From time immemorial the race-course at Bomore, or Bowmore, was the popular venue for equestrian sport in County Sligo. The Horseshoe shaped seaside arena at Rosses Point was an ideal location for the Sport of Kings. It was a flat expanse, with a good springy sod and, from a spectator's point of view, had the added advantage of being equipped with a natural grandstand in the form of a steep hill, which overlooked the vast expanse of Bowmore from the south-east. From that vantage point the assembled throngs could view the entire course with ease and, at the same time, enjoy the scenic surroundings.
Bowmore was the scene of many a hard fought contest when horse racing was the leading national pastime. If half the stories of the sport which took place on this race-course are true, wrote a 19th century commentator, then the stamina of the horses and the horse racing zeal of their, owners and riders were of a type which have few if any parallels in our modern style of racing. By all accounts, there were giants in those days - giant horses and giant owners and more than plucky riders. The deeds of the O'Haras, the Ormsbys, the Phibbses, the Kellys and a host of others, were the subject of 'hair-raising' stories of 'meets' that often lasted for a week, with the final 'heat' sometimes being run-off by torchlight.
The earliest recorded race meeting at Bowmore took place in September 1781. It was a 4-day festival of racing over a 3-mile Course with the stakes totaling 200 Guineas. Successful owners at that autumn meeting over two centuries ago included the Ormsby's Nicholas and William; William Fenton; William Spence and Sir Booth Gore. The next meeting, of which details have survived, took place in October, 1790. It was 5-day event and a number of races were sponsored, amongst others by Freemason Lodge No. 530; by Charles O'Hara of Annaghmore and Joshua Cooper of Markaree - the latter for a real hunter, not 14 feet, and ridden by a gentleman.
The Sligo Races of September, 1793, were, according to the 'Sligo Journal', attended by the beauty and fashion of the County. Amongst the successful owners were Ormsby Jones, Nicholas Ormsby, James Wood and Jeremiah Fury. The programme for the final day consisted of 2-mile heats for 4 and 5 year olds and the prize money of 50 guineas was sponsored by the Ladies of County Sligo. Although annual meetings were somewhat irregular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, that of October, 1809, was the most ambitious to date. It was a 6-day event and attracted good fields as well as a large following of enthusiastic race-goers to Bowmore. The runners in one race were confined to hunters, absolutely the property of resident inhabitants of County Sligo, and ridden by gentlemen. There was another 6-day meeting in September, 1813, at which the Freemasons of the County sponsored a race confined to horses the property of Masons. The subsequent issue of the Irish Racing Calendar listed the stewards as Thomas Soden, Nicholas Ormsby, Col. William Neynoe, Robert Gore, Harloe Phibbs and Ambrose Soden. In 1814 the Committee of the Sligo Races, consisting of Nicholas Ormsby Furey, Richard Phibbs, John Phibbs and Richard Phibbs Irwin, fixed the meeting for August- so as to give the race horses time to travel to Bellewstown, Derry and Monaghan and then onto Sligo.
A week before the Races the 'Journal' reported that a 'Stand House' had been completed to the satisfaction of the organisers and that admission to same would cost one pound for three for the week, or 7/6d for individuals. The single daily rate was 1/6d. A band was also being engaged to entertain the crowds at intervals between the races. The social side not overlooked. A Ball and Supper was being arranged for The Linenhall, Corkran's Mall on Tuesday and Friday nights. Admission was 10/- for Gents and 7/6d for Ladies. It was also anticipated that a number of the best horses at the late Curragh meeting would be running at Bowmore.
'Private' or 'Confined' races between individual owners, usually members of the Gentry, were fairly common in the opening decades of the last century. Two such events took place at Bowmore in June, 1823. The annual race for the Co. Sligo Cup between Arthur Irwin's Nicholson, Captain Ormsby's mare and Captain Ellwood's Sunflower, was followed a few days later by a contest between a mare, owned by Arthur Irwin of Oakfield and a horse the property of his kinsman, Captain Irwin of Camlin, Boyle. In 1829 two 'private' meetings took place. On February 16th. there was a race between Sherlock's Paul Fry and Thomas Mac Dermott's Barney Boy for 100 Sovereigns. In the following June the 'Sligo Observer' carried news of a 2-horse race between Captain Villeboy's mare and Irwin of Camlin's horse for a private bet of 150 sovereigns. Before the off; odds of 10 to 1 were being offered on Irwin's thoroughbred. The first heat was won rather easily by the mare, ridden by her owner, but Irwin's jockey challenged the bet on the grounds that the racing laws had been infringed. The race was re-run but the outcome was the same. Further objections that Irwin's horse had been impeded as he approached the winning post were overruled by the stewards. Still unconvinced that justice was done, Irwin challenged the Captain for a race over a specified distance on high ground for 10 pounds aside. The challenge was readily accepted and Villeboy's mare triumphed for the third time.
Alter a lapse of a few years Sligo Races were revived in 1829 with a 2-day meeting which was well supported despite the inclement weather. The racing was up to expectations, with Thompson's Knockadoo, Hunter's High Priest, Ormsby's Priestess, French's Hurler, Caffrey's Fitzemily and Mac Dermott's Salem sharing the prize money. The revival continued in 1830 when a varied 4-day programme was run-off in September. The 'Journal' was loud in its praise for the work of the organisers and hoped that it would become an annual event:- We are delighted to find that a respectable meeting is about to take place at Bowmore next week. Some fine horses are already on the training ground... Much credit is due to the Gentlemen who have interested themselves in getting up this meeting, and we are happy to see the name of that splendid young Baronet, Sir Robert Gore-Booth heading the Subscriber's list... Now that the heat of the contested Election is over, we feel confident that the people will bury all party opinions and feelings in oblivion and suffer nothing during the Meeting but good order, good fellowship and a love of sport to predominate...
The local 'Observer' looked forward to the biggest sporting event Sligo had ever witnessed, and predicted that at least fifteen first-rate horses would be competing. It also expressed the hope that 'party feuds' would not interrupt either the spirit or the harmony that should prevail on such occasions:- We make the remark because we have heard, with regret, that the friends of the persons who were so much and so wantingly maltreated by the Orange Party after the late election, have it in contemplation to retaliate at the Races. Such, at least, is the rumour, we do not, however, believe it.
The Sligo Races of 1830 attracted record attendances to the popular Bowmore course. Highlights of the meeting were the Hunter's Stakes, the Farmer's Race and the Nimrod Cup. The latter was won by William Kelly of Camphill, riding his own horse, Master Kean. There were also Sweepstakes and 'Hack' Races run-off daily. The prize-fund totalled 150 guineas and all the heats, without exception, attracted good fields. Race goers who had subscribed a minimum of one pound were allowed free entrance, while the carriages of non-subscribers were charged 10 shillings a day for admission to the course. The local Gentry were prominent amongst the successful owners - Barrett, Phibbs, Ormsby, Cooper, Taaffe and MacDonnell of Doocastle.
An otherwise highly successful meeting was disrupted when a small section of the crowd rioted on the evening of the second day. The trouble had its origins, as predicted, in incidents that had occurred a month earlier in the course of the County Election, when, what was described as 'Orange v Catholic issues' dominated the debate and passions ran high. At the height of the melee shouts of 'King For Ever' and 'French Forever' echoed over the flatlands of Bowmore and had the effect of rekindling dormant passions to such an extent that the police had to fire live rounds over the heads of the belligerents in an effort to gain control of the situation and restore order. The 'confrontation' resulted in the ring-leaders being taken before the Provost's Court and punished accordingly.
Arising from the trouble at the 1830 meeting and the generally unsettled state of the County, the Sligo Races were suspended indefinitely. However, 'private' meetings continued to be held. A contest between Beatty's Colonel, ridden by Irwin, and Phibbs' Sir William, with the owner in the saddle, was run at Bowmore on October 22nd., 1832, with stakes of 50 sovereigns aside. The heats were over a 2-mile course and the runners, carrying 13 stone apiece, were required to jump four five-and-a-half-foot walls in each round. In the opening heat both animals balked at the first hurdle. Second time round the 'Colonel' cleared all the obstacles in style while Sir William failed to negotiate even the first jump. A few months earlier, in May, 1832, Weldon a celebrated London tailor, well known to several Gentlemen of the County, presented the sporting Gentry of Sligo with a Cup, valued at 50 Guineas, to be competed for annually by horses whose owners were resident in the area. Tentative plans to run-off a meeting in September of that year had to be abandoned with the arrival of the much dreaded cholera which raged in the vicinity of Sligo from late August until October, 1832.
In May, 1834, the 'Journal' reported that moves were afoot to revive Sligo Races and thereby help to enliven the scene. Nothing came of their efforts then, but in May of the following year an Advertisement in the local press announced that Sligo Races would take place from Monday to Wednesday, August 10th - 12th, and that there would also be Sweepstakes and 'Hack' races. The Stewards were named as the Hon. Robert King, John Martin MP, John Ormsby, Jeremy Jones and William Treacy. The Weldon Cup, a hurdle event over two and a quarter miles, opened the meeting and aroused great interest. After two well contested heats, William Kelly of Camphill, riding his own Master Kean, became the first winner of the new trophy, much to the delight of his big following. As he passed the 'stand' in the final heat he is said to have shouted aloud: Here comes Kelly of Camphill, who doesn't sup broth on Fridays.
The runners-up were Samuel Barrett's Grinder and William Phibbs' Sir William. In the Hunter Stakes the result was reversed when Sir William beat Kelly's' ride by a short length. Overall, it was judged a successful meeting but the behavior of a small section of the attendance on the opening day gave rise to some concern, as reported in the 'Journal':- Never did we see the Races better or more fashionably attended... All went off smoothly with the exception of parties from Maugherow and Coolera who showed every disposition to riot and, were it not for the promptness of the military and the police who were in attendance, we are certain that serious consequences would have ensued.
The Race Meeting in August, 1836, was the most successful to date. The 3-day event culminated with a Hunt Ball in the Nelson Hotel on Friday, August 12th, under the patronage of Messrs King, Ormsby and Neynoe. The atmosphere and general gaiety of the occasion was graphically described in the local newspapers.
From an early hour until noon on the opening day race goers were on the move in large numbers - some hiring vehicles, others packing-up provisions, while the anxious mother and wife were preparing suitable costumes for their 'darlings' It looked as if the whole population of the Town was on the move towards the Point.
There was not a vehicle in all Sligo that was not in requisition from the elegant gig down to the humble tray. Bowmore was described as an animating, gay and romantic scene... The sun shone brightly and the Bay was full of boats and small yachts. The principal gentry, amongst whom were Edward Joshua Cooper, M.P.; John Martin, M.P. and the Hon. Mr and Mrs. King, had arrived on the course shortly after noon on the opening day. By two o'clock various social groups were regaling themselves on the sand and sod- some enjoying better fare than their humble neighbours, while ballad singers moved through the throngs bellowing in most inharmonious tones the exploits of Erin's sons and daughters.
The meeting produced three good days of sport. The Weldon Cup, to which the Stewards added 25 pounds, was won for the second year running by William Kelly, described as a popular favourite with the crowds. He rode his own horse, Irishman, to victory in an exciting climax, beating Barretts' Grinder and Phibbs' Sir William. Kelly's great feat of jumping - he cleared the last hurdle like a fawn, was one of the highlights of the meeting. The shouts of the crowd - Kelly For Ever was deafening. There was a noticeable warmness and depth of feeling in their applause which proved him to be a very great favourite with all present. The Sweepstakes were won in fine style by Somers' horse, Hotspur. The final day of the meeting concluded with a 'private' race between Kelly's Langar and Brannick's Bonnet, which was won easily by the spirited horseman from Camphill.
There were two other race meetings at Bowmore in 1836. On Wednesday, August 3rd, heats for the Bonasus Cup, donated by E.J. Cooper of Markree, were run-off, and attracted most of the 'respectability' of Sligo. Although there was a good field, the racing was not up to expectations as most of the horses were described as 'untried'. The winner was Bryan Furey's Adelaide, with Cooper's bay colt, Transit, Homan's Calry Boy, and Phibbs' Mountaineer, runners-up in that order. A private race on Monday, September 12th, between Captain Peyton's Maid of the Hill and James McTernan's chestnut horse from Heapstown, Fitz-Allen, attracted a big following, including a representative number of local gentry, to Bowmore. The Stakes were in the region of 60 pounds aside and both contestants were well supported by the punters. Fitz-Allen narrowly shaded the first heat but in the second Peyton's mare won with a few lengths to spare. A 'Hack' Race followed and the day's sport ended with a Supper and Ball in the Nelson Hotel.
Owing to Parliamentary Elections and the generally disturbed state of the County there were no races in 1837. The next meeting of which we have knowledge took place in September, 1840, when a 2-day meet took place, not at Bowmore, but on Drumcliffe Strand. The reason for the change was that E.J. Cooper, owner of the Rosses Point course, refused to make it available, presumably because he feared that the occasion would be marred by disturbances.
Although the weather was most unkind, the meeting at Drumcliffe went off successfully and without any trouble. Harmony and good humour pervaded the entire concourse and not a single drunken or disorderly person could be seen, commented the 'Champion'. We trust that in future those influential persons who were wont to originate and sustain amusements, will be relieved of those reasons which caused them to withdraw their support... Mr Cooper has been taught a lesson, the people of Sligo can do without the Bowmore course... The 'Journal' was loud in its praise of the quiet and peaceful demeanour of the people. The early hour at which they separated affords proof of the beneficial working of the Temperance Movement.
The Sligo Races of 1841 were not without controversy. Advertised as a 3-day event to be run between September 13-15th on the Strand at Rosses Point, the programme consisted of the Tradesman Cup; the Hunter's Sweepstakes, the Borough Stakes and the Club Stakes, together with a variety of Consolation Races. When the meeting came off, however, the race venue was switched to the old grass course at Bowmore presumably without the consent or permission of the owner, E.J. Cooper. While the attendances were up to expectations and the weather favourable, the runners were not as good as on former occasions when Bowmore was at its high and palmy state. To make matters worse the meeting was: spoiled by disturbances and disgraceful outrages. Intemperance had reared its ugly head again and spoiled what was otherwise a sporting and jovial occasion.
There was no race meeting in 1842. On August 25th, 1843, an Advertisement was published giving details of a 2-day meeting at Bowmore in September, which, in addition to the usual feature events, promised a great variety of 'Hack' Races, Boat Races and Other Amusements. The Organising Secretaries were named as Thomas Phibbs of Heathfield and William Kelly of Camphill. Two weeks later, a Public Notice, signed by Kelly and Phibbs, appeared in the local newspapers and read as follows:
From certain information we have received, we consider it prudent and advisable to postpone the Bowmore Races for this season.
Although disappointed by this unexpected development, the 'Champion' felt obliged to approve in the light of information at its disposal:- It is now a matter of notoriety that there are paid emissaries in the Country whose duty it is to attend at all public assemblages with a view to create rioting and encourage anew the habits of intemperance.
Unaware of or otherwise ignoring the cancellation notice, a sizable crowd turned up at Bowmore on the dates originally advertised only to find a handful of runners and no stewards. After a delay of some hours two horses lined up for the Tradesman's Cup race. On the second day no runners turned up for the Gold Whip event and, consequently, there was no race. Understandably, there was widespread disappointment and not a little indignation at this turn of events. Many questioned the wisdom of planning such a meeting in view of the riotous behaviour witnessed at 'private' races earlier in the season.
Notwithstanding the shambles created by the cancellation of the 1843 Races, a 2-day meeting was advertised for Bowmore in September, 1844. The Stewards, pro tem, were Cuthbt. Colquohoun and Michael Gethin. The Races took place on September 24th and 25th and, according to the 'Champion', the whole proceedings were such as to give the highest satisfaction to every lover of the turf... The several races were well attended and nothing could exceed the good order and regularity that pervaded at the meeting.
Moves to re-establish Sligo Races to their former status were afoot in 1846. Edward Joshua Cooper, as Proprietor of Bowmore, was urged to interest himself in the revival, especially as the County was in a much quieter state. Nothing came of these efforts. Ten years later, in March 1856, a correspondent in the 'Champion', writing under the pseudonym 'Sportsman', exhorted all interested parties to come together and revive the Races. He also suggested that the holder of the Gold Cup, donated some years earlier by Mrs. Gore, mother of Major Ormsby-Gore, and which had not been won outright, should come forward and make it available again for competition. Again there were no developments. Eight years later, in September, 1864, an anonymous correspondent bemoaned the fact that the glories of Bowmore appeared to have gone forever, and appealed to those gentlemen with the necessary knowledge and leadership to come forward and take the affairs in hands.
Sligo race-goers are to be seen at meetings all over the country, yet, one of the finest courses in Ireland lies idle at their doorstep.
In May, 1871, the 'Chronicle' reported that arrangements were under way for a race meeting at Bowmore after a lapse of some thirty years. The Sligo Races were as celebrated as those of Chester, it remarked, and the racing men of Ireland attended in big numbers. The anticipated revival did not materialise then, but two successful Steeplechases at Kilross, on the lands of Charles Beatty, one in March, 1870, and the other the following year, heralded a revival of the sport in the County. Both meetings attracted large attendances, were trouble free and said to be almost as successful as Bowmore some years ago.
Alluding to the various efforts to revive the annual race meeting, the 'Chronicle' in March, 1873, suggested that Sligo, with its large class of sporting Gentry, should have no difficulty in getting a suitable course in the vicinity of the Town and holding a successful reunion. Two weeks later it carried the news that John Wynne of Hazelwood had offered the use of his lands at Percymount, as a venue for the revived meeting which was being arranged for April of that year. There was a good response to an appeal for subscriptions, and, in a matter of weeks, over 150 pounds had been subscribed, with Denis M. O'Connor, M.P. for Co. Sligo, heading the list with 10 Guineas. The Midland & Great Western Railway donated a 25 pounds plate as well as providing free transport for horses competing at the meeting. According to those competent to judge, the Hazelwood course was classed as most suitable - a better course there is not in all Ireland ... and for those with an eye for beauty, the scenery is unrivalled. The course itself was described as a level circle traversing the base of rising ground, and to reach the winning post horses had to complete almost two circuits.
The first meeting at Hazelwood took place on Wednesday, April 16th 1873. There were five races on the card, all run under the rules of the Irish National Steeplechase. There was an average of eight horses in each event but most interest centered on the Sligo Steeplechase, the Hazelwood Hunt Plate and the Midland & Great Western Plate. Stewards for the meeting included Captain Owen Wynne, James O'Connor, Charles Anderson, T.C. Alexander Lyons, Bernard Owen Cogan and Thomas Phibbs. The posts of Starter and Judge were held by Captain C.B. Wynne and Christopher L'Estrange, respectively. Admission to the enclosure was 2/6d. The first race was scheduled to start at 1.00 pm but long before the appointed time a large crowd had assembled in anticipation of a great day's sport in favourable weather conditions. The scene in Sligo on the morning of the Races was thus described by the 'Champion':- Unusual activity prevailed in the Town from an early hour and rapidly and continuously visitors from all parts of the County and adjoining areas began to arrive. As the morning progressed the number increased and a cavalcade of vehicles of every available kind, horsemen and those who, from necessity, went on foot, moved to the race course... From all parts of the country contingents poured in and everywhere the most boisterous yet inoffensive good humour was manifested by the crowds... At 12 noon all business establishments closed and shortly afterwards the road from Sligo was thronged. Vehicles were moving at a slow rate, for the crowds of foot passengers rendered anything like a trot impossible. Carts fully laden with human freight, drawn by horses and donkeys, moved along in the procession quite as independently as the jaunting car or wagonette drawn by a pair.
By all accounts, it was a most successful meeting- an enthusiastic crowd, highly competitive races and no disturbances of any type to cast a shadow over the proceedings.
In advance of the 1875 meeting two temporary 'Grand Stands' were erected and a carriage enclosure provided, both positioned at the most advantageous location on the course. Contrary to expectations, subscriptions fell short of target, and with expenses expected to reach the 300 pounds mark, it was feared that the Committee, consisting of James O'Connor, Maurice Conroy, William Alexander, James Nelson, Francis Higgins and P.H. Pollexfen would have to make good the deficit themselves. However, on race-day, April 21st, their fears were unfounded as thousands made their way to Hazelwood for the sporting event of the year, favoured by a fine, sunny day. An average of from six to nine horses competed in all five races, with the winners sharing a prize-fund of 200 sovereigns. The meeting passed off in a peaceful and happy fashion.
Despite harsh weather, the 1876 meeting was well attended, and Walsh's Mail Cars did a roaring trade ferrying race-goers from Victoria Bridge and The Mall to Hazelwood. The number of races on the card were reduced from six to five and the prize fund accordingly. The stakes were highest for the two Hunt Races - the Annaghmore (60 pounds) and the Hazelwood (55 pounds), followed by the Sligo Handicap Plate (49 Sovereigns ) and the Midland Great Western (25 Sovereigns).
For reasons not now clear, there was no meeting in 1877 but it was revived the following year. An advertisement described Hazelwood as a well-known, all-grass course, where the going is at all times first rate. In preparation for the meeting a number of improvements were undertaken. The near circular course was altered somewhat to measure about a mile and a half once round. There were four obstacles consisting of two ditches, an artificial watercourse and a stone hurdle. Two substantial stands, rather limited in accommodation and answering to the title of 'Grand Stands' of first and second degree, were erected on rising ground at a distance of three hundred yards or so above the paddock.
Finance was a major problem for the Organising Committee in the late Seventies and early Eighties. There was much discussion on this topic at the annual meeting in April, 1880, and this prompted the 'Champion' of 24th inst. to comment as follows:- The Committee has difficulty in raising the funds necessary to cover expenses, something which is anything but flattering to the generosity and public spirit of our country gentlemen... There was a time when to subscribe liberally and patronise with influence of their class the racing and hunting fields, was considered a duty.
The editorial concluded by expressing the hope that the Race Committee would not be left personally to discharge responsibilities generously incurred by them in organising an event for the enjoyment of all. The rather precarious financial standing of the Committee was not improved by a noticeable drop in the attendance at the 1880 meeting, and, to make matters worse, the racing was described as mediocre. In contrast, the 1881 meeting realised a profit of 50 pounds 9 shillings. At a meeting of the Sligo Race Committee in the Town Hall in March, 1886, it was decided to hold the annual meeting at Bowmore. The change was necessitated by the non-availability of the Hazelwood course due to the cropping intentions of the Proprietor, John Wynne. As a result, Sligo Races returned to the famous Bowmore course after a lapse of forty-three years. A number of things had changed in the intervening period - Bowmore was no longer Cooper property, it had become part of the Middleton estate; the course no longer took in a portion of the strand, as hithertofore, but was now an all grass surface; and the heats, so characteristic of racing at Bowmore in earlier times, no longer formed part of the programme. The new course, circular in shape, was one and a half miles in length and consisted of a number of obstacles - a water jump, a stone wall and three hurdle jumps. A 'Grand-Stand' had been erected on the East Side under the hill and close to the finishing post.
The revived meeting at Bowmore came off on May 6th, 1886, and the Stewards for the day included the two local M.P's, Thomas Sexton and Peter McDonald, together with George Pollexfen, Christopher L'Estrange, Major James Campbell, Charles W. O'Hara, Captain Gethin, Francis Nelson, Bernard Collery, Edward J. Tighe and John Connolly. From early morning large crowds were seen winding their way to Rosses Point. The road was crowded with vehicles of all sorts - the stately carriage followed by the humble farmer's cart, and all crowded with good-humoured racegoers eager to enjoy a good day's sport. Those who could afford it, took Middleton's channel steamer, the 'SS Tynemouth' from the Ballast Quay to the landing stage at Elsinore. In contrast with meetings at Bowmore earlier in the century, there was no trouble. 'Whiskey Tents' were no longer allowed on the course and this, no doubt, helped to eliminate potential disturbances. The weather held out despite threatening clouds, and the natural stands in the form of the terraced sides of the rising ground, were fully utilised by the large attendance. A correspondent for the 'Independent' painted the following picture of the colourful scene: - The Stand and Enclosure were crowded. The refreshment bar, operated by Michael Gallagher of Knox's Street, was well patronised. Several bookmakers, some of them dressed in scarlet, others wearing peculiar hats, carried on an extensive trade, bawling-out the odds and ends in each race... Some roulette tables, presided over by a stout woman, did a roaring trade. ..All the vehicles drawn up in the vicinity of the course were sup plied with well filled bumpers and hospitality was displayed in a most unstinted fashion; indeed, a livelier, a gayer or a more happy sight, independent of the picturesque, could not be seen anywhere.
There were five races on the card, namely, County Working Farmer's Plate (15 Sovereigns); Co. Sligo Private Hunt Plate (28 Sovereigns); Western Plate (25 Sovereigns); Steward's Plate (22 Sovereigns) and Sligo and Annaghmore Farmer's Race (13 Sovereigns). With few 'crack' runners taking part, the participants, described as good local animals possessing plenty of blood and mettle, ran honestly and competed keenly for the different prizes. The success of the meeting gave hope of better days to come. In 1887 there were six races on the card. The Sligo and Annaghmore Farmer's Race was replaced by the Rosses Point Plate, while a new trophy, The Connaught Militia Challenge Cup, open to horses the property of Officers serving in the Sligo Artillery, the Roscommon Militia and the Leitrim Rifles, was up for competition.
Highlight of the day's sport was the Co. Sligo Hunt Plate. In a neck to neck contest Charles O'Hara's Lady Una outpaced the favourite, Christopher L'Estrange's brown mare, Immerdar. When the result was confirmed hundreds of enthusiastic backers converged on the paddock while a few 'stalwart fellows' boldly lifted O'Hara bodily off his feet and carried him to his father's drag, accompanied by a loudly cheering crowd. It was obviously a most popular success by the heir to the Annaghmore estate whose ancestors had long been associated with horse racing on both the local and national scene.
In 1898, after a lapse of twelve years, Sligo Races returned to Hazelwood, which venue, according to the 'Champion', was the proper and fitting place at which to hold the meeting despite the claims of Bowmore. The popular Rosses Point course was no longer considered sufficiently central, especially for those travelling long distances, whether by train or other means of transport. In addition, bad weather had marred three successive meetings at he exposed seaside course in the mid Nineties, with a resulting drop in attendances, and this, no doubt, influenced the decision to abandon it in favour of Hazelwood.
Owen Wynne placed his lands at Percymount at the disposal of the Race Committee. In preparation for the initial meeting the layout of the former course was altered somewhat, with the 'Grand Stand' placed in close proximity to the boundary wall of the Hazelwood demesne. From this vantage point spectators could get a perfect view of the proceedings. The meeting on April 2nd, 1898, attracted a record crowd in favourable weather. All five events on the card were well contested. The prize money of 150 pounds was distributed as follows: County Sligo Working Farmer's Plate (25 Sovereigns); County Sligo Private Hunt Plate (22 Sovereigns); County Sligo Plate (50 Pounds ); Steward's Plate (22 Sovereigns) and Provincial Plate (25 Sovereigns). The Stewards for the meeting were: - George T. Pollexfen; P.N. White; Bernard Collery; Alex. Lyons; Edward Rowlette; Lieut. Col. James Campbell; Francis Nelson; Captain Marcus B. Armstrong; Francis Higgins, J.P. Alexander Sim and John Connolly.
The annual race meeting at Hazelwood was run off successfully over the following decade and a half. The programme for the 1914 fixture was altered somewhat from that of previous years. Hunting horses who had a certificate from the Master of the North Mayo or the Rockingham Harriers, were eligible to compete in the Hunt Race; while the qualification pertaining to hunting horses in the Tally-Ho Plate was eliminated and the race opened to horses which had not previously won a race valued in excess of 24 Sovereigns. Despite unfavourable weather and a smaller than usual attendance, the meeting was considered a great success, and as good a day's sport as ever had been witnessed at Hazelwood.
Following the outbreak of World War I, there were no meetings from 1915 to 1918. Racing was resumed in April, 1919, and despite adverse weather conditions a big crowd made their way to the lake side course. Every possible means of transport was availed of, with Gallagher's motor boats doing a brisk business ferrying race-goers from the Riverside to the landing stage at Hazelwood. A sizeable contingent, who had come directly from the Mullingar meeting gave extra flavour to the gathering. There were six races on the card, namely: The Hazelwood Handicap Hurdle (25 Sovereigns); The Stewards Steeplechase (25 Sovereigns); The Visitor's Plate (40 Sovereigns); The Provincial Steeplechase (25 Sovereigns); The Sligo Plate (25 Sovereigns); and the Lakeside Handicap Steeplechase (25 Sovereigns).
Despite the 'Troubles', Sligo Races continued to be run-off annually. In 1920 James P. Higgins and Dudley M. Hanley acted as Joint-Secretaries, with T.H. Fitzpatrick (Mayor): Major Charles Kean O'Hara; Edward J. Tighe; John J.Clancy, M.P.; Arthur Jackson; Philip D. Perceval; Major Bryan Cooper; Edward Rowlette; John Jinks; James Dodd; Andrew Kilfeather; James Irwin; and Captain Fitzpatrick, R.M. listed as Stewards. A prominent member of the Race Committee during the Twenties was Christopher Jocelyn Bentley (1868-1952) of Ballyglass House and Subsequently of Kevinsfort, a noted horse-trainer and racing enthusiast. At the 1922 meeting he had two placed horses, Marion West and Moonlight Lane. The following year he was more successful with Vishnu winning the Visitor's Plate; Tickles, ridden by himself, coming second in the Hunt Cup, and his famous mare Ballinode winning a dead-heat with Frank Barbour's Noko in the Spring Plate. Barbour was one of the most successful owners racing at Sligo during that period. In 1922 he won five of the six races and three the following year.
After a short lapse, the Sligo Races were revived in September, 1926. This was unusually late in the season but it appears that the organisers had difficulty finding a suitable date and rather reluctantly settled for Friday 3rd which was close to the Ballinrobe fixture. As had been the case over a period, the prize-fund was not sufficiently high to attract the better horses, and, as a result, the fields were unusually small. Two of Bentley's horses, Battlefield and Aneas, were amongst the winners. The 1928 meeting attracted a larger than usual crowd and a good day's sport was had by all. Two local owners gave the punters plenty to cheer about, with Mrs. Nesham's Mayflower winning the Co. Sligo Gold Cup and Ted Browne's Peter the Packer racing to a fine win in the Steward's Plate. Throughout the Thirties the Races usually took place in the month of June, although by the end of the decade April had again become popular. The 1931 meeting on June 3rd saw Mrs. Nesham's English bred mare, Miss Tootsie, ridden by J.C.Farrell, win her third successive Hunt Cup. This record was equaled in 1937 when Mrs. McCormick's mare, Patricia II, ridden by J. Rowlette, won the Cup for the third time. Spanish Gold, owned by her husband, H.C. Gordon McCormick of Tanrego, came second in the same race.
With the advent of World War II, and the resulting transport difficulties, Sligo Races were discontinued. What was destined to be the last race meeting at Hazelwood took place on April 8th, 1942 Despite unfavourable weather and travel restrictions, there was a good attendance and plenty of runners. Amateur riders were successful in four of the events. The loudest acclamations were reserved for Ted Browne's Sen Toi, brilliantly ridden by son Bobbie, who carried off the Visitors' Plate of 100 Sovereigns. The Sligo Hunt race was the premier event of the afternoon and attracted a record eleven runners. Frazer Rowlette's Mayo-owned As-go-Bragh won a thrilling race by a margin of three lengths from H. C. Bourke's Macidas.
When, after the War, the question of reviving Sligo Races was being considered, the old Race Committee, which had functioned for many years as the Sligo Municipal Race Company, turned its attention towards securing a new venue. Although a grandstand, buildings and a certain amount of equipment was still sited at Hazelwood, estimates revealed that at least 3,000 pounds needed to be spent before there would be any possibility of obtaining a license to resume racing there. When it was found that the track could not be made first-class, even after such expenditure, it was decided to abandon any thoughts of embarking on a rehabilitation scheme at Hazelwood.
The Committee then turned its attention to alternative sites in various parts of the County, but for one reason or another, all proved unsuitable. Consideration was also given to the idea of developing the old Bowmore course but after long negotiations a lease of the lands required could not be procured. Eventually, through the efforts of Town clerk, R. G. Bradshaw, and Alderman W.J. Tolan in particular, a site for a new racecourse was secured at Cleveragh with the leasing of fifty-eight acres of the former Wood-Martin estate from Sligo Corporation. The first meeting at the new venue took place on August 24th, 1955. After a lapse of thirteen years Sligo Races were successfully revived and since then a number of meetings are held annually at what is both a popular and very picturesque course.