WHETHER it’s a first-time or repeat win, a tricolour sash from Westport is still valued by owners. Traditionally one of the first shows in the West, low entries were on a par with other early fixtures with the cost of horse feed and diesel constantly mentioned as some factors.

Horse judges Tony Ennis and Thomas McCrann had their young horse champion decided by noon when two long-standing Westport supporters - Tiernan Gill and Dermot Gordon - shared the honours.

Several of Gill’s Brookfield businesses, such as his liquid petroleum, heating oil and horse bedding products have been directly impacted by the turn of events in the Ukraine, however, as he succinctly described it, a day at Westport is bliss.

He and his late father Tiernan Snr. owned several previous Westport champions and the latest is Flogas Oilily, a Dutch-bred find as a foal. Already champion on her first outing at Newmarket on Fergus and second at Balmoral, this presence-filled three-year-old Entertainer filly was the first champion of the day.

All Smiles: Tiernan Gill and Flogas Oilily, the young horse champion at Westport \ Susan Finnerty

The Gordon family are frequent winners at Westport too and the reserve champion was their three-year-old OBOS Lagans Quality - Tolan R gelding, bred by Vincent Meaney, that they will aim for Dublin. This gelding also won the second horse championship on offer with Valerie Davis’s home-bred yearling filly in reserve.

Perhaps with few broodmares and foals forward at this early stage, the second horse championship could in future be diverted to the ridden horse classes, where numbers are better and ridden judge Ennis was in his element. A later start time for horse classes would work well too for both the benefit of exhibitors and Sunday afternoon spectators.

The third horse championship for Irish Draughts saw Bridget Devaney’s Clew Bay Countess add the Westport title to her Athenry win a fortnight earlier. Reserve champion here for Seamus Sloyan as a three-year-old, she was sold after her young mare class win at Dublin that summer and is another of Sunday’s winners en route to the RDS.

Shown with her Moylough Legacy foal at foot, she was covered this year by Sloyan’s young Class 1 sire King Elvis I, while her own sire, Clew Bay Bouncer, was a longtime resident at the Drummindoo Stud host venue.

It was a poignant Westport for the Murphy family following the recent funeral of well-known Irish Draught breeder Eddie Murphy, with Paddy Joe Foy paying tribute to the Charlestown man in his speech during the official opening. Following his wishes, the family had three entries at one of Eddie’s favourite shows, including the reserve Draught champion, the two-year-old filly Cloonacauneen Sally, by their Tors Gentleman Farmer.

The Show Must Go On: Martina Murphy with her late father’s Oxview Grace, the Irish Draught reserve champion \ Susan Finnerty

Pony Express

Junior and Leaving Certificate exams starting this week were another factor for pony entry numbers. Patricia Hoey found her champion in the pure-bred Connemara Cabra Jane (Hillside Joker) owned by Niamh and Brian O’Halloran. Reserve was Galchos Nel that had a busy day in the leadrein and young handler classes for Kayla and Oisin Hennigan.

As has been the norm at Westport in recent years, the largest entries were in the Connemara classes. Bernard Keaney’s two-year-old filly Murvey April (Blake Hill Sparrow) was Sean Dunne and Val Noone’s young stock champion choice and in reserve was Sean King’s yearling filly Ballindoon Primrose Sparrow (Tra Bhain Ceileog).

From strong mare classes, the reserve champion was Nichola Ward’s 14-year-old mare Stanford Maisy. “Beauty therapist by day, farmer by night!” Nichola bought her eight years ago at Westport Fair from the Mountain Cascade mare’s breeder Johnny Brady.

“At the time I was on the search for a Connemara show pony and the late Jarlath Grogan said to me ‘That’s your show pony trotting up the hill.’ I would have been silly not to take his advice and did so!”

Previously unshown, Stanford Maisy has been a model of consistency since. “She’s been in the top-10 line up in Clifden, won championships, along with being in the ribbons every Sunday. The plan for this season is to show her in the in-hand classes and looking forward to Clifden, the highlight of the Connemara showing calendar. Westport was a great start to the show season especially after the break with Covid.”

Joe Burke won the championship with his stallion class winner Manor Duke, another by a resident stallion in their Currachmore Cashel.

“It’s just great to be back out at shows after the past couple of years. Duke didn’t really take the sabbatical that most others took during Covid as he contested some IPS shows. He picked up a HOYS ticket on the way and ended up third at the final at HOYS last year.

“We’ve been doing a few of the IPS shows with Banks Timber and Duke already this year. Duke was champion at the Northern Ireland Festival back in April and has just focused on covering since but it’s back to work for him from now on.

“Westport is always a permanent fixture in our showing calendar. For us, it marks the start of the Connemara pony show circuit.”

It was good to see Michael Hughes as a guest at Westport, a near-permanent fixture in his calendar too. The now-retired Irish Shows Association all-rounder attended the official opening before returning home to Mountbellew for his grandchild’s birthday party.

The next event planned by the committee, bolstered by four new members, is the Westport Horse Fair and Heritage Day, which the indefatigable Paddy Joe Foy announced will take place on Saturday, October 15th.

What they said

“Eddie was synonymous with the Irish Draught horse for many, many years and so was his father before him, I remember him standing a horse called Boherbue. Eddie had a skill that nobody I know of in the breeding world had and that was he could match the stallion with the mare and end up with an All Ireland champion. That took some doing.

“He showed his horses north, south, east and west and never spoke ill of any judge regardless of where he was but very often he was at the top of the class. Eddie, we soldiered together, we travelled many a mile.”

Paddy Joe Foy pays tribute to his late friend, Eddie Murphy.

“We’ve gone pricing marquees for this year and they’ve gone up by two-thirds.”

ISA western region chairman John O’Hara gives an example of rising costs for his local show, Bonniconlon.

“It’s always a tricky business trying to keep covering stallions focused at shows at this time of year and every year it’s a bit of a juggling act having to leave it until the last minute to wash him in case a mare arrives for covering.”

Joe Burke on the art of balancing business and shampoo.

“Westport Show was one of my first shows. I remember always getting Friday off school to jump the ponies in the grounds of Westport House and when I got there looking at Eddie Macken and Paul Darragh’s Carrolls Show jumping red and white trucks and being in awe. My first championship ever won was at Westport.

“This weekend was busy, we had horses jumping in Mullingar and Westport and also with Cameron Hanley in Germany We chose going to Westport because if you don’t support the local show, how will they grow?

“Business is tough at the moment, margins are tight, staff have a different outlook on life and work but for me, shows get me away from increasing gas and diesel prices and the day-to-day trials and tribulations of running businesses.

“It clears my mind, not to mention sitting down at McHugh’s tea van, enjoying a cup of tea and a fresh ham sandwich with Croagh Patrick in the background, chatting to everyone. To me that was bliss and that’s why I chose Westport.”

Tiernan Gill on Westport memories and work-life balance.

Funding, past, present and future

CONCERNS about future funding and rising costs were the constant themes during the official opening ceremony at Westport.

Paddy Joe Foy suggested a five-year plan, “so that every show in the country gets a fair share of the cake. This year alone, insurance is 25% more than any other year and were it not for the sponsor, we wouldn’t have a show.

“We had two awful, unreal years with the pandemic and the shows are only creeping back now. And now with the price of petrol and diesel, it’s very, very hard to run a show. I remember back in the 1950s, you got £100 from the County Committee of Agriculture to stage a show. I think we need to hammer it home [at local and government level] and I know the representatives on the ISA will fight their corner.

“I appeal, appeal, appeal to get money. If you don’t, we won’t have a show, it’s as simple as that.”

Speaking Out: Paddy Joe Foy and Cllr. John O’Hara at the official opening of Westport Show \ Susan Finnerty

He also praised another retired ISA board member Valerie Thorington for her work for “Ballinasloe and every show indeed,” and paid tribute to the late Eddie Murphy, committee member Michael McMenamin and Maureen Hughes ‘always at the end of the phone to help out.”

Cllr. John O’Malley (Ind) highlighted the valuable role of volunteers who run many events in the country and described the local show as a “great social event for families.” He pledged his support for funding for Westport show, while his Mayo County Council colleague John O’Hara (FG) filled in details on the latest funding allocated by the Department of Rural and Community Development.

“Three years ago, [then] Minister Ring gave €500,000, we used some of that because there comes expenses with shows, insurance and other things. What they did earlier in the year is they divvied out a small bit to shows that incurred expenses so there was €350,000 left from Michael Ring’s [allocation].

“Heather Humphreys had decided to bring it up to €700,000 now, that’s including Michael Ring’s half and her half, so that will bring it to €5,500 per show for this year,” he added about the vital lifeline for agricultural shows, first introduced by Ring, the local T.D.