Elke is not out on a horse, she works in Sligo in Abbott Laboratories.
How did she find her way here from Cologne?
"I wanted an Irishman," she says and laughs. We are returning up a winding boreen,
redolent of blooming gorse. "No, I couldn't live anywhere else."
Elke and Tommy also run a B&B and take any of Tilman's overflow.
To the industrialists from Hamburg and Berlin who come here, the sight
every morning when they get up of sea on one side and Ben Bulben on the
other is newly mesmerising. Some Continentals first came here over fifteen
years ago and have been coming back ever since.
Tilman may speak and drink pints like a Sligo man, but his operation
is run with Germanic efficiency. Each horse has a number. Thee are 80
separate sets of tack and grooming equipment, all neatly numbered. Riding
rosters are written up for every day. He has a system for taking in guests,
based on weekly or long weekend rates. This suits Continentals, but not
always the Irish.
"The Irish often want to come and do their own thing," he says.
And although that's difficult to cater for when you run such a big operation,
he finds that more and more Irish people are discovering this horseman's
paradise in their own backyard. There are a range of deals on offer:
you can stay at Horse Holiday Farm and ride for seven days along the
shore and under Ben Bulben. Tilman's accommodation is of a high standard,
there is a sauna to get your hips working again and the food, I can vouch,
is mouth watering. For those who cover more countryside, there are 7-day
and 14-day trails through Donegal, reaching as far as Gweebarra. The
7-day Sligo trail keeps along the shore to Lissadell before cutting inland
and circumnavigating Lough Gill.
It's 4 pm and Tilman and myself are riding up a lane directly beneath
Ben Bulben. It's a stone-laid road, formerly the property - as was much
around these parts - of the once mighty Lissadell Estate. Ben Bulben's
bare head is in fact too marshy for horses, its sides too steep. We ride
up as far as we can safely go and drink in the panorama from this fresh
perspective. No matter where you alight around here, your eye is assailed
by the vista. From where we sit, all of South Donegal is visible. Miles
away, down on distant Streedagh strand, the tide has turned.
Big Black Pints and Angelus Bells
To go through Grange village once without stopping at John Lang's public
house is difficult, but twice is impossible. Tethering our horses to
a post, we nip in the front door. Tilman is greeted by all and sundry
- which is to say, 15 men on stools in this tiny bar-cum-grocers, all
drinking black pints. All the fittings and seats are of ancient wood,
time stained and mellow. Ceiling hooks remind of days when hams and kettles
and rubber boots hung there. "Ave Maria" is playing again in the church
next door where there's a brisk trade going this evening in First Confessions.
I've been riding now for six hours - but we're not done with it yet.
Tilman wants me to see Ben Bulben in the evening light, so we jog back
down on to Streedagh strand. Tilman's whole life is horses. He has raised
his two sons, Donnacha and Heinrich, to be European class show jumpers
- but now the lads have turned to study: Donnacha is reading an Arts
degree in NUI Galway, whilst Heinrich is studying science as a prelude
to enrolling in a veterinary college. Both lads continue to love horses:
Heinrich is vice-captain of the NUIG Equestrian Club.
The sun is about to sink beneath Slieve League and in the process has
set Ben Bulben alight. We stand the horses in the water and watch the
magic of the end of day. I doubt I'll be able to walk upright tomorrow
- it's been a few years since I've spent one whole day in the saddle.
But let me tell you: every minute today has been worth it. This is one
of the best kept secrets in Ireland. And now it's out.
Horse Holiday Farm Ltd.
Grange County Sligo Ireland
Telephone : (071) 9166152
Fax : (071) 9166400
From Europe Telephone : 00 353 71 9166152
Fax : 00 353 71 9166400
Anfrage und Reservierung
zur Horse Holiday Farm
The Horse Holiday Farm is Bord Fáilte (Irish Tourist Board) approved
a member of A.I.R.E., the Association of Irish Riding Establishments.