Updated: Sep 8
It's nearly time for DownTime, a brand new festival of horse racing, music, and culture in Downpatrick. The event is the brainchild of a group of businesses in Downpatrick. Taking in the two day race meeting at Downpatrick Racecourse in June it is the perfect opportunity to explore the culture at the beating heart of County Down.
Did you know the first horse race in Ireland took place in 1685? Guess where - Downpatrick! The charter was issued back then by James II and is today shared with Down Royal. This intriguing part of the town's heritage is still celebrated in placenames like the Flying Horse, Arkle Park, Pegasus Walk ... the list goes on. Even the tale of Shergar had ties locally. One of the three pedigree racehorses, from which all racehorses can trace lineage, is the Byerley Turk. Captain Byerley won the Downpatrick Race on this charger in 1690 before going on to fight at the Battle of the Boyne!
In celebration of this fascinating story a new festival has been developed. The inaugural event has something for everyone including headline music acts and family events. I am delighted to throw a couple of walks into the mix!
The first walk will be on Friday 15th June in Downpatrick. This will begin with the greatest of Ireland's legends, Saint Patrick. Proceeding around the town we walk out to the Mound of Down, home to the Red Branch Knight, Celtair of the Battles.
The fate of the whole of Ulster was changed dramatically here in 1177 when John de Courcy arrived under cover of darkness. As we continue around the town, we go on to explore the history of crime and punishment in the county town.
Following this on Saturday 16th June in Ardglass, we explore what County Down was like when the first race was run in 1685. Believe it or not people were still inhabiting the six castles of Ardglass! Though not for long, as the village was abandoned in 1689.
Like a phoenix from the ashes, it was in 1806 that the village's fortunes changed when William Ogilvie put it back on the map. For the next 150 years the village was the place to be in the summer months. Walking around the town hear the tales of the interesting characters who called this place home. Tales of scandal and woe, straight from the pages of the diary of my own great-great-great-grandfather.