All kinds of runners at Dundalk Racecourse

Name the venue. Arkle ran at it, and so, too, did Catherina McKiernan. Some of the country's longest-hitting hurlers were also there, and in August of this year, a greyhound by the name of Sycamore Dan, reckoned to be one of the fastest sprinters of all time, strutted his stuff in front of a huge crowd.

By Joe Carroll

Haven't got it yet? Another clue: At one time coursing greyhounds were brought there from far and wide to compete in, among other competitions, the Corn Cuchullain.

That's it, the racecourse at Dowdallshill on the outskirts of Dundalk. At one time isolated, accessible only by a narrow, winding road leading from the main Dublin to Belfast thoroughfare, the venue is now there for all who travel on the Inner-Relief Road to see. And that's thousands. This is an incredibly busy stretch of road, carrying a huge volume of traffic from both north and south. None of the travellers could help but glimpse the magnificent stand that now towers over the land that has over the years played host to a variety of sports.

While it's almost certain sportsmen hunted there with greyhounds away back when Adam was still is short trousers, and Cuchullain himself, perhaps, made his way down from the Cooleys to retrieve his sliotar after putting in a wayward one, horseracing was the first organised sport to take place at Marshes Upper, or The Mash, as an older generation of local sportspeople would know the venue.
It was in the late 1880s that the first meeting was staged, and racing - National Hunt and Flat - continued up until a few years ago. All the leading trainers down through the years had runners at the venue, and some great racehorses covered the ten furlong circuit. Limestone Lad contested a long-distance hurdle at a meeting transferred from Tipperary, and shortly after winning the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, For Auction represented trainer Michael Cunningham.

However, without doubt the greatest ever to cover the green sward was Arkle. Not only was Tom Dreaper's charge the best to run at Dundalk, he was voted by readers of the Racing Post as the best to have run anywhere. The three-times winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup was simply awesome, and it was in the early part of his career that he competed at Dowdallshill.

There's been no racing since 2002, but that could be about to change - and in a most spectacular fashion.

As this piece is being put together, it's not known if the authorities are going ahead with the long-promised all-weather racing. If they do go with this new concept in Irish racing, it is odds-on it being unveiled at Dowdallshill.

While other applicants have been lukewarm in their approach, Dundalk has been nothing less than ultra-positive, and the nod from the higher echelons would be nothing more than those who have been most active in making the track's case deserve.

But even if things don't work out as Jim Martin and his colleagues hope, it's almost certain racing of the traditional kind will return. Huge developments have taken place on the 180-acre site in recent times, but there's still room for a track capable of staging the type of racing that was there for over a century.

Not least significant among those developments has been the building a new greyhound track. This is what the venue has been all about over the past year. It was constructed to replace the old track at The Ramparts, closed in the latter part of 2000, and in a short time has proven itself an outstanding success. The number of people going through the turnstiles is way above what had been anticipated; the restaurant and bars are being heavily patronised, and such has been the demand from owners and trainers for races for their greyhounds, the decision to add a third night's racing soon after the venue opened was inevitable.

There have been quite a few highlights on the track. The Kerry dog, Tomsheaboy, was an outstanding winner of the Boylesports International on July 12th, and a little over a month later, Sycamore Dan, Cork-owned but trained in Gyles Quay by Larry Dunne, crowned an outstanding campaign by winning the Bar One Racing Irish Sprint Cup final in record time.

Greyhounds that would go on to greater things also competed at the track. One of the supporting races on July 12th was won by Mineola Farloe, who was outstanding in the Laurels at Cork, and among the County Tyrone-owned dog's victims was none other than Like A Shot, who stormed to a wonderful win for trainer, Owen McKenna, in the final of the Paddy Power Irish Derby
It doesn't end at that, either. One of those in Like A Shot's wake at Shelbourne Park was Droopy's Marco, who was a beaten finalist in a puppy competition at Dowdallshill back in March. All of which clearly indicates how quickly the new track has established itself.

Catherina McKiernan didn't go quite as fast as Sycamore Dan at the beginning of the year. But then, the girl from Cavan's Cornafean, one of the country's greatest-ever athletes, had much further than 410 yards to run!

She was competing at the Ras na hEireann meeting, the first to be held away from its spiritual home in Dunleer, and looking as relaxed as ever powered her way over a course similar to the one over which the horses used run for the easiest of victories. There was a broad smile on her face as she acknowledged the big crowd's cheers on what was her final outing on Louth soil.

Back in early October, Catherina announced her retirement, bringing to and end a glittering career that included wins in the London and Amsterdam Marathons - both in the same year - and the runner-up spot in four World Cross-Country Championships. She also won the Gold medal at the inaugural European Cross-Country Championships, ten years ago.

The Ras meeting wasn't the first of its kind to be staged at the racecourse. BLE held their All-Ireland Championships there, and back in the first half of the last century, O'Callaghan's Mills, the famous County Clare team, won the All-Ireland Club Championships at the venue.

The Cooley Mountains provide a beautiful backdrop to the venue, and it's there where Poc Fada na hEireann has been held over the years. However, for quite a few months in 2001 Slieve Foy, Annaverna and the other heights necklaced from Carlingford across to the Louth border with Armagh were part of a no-go area.

The foot-and-mouth crisis put a major restriction on sport, and one of the events affected was the Poc Fada. A venue away from Annaverna had to be found if the tradition was to be maintained, and while it was accepted it would present contestants with obstacles considerably easier than those on the mountain, the organisers were happy to pitch their tent on the racecourse.

Prior to moving to Dromiskin in 1971, Dundalk & Dowdallshill Coursing Club held its meeting at the racecourse. Indeed, the greyhounds ran on the ground on which the new track is built, the only difference being, of course, that they chased a live lure and ran in only one direction.

The famous Corn Cuchullain was first competed for in 1948, and the records show that three members of the Kerley family, whose links with the greyhound game go back to the birth of racing in town, have nominated the winner of the all-aged event. Michael, senior, was successful on three occasions, twice when the competition was run at Dowdallshill, and after that his wife, Patricia, won in 1979 and '88. Mrs Kerley's son, Michael, completed the hat-trick in 1999, and has since been associated with another winner.

No football at the Mash, but there are fields close by where games were played. Dowdallshill played home matches just across the road from the track prior to moving to St Brigid's Park in the late 1960s, and it would have been somewhere near as well where Fort Rangers, a breakway from the Dowdallshill, entertained visitors in a short existence.

There's no doubt that the venue where the greyhounds run three nights a week has had a brilliant past - but it may be there's even better to come.

Taken from Wee County 2004