Where They Live - Dianna Dennis '77 - Athenry, Ireland (A series about alumnae/i who live off the well-beaten path)
a cool and drizzly spring day at Templemoyle Lodge, and Dianna Dennis '77 is finishing up an afternoon ride on Purcey, one of eight Irish Sport Horses she raises on her 27-acre farm. A cross between the Irish Draught and the Thoroughbred, the breed is a common sight at Irish equestrian events, including Dennis's favorite, the annual international Dublin Horse Show. Today's ride has taken horse and rider all over the acreage, across brilliant green rolling hills sparsely dotted with trees and shrubs, along marshy bog land and around two ponds. Wooden fences run along the driveway to the road, while pastures are contained by older, stone walls and wide ditches.
Dennis's farm includes a large sand arena, stables and a quaint, 50-year-old, black-shuttered cob cottage. In this mild, moist climate where Wellington boots are normal farmers' garb, flowers bloom almost year 'round. Purple crocuses and yellow daffodils pop up in early February, marking the official start of spring, while wild fuchsia graces roadside hedges, and fragrant garden roses bloom throughout spring and summer.
Originally from central New Jersey, Dennis attended a boarding school in Massachusetts before enrolling at Sarah Lawrence. After a number of career and life changes, she at last heeded the urgings of friends and paid a visit to Ireland. "I bought a couple of horses, looked around, liked what I saw, and decided that maybe I should just stay for a year and write."
That was six years ago. Living in County Galway on Ireland's west coast suits Dennis in just about every way possible. It's a place where she can pursue dual careers in writing and composing while also pursuing her passion for horses. "Many, many people in Ireland ride or at least breed a few mares," she observes. Blending her love for horses with her writing, Dennis has co-authored two books on horses, a logical outgrowth of years of writing for equestrian magazines. She also writes poetry and has completed a novel.
And she's a composer, too. Dennis's musical pieces-mostly choral-have been performed worldwide by string quartets and symphony orchestras from Princeton to Taiwan. In her (very limited) free time, Dennis enjoys dropping by the local pub to join the traditional music sessions. Adding her rhythm guitar to fiddle, pipe, flute, bodhrán drum, bouzouki and Irish banjo, Dennis follows along, enjoying the loose and jovial mood in which people just step up and join in. Sometimes, she says, people dance. "When they do, they are incredible. Think Riverdance in a pub!"
Dennis's farm is located five miles outside of Athenry, a walled city founded in 1235 containing more numerous and well-preserved medieval monuments than any other location in Ireland. In the summer, Athenry is home to the Fields of Athenry Celtic Festival and the annual Medieval Festival. Fifteen minutes down the road, Galway City-Europe's fastest growing city-is home to the National University of Ireland, Galway. The city hosts the annual Cruinniú na mBád-Gathering of the Boats-Festival, where people race Galway hookers, visually striking, three-sailed, 18th century fishing boats designed specifically for the wild and unpredictable waters off Galway's coast. At the Galway Oyster Festival, a million native oysters are consumed each September, marking the start of the annual oyster season, which runs through April.
Although Ireland, with a population of just 4 million, is largely an English-speaking country, many people in Galway speak Gaelic, which natives simply call "Irish." Upon discovering that she is American, it's not unusual for people to ask Dennis if she knows their cousin or friend in California, Chicago or New York, a question she always finds amusing. But more than anything else, she is enamored of the region's small-town outlook on the world. In writing and riding circles especially, "everyone knows everyone," she says. "It's that feeling of neighbors and community that I return to and love. It feels like home."