‘When this got go­ing, my life be­gan again’

Oliver Walsh came within a few weeks of los­ing his farm, but he hasn’t looked back since launch­ing his own busi­ness and fol­low­ing his pas­sion for horses, writes Siob­hán English

Irish Independent - Farming - - HORSES -

IN 1997, Oliver Walsh’s home farm out­side Bal­li­nasloe was on the brink of col­lapse. “That’s how close it got. I was drink­ing heav­ily and about to lose ev­ery­thing,” he re­calls. “Was it not for a guy from the Rev­enue who gave me one fi­nal chance, I would have been out on the street.”

Oliver says there is no shame in his story. “I was an al­co­holic for 10 years and liv­ing in a bub­ble. I had no idea what I was do­ing. I used to throw the let­ters in the bin.

“He came into the field one day and said to me: ‘You have to do some­thing. I will give you six weeks.’

“That was the fi­nal straw. From that day on, I vowed to sort my­self out. I owe a lot to the late Vin­cent Shields who gave me so much ad­vice.”

At the time he was milk­ing 120 cows. “I sold off the cows, re­paid my debts, and set up a proper horse hol­i­day busi­ness. It was slowly de­vel­op­ing at the time and I felt there was an open­ing for it as there was noth­ing else in the area. When this got go­ing, you could say my life be­gan again.”

The busi­ness Oliver started is Flow- er­hill Eques­trian, which is now one of the most pop­u­lar out­fits in Ire­land and caters for horse-rid­ing en­thu­si­asts from all over the globe.

Boast­ing a full cross-coun­try course, it of­fers a wide va­ri­ety of hol­i­day pack­ages to suit both adults and chil­dren, which also in­clude hunt­ing with many of the lo­cal packs.

There’s no doubt that Oliver is one of a kind. By read­ing the tes­ti­mo­ni­als from peo­ple who have spent time in his com­pany, you will get a true sense of the gen­tle­man that he is. No frills, no no­tions, just a man pas­sion­ate for what he does best.

“I’m no mil­lion­aire, but I love what I do,” he says.

Oliver re­mem­bers back to his child­hood when his love of horses first be­gan. His late fa­ther Sean kept a few mares and pro­duced a few young horses to sell at the likes of Bal­li­nasloe.

Through­out that time, it was a busy dairy farm handed down from Oliver’s grand­fa­ther.

The Walsh fam­ily came from a lit­tle farm from near Loughrea in Co Gal­way. “My grand­fa­ther used to go from farm to farm, thresh­ing corn. That’s how he made his money to buy this place,” says Oliver.

“He moved here on Novem­ber 1, 1929 with his fam­ily, two horses and two cars. It was on 80 acres and cost £1,500, which was a lot of money at the time. The farm was run­down, but my grand­fa­ther worked hard and de­vel­oped it as a dairy farm. Back then, a cow was worth £4.”

Over the years, fur­ther land was pur­chased and Flow­er­hill now sits on 280 acres. Much of this is used for the fa­cil­i­ties and for graz­ing for his 60 or so horses and ponies, while 40 acres is set aside for win­ter bar­ley. “The crop is sold on, while we keep the straw for the horses.”

Oliver makes all his own hay­lage and lo­cal farm­ers of­ten put sheep in the pad­docks to graze them down.

As a child, Oliver hunted reg­u­larly with some of the lo­cal packs, in­clud­ing the East Gal­way Fox­hounds, and it was through his love of the sport that he was one of the found­ing mem­bers of the Co Roscom­mon Har­ri­ers in 1999.

To­gether with Michael Cur­ley and Dr Mor­gan McEl­lig­ott, they restarted a hunt that had been idle for over 50 years.

Oliver was ap­pointed as hunts­man, a role he con­tin­ues to this day.

“The hounds are kept here at Flow­er­hill and I have great help from my 10-year-old daugh­ter Zara who whips in ev­ery week­end. She has been rid­ing since she was four and is a nat­u­ral in the sad­dle.”

Each Sun­day, the hunt at­tracts up to 50 mounted fol­low­ers, sev­eral of whom could be vis­i­tors from abroad. Hunt­ing is hugely pop­u­lar in Gal­way and over the years, Oliver has tapped into this mar­ket by sup­ply­ing hired horses for the day.

“We cater for peo­ple from all over the world, but Scan­di­navia is our big­gest cus­tomer base.”

Oliver cred­its his travel agents with giv­ing him the bulk of the busi­ness. “We use HorseX­plore in Swe­den, Far and Ride in the UK and Zara’s Planet here in Ire­land.

“I al­ways rec­om­mend clients to use the agents as it’s a lot more se­cure. The agent will do ev­ery­thing for you, in­clud­ing look­ing af­ter travel in­sur­ance and ac­com­mo­da­tion, which is avail­able in nearby Por­tumna.”

In ad­di­tion to his own pack, Oliver also sup­plies horses to the North Tip­per­ary Fox­hounds, East Gal­way Hunt and the Gral­lagh Har­ri­ers.

“This time of year is very busy as hunt­ing is in full swing. We also run char­ity rides for the lo­cal com­mu­nity on a reg­u­lar ba­sis and could have 70 or 80 out at a time.

“There’s a lot go­ing on here, but I love what I do. It’s what gets me up ev­ery morn­ing now at 5.30am.”

IF THE GUY FROM REV­ENUE HADN’T GIVEN ME A FI­NAL CHANCE, I WOULD HAVE BEEN OUT ON THE STREET

Oliver Walsh, and inset, daugh­ter Zara, at Flow­er­hill Eques­trian Cen­tre, Co Gal­way.

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