There’s nothing like the feeling of stepping into Ring One, horse in hand, the smell of freshly-cut grass, the cheer from the Long Bar and the ringing of the Dublin clock tower. It always takes me to the start of August and the busiest time of the year for me. Except, of course, for this year.
Hailing from Brierfield, Abbeyknockmoy, in Co Galway, horses and hotels are my hobby and career. I’ve always had a keen interest in all things equestrian, starting from a young age when I first started lessons at our local riding school at Newtown House in Abbeyknockmoy, under the watchful eye of Kelly Phillips.
I now work under the wing of my good friend Dan Murphy, as a deputy general manager at the renowned Galway Bay Hotel
A bartender in the Hodson Bay Hotel in Athlone – that’s how I began working in the hotel industry back in 2005. Then I cut my teeth in a variety of well-known haunts around Galway, creating very fond memories and close friends along the way and building huge experience, However, I have very much found my vocation in hotel management, studying various courses and working my way up the ladder.
I now work under the wing of my good friend Dan Murphy, as a deputy general manager at the renowned Galway Bay Hotel. The hotel is part of the Hodson Bay Group, owned by the O’Sullivan family in Athlone and so you could say I returned to my roots working for the O’Sullivan family at this Galway hotel, after starting out in its sister hotel in Athlone.
I couldn’t be working for nicer people.
I find time with the horses is a huge disconnect and an escape from life in the hotel
Both myself and Dan work closely together on a daily basis. He has been a super mentor in the business, as well as a good friend over the years.
It’s not easy juggling the demands of working in a hotel and keeping horses, as, even though it’s a five-day week roster, the hotel business means long hours, with events, conferences and weddings taking place. However, I find time with the horses is a huge disconnect and an escape from life in the hotel.
Over the years, my interest in horses has become more focused on hunting in the winter (I ride some top-class horses thanks to Grace and William McMahon or Tom McNamara), and competing in the showing circuit in the summer.
Dublin Horse Show is my favourite, there’s nothing quite like the RDS and I think everyone will agree there was a huge void in people’s lives this year without it.
August is one of my busiest months by far. All the bells and whistles are pulled out for our most spectacular week of the season; Galway race week. The Galway Races represents everything that’s special about Galway and allows the Galway hotel industry to showcase all it has to offer to national and international guests.
It’s always a hectic week. I try to go racing on my two days off if possible, but between the race crowds, weddings and the August bank holiday weekend at the hotel it can get quite hectic.
I always long for the following Tuesday to be heading to the horse show with Sean and Kate Hoare and a full load of horses.
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of showing some wonderful horses, who have always had me in the ribbons
I was honoured when my good friend Pat Hoare gave me my first opportunity many moons ago to show a horse in the RDS, and I haven’t missed a year there since.
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of showing some wonderful horses, who have always had me in the ribbons.
My best memory would have to be leading the champion Irish Draught foal last year – my namesake Dowdstown Finn. Owned by Jimmy Hoare, that foal was by Moylough Legacy (Carrabawn Cross), owned by Jimmy’s brother, Pat.
Another RDS highlight was showing Jimmy and Edel Quinn’s Cappa Dianthus (Cappa Cassanova) in 2017. A grandson of the famous mare Pink Carnation, it was his first time in a show ring and he was awarded the reserve champion stallion title, alongside his stable companion, Cappa Aristocrat (Star Kingdom).
There’s definitely comparisons to the stresses, excitement and adrenaline rush of organising a wedding, conference or event to the hectic show season we all thrive off.
You have to be prepared, with both horses and the hotel business, there’s always the chance something might be altered or a change of plan needed.
Like the famous, or should I say, infamous shoe incident at Dublin!
So, I was on the side lines, watching the Irish Draught stallion class parade on Thursday when the sole of Sean Hoare’s shoe came off. He was leading the reigning reserve champion Moylough Legacy and so I ended up standing in Ring One in my socks, holding Legacy while Sean quickly changed into my shoes.
It was very demanding with all the extra cleaning and protocols but very well-managed
Luckily, I had a spare pair of shoes back in the hotel so I had to sprint back ... well, sort of ... in socks to get them before legging it back to grab my mare for the following class.
That was four years ago and its funny incidents like that you think of during a lockdown summer. We were very busy thanks to all the staycations once we came out of the first lockdown.
It was very demanding with all the extra cleaning and protocols but very well-managed. For me, it was and is all about taking care of the staff and guests.
It was a lot to adjust to, but the team here in the Galway Bay were fantastic at adapting to the new ways of doing business. And while it’s been unfortunate to have had no showing or hunting season, I have to say I have found it equally enjoyable to have some downtime with family and close friends.
Back on the road
We’re open again after the second Level 5 lockdown, its ‘county ‘cations’ until 18 December and then we can reopen to countrywide guests.
Normally, we’d run six to eight weddings during Christmas week, but this year things will be a lot quieter.
The craic, laughs and banter can’t be put into words
By the time the Christmas rush is over we all look forward to meeting up over Christmas, heading over to Craughwell to go hunting with the Galway Blazers on St Stephen’s Day and a pint of porter later that evening.
The craic, laughs and banter can’t be put into words.
With this year’s lockdowns, it’s been a challenging year for sure, but Christmas is just around the corner and surely, there’s brighter days ahead in 2021.
Roll on next year and wishing everyone a merry Christmas and happy New Year.
Stephen Finn was in conversation with Susan Finnerty.