Beyond the bar, Mark Kirwan saves creatures who’ve suffered at the hands of human beasts
Mark Kirwan, newly minted owner of The Dark Horse Irish Pub in Flint Hill, once referred to a hauntingly beautiful poem by Celtic folklorist and poet Althey Thompson:
I shall Gather up
All the lost souls
That wander this earth
All the ones that are alone
All the ones that are broken
All the ones that never really fitted in
I shall gather them all up
And together we shall find our home
Mark is from Tipperary – 6’8” of deep Irish brogue – a bear of a man with deep, soulful eyes and a heart the size of Texas. He offers solace and sanctuary to the trampled, forgotten and abused creatures who’ve suffered at the hands of human beasts.
His Kirwan’s Farm hosts no less than 22 horses, 14 alpacas, 8 donkeys, 5 dogs, 3 sheep, 1 goat, 120 chickens, 3 pheasants, 4 peacocks, 4 turkeys and rescue cats.
He is in many ways a real life version of John Wayne’s “The Quiet Man,” coming home to his Innisfree, to heal, and forget, to come back to his roots.
Mark’s come home – his home away from home – is Rappahannock, as a “dark horse” he says with a smile and sparkle in his eye, much like his first rescue Liam, a beautiful black Frisian.
Mark, you see, is also a rescue and his Kirwan Farm his sanctuary.
He came to the states with a degree in equine studies and worked at a breeding farm in Cassanova, in nearby Fauquier, on an 18-month J-1 visa. When the visa expired, Mark went back to Ireland and worked for Guinness running events in the U.S. and Caribbean. The pub bug bit, and while still involved with horses, he pursued opportunities through Guinness to come back stateside.
Receiving his green card and, after 9- 11, became a D. C. police officer. Quickly promoted, Mark joined Special Ops, working SWAT, aviation, canine and more during 20 years on the force. And, when he wasn’t on the beat, he opened a pub, O'Connell’s in Alexandria. That partnership fell through, but others soon followed: 15 years ago he opened Samuel Beckett's in Shirlington and 5 years ago Kirwan’s on The Wharf in DC.
Then a combination of forces brought him to his knees: His businesses barely survived the Covid tsunami, and then the events of Jan. 6, 2021 on Capitol Hill, which as law enforcement he witnessed first hand.
Father’s are often our guiding lights, providing inspiration and wisdom. Mark speaks with his dad most every day, now in his 80s. So Mark sought his guidance and good counsel.
And dad said, “Son, go back to what you love, go back to the horses.”
Mark came out to Rappahannock, a hallowed place reminding him of Ireland. He bought what became Kirwan’s Farm in Rixeyville. A friend from Maryland, deeply entrenched in rescue, asked for his help. And so it began. A wave of innocents, desperate for love, for medical care, for relief from human torture.
His dad visited the farm…and approved.
“Finally you’ve found your home from home, a place where you can rest your head.”
Mark shares with a wistful look, “My dad, well, he saw a huge change in me. A calm, a peaceful grace. Moving here has grounded me and brought me back.”
Abby, Mark’s longtime beautiful girlfriend, shares stories, on the Kirwan’s Farm Facebook page, stories of profound sadness, of hope, of unconditional love, of animals so deserving of human kindness.
“Finn, she tells “was one of our first rescues, one of the six originals who came over from Black Mountain View Farm Draft Rescue. He was another used up Belgian draft from the Amish, his back end is in absolute tatters from being asked to pull far more than he should have and doing it because he’s a gentle giant who lives to please you. He’s blind in one eye and takes daily arthritis medicine to help him walk without pain but his retirement here seems to suit him.
One of my favorite rescues on the farm is one who had probably the toughest start. When Aiden came to us about a year and a half ago, he was so shut down and terrified that he was not considered adoptable by the rescue that saved him. His torture at the hands of those he worked for resulted in a horse who would shake so uncontrollably that he would go to his knees. Anything new caused the shaking to start and he was not interested in having much to do with people - he was never mean or dangerous in any way but he needed a quiet place to try to start over. We put him in a back field with an older herd of horses and let him be.
Last week when we had visitors at the farm, he came up to the fence and stood quietly as they gave him some pets. While still suspicious of new things, he is now in one of the front fields, no longer a horse who becomes so terrified of what is about to happen that he loses control. We haven’t seen him shake in quite some time. It has been a privilege to watch the change in Aiden, we didn’t ever ask him to be something different than he is, we just accepted him and in time he accepted us too.”
Welcome to Rappahannock. Mark. Welcome, Abby, and your lovely daughter AnaVera. We embrace all of you.