By John Donohoe
The Ward Union Hunt, after a nine-year absence, was back in Ashbourne for its traditional St Stephen’s Day Hunt, by invitation of the Ashbourne Chamber of Commerce.
Hundreds of local people, new and old residents of the area, arrived to the town’s main street to watch huntsman Pat Coyle and the Ward Union Hunt depart from the rear car park of the Ashbourne Hotel, where the 45 mounted followers had unloaded their horses.
The Wren Boys mingled with crowd while playing traditional music and collecting donations for the Irish Kidney Foundation creating a festive atmosphere. Local children were fascinated to see the hounds and also got to see local farrier, Darren Weldon, replace a horse’s shoe which had been lost while travelling to Ashbourne.
Ashbourne Historical Society had a board displaying old photos detailing Ashbourne’s link with the Ward Union Hunt. The hunt has been associated with Ashbourne since 1843 when Charles Brindley was appointed huntsman. He lived in the Hunt House with the kennels at the rear, where SuperValu and Ashbourne Town Centre is now built.
This was bought from Richard Bourne, son of the founder of Ashbourne. The Brindley family had almost 100 years unbroken service to the Ward Union between Charles and Richard Brindley. Many of the placenames in Ashbourne are linked to the hunt such as pubs The Stag’s Head and The Hunter’s Moon, housing estates Huntsgrove, Deerpark and Brindley Park.
The Brindley Monument, recently restored by the historical society, is an obelisk situated on an ancient mound near the Nine Mile Stone on the N2. It was erected as a lasting monument to Charles Brindley for faithful services to the hunt for 35 years.
The Hunt House was demolished in the 1980s to build Ashbourne Town Centre. The hunt moved to Greenpark where it remains based today.
The hunt received a huge cheer and a loud applause going up through the town with people three to four deep either side of Frederick Street. Two of riders hunting, Joanne Quirke and Jennifer Byrne, rode their horses sidesaddle in honour of the day and the tradition associated with Ashbourne.