THE beauty of the Blackwater Valley has inspired writers over many years to describe it as the Irish Rhine.
Now, that natural beauty has been linked with the valley’s reputation for breeding and showcasing quality horses and in producing wholesome food.
Central to that aim of boosting the local economy is Camphire, close to Cappoquin and Lismore in Co Waterford, the venue for an annual three-day event over the last 13 years.
It has been developed to major international status with a three-star course designed by Mike Etherington-Smith, who has also designed Olympic and World Championship courses.
This year’s event, which runs from July 26-28, is an important one for the equestrian calendar. But it will also be a family festival with a tented village featuring local food produce and rural activities.
All the action will take place against the backdrop of Camphire House, which dates from 1840 and was bought in 1902 by the Dobbs family.
One family member, Henry Dobbs, spent his career in India and became high commissioner of Iraq in the early 1920s. After his death in 1934, his widow Esmé and their daughter Susan lived in the house. Susan Dobbs founded the Camphire Horse Trials in 2000, with the help and inspiration of Van der Vater.
Her main aim was to provide a venue where young riders and horses could gain experience and qualifications. She died in 2009 and left the estate to her great-nephew, Henry Wilks, who agreed to continue with the trials, comprising dressage, cross country and showjumping.
Managed and developed by Paul and Allen Brady, the trials attract up to 5,000 people and have extended onto the neighbouring farm owned by James Browne. West Waterford Hunt also plays a prominent part.
Over the past three years, Waterford Leader Partnership in Lismore has allocated €40,000 to the event through the EU’s Rural Diversification Programme. These funds have contributed to the building of new cross-country courses for the different classes and the infrastructure and facilities needed for a major event.
Jimmy Taffe of Waterford Leader Partnership, said it actively supports rural tourism initiatives, particularly those that make use of natural resources.
“The support for the horse trials is focused on exploiting commercial opportunities in existing and emerging markets for the tourism and the sport horse sectors,” he said.
Director Paul Brady said the Leader funding has helped to develop a very important equestrian sport venue and to promote the Irish sport horse.
“It has helped us to develop the venue to host top-level horse trials. This has meant considerable infrastructural development with access improvements to the venue, where hard core has been laid, benefiting both competitors and spectators.
“A whole new three star cross-country course has been put in place and the other courses have been enhanced.
“We have also acquired much of our own equipment, which is of high quality and avoids the need for hire, especially for showjumping and dressage phases,” he said.
Mr Brady said the funding has also enabled the organisers to offer electricity supply and temporary stabling to competitors.
Improvements have been made to some of the existing buildings, which are used in the event and also for storing equipment. Technical expertise has also been accessed via the grant particularly for cross country course design and construction.
“We hope to continue to develop the horse trials and festival and attract highly ranked riders and also develop the tented village further.
“We feel the trials now offer a considerable annual boost to the local economy with the influx of people from all over Ireland and Britain in particular.
“The competition also provides Irish riders with an opportunity for much needed high-level international competition without the expense and inconvenience of always having to travel abroad. As an Olympic sport this is very important.
“The Irish horse is renowned worldwide as being very suitable for eventing. Camphire provides breeders and producers with a very good shop window opportunity to show off the best Irish young horses.
“Most of the top producers are represented in the entry. Horse production at this level is very important to the Irish agricultural economy,” he said.
Mr Brady said the event is a huge boost to the local economy with accommodation providers around the region filling up with visitors and competitors.
“Producers at the Camphire Farmers Market and people with trade stands also enjoy the festival, with an added boost to local employment,” he said.
Henry Wilks, Camphire House, said the support given by Waterford Leader Partnership in funding the cost of the new developments, and the support on the ground of many expert local volunteers was much appreciated.
“Our aim is to bring the charm and beauty of the Blackwater Valley to eventing at the highest level, and now to spectators and the general public.
“We are known particularly for the friendliness of the officials and volunteers and we have a record number of overseas competitors this year,” he said.
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