Don’t forget the Donkey Derby at Mullaghmore

A day of high frolics and fun not to mention the odd spill or two in Co Sligo

Gary Noonan returns after his victory in the All Ireland Donkey Derby in Mullaghmore on Lynchs Gang.

Gary Noonan returns after his victory in the All Ireland Donkey Derby in Mullaghmore on Lynchs Gang.

Sun, Aug 25, 2013, 21:58

“ There’s the tight winding roads, “ There’s the tight winding roads, With the scenes, There’s the harbour and sunsets, As you laze on the green, There’s the pier and the sand dunes, Sweeping down to the shore, There’s the walk to the Castle, Mullaghmore, Mullahgmore. ”

Oh and don’t forget the Donkey Derby. The last Classic of the domestic Flat season may be scheduled for the Curragh next month, but the equine talent on show at Mullaghmore at the weekend was just as important to the colourful young jockeys and their anxious trainers taking part.

The highlight of summer for many of the Co Sligo locals is the “All Ireland Donkey Derby”, which attracted entries and riders from all over the country as they competed for the bragging rights as well as a first prize of €300 . All of the proceeds from the event went directly to charity , with the North West Hospice, Sligo Alzheimer unit and a project in Lusaka, Zambia the main beneficiaries.

It was a day of high frolics and fun not to mention the odd spill or two as, in addition to the racing – which was staged on the scenic green in front of the 185-year-old stone harbour – there was children’s entertainments, craft stalls, a dog show and live music. It seems Donkey Derbies are great fundraisers as well as providing endless enjoyment for the participants and spectators.

The large crowd was entertained by numerous races, each with six donkeys taking part. Competition was fierce with Limerick rider rider Gary Noonan finishing as top jockey with victory on the Robbie Cronin-owned donkey Lynchs Gang. The possibility of riders catching their feet in stirrups and being dragged along should they fall off means saddles are not used, making the achievements of these young riders in the 150-yard dashes even more impressive.

But young Noonan preferred to play down his efforts, saying you’re only as good as the donkey you ride. And the antics of our four-legged friends caused many a chuckle and thanks to some accommodating locals and stewards were spared any serious injuries.

Mercifully none of the riders – jockeys must weigh 8st or under – were hurt either, with the only dent in their prides being a few sore bums. But perhaps just as amusing as the donkeys was the commentary of local man Patsy Smith, who kept the crowds entertained with his humorous take on some hair-raising heats as well as keeping the public informed of the All-Ireland semi-final between Mayo and Tyrone.

Although fun is the main theme of these events, safety is of paramount importance , with each rider wearing a BS-approved and correctly-fitting helmet. Organiser of the event Bridie Watters said jockeys must follow strict rules in order to participate.

“We must stress that each rider must wear an approved helmet as well as getting permission from the donkey owners to take part. Although we have never experienced any serious injuries, these donkeys pack some kick.”

Ms Watters has seen the event grow in popularity since its first staging in 1999. “We are delighted with how popular it’s become, not just with the locals, but the wider community in Sligo. We have a great equine tradition in these parts and it’s a bonus that the event attracts extra business to the area. I think people are surprised when they see the beauty of Mullaghmore.”

It’s hard to know what Shrek might have made of Donkey but the ogre would certainly have been impressed by the unrivalled green scenery of one of Sligo’s gems.