Rosses Point Regatta and Bowmore Races

by Patricia McElhone

For the villagers Rosses Point Regatta was a great occasion of rivalry and competition between families and places. Besides the Rosses Point teams were men from Coney Island, the Lower Rosses, and Raughley. Sailing races were contested by the Middleton families and friends, and skiff races by teams from Hazelwood, Aughamore, Lough Arrow, Lough Kee, Rockwood, Goldwrappers, Holywell, Killery and Cairns.

The village celebrated with stalls selling dillisk, shell necklaces, ribbons, liquorice, Peggy’s leg- indeed every known and unknown variety of sticky sweet. The Greasy Pole was suspended from the pier at Austies. There were fireworks at Memory Harbour and a dance at Elsinore where winners and losers: yachtsman and oarsmen: buyers and sellers drew out the last hours of Regatta Day until the light of the Metal Man paled and faded with the dawn.

Horse racing on Bowmore, celebrated in the painting of this name by Jack Yeats, was a spectator sport for the villagers and the natural ridging of Bowmore provided grandstand facilities of great beauty.

Greyhound races were also held at Bowmore and seemed to have been more hilarious than serious. The hare was mechanical and would have to be tied by a length of rope to the axle of a car. To start the race the car took off at a good speed, the ‘hare’ bumping along behind, until a clump of high, rough grass would bring the car to a sudden halt and the greyhounds, ‘hare’, and car would end up in a melee of thwarted dogs, hooting spectators and irate owners.

Bowmore and Starling Lake have many associations with the old days- a bewitching place where fairies roam by night, where the hillside has every appearance of an open air theatre and where Benbulben rises sharply to cut off the rest of the world.

Women of the Rosses brought to this place another facet of ordinary living, as primitive as it was basic, for this was their washing place. On specified wash days the women would walk back from Upper Rosses to a well near Starling Lake. With them they would take all the accoutrements necessary- washboards, bars of Sunlight soap, kettles and food, children and the clothes for washing. A fire would be made to heat the water. The clothes, washed and rinsed, would be spread out to dry on the grass. Kettles would be refilled to make the tea and boil the eggs. Cakes of soda bread, fresh butter and home-made jam made the meal which was eaten there, sitting around on the grass while the clothes dried and the children played.

The chore of carrying so much across fields and stone walls could not have been easy for the women, who nevertheless accepted it and regarded it as a day out.

This custom alone gives an indication of the vastly changed lifestyle of the village since the early 1900s.