Up to the 1960s Kerry Bog Ponies had been used for taking milk to the creameries, bringing turf in from the bog and harvesting seaweed. Increased mechanisation and changes in farming practice meant that the ponies were no longer needed in their traditional role.
In the 1990s John Mulvihill from Glenbeigh, Co Kerry became aware that these ponies had disappeared from view and were almost extinct. His searches found that in 1992 only 20 mares and six stallions were known to exist.
Dr John Flynn of Weatherbys DNA Laboratory at the Irish Equine Centre heard John Mulvihill talking about the plight of the ponies on the radio. He became interested and offered to DNA type the surviving ponies to see if they were indeed a distinct breed. As a result of genomic studies using nuclear and mitochondrial genetic markers the Kerry Bog Pony is now characterised at genetic level.
The most likely origin of the founding population is the north-western region of Europe. Weatherbys continue to DNA type every registered pony thus building up an invaluable database of genetic information.
In 1962, Dr Kevin Danaher, the folklorist referred to these small ponies in Kerry for transport of sod peat from bog to roadside.
The modern name – Kerry Bog Pony – reflects the qualities of their living and working environment.
Recent nuclear and mitochondrial DNA studies indicate that genetically the Kerry Bog Pony is closer to the Welsh pony than to its geographically closest neighbour, the Connemara pony. The Kerry Bog Pony is more closely related to the Northern European breeds such as the Icelandic and Shetland pony breeds, which would suggest that its origins lay in Northern Europe.
That it has survived into the 21st century to become a scientifically recognised breed is remarkable as there were several well-documented occasions, over the last few centuries when such an insignificant pony, which was never present in large numbers, was threatened with extinction.