Official Figures for Irish Donkeys

1847 118,000
1897 247,000
1947 128,000
1995 7,000

In 1897 there were 247,000 donkeys in Ireland, many if not most of them, working on farms and in villages. After World War 1, horses were no longer needed for war and so they became plentiful again for working on the farm and donkeys were no longer needed.  

By 1960s the donkey in England and Wales was totally neglected except for those few who worked on beaches in Summer giving rides to children. Then something amazing happened!  Hundred of donkeys were imported from Ireland to act as companions/pets and not to work. Thus, after thousands of years the donkey gained a new status as riding animal, show entry, carriage-driver etc.

By 1995 the Central Statistics Office in Ireland showed that there were 7,000 donkeys, few, if any, of them working and most of them recreation and companion animals. Estimated figures in 2016 suggest that there are less than 5,000 donkeys in Ireland.  As a pet, the donkey is much more at risk in recessionary times than is a working animal. Cruelty by neglect is now a sad factor in the life of the donkey.

The Irish Donkey Society cooperates with and supports the great work done by the established welfare organisations such as the ISPCA and several donkey sanctuaries around the country to alleviate suffering of these noble animals. Happily, there is a greater awareness of the donkey and its needs, thanks to many owners who are now bringing their donkeys to shows at venues all over the country. Despite their exotic origins, donkeys are ‘more Irish than the Irish’ as the saying goes and are associated with Ireland and the countryside in popular literature, art and music. Let us continue to cherish them and bestow on them the affection and care that they richly deserve.

The President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins in his New and Selected Poems has written of the ass:

The cross upon his back conferred
no sacred status,
more a reminder of a burden carried,
nor did it guarantee
the paring of his hooves.