The fondness with which Flowerhill is regarded amongst the Donegal riding clubs was more evident than ever this past weekend. Half the county’s members descended on the sprawling Galway estate near Portumna to enjoy the hospitality of its ever-welcoming and energetic owner, Oliver.
The first competition of the weekend began around 10am on Saturday at various points dotted around east Donegal. There was a near-perfect convergence of vehicles just south of Ballybofey with Damien and Francis in the vanguard. Not for the first time did Marina and Damien take each other on, this time in a relentless slow-motion race south. Marina, tired of annually arriving Paddy last and having to squeeze her sizeable horses into the last crack in the stable walls, had evidently sent Enda out for a winter course of lorry driving and he delivered spectacularly on the day. The big St Johnston lorry pulled victoriously into Flowerhill marginally ahead of the gallant red van with its super-sized load of custom-built 4-legged cross-country machines.
Entertainment on the journey included a Physical & Spritual Flowerhill Travellers Sweepstake on the Grand National. Evidence is provided below of the scrupulously fair drawing of the horses. All insinuations of trickery and skullduggery are being vehemently denied by the organisers. Maura was the lucky winner of the winner-takes-all pot.
With horses comfortably installed in familiar quarters, tents pitched and carefully stowed in trailers and lorries, man and beast properly fed, the real entertainment was cooking up nicely in the large informal kitchen of the hospitable house. The only thing more impressive than the extraordinary number of Donegal club members gathered in a room in Galway was the same group’s phenomenal production of homemade alcoholic beverages. There were several suspiciously unlabelled bottles from a bona fide brewery on the Fanad peninsula, fine turnip wine and its sibling, turnip poitin, from the wildest west of the county, a truly remarkable sloe gin from Burt direction, and a memorable brandy-ball liquer from the banks of the Finn. Together they contributed to a hell of an atmosphere and there was little residual damage when things got earnest on Sunday morning.
Rain came down early in the day but it quickly cleared to a bright and breezy day. The ground was softer than we’re used to in Flowerhill but that was no deterrent to Donegal horses. In the usual sequence, the starter dispatched the Pairs and then the Individuals at each grade. Refusals, run-outs, navigational crises and the odd topple off (too much turnip wine?) were a feature of the Pairs classes but Anne and Keary were in top form and claimed a famous victory at Intermediate level on Molly and Arthur. Huge congratulations to you both. Damien and Francis squeaked in for fifth spot and some ribbons to shorten the journey home. Otherwise the day was fruitless in ribbon terms but the yield of smiles, laughter and exhilaration hit its usual peak. Nobody goes to Flowerhill expecting to win.
The Gaeltachts brought home their usual fine quota of rosettes and it was particularly thrilling to see Liz Potter and Clyde finish a brilliant fourth in the Advanced Primary Championship. Not too long ago Liz wouldn’t have dreamed she would ever have the courage to ride at Flowerhill. Quite an achievement!
Three Inishowen riders made the club’s first foray to the magical destination and they surely won’t be the last.
A very, very big thanks to Marina for organising all our stables and to Kelly and Jade for their hours of fence-stewarding. Let’s hope they don’t grow up to riding club age for a good while yet.
Congratulations to all our competitors, particularly to Anne and Keary, and to Denis and Christopher who rode superbly and entertainingly on their first assault on Flowerhill. Respect to Teldel who powered around the course like a juvenile at the ripe old age of 24. Sympathy to Anne and Damien who completed their individual rounds on zero scores yet missed out on placings purely by fate and a whisker. Hats off to Leo and Dawn who completed masterful clear rounds on inexperienced youngsters. Finally, thanks to our valiant foot soldiers, led by Louise, Linda and Dympna and bolstered by the younger generation.
Full results are up on the AIRC website and photographs can be seen on the Equestrian Photographic Services site. The Letterkenny colours are as easy to spot as ever. Great colours for a great club.
Pictured below: The Sweepstake Draw. If there are any more photos out there, send them on!