Feature: Would you sell your best friend?

72 year-old John and his horse, Billy.

72 year-old John and his horse, Billy.

In light of the recent viral video “No Plan” which depicts the positive side of life in south inner city Dublin, we went on a search to find even more out about the area it depicts. One person in particular who stood out for bringing radiance to the Liberties with his involvement in the stables on Molyneux Lane (otherwise known as Keeler’s Stables) was John Behan.


Seventy-two year old John began working here four years ago when his passion for horses led him to one of Dublin inner-city’s oldest and world-renowned stables.


John happily welcomed us in, excusing the dusty state of the stables.But we soon discovered that the dust and cobwebs hid a deep rooted history that goes back more than 100 years. Although John couldn’t recall the founder’s name, he was able to show us the abundance of photos that hung proudly on the stable walls. A laminated photo of the founder, a regal ex-soldier on a proud horse, hung proudly next to a framed picture of Bob Marley.  


Although John has only worked in the stables for a few years, his passion and love for horses came from a young age, and he has owned and trained horses for the past sixty years. His one and only horse, Billy, who is nearly seven, was reared by John from when he was only a foal. He stands over seven foot tall, with a thick luscious brown mane that is complimented by his thick white and brown well groomed coat.


“Everyday I come down and clean the stables, give them a feed and groom them. Look at him he has gorgeous coat under that blanket!” Although life in the stables “can be quiet” and relatively inexpensive, it’s a hobby that requires passion and dedication. John visits the stables every morning at eight until the afternoon. “I’d rather have Billy than go to the pub.” he said laughing. “[The horses are] my first thought in the morning and the last thought before I go to sleep”.


The stables are world famous and attract international visitors from America to see exactly how these horses are trained. John has had many offers from eagle-eyed foreign buyers trying to buy Billy for up to €25,000. However John had a simple yet polite reason to decline that offer.


“I stopped him raising his offers and I asked him, ‘would you sell your best friend?’ And with that he said fair enough and shook our hands.”


Not only does it attract foreign buyers, it also attracts interest from TV and film stations such as BBC, RTE, TV3. “They love how we don’t paint or clear the cobwebs. It really shows how much history the stables have.”  


But you can’t seem to beat coming to inner-city Dublin. When asked on whether he would rather have a big stable in the country or his current stable in Molyneux Lane, John had a well thought-out reply. “Fair enough, there would be more space in the country but who would see me? I get my photo taken 100 times a day and get to chat to all sorts of people. Three years ago I got a phone call off a friend who was in America in a pub and a man he worked with over there showed him a picture he had taken with me on his holidays not knowing that it was my friend he was showing. I’ve gone worldwide famous.”


One of the most brilliant aspects of being around horses is the powerful impact it has on mental health. “It’s my hobby and a great stress relief…it is great therapy (for those) who suffer from stress.”


The stables benefit the community in many other ways. It has even educated people who have never engaged with (or some never seen) horses. “You wouldn’t believe how many people have never seen a horse in real life never mind petting one. Some of the kids wonder why I never shout at the horses even when they’re being bold but I teach them that you’ve to be consistently calm with the horses. This lets them know not to be scared of you and it builds up trust.”


After thanking John for his time and the lovely chat we had, we left the stables and noticed when we were walking away how small and hidden it really was. A stable so enriched in history and community involvement was just tucked away in the middle of a bustling city. Yet they are world famous for the way they train and look after the horses. Keeler’s Stables are a haven for horse lovers in a place you’d least expect it, and was best described by John who said: “You wouldn’t see it anywhere in the world.”

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