The Grey Horse, by R.A. MacAvoy (1987, YA, although it was marketed as an adult book--there wasn't much fantasy marketed as YA per se back in the day, 247 pages)
Before the explosion of paranormal romances, before fairy lovers were as common as all get out, before the myths of Ireland had been written about and written about, there was The Grey Horse, by R.A. MacAvoy.
A hundred and thirty years or so ago, when the English ruled all of Ireland, an old man named Anrai met a grey horse on the hill. And Anrai, Irish through and through, was much taken with the animal, which was clearly a native born and bred, just like himself. When the horse offered him a ride, Anrai cast off common sense and mounted...and the grey horse took him for a wild race, over the hills and through the town, past its staring inhabitants:
"God to you, Anrai O Reachtaire!" called one of them, "I have the weaving your own Aine spoke for!" Anrai stared straight ahead of him with a face of forbidding majesty, and affected not to hear. One hand he carried clenched at the horse's withers, as though it held a rein of such fine and narrow leather it could not be seen from a distance, while with the other he fished in his waistcoat pocket and drew out his silver pocket watch, which he held in front of his face in a preoccupied, businesslike manner." (pp 8-9)
Clearly this is no ordinary horse. In fact, not a horse at all, but one of the other folk...Ruairi Mac Eibhir, who has come back to the mortal world to find a bride. But will the woman who has entered his dreams agree to his proposal? Maire Standon is no weak reed, to fall for fairy magic--she is is as strong and stalwart as a young tree, more than a match for any fairy foolery. To win her heart, Ruairi will need more than magic. He will need to prove himself by his actions in the human world.
And the world of Maire and Anrai and their families is not a happy one. The Troubles are at their height, and Ireland is a volatile powder keg of injustice. In the real world, real people are suffering, at a personal, homely scale as well as in the larger political realm. And Ruairi, the gray horse of Ireland, can only do so much...
This is a book with just tons of heart, and tons of magic made intimate and real through R.A. MacAvoy's loving and detailed world-building and people-building. If you like a. shapeshifters b. fairy lovers c. historical fiction about Ireland, in which ordinary people can do extraordinary things d. books about old couples, very much in love still, keeping their dignity in the face of fierce odds e. horses, or f. any combination of the above, find this book!
(although I really would have liked a bit more romance...there was lots of chemistry, but not quite enough, um...er...)
Apologetic end note: sorry I didn't put in the fadas on the names (that's the acute accent)--I don't know how...
Every Friday Angie at Angieville hosts Retro Friday, and I am have been meaning to write this one up and contribute it for ages! Yay for getting something off the mental to-do list.