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A snippet from my volunteer work on the ‘Dedicated Naturalist’ Project, helping to decipher and digitise, record and publicise the life’s work of naturalist extraordinaire, Dr Mary Gillham.

Thanks in part to the slide-perusing efforts of one of our most fervent supporters and advisory board member, Catherine Duigan of Natural Resources Wales, we have come to realise that Mary Gillham was a sucker for donkeys.

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Catherine is Irish and has been blogging, on her own blog and for the Mary Gillham Archive Project website, about Mary’s adventures in Ireland, where the donkey still played a vital part in industry and transportation, especially in the more rural areas and on the Irish islands Mary visited.

In her book This Island Life: Discovering Britain’s Offshore Gems (Halsgrove, 2007, p.20), Mary writes about the use of horse- and donkey-power on Cape Clear Island, County Cork:

Most ploughing, and certainly harrowing, and lighter jobs, were dependent on horse power. Horse, donkey and mule might be teamed together to pull the heavier implements and we also encountered the less usual hinny, the sire a horse stallion and the dam a mare donkey, jennet or jenny. This is the opposite cross to the one producing a mule.

You’ll find some delightful reproductions of Mary’s donkey slides in Catherine’s blogs (here and here) but I couldn’t resist hunting out a few more. They capture a wonderful slice of local Irish life which, I imagine, has now mostly disappeared so Mary’s archival records are helping to preserve these important and thoroughly charming aspects of Irish cultural and social history. 

For the full story about the Mary Gillham Archive Project, check out our website, https://marygillhamarchiveproject.wordpress.com/  and follow our progress on Facebook and on Twitter.

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