If you’ve been following this blog you’ll know that I’m fascinated by a beautiful area in Co. Meath called Dowth. This scenic setting is the backdrop to a novel I’ve written called December Girl which follows the life story of a girl born there at the end of the last 19th century. Parts of the story are based on truth, but what I haven’t wavered from is the setting itself, including the ancient tomb built there by sun worshipping stone age people, the lush green fields and surroundings to the tomb and two estate houses – Dowth Hall and Townley Hall.
Since I’ve written the novel I got to visit Dowth Hall as part of an open day – something I wasn’t expecting as it has never been open to the public before and it’s undergoing extensive refurbishment to bring it back to its former glory. Many parts of its decor and architecture are untouched since the 1700s and it has important heritage value for 18th century homes in Ireland – our guide told us that even in Dublin there are very few matching examples of the decor that is at Dowth.
I’d heard that there had been a race track at Dowth, opened as part of the social activities at the estate house in the 1700s. It was my brother who mentioned it to me, who is somewhat of an historical expert. It was only when I got to visit the house that I realised how significant this track actually was – a proper horse race track around Dowth that would have seen attracted hundreds to the race meets and enticed the horse set with big prize money and a great day out. It’s easy to forget what used to happen on our doorstep in the past when it is no longer visible to see.
I decided to change a hunt scene in my novel to a race track scene – simply to make it more authentic and I thought, interesting. We are used to thinking of horse racing at Navan or Leopardstown or Punchestown – but to have it at Dowth – across the fields from where we live – well it was something I needed to see, to believe.
And so, when I heard the Point to Point had been organised at Dowth, a throw back to the original race meets, I knew we would have to go to experience what our 18th and 19th century friends might have.
On the day itself, we were a little late getting to the track, (we work around naptimes) so we had missed the traffic build up going down the narrow roads to Dowth and got parked easily.
I had expected the track to be up nearer the house, but it was located right at the road, where the lodge house is and it made sense to me that I could see the track laid out in a large rectangle around a hilly field. White racing fences and jumps had been installed all around the track, through which the one mile driveway to the house cuts through.
It was fantastic to see it all laid out as previously I couldn’t picture how it would have looked at all.
Below I’ve pictured one of the races and if you look closely you can see one jockey being knocked to the ground. Being right up close to the horses was pretty scary – it seemed much rougher than what you witness on TV and I enjoyed imagining the excitement the races would have brought to the local community over the past centuries.
In the centre of the field were tents, set up with a shopping village, food stalls, children’s activities and a large bar with live band which we would have loved to have hung out at all day – but that’s one of the joys of parenting. (Toddlers don’t believe in sitting down quietly while Mammy and Daddy taste the local apple juice – no appreciation of culture at all!)
Here is our daughter August tasting some gorgeous honey from the Royal County Beekeeper’s Association. (She protested at first).
She loved the animals too, as well as the large inflatable slides, which were all free of charge to use.
After the races we bumped into some friends of ours and spent ages hanging out. That’s the great thing about local events – you’re bound to bump into someone you haven’t seen in ages and have a catch up. It was a fabulous Autumn day, sunny and warm, but because everything was in tents, the event was waterproof – something to bear in mind if you’re planning on attending next year and it’s lashing rain!
We had a lovely afternoon at the event. It was small enough to be able to get round everything quickly and not feel overwhelmed. The size meant that it was easy to meet with people and enjoy ourselves. And as our livewire toddler ran in all directions – we felt that it was safe as we could see her all the time. Being in the centre of things, while the horse racing went in a looped track around us meant we could get close to the action too.
If you are interested in learning more about the history of this track, there’s a detailed background linked here that is well worth a read.
You can also read my post on being inside Dowth Hall here.
As for me and the novel – as it’s finished now and going on submission soon, I’m hoping the race to the publishing post will be as exciting as the races we witnessed at Dowth. And no fallers. That would be truly something.
With thanks to Emer Lynch and Tamso Doyle for the tickets to his event, which was organised by Devenish Nutrition and the Brennan Family who own Dowth Hall and estate