Rescued donkeys bring peace to bloodsoaked ancient battlefields
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2005:
LISCARROLL, County Cork–In time the
Donkey Sanctuary of Ireland may be remembered as
the most significant institution in the history
of the blood-soaked rolling hills of Liscarroll.
The 350 donkeys peacefully grazing at the
impeccably tidy 30-acre visitor center and the
equally well-managed 70-acre donkey retirement
farm together form a living monument to a
globally influential turning point in
Donkeys are known to have lived at
Knockardbane, the farm that became the visitor
center, since 1926, when Donkey Sanctuary
manager Paddy Barrett’s grandfather retired from
a career as a police officer, and took up
grazing livestock instead.
But in all likelihood donkeys have
inhabited the site for almost as long as donkeys
have been in Ireland.
At the highest point on Knockardbane, as
far from the office as visitors can walk within
the fenced trails, a circle of half-buried
white-painted stones highlight the earthworks
that are the remaining traces of Cearbhall’s
Fort, a now little remembered landmark in both
Irish and equine history.
This is where Cearbhall MacDún-lainge,
Lord of Osraighe, built the fortified cavalry
stable for which he became known to his enemies
as “Cearbhall MacDunghill.”
He was not called that to his face.
Cearbhall was first recorded in history
when he fought off an attack by Vikings who
invaded overland from Dublin in 845. Alternately
a foe and an ally of the Vikings, thwarting
frequent attacks by both sea and land, between
raids on rival regional warlords, Cearbhall for
the next 43 years proved exceptionally adept at
survival, if never quite strong enough to
convert victories into conquest.
Cearbhall was most nearly defeated in
868. His longtime arch-foes from Leinster
cornered him at Cearbhall’s Fort. Charging up
the steep hill hellbent on effecting his quick
demise, they reached the summit winded. A
cavalry charge repelled and slaughtered them.
The name “Cearbhall” over time
metamorphized into a description of his prized
“skewbald” horses. While the term evolved on
into “piebald” during the 19th century.
“skewbald” became “Stewball,” the name of a
wine-drinking horse kept by Sir Arthur Marvel.
Stewball circa 1790 was entered into a match race
in Kildare against Miss Portly, a gray mare of
comparably dubious habits kept by Sir Ralph Gore.
Miss Portly took an early lead but
stumbled and fell. Stewball, the winner, was
remembered in a ballad first published in 1829,
made famous in mid-20th century versions by The
Weavers, Lonnie Donnegan, Joan Baez, and Peter
Paul & Mary.
The remains of Cearbhall’s Fort overlook
the ruins of Liscarroll Castle, among the
largest Norman edifices in Ireland, believed to
have been built by David Og de Barry circa 1280.
Garrett Barry, possibly a distant
descendant of Og de Barry, in 1642 captured
Limerick with an Irish rebel army of 1,500.
Rallying the countryside, Barry had 6,000 men
behind him, including 500 horsemen commanded by
one Oliver Stephenson, when he stormed Liscarroll
Castle in mid-July.
The victory lasted just two weeks.
Murrough O’Brien, Earl of Inchi-quinn,
marched from Cork to take Liscarroll back.
Stephenson captured Inchiquinn in an ill-timed
charge, but Inchiquinn’s brother shot Stephenson
dead through the eye-piece of his helmet. As
Stephenson’s cavalry fell back, O’Brien
counter-charged, killing more than 700 rebel
riders and foot soldiers, capturing 50 rebel
officers alive. All were hanged the next
morning, effectively ending any threat the
revolt posed to English rule.
Though there are plaques at the Donkey
Sanctuary identifying the fortifications, more
signage describes the ancient lime kiln just
behind the office, used for centuries to make
mortar for brickwork.
The Barrett family commitment to making
peace rather than war turned from agriculture to
humane work in 1964, when Paddy Barrett’s father
took a job as field inspector for the Irish SPCA.
From time to time during the next 17 years he
occasionally impounded abused animals,
especially donkeys, who at the time were still
heavily used in Ireland for farm labor and rural
transport. Having nowhere else to take them, he
brought them home.
This was the beginning of the Barrett
Animal Sanctuary. Succeeding his father with the
Irish SPCA, Paddy Barrett formally incorporated
the sanctuary in 1982, left the Irish SPCA to
manage the sanctuary fulltime in 1987, and a
year later formally affiliated with the Donkey
Sanctuary of the United Kingdom, founded in 1969
by Elisabeth Svensden.
To hear Paddy Barrett, he and his family
knew nothing about donkeys before Svensden became
involved, and not much about anything else; but
Paddy is an Irish story-teller. The official
Donkey Sanctuary version is that Svensden began
helping to fund site improvements because she was
favorably impressed with how much the Barrett
family was doing for donkeys with so little by
way of public support.
Renamed the Donkey Sanctuary of Ireland,
the project eventually expanded to Hannigan’s
Farm, on another hilltop on the far side of the
main road to Liscarroll. Today incoming donkeys
go first to Hannigan’s Farm, for examination,
any necessary veterinary treatement, and
quarantine and extended care, if appropriate.
Many donkeys stay at Hannigan’s Farm for
the remainder of their lives, but those who are
the best prospects for adoption or demonstrate
the most interest in human companionship are
taken to Knockardbane.
Adopted donkeys are in effect on loan.
The Donkey Sanctuary retains legal title to them,
and may recall them at any time if visits by the
Donkey Sanctuary inspectors find any sign of
The Donkey Sanctuary outreach to Ireland
yielded such encouraging results that Svendsen
followed up by introducing field clinics to help
donkeys in Mexico in 1984, conducted since 1991
with help from the International League for the
Protection of Horses. The Donkey Sanctuary also
started donkey clinics in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
in 1986, adding mobile units in 1994, and built
a complete donkey hospital in 1999 at the Addis
Ababa University veterinary school.
Svendsen opened the Lamu Donkey Sanctuary
on an island off the coast of Kenya in 1987.
Since 1994 Donkey Sanctuary has also funded a
donkey hospital and harness workshop at the Kenya
SPCA in Nairobi.
Donkey Sanctuary affiliates in Gurgaon, Bhatti,
and Ahmedabad, India, debuted in 1998, 2003,
El Refugio del Burrito, a Donkey
Sanctuary affiliate in Spain, opened in 2003.
[Contact the Donkey Sanctuary of Ireland
c/o Liscarroll, Mallow, Co. Cork; telephone
353-22-48398; fax 353-22-48489;
<www.thedonkeysanctuary.ie>. Contact the Donkey
Sanctuary U.K. c/o Sidmouth, Devon, EX10 0NU;
telephone 44-01395-578222; fax 01395 579266;