kinds of runners at Dundalk Racecourse
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
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
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
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