Old Drogheda Society
Community Historian Brendan Matthews regales ODS readers and guests another little gem plucked from the archives.
The Bullring, a well known place-name in Drogheda, situated south of St. Mary’s bridge at the bottom of Shop St, dissected by John St. and the Marsh Road and bounded on the south and west by James’s St. and the dual carriageway.
The Bullring derives its name from the Medieval sport of Bull-baiting, whereby a chain and swivel was secured in a thick iron ring and further secured to a large pillar stone, to which the unfortunate animal was tethered before the dogs were set upon him.
The dogs, aptly named Bulldogs, were trained to attack and pin the bull by its very sensitive nose and the dog that brought the beast to its knees would be declared the winner. The bulldog has an unusual facial structure in that, his lower or bottom jaw projects out beyond the upper jaw and because of the setting of his nose, he then has the ability to retain a lock-jaw grip on his victim while still being able to breathe easily without hindrance; the original purpose of the dog was for the hunting of wild boar.
It was widely believed during the 16th and 17th centuries that:
baiting a bull tendered its meat, by violently heating the animals blood, helping to resolve their hardness and making the flesh softer in digestion.
At Chesterfield in England, a bye-law stated that, `every butcher has to bait a bull before slaughter, on pain of a fine of 3 shillings and 4 pennies`.
There was also a bullring in Wexford town where, from 1621 until 1770, `bulls were baited twice a year and their hides presented to the Mayor`. The pillar stone and ring, to which the animal was tethered, often measured 2 foot square by 5 foot in length, which was then sunk 2 or 3 feet into the ground.
Several pillar stones including the original bullring survives in towns in Britain and France and many more, particularly the smaller stones, were covered over in antiquity by the street surfaces. So what happened to the pillar stone and bullring from Drogheda? Was it removed from its original position? Does it still exist somewhere beneath the street surface? or, did it ever exist at all?
Bull-baiting was finally outlawed in 1835 after complaints that the sport was attracting `idle and dissipated elements.`
Regarding the bull-baiting at Drogheda, a publication from 1826, states that,
On one occasion of this kind, the bull tossed one of the dogs into the balcony, where a large number of ladies and gentlemen became spectators. The consequence was, the panic was great, the ladies shrieked; but after recovering from their alarm, created by this rude assault of the tormented animal, they remained to see the sport concluded.
It was also recorded that Irish immigrants arriving in the U.S.A. during the 19th century, had with them, `small bulldogs, which were called the `old family of reds` or the `Irish reds`, after their distinctive colouring and these dogs became the forerunner of the present day American Pit-Bull terrier, while another variety developed in Britain and became known as the Staffordshire Bull terrier. However, all these bulldogs had a common ancestor, which was that of the Molussus, a large bulldog breed once used in the arenas of ancient Greece and Rome.
In memory of a barbaric sport, brought down to us today in the form of a place-name; that is the Bullring of Drogheda.