The Times We Lived In: Irish carriage-driving championships at Birr Castle

Published: September 10th, 1982 Photograph by Jack McManus

At the Irish carriage-driving championships in Birr Castle, Co Offaly, this weekend, Hi-fi pulls a Ralli car owned by Colonel A. L. Pennefather and driven by Mrs A. L. Pennefather in the cross-country section. Photograph: Jack McManus

At the Irish carriage-driving championships in Birr Castle, Co Offaly, this weekend, Hi-fi pulls a Ralli car owned by Colonel A. L. Pennefather and driven by Mrs A. L. Pennefather in the cross-country section. Photograph: Jack McManus

 

There are many ways to cross a river. You can persuade your horse to dip a dainty toe into the water before ferrying you to the other side. On the other hand, if you’re an ordinary sod, you can just get up on Shank’s mare and trundle over the bridge under your own steam.

At first glance this image appears to belong to the romantic/ idyllic school of newspaper photography. The caption, however, is of a more surreal bent.

“At the Irish carriage-driving championships in Birr Castle, Co Offaly, this weekend,” it reads, “Hi-fi pulls a Ralli car owned by Colonel A. L. Pennefather and driven by Mrs A. L. Pennefather in the cross-country section.”

To anyone who is clued in to the country pursuit of carriage driving, this will make perfect sense. To this writer, it might as well be science fiction or a song lyric. It’s that phrase “Hi-fi pulls a Ralli car” which, to my disobedient ears, sounds uncannily like “video killed the radio star”.

At the Irish carriage-driving championships in Birr Castle, Co Offaly, this weekend, Hi-fi pulls a Ralli car owned by Colonel A. L. Pennefather and driven by Mrs A. L. Pennefather in the cross-country section. Photograph: Jack McManus
Photograph: Jack McManus

Actually, the Ralli car in the picture is a thing of considerable beauty. And, presumably, stability: its drivers are not young, but though they’re bracing themselves they show no great distress at the prospect of careering down the shore and into the river.

Meanwhile, the sylvan perfection of our photograph has less to do with the sport itself – during which drivers have to complete tests in marathon, obstacle driving and dressage: yes, I Googled it – and more to do with the glorious grounds of Birr Castle.

Where, besides a stunning variety of trees and plants, there is a radio telescope which is part of the biggest astrophysics project in Europe and a tree house adventure area, you never know what you might see. This month, for example (from September 23rd), the 48th Irish hot air ballooning championships will be held at the demesne.

Just remember, there are many ways to cross a river but you can never step into the same river twice – without getting your feet wet.

You can buy this photograph and other Irish Times images from irishtimes.com/photosales

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