Newport Polo is the home of America’s first polo club, the Westchester Polo Club founded in 1876. Founder, Dan Keating had the desire and vision to make Newport the premier polo epicenter of New England in 1992. Knowing that success would depend on the quality of the game, Keating sent out modest invitations to various national governing bodies of polo across the globe to compete at his newly restored Newport Polo Grounds, which at the time was an entirely new concept in polo. Our friends across the pond, Ireland were the first to answer the call and have been an immense fan favorite ever since, opening the floodgates to 35 other international teams since.
“Polo is an international sport, played in over 80 countries around the globe,” stated Dan Keating, captain of the USA squad. “we are honored to have teams traveling great distances to play in Newport.”
Newport County and the Irish have had a long-storied connection since the inception of the city. From 1639 when the City of Newport was established, the Irish have immigrated and helped transform Newport into the bustling seaport destination it is today. Long regarded as a traditional Irish neighborhood, The Fifth Ward is the finishing line for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade since 1965 and Irish flags still adorn nearly every home in the neighborhood throughout the year.
Polo found its Irish home in Dublin in 1873, at one time reaching a peak of 30 clubs during its pre-war heyday, but still maintains a strong presence with 8 active clubs today. President of Polo Wicklow Club, Michael Herbst, jumped at the opportunity to compete at Newport Polo as he was also building a new polo club, and the rest has become the lure of polo legend. Today, Herbst’s daughter, Siobhan carries on the tradition and has been a Newport Polo fan favorite player since 2000 and proud captain of the team since 2002.
Since Siobhan Herbst took the reins, Ireland has hoisted the Irish Perpetual Cup at the Veuve Clicquot Champagne Toast 11 times to USA’s 8. A historic log of players, ponies, and scores can be viewed here. Whilst the competition on BD Field is bitter; the bond off the field could not be sweeter. Many team dinners at the iconic Clarke Cooke House have been shared, with stories and memories gleefully exchanged over a Guiness or two. 2023 was no exception as Herbst’s clan joined USA to parade to the annual dinner at the Cooke House on their ponies through Downtown Newport passing through an enthusiastic holiday crowd!
Despite a cold opponent, Ireland is a warm host. USA has made a dozen overseas campaigns during the off-season to compete at Polo Wicklow Club, Ireland’s premier arena polo center, often as guests of honor in festive New Year’s Eve celebrations. A best-of-3 series would play out across a string of days with dizzying itinieraries to local attractions, historic sites, pub crawls, fox hunts, castle dinners, film studio tours, polar bear plunges, and welcome lodging in many private homes of the Irish polo community. Earlier this year – for Polo Wicklow’s 30th anniversary – Newport brought along its Polo Passport film crew to create its next episode in the docuseries with another fairytale tour that encompassed clashes in the arena, and black tie celebrations amidst days and nights making new lifetime memories. No matter which side of the Atlantic, Ireland and USA’s polo unity is as rock solid as Kilkenny Castle.
The tradition will continue with the 2024 Newport Polo International Series on July 6th for the 33rd season. Always a busy holiday weekend, the team from the Emerald Isle will draw thousands of polo fans and Irish supporters again congregating at the Newport Polo Grounds from throughout the country. In the meantime, we can all hold on to the fond memories created by brotherly teams and count down the days until next summer for the ensuing episode of USA vs. Ireland in the City-by-the-Sea. As the Celtics say, “There are good ships and there are wood ships, ships that sail the sea, But the best ships are friendship, May they always be.” Sláinte to Ireland!