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They Had No Choice - The Irish Horse at War

The horse has been at the heart of Irish life for centuries, but its role, significance and relationship with humans was irrevocably changed during WWI when over 65,000 Irish horses were brought to the front.

They Had No Choice - The Irish Horse at War

Battle of Pilckem Ridge - British troops loading a pack horse with wiring staples. Near Pilckem 31 July 1917
Battle of Pilckem Ridge - British troops loading a pack horse with wiring staples. Near Pilckem 31 July 1917

On the eve of the War, the British army possessed only 25,000 horses but by 1917 it had 591,000 horses and 213,000 mules. Horses were as critical to the war effort as the heavy artillery, machine guns and the millions of men.

All breeds were needed. Ploughing horses and former pullers of newly electrified tramcars were bought up by the British Army through a network of army agents, dealers, and vets from farmyards and at horse fairs all around Ireland. The "remount" operation of the war years was an intensification of a tradition that had lasted centuries and continues to this very day. Herds of horses were driven through the streets of Ireland's ports to haul weapons, supplies and the wounded through the mud and shellfire of the trenches.

"They Had No Choice" focuses on an animal that has been at the heart of Irish life for centuries, a creature whose role and significance and relationship with humans was irrevocably changed in the years leading up to and during that fateful period. This documentary chronicles the fascinating story of the Irish horse, from the introduction of the Norman warhorse in the 12th Century, to the choices facing a rural horse based economy at a time of war, and to the slaughter of Irish-bred horses in the bombings of the troubles.

Exploring themes of conquest, oppression and sectarianism alongside the march of social, technological and economic change, "They Had No Choice - The Irish Horse at War" explores tumultuous times through the experiences of one of man's closest allies, the horse.

A Grey Heron Media production for RTE Radio 1.

Narrated by Diarmuid McIntyre.

Produced by Diarmuid McIntyre and Mary McDonnell of Grey Heron Media, with additional recordings and research by Elaine Power.

Production Supervision was by Sarah Blake

Sound Supervision was by Mark McGrath

RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday 9 August, 2pm

'Documentary on One is the home of Irish radio documentaries and the largest library of documentary podcasts available anywhere in the world. We tell stories in sound, mostly Irish ones, and each documentary tells its own story'

Documentary maker: Diarmuid McIntyre

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Documentary Maker: Mary Mc Donnell

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Documentary maker: Sarah Blake

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