For an unfamiliar view of Ireland, look no further than Australia-based photographer James Horan, who has been engaged in a photographic exploration of the cultures of horses. Some of these photos have been published in the Swiss Magazine Annabelle, and we’ve got some others for you here.
The project focuses on inner-city Limerick and Dublin, and, in particular, the monthly Smithfield Horse Fair. James describes the significance of the fair:
Smithfield is one of Dublin’s oldest traditions, dating back to the 17th century. Dealers come from around Ireland to buy and sell horses, but the market is also popular with local teenagers keen to show off their ponies and their bareback riding skills on the cobbled stone square. In recent years the Smithfield area has been redeveloped for modern high-density inner-city living with apartments, cafes, hotels and a cinema, all of which contrast greatly to the horse market. The new residents and local authorities are keen to close the market. There is also an attempt to control ownership of the horses, The Control of Horses Act—ultimately leading to the extinction of this unique subculture.
Just as unique as the celebration of horses is the crowd that attend. As James grew up in a working class area of Limerick, where he went to art school and worked for a local press photography agency, he “was accustomed to seeing Adidas and Nike clad teenagers, with no formal equestrian training, riding horses through the streets.” These young people, James said, “keep their animals in homemade stables or on green areas in housing estates.”
As well as Irish youth, the horse fairs “are also important places for travellers, indigenous Irish gypsies, to trade and socialize.” Travellers are recognized by British law as an ethnicity, but in Ireland as a “social group.”
Young travellers in particular use the fairs as occasions to find husbands and wives. The girls walk around in groups dressed in scantily clad outfits to get the attention of the boys dressed in tailored suits. Traditionally the boys speak to a matchmaker who makes arrangements with the girl’s family for a date and a possible marriage.