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