Illustration from 19th century diary
Illustration from 19th century diary

History

Documented Historical Records

During the 17th and 18th centuries, ownership of land in Kerry changed hands as the power struggles between English settlers and the Irish fluctuated back and forth.  Much of the population became tenants on smallholdings, which ranged in size from 1 acre up to 30 acres.  Often the larger holdings were on marginal land. Only the wealthier of these holdings could afford to keep a pony for transport and to work on the land.  Under the Penal Laws Catholics were not allowed to keep a horse worth more than £5.00 which further ensured the use of small ponies of lesser value.

In the 18th century, in accounts from visitors to Kerry we find mention of small ponies being used to carry goods in mountainous areas of the Cork/Kerry border.  Roads were non-existent and the ponies came into their own in navigating the terrain, either ridden or pulling a Slide Car or Sleamhnán - as the name suggests these travelled on slides instead of wheels, which would have been useless on the mountainy terrain.

In 1756, Dr Charles Smith, Dublin, wrote in  "The Ancient and Present State of the County of Kerry"

“The little hobbies of the country are the properest horses to travel through it; and a man must abandon himself intirely to their guidance, which will answer much better than if one should strive to manage and direct their footsteps;....

I have already observed, that the horses in these baronies, are naturally very surefooted;  they are small, but an excellent breed;  they climb over the most rugged rocks, and both ascend and descend the steepest precipices with great facility and safety;  are so light, as to skim over waving bogs and morasses without sinking, where heavier horses would certainly perish.  They are strong and durable, easily supported and not ill shaped;  so hardy as to stand abroad all winter, and will browse on heath, furze and other shrubs;  add to this their gait is ambling, which is extremely easy.”  pp142/3

Many 19th century visitors in their diaries and publications referred to the distinctive small local ponies of Kerry.  

For more about the possible Origins of the pony see HERE

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