BELLA VITA Westport Jarvey Kevin O’Reilly with his trusty steed, Bella. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
I think my life is led by passion, rather than decision. The things I love are always on my mind, maybe so much so that I forget to worry about things I should. But with well-placed reminders from a good woman, and requests from three young people, the direction of my life seems to work.
No alarm clock required, 6.15 and the body clock starts the day. A beehive on the flat roof outside my bedroom window is my first view of the day. This display of nature and the balance of life between the changing seasons I follow with excitement and dread.
Breakfast, porridge in the winter, or poached egg and spinach – or maybe just a yogurt – in the summer. Always a strong Lavazza coffee for me and my dearest.
Horses, fowl, cats and dogs’ needs satisfied, it’s time to go to work.
The seashore and wildlife of Clew Bay have been a mainstay passion of my life. From this I have had the good fortune of making a living by being employed by Blackshell Farm, a leading Irish organic mussel farm, which I have been part of for 25 years.
I have always kept horses and ponies, although growing up in Westport town centre I have not always had land. The horsemen who worked in Westport House throughout my childhood were very good to me, and I learned a lot from them. My grandfather was the farm foreman, and his grandfather and father were in charge of the horses, so I think it is in my blood.
Driving past the council office one day, with a veterinary bill on my mind, I spontaneously stopped and went in to ask, “Can I charge people to give tours of Westport town?”
Some weeks later, through an article in The Mayo News, I read that the council had decided to allow a jarvey in Westport, to be operated by me. “Ah sure why not?” I thought, and there it began.
So with a week’s work on Clew Bay complete, the ‘Honey do’ list perhaps not so complete, I head to town with my business partner Bella, who is the true professional in this thing. My pleasure is to show off our beautiful, friendly town, it’s history and architecture, and all that goes along with that.
I love to show how a happy, relaxed horse will willingly work. Guided by gentle indication through the reins and voice commands, and a shared sensitivity, the job can be done.
For child passengers this may be a new experience, for older folk this may bring back memories.
Tours can be tailored to suit varied interests, from town to country. My tour is I think more history than horse, while also taking in current happenings and the general feelings in the town. As we tour the streets, we talk of all things, and continuing into the beautiful grounds of Westport House really gives a sense of history.
Then it’s back to town, new friends made. And when it’s time for home, it’s up the Newport Road we plod our weary way.
In conversation with Ciara Moynihan
To find out more about Kevin O’Reilly’s Westport Jarvey tours, see TripAdvisor. To book a tour, give him a ring on 087 2580327, or look out for Kevin and Bella around Westport town centre.
Name: Kevin O’Reilly
Occupation: Westport Jarvey
Tell us something most people don’t know about you?
There’s very little! I’m an open book
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever eaten?
Jellyfish in a Japanese restaurant in Dublin … but I’m not sure if the waiter was pulling my leg
Where is your favourite place in the world?
Amongst the inner islands of Clew Bay
What do you miss most about being a kid?
The value a child gets out of the length of a day
What’s the best advice you ever got?
Tips for a happy marriage from Leonie, my mother-in-law
Who was your first hero?
What’s your most prized possession?
If an animal can be a possession, then it has to be a piebald mare my wife gave me for a wedding present – although she can be a bit of a handful (the mare that is!)
What makes you nervous?
Human interference in the ocean
Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met?
If money was no object, what would you do all day?
Do you know, I’d just do what I do.
When I think about it, there’s nothing I’d change.