Ballindenisk, an August evening. Heat and light no longer words in a physics schoolbook, but manifest in the fine fields sloping down and away from the old Dublin road. Also manifest: Horses in their immediate and physical glory as the ancient sport of polo makes a return to Cork.
There are clubs around the country affiliated to the Federation of Irish Polo Clubs, but it’s a long time since it was played so deep in the south. Its return is relatively low-key: Peter Fell is one of those responsible for the new club, Ballindenisk, and while he was readying the horses for the match, his girlfriend and co-founder Alva Houlihan gave a little background.
“During the winter, I got Peter a couple of polo lessons for his birthday, and he really enjoyed it. We borrowed a couple of ponies from James Kennedy, who’s chair of the Irish Federation of Polo Clubs, and Peter got completely hooked.”
That was a little… “Devious? Absolutely. James said there was no club in Cork, and Peter had the grounds, would he be interested in opening up a club?”
Hence last night’s match, the first for Ballindenisk.
“We have 10 members, but we need more ponies for lessons. We’ve bought four and we’ve been loaned another four, and we’re very keen for people to come out as well,” said Houlihan. “There isn’t a club currently in Cork and it’d be great to get it going. Anyone who’s interested, they should contact ballindenisk.org, and we’re on Facebook also. We’d love to get people involved.”
The horses thundered past. They’re manoeuvrable, given they need to make tight turns and sudden reverses to follow the ball but they’re still huge presences. The ground shakes when they gallop past and the bumping and jousting for possession, the emphatic snorting — it’s a full-on experience for the spectator, never mind the rider.
There was a temptation to ask those present if the revival of polo has anything to do with another revival, this time in the pages of a book. Jilly Cooper’s romping novels about the sport, such as Riders and Rivals, spiked interest in the sport, and her legendary hero Rupert Campbell-Black makes a galloping return in a new book in the series out next week (the tone can be guessed from its title: Mount.) Temptation resisted.
Last evening was a gentler experience, with people rolling in to have a drink and a chat during the match. The social aspect is a selling point.
“There’s a tournament every weekend of the summer,” said Houlihan. “The clubs rotate as hosts of the tournaments. Teams can chop and change for those tournaments, and it’s a great social outlet.
“People are very generous and I know the image is a very elitist one, but we’re trying to do this on a bit of a budget and to get people interested. And we’ve been shown so much generosity and kindness by those involved so far that we think it’s a great sport, one that people will enjoy getting involved in.”
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