When on the road in Ireland you are sure to bump into a friendly donkey. However donkeys were not always found in the fields of Ireland. The first reference to a donkey in Ireland is in 1642 and it is not until the 19th century when the donkey started to become a common sight in Ireland.
Donkeys could be found on nearly every farm in Ireland around this time. They are strong animals and were used for moving heavy loads and pulling machinery. Farmers would use donkeys to pull their turf home from the bog. This turf would then be used to heat the homes of Ireland.
We love bumping into donkeys on tour and sharing an apple with them.
Dogs are often referred to as man's best friend because of their intelligence and their ability to fit into the human world. The relationship between man and dog is steeped in Irish history and mythology.
In mythology Cu Chulainn, a famous Irish warrior showed the respect Irish people have for their dogs. He once took the position of Culanns guard dog after his fierce dog had been killed. He guarded Culann's house until a replacement dog could be found. Hence where the name Cu Chulainn came from. Cu meaning hound in Irish so he was know as the 'hound of Culann.'
In more recent times dogs have held an important position in the Irish farming community. Native Irish sheep dogs include Irish collies and Shetland Sheepdogs who have been bred for herding sheep.
A visit to a working sheep farm is a must for your Irish vacation and gives you a real look into the lives of Irish farmers.
Other Native Irish Dogs include:
- Irish Wolfhound
- Irish Setter
- Irish Sheep Dog
One question we are always asked is ' Where to see sheep in Ireland?'. In Ireland we have land called commonage, where farmers share rural land. Usually for the purpose of grazing their animals. It is common when driving through this land to sheep roaming freely. You'll find this commonage in rural parts of the country. Much of which is in the west of Ireland.
In Ireland we are so obsessed with our sheep that every year we hold a census to see just how many sheep are roaming our isle! The 2015 census showed 3,760,425 reside here in Ireland. The sheep population like the Irish population has been rising for the past 10 years.
Sheep farming in Ireland is not very prosperous. In fact many farmers have been trading sheep for cows in recent years. Our flocks tend to be small compared to international standards, with 50% of sheep flocks having less than 50 ewes. This is small compared to Scotland with an average flock size of over 200 and New Zealand with an average size of 1,400 sheep making them the worlds largest exporter.
Many people think of horses when they think of the fauna in Ireland. Be it riding along one of our Atlantic beaches horse back or at international races where our horses are world renowned. The Connemara Pony is one of our more famous breeds of horse. They are known for being hardy and sure-footed because of the rocky wild environment in the west of Ireland where the breed evolved. They developed an ability to move quickly across rough terrain and survive on the little greenery they could find. The famous Irish weather and rough landscape helped develop a breed that is resilient and adaptable, and todays Connemara Pony is valued for all of these qualities.
The Connemara Pony stems from the West of Ireland, specifically County Galway in a place known as Connemara. It is here the breed first became recognised. The landscape here is a very harsh one thus making the breed hardy strong individuals. Some believe that the Connemara developed from Scandinavian ponies that the Vikings first brought to Ireland. Some locals of the region would says that galleons from the Spanish Armada ran aground in 1588, and the Andalusians on board were set loose. The Spanish horses bred with the native stock, and from that the Connemara Pony was born.
Ireland's first cows probably arrived from Europe around 6,000 years ago. The three types of cattle on Irish farms today include pure dairy cattle, pure beef cows and dairy & beef cows which is the most common.
The Friesian is the most common cow in Ireland as it can be used for both beef and dairy purpose.
Murphys Ice Cream, a native Ice cream of Dingle, credits its creamy textures to the milk from the Kerry Cow, a rare breed of cow from the area.