Media Coverage

 Irish Fight to Save Carriage  
April 24, 2008

By April Drew

 THE livelihoods of up to 30 Irish immigrants will be on the line if proposed legislation by a Queens politician passes the New York City Council.

Irish horse and carriage owners who make a living driving tourists around Central Park are furious at an attempt by Councilman Tony Avella, a Queens Democrat, to put a ban on horse-drawn carriages in the city. The bill has not yet been acted upon.

Avella, who said “the animals are not being treated properly, and enough is enough,” is only looking to get noticed, said an upset horse-drawn carriage owner, who asked to remain anonymous.

“He is planning to run for mayor in 2009 so what better way to get his name out there than to cause a stir among decent, hard working people like ourselves,” he said as he gave his horse grain from a bucket stored underneath the carriage.

Driver and horse owner Conor McHugh from Co. Leitrim has been making his living in the business for 22 years.

“It pays the bills,” said McHugh, who is one of 30 Irish-born drivers working in Central Park. “This is a lifetime of work and it’s not for nothing.”

Angry at the lies he feels Avella has been spouting, McHugh said, “He is only doing all of this to get noticed.”

In Sept-ember 2007, a 13-year-old mare called Smoothie tragically died after the sound of loud drums from a nearby break dancing group sent her running into a tree. Another horse, carriage attached, also spooked by all the commotion, got loose and hit a car on the street.

Since the incidents animal right’s activists are a daily sight around Central Park holding signs and shouting chants that the horses are being treated cruelly.

“They are trying to run us out of the city and it’s not even their city. These are radicals who come down here and harass us. They have nothing to go on and they never will,” said Tommy Hughes, an immigrant from Co. Down who has been in the horse-drawn carriage business for 25 years.

Carolyn Daly, spokesperson for the Horse and Carriage Association of New York said, “What these activists forget is that there was a special bond between Smoothie and his owner. Even today when the owner speaks about Smoothie you can see in his eyes the love he had for the animal.”

Following the incident, Avella introduced legislation to outlaw horse drawn carriages in the city in December 2007.

Hughes, who initially worked for an Irish man driving his horses before he bought his own horse, said he would be devastated if he had to give up his job and send his eight year-old horse, Oscar, back.

“This is our livelihood,” he said.

Hughes is confident that Avella’s proposed ban will go nowhere.

“There is hopefully enough reasonably minded people to keep us in business,” said Hughes, who is one of 258 licensed carriage drivers in New York.

Hughes laughs when asked about the alleged “cruelty” and “deprivation” the horses supposedly suffer on a daily basis in Central Park.

“The horses are on display every day for the general public to see and scrutinize and they will find no cruelty or abuse to any of our horses here, never mind the regulations they are under,” he said.

He continues to explain that most of the horses, with the exception of the odd retired racehorse, are working horses bought at Amish auctions.

“It was these type of horses that built Central Park and the road inside the park was originally designed for animals, not traffic,” Hughes said.

Every few years the same debate about the horses at Central Park rears its head.

“Through the years this issue has come up again and again,” Hughes said but “we will once again survive the test of time.”

Daly, whose father hails from Co. Kildare and mother from Co. Tipperary, said the animal activists frequently use racial slurs to attack the Irish drivers.

“They call them leprechauns, and accuse them of drinking too much. They even mimic the brogue,” she said.

McHugh described PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), one of the organizations that can be seen regularly at Central Park, as a radical terrorist group whose members are nothing more than bullies.

“They come here and shout stuff. They are the ones who are scaring the animals and then they call themselves animal people,” he laughed ironically.

PETA, which believes the horses should be given the “freedom they deserve,” have accused the Horse Drawn Carriage Association of allowing the horses to work in scorching summer heat and humidity and in sub zero temperatures during the winter.

Hughes explains that this isn’t so. “The horses are heavily regulated by the city,” he said.

Detailing Oscar’s work day, Hughes said that he normally doesn’t start until 10 a.m. and will finish up about 5 p.m. The horses are not allowed work past 90 degrees and “we certainly don’t take them out when it’s freezing.”

After disembarking from a brightly colored carriage displaying fresh flowers, the Irish Voice asked a family of four from Tennessee if they thought the animals were treated badly.

“Absolutely not, the animals are well fed and looked after. Our horse stopped off on the way into the park for a drink of water and just there we saw our driver feed him. It really is such a beautiful way to experience the city and would be a shame if it wasn’t here to do,” the woman said.

Daly attributes the negativity from the animal activists as “a complete and utter misunderstanding of the horses and their needs. It’s a very foreign animal to people who don’t grow up in Ireland or on farms or grow up around animals,” she said.

She explains that the Horse and Carriage Association have been lobbying for years to get water stations around Central Park. They also hire their own maintenance crew to keep the streets clean and odor free.

So if there was no horse drawn carriages around New York, where would these workhorses be today? “They would be working on Amish farms seven days a week for hours and hours a day,” Daly said, explaining that there are no regulations on the farms.

The horses owned by the Horse and Carriage Association of New York work an eight hour day, five days a week. The other times they are resting in one of the five stables located throughout the city.

[NOTE:  The inhumanity of this industry is not about the Irish - it is about cruelty to animals and safety issues concerning people and animals.  Besides many of the people involved in this issue are Irish - native,  first and second generation.  To charge that we make ethnic slurs is a lie and  nothing short of race baiting - to encourage the people who read the newspaper to believethat this issue is about Irish discrimination.  It is not.]

Coalition To Ban
Horse-Drawn Carriages

A Committee of the Coalition For New York City Animals, Inc.

The Coalition for
NYC Animals, Inc.

P.O. Box 20247
Park West Station
New York, NY 10025


To honor
Bobby II Freedom
previously known as Billy
ID# 2873 rescued by the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages and Equine Advocates on June 25, 2010 from the New Holland auctions.

In memory of
Lilly Rose O'Reilly
previously known
as Dada ID# 2711
R.I.P.August, 2007