Rekindling a local tradition, The Ward Union Hunt is set to return to Ashbourne this year for its St Stephen's Day hunt.
The news was welcomed by Ashbourne Chamber of Commerce president Alan Tobin, who says the town will welcome the event with open arms. It has been nine years since the St Stephen's Day hunt was held in the town.
"The hunt has been associated with the Ashbourne area for 175 years, as can be seen by many of the local place names and housing estates and our own Chamber logo," said Tobin. "Names such as Hunter's Moon, Stag's Head, Brindley Park, Deerpark and Hunts Grove to name but a few."
This year’s return of the Hunt takes place at 1.00pm on St Stephen's Day, 26th December, starting outside the Ashbourne House Hotel and returning again before dusk.
The Ashbourne Historical Society will be there to see off the hounds and hunters with pictures, hunting artefacts and information on where local place names originated from.
The Ward Union Deer herd remains a valuable ecological treasure in the preservation of Irish Red Deer. A carefully monitored breeding programme has made a unique contribution to this important aspect of Irish Wildlife.
At present the club cares for 52 hounds, which are exercised daily, and 130 deer roaming around acres of lush farmland a few kilometres to the north-west of Tayto Park. In the past the deer farm was located where Ashbourne Town Centre now stands.
No animals are intentionally injured or killed during the hunt, the hound does not attack or bring down the deer. Expert veterinary opinion is that deer recover from any effects of hunting within a maximum of 3 to 4 days, similar to the recovery time of an athlete or race horse.
"The hunt is a spectacle not to be missed," says Tobin. "I remember as a child being brought down to Frederick St. on Stephen's afternnoon by my parents, and relatives would come to visit on that day too ,they loved to see the hunt and experience the country way of life.”
"Afterwards we would visit one or two of the fabulous local pubs, enjoying the song and dance of the Ashbourne Wren boys."
Another St Stephen's Day tradition, The Wren consists of "hunting" a fake wren, and putting it on top of a decorated pole. The participants celebrate the Wren by dressing up in masks, straw suits and colourful motley clothing, accompanied of course by traditional céili music. Ashbourne Wren Boys have been on the go for more than 30 years.