UNSEATED BY PROGRESSION; Feted in Hollywood Movies and Romantic Tales, New York's Horse and Carriage Is under Threat from a Planned Super-Development. but the Irishmen Who Look after the Historical Animals Refuse to Go Down without a Fight

Daily Mail (London), June 21, 2014 | Go to article overview

UNSEATED BY PROGRESSION; Feted in Hollywood Movies and Romantic Tales, New York's Horse and Carriage Is under Threat from a Planned Super-Development. but the Irishmen Who Look after the Historical Animals Refuse to Go Down without a Fight


Byline: Kim Haughton

THE clip-clop of hooves can hardly be heard above the constant pounding of big city drilling. The poor half-light almost hides the harnesses lined neatly in rows along the stable wall.

Along with the noise, engineers in bright green jackets reflect the morning sunlight and changing times on New York's West Side. Yet despite the intrusion, there is an unmistakable air of rural Irish life as a draft horse mare named Molly waits patiently for her driver to begin the working day.

Molly is being washed down and her white coat glistens as the hosepipe moves across her flank and the water beads catch the light.

Her driver Colm Glennon, from Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, arrives and loads up his carriage with oats and several kilos of carrots. The 46-year-old is dressed in a black suit with a top hat into which he has sewn a green badge with 'Ireland' written across it beneath a shamrock emblem.

A cabinet-maker by trade, he arrived in New York in the wake of the recession in the Eighties. He began work as a kitchen fitter but changed to carriage horse driving.

'Working in construction, you were always chasing money but with the horses, you get paid right away,' he says. Because the job is seasonal and weather-dependent, he also works as a musician. His band Stone Cold Sober play Eighties music in bars on the Lower East Side.

When he arrived in New York, the horse carriage business was predominantly Irish because of the enormous influx of mostly illegal Irish immigrants. That influx changed during the Celtic tiger years and the post-September 11 crackdown on immigrants.

Now, there are Italians, Mexicans and Turkish drivers, all experienced horse handlers. The carriage horse industry includes 68 carriages, 216 horses and 282 drivers, and is worth an estimated $15 million annually.

In the 17th century, Molly's ancestors were bred in France for use as war horses. Today, she and her Manhattan stable mates are saddling up for their own battle as their livelihood comes under threat by an electric car.

The area listed in real estate brochures as 'Clinton' or the 'Mid West' is better known as 'Hell's Kitchen', an industrial wasteland and once gritty bastion of poor Irish immigrants.

Infamous mobsters Mickey Spillane and the violent Westies gang roamed this very street.

Cornelius Byrne, the stable owner, surveys the building sites. The 67-yearold points to new construction sites in every direction. There's a new subway station, a 60-storey condo and the scaffold building adjoining his was bought by a representative for the king of Morocco. 'Years ago, people wouldn't walk in this neighbourhood and now they don't want me to walk in it any more, I think. I was born here, I want to stay here and it is mine and it's my wife's and it's my daughter's,' he says.

The area is now attracting a more gentrified crowd. Google has already moved in, and old pre-war brownstones don't fit into the new steel and glass narrative. The three-storey stables which is home to 50 horses was built in 1910.

It is situated on 37th street, a block north of Hudson Yards, a behemoth of a project that Fortune magazine called 'the largest real estate project in US history'. It is the biggest construction project in Manhattan since Rockefeller and, according to the developers, the former desolate industrial space by the Hudson River will be 'the new heart of New York city'.

The 28-acre site broke ground in December 2012 and, on completion, it will consist of 16 skyscrapers and more than 17 million square feet of 'commercial and residential unique cultural space', much of it built on top of the existing and active rail yard that gives the project its name.

Not far from the stable, on 11th Avenue, is the Javits convention centre, where preparations are under way for the annual New York Auto Show. Jeeps are being test-driven on a steep makeshift platform outside. …

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