a result. the countryside had lost a lot of its attraction for me.
I had no awareness of donkeys whatsoever as there were none around with whom I might have become acquainted. I was always in love with horses and learned to ride with Iris Kellett when her stables and riding school were based in Dubin 4. I enjoyed very much riding horses in Wicklow and on the north County Dublin beaches for a few years until I went to live in Kildare where I could ride my own horse.
In my mid-twenties, around 1971/72, there was for me what might be called a ‘ lightbulb’ moment in the West of Ireland. The exact location is unknown to me now but I know that there is a small photo of the event somewhere in our home. Two grey donkeys, a mare and foal, were standing in a large pothole as we rounded the bend in a narrow coast road.
We made eye contact, direct, intelligent and brimming with empathy – on their part. It was love at first sight! I simply wanted a donkey above all else. I joined the Irish Donkey Society while attending the RDS Horse Show in Dublin in 1973. The then Secretary was Group Captain John Heber Percy. We purchased a donkey in Prosperous, Co. Kildare and she could gallop like Arkle. From that time I was totally smitten and won a prize at the RDS in 1974.
Since then, there were prizes and trophies and countless great events associated with the Donkey Society. My donkeys were always mares and mostly named after great queens in history – Cleopatra, Sheba, Maeve, Helen, Amanda Jane, Annabelle and so on. Sheba was a Reserve All Ireland Champion. Nowadays, my donkeys are Angel, Chloe and Sinéad, all with us on’ lifetime loan’ circumstances.
REFLECTIONS ON DONKEYS
Over the years my love for donkeys has become more reflective. I know from my own experience that they are good for me in body, mind and soul – perhaps, more correctly, for the body mind. Any person or animal that we meet with joy certainly boosts the immune response when levels of Serotonin happily rise. Donkeys connect with me through all the senses.
The sight of them never fails to please. The beautiful head with gorgeous, expressive eyes and alert ears tells me that they are listening and watching, paying attention to me. This for me is what empathy is about. Surely my donkey knows what is going on for me? She knows when I am happy – which is almost all the time, thank God. Equally she senses if I am sad about something.
Sadness around my donkeys is frequently when I think about those animals in developing countries where both man and beast have not got the resources for decent living. Nothing compares with the touch when she nuzzles at my cheek or nose. That velvety texture, for me, beats the most luxurious velvet that a Parisian
boutique could supply. Best touch of all is when I brush, stroke or comb the donkey coat. The relaxation for me is life-affirming as I feel my heart rate slow and visualise my blood pressure pushing the mercury down to my boots. As for the donkey sound, what a unique voice! A bellow that usually alerts when a car drives up near the house. The same voice that in world war situations was surgically silenced by the military lest their braying might reveal the presence of their troops and, thereby, hinder the surprise element of attack. So, what of the sense of smell?
I have only recently seen for myself how donkeys are attracted to the smell of mint and some donkeys will devour bunches of it if allowed. Smell informs their taste. Healthy, well kept donkeys impart their own unique scent. Sound, taste and smell intermingle to delightful effect when I hear the contented munching of fragrant hay when on winter evenings my donkeys return to their barn for the evening meal. Pure bliss.
The Biblical imperative was that man might have dominion over the animals. This exhortation requires our responsibility towards all those creatures. For me, my donkeys provide me with a reminder that I could do well to emulate some of their virtues – calm, dignity, humility and peaceful.
Mary F. Mc Ateer
AMANDA WALLACE (KINEDALE DONKEYS)
I was born and raised in Castlereagh, just outside Belfast, Co Down. The eldest of three girls to Leslie and Eileen Millar, my father was a pig breeder but we had nearly every farm animal under the sun. My paternal grandfather still worked on the farm too, despite losing his legs after the Second World War and I would follow him about to help care for his three donkeys.
I’ve been married to Richard for 29 years and live on his family’s farm in Ballynahinch. We gave up our in dairy herd in 2000, the sheds are now filling with donkeys! We have two lovely sons, Robert (23) and Tristan (16) who share our love for animals.
I work in the Linen Hall Library – the oldest library in Belfast and the only subscription library in Ireland – as the membership administrator.
1. When was the IDS founded?
The Irish Donkey Society was formed in 1972, to uphold and improve the status of the Irish donkey, improve its welfare and create an awareness for this dignified and much-loved animal.
2. How did you become involved?
After acquiring our first donkey, I found this society to join, to meet like-minded people and to share a common love for the animal of my childhood.
3. What is your current IDS role?
I am Show Secretary. My role entails liaising with agricultural shows to advise them on running donkey classes and am the principal organiser of the Balmoral Show Donkey Display since 2007.
4. Estimated number of donkeys in Ireland?
I don’t believe we can know for certain the donkey population until we get a better registration system, including microchipping and passports, in place. By doing so, this may create a better degree of responsibility in owners and prevent abandonment and mistreatment. It is sensible to assume that the population has decreased in the last 50 years. Due to the increase of mechanisation, the donkey has become obsolete in many eyes. Not mine though.
5. Any IDS events taking place this year?
At the moment we just do not know. We will not risk our members unnecessarily and will wait until we have confirmation that it is safe to meet larger groups. In the meantime, we keep in touch through Zoom meetings and regular phonecalls. This is a society but it can also be described as a family and we care for everyone in it.
6. The Balmoral and Dublin show-cases will be missed?
This is a sad time, not just for us but the show organisers too. These are two big prestigious events that helped advocate the donkey nationally.
7. Favourite IDS Display at Dublin?
The first display (2012) and last year. The first was our make-or-break moment. Cian O’Connor even got into the cart and Tristan taught him how to drive Denis the donkey! Last year was amazing because we had 10 children taking part. This is so reassuring that the donkey, its place in our world and our society are in safe hands for the future.
8. The updated IDS website mentions a rise in rescue cases at one centre due to Covid-19. Will this trend continue?
It is a likely assumption that there will be an increase in donkey abandonment as people are facing unpredicted financial problems due to Covid-19. We need to promote the donkey as useful and full of potential and even drive ours into town for animal feed and essentials.
9. When was Kinedale Donkeys set up?
Kinedale Donkeys began after Muffin, Robert’s first birthday present in 1997. We registered her under our prefix, Kinedale, used for our Jersey cattle and Suffolk sheep. Robert is studying Equine Management and using this degree to build his business. Kinedale Donkeys allows him to spend his time training the donkeys and to provide a living for himself.
10. What activities do you offer?
It’s probably easier to list what Kinedale Donkeys does not do! Our main focus is animal therapy for children, the elderly (especially those coping with dementia) and people with autism. We recently began one-to-one sessions for those dealing with mental health challenges like anxiety, stress and depression.
We provide donkey-driven carriages for weddings, summer fêtes, charity fundraisers and even a funeral. The donkeys have also been involved with film work, just before lockdown a production, where Denis would have been front and centre, had to be postponed. We also provide living history displays and Christmas time is a busy season as we recreate the nativity with live animals in Belfast and Ballynahinch.
11. ‘Storytime with Pongo’ has been a big lockdown hit?
As lockdown began, we realised the donkeys likely could not leave the yard for the foreseeable future. We decided that the only way to interact with people was online and noticed celebrities reading storybooks for children. We thought who better to engage the children than the donkeys and thus, Storytime with Donkeys began. Pongo is a three-year-old with Dalmatian-like spots, we just knew children would go crazy for him and they have! The video of him reading the children’s book was a major success.
12. How are you dealing with lockdown?
I have been coping with lockdown rather well. I find more time for my family and the commute from my kitchen to office is much preferable. I’ve been keeping myself busy with making jams, elderflower cordial, growing fruit and vegetables, all the things my mother would have done as a farmer’s wife. Robert has even filmed my gardening and kitchen creations for Kinedale Donkey’s weekly videos of Through the Farmgate.
13. What does your typical day involve?
Generally, I am up at 6am, complete a few house chores, then after breakfast I sit down to answer work emails and finish at 1pm. I usually have organised a project for myself, making candles or needle-felting while I watch vintage comedies. I contact shows to see about organising or improving the range of IDS-affiliated classes and end the day with reading, chatting with my family or maybe a film.
14. Funny anecdotes?
Donkeys provide many laughs. At Lurgan show in 2005, Tristan was only two years old when he rode Denis in the donkey class and from the ringside, I noticed two streams of water trickle over the saddle.
When Tristan reached me, he exclaimed, “I peeeeed on Denis!”, I was in tears laughing. Denis, I don’t think was too impressed.
15. Favourite hobby?
Donkeys! My spare time goes into promoting them, speaking for them and changing opinions on them.
16. Social media, yes or no?
Facebook is a major tool for us. We have the Kinedale Donkeys and Irish Donkey Society pages and this is where we find most of our public engagement. People comment on photos, share videos and send messages asking for advice. For personal use, it allows me to keep up to date on events and in contact with many of our donkey-friends.
17. Favourite getaway corner of the world?
Donegal! Specifically, Loughanure, I love the coast, the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean and humbling fact that the next stop is America. The peace of the place allows me to switch off, relax and realise I have more time than I think.
18. Who inspires you?
My mother and father are my main inspiration. They made sure I was educated and had an understanding of my social responsibility, something I hope to instil in my boys. Secondly, the Queen, for her work in promoting rare breeds and her love of rural life. She saved the Cleveland Bay horse and the Red Poll cattle through her promotion of using these dying breeds.
19. Favourite gadget?
I am honestly not that big on gadgets, unless a notepad and pen count?
20. Is there a prejudice against donkeys in the equine community?
Yes, when I first brought my boys out to show, the donkeys were often looked down upon, sent to park in the back row, met with derogatory comments and even verbally abused by horsey-mothers.
We have worked hard to establish our donkeys as clean and as well trained as many other equine exhibitors. We still get some sneers but more often riders compliment our harness or the donkeys’ behaviour.
Through my work with the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society and Eventing Ireland I do my best to educate others on the often misrepresented donkey.
This Q&A with Amanda was first published in The Irish Field in July 2020 and she has kindly allowed us to republish the article on this website: https://www.theirishfield.ie/20-in-20-all-about-the-donkeys-555034/
Caroline Giles-Lee has 5 donkeys which you might see in her front field as you pass. She holds a miniature foal in her arms which belongs to one of her neighbours who also is a donkey lover and breeds Mediterranean miniature donkeys.