European pony event a €7m local boost

It is unlikely Dermot Mór MacCarthy could have envisaged that, 600 years after he built Drishane Castle in Cork, its rolling grounds would reverberate to the sound of horses and riders jockeying to be champions of Europe.

Worth almost €7m to the hinterland, the European Pony Championships begin in earnest at Millstreet on Wednesday.

As the European Juggling Convention wound down on Saturday, organisers were gearing up for the hundreds of ponies and riders, their families, grooms and coaches from 17 countries across Europe.

Among those competing is a Russian dressage rider who arrived in Ireland a week ago, having transported her pony by road from St Petersburg. The Dutch contingent will also make a big impression, with a convoy of 14 lorries.

Hotels within a 40km radius are reported to be booked up, with organisers estimating that the 24,000 bed nights will be worth about €6.9m to the local economy.

In total, there will be upwards of 500 ponies competing this week at Millstreet, which lays claim to being Ireland’s biggest dedicated equestrian facility, a boast strengthened in the past number of years by huge investment in the facility, which features 10 world-class, all-weather sand arenas.

The latest development is a cross-country course set in the 350 acres surrounding Drishane Castle.

Olympic course designer Mike Etherington-Smith, assisted by Mallow man Danny Dulohery, was charged to produce an Irish- themed test worthy of the historic parkland, purchased by the Duggan family in 1992 from the Drishane Sisters.

It is 25 years since Millstreet last hosted the championships, which feature show jumping, eventing, and dressage.

The Irish squads are among the favourites in show jumping and eventing.

The former sees Kilkenny rider Susan Fitzpatrick bid to repeat her gold-medal- winning performance with Rock Dee Jay, while the show jumping and eventing teams will be hoping to improve on the bronze medals they won last year.

Entry to the championships is free, with entertainment each evening, including stints by Liam O’Connor, said to be the “Jimi Hendrix of the accordion”.

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