Geashill’s Margaret adds touch of glamour to greyhound racing scene

To borrow a phrase from the sport she loves, you could say that Margaret Bolton was bred to be a greyhound trainer.

Margaret’s dad Tommy was a greyhound trainer for many years and when he took a step back, taking over the mantle felt like a natural progression for the young Geashill woman.

“When my dad retired a few years ago, I took over the reins. Myself and my sisters would have always gone to race meetings and we used to do a few jobs to help out before school, so it was natural for me to take it on,” said Margaret (pictured above with two of her greyhounds).

Speaking to the Offaly Independent recently, Margaret was really looking forward to the return of greyhound racing action. “It will be a case of easing the dogs back into racing and letting the fitter dogs race first,” she said.

There are two young greyhounds that Margaret is particularly excited about - Towstar Paddy and Toolmaker Harry. “Before the lockdown ‘Paddy’ won a race in Mullingar and ‘Harry’ was third. I intended to give them a break after that anyway, but they ended up getting an extended break,” said the Offaly woman.

Margaret spent the first few years of her life in Killenaule, Co. Tipperary, before moving to Geashill with her family. Her mother Sheila hails from Killenaule while her dad is a native of Geashill. Although Tommy is not actively involved in training greyhounds these days, he remains very close to the sport as he works as a groundsman in Shelbourne Park.

“He’s always there to give me advice and he’s always spotting dogs for trainers,” said Margaret.

Tommy had a winner in the Fair Warrior sprint race some years ago and one of his dogs reached the quarter-finals of the Irish Greyhound Derby (the pinnacle for all greyhound trainers in Ireland).

The greyhound industry received a huge amount of negative publicity last year as a result of a RTE Prime Time Investigates programme. It claimed that large numbers of greyhounds were culled in 2017 because they weren’t fast enough.

“It was a very hard thing to watch as I love my dogs and it’s the same for anyone else I know in greyhound racing. The people who are against greyhound racing are entitled to their opinion, but I think there is a lot of misinformation about the sport and hopefully that will become clear in time,” Margaret said.

Margaret pointed to the strict regulations that are in place in the care of greyhounds, such as permanent tattoos of their identification numbers on their ears. These numbers match their microchips, enabling correct identification. In addition, she said dogs are regularly tested to ensure they are not being given potentially harmful or inappropriate substances.

Referring to the daily routine involved with the greyhounds, Margaret said: “We would be up early to bring the dogs out at half six or 7 o’clock. It’s a five-star breakfast we give them, and it could be half nine or ten when I get my breakfast. We take them for walks every day and we bring them to run on our all-weather gallops once or twice a week. There is somebody with them almost continually.”

As with human runners or sprinters, there are risks attached to overtraining. The dogs must be brought on regular walks to limber them up for sprinting. “You have to find a happy balance,” said Margaret, whose love for greyhounds is clearly evident.

“You’d have to love them to put in the long hours. The winter time is tough because you could get back late from racing in bad weather, and you still have to face getting up early the next morning to bring the dogs out. But they always manage to put a smile on my face.”

Margaret is grateful to her younger sister Emma for helping with the greyhounds, and everybody who has supported her since she became a greyhound trainer.

A former student of Sacred Heart School in Tullamore, Margaret feels people should consider taking greyhounds that are no longer racing as pets. “Greyhounds actually make brilliant pets after they finish racing. I’ve rehomed quite a few of them,” she said.

“Young greyhounds are usually full of enthusiasm but as they get older, some of them just want to sit on their arse and relax,” she continued with a laugh.

“They are brilliant with kids,” added Margaret, pointing out that her nephews Daniel and James (sons of her sister Louise) enjoy spending time with the greyhounds.

In addition to her greyhound training activities, Margaret has done some modelling on a part time basis and she even claimed the title of Miss Westmeath last year.

Explaining how that came about, the 25-year-old recalled: “I was invited to take part in a pageant in Belfast, the winner would win a trip to Florida and I came second. Then I heard about the Miss Westmeath competition which was on in Athlone. I fitted the bill for the competition and I decided to do it as a bit of craic. I ended up being the winner, it was a great experience and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. As the Miss Westmeath winner, I got the opportunity to take part in Miss Ireland last September in the Helix Theatre and that was a big show to be involved in.”

Margaret previously worked part time in Electric Candy Boutique in Tullamore. “I still do some modelling for local shops. I do it as a bit of fun as I don’t really get to take holidays because of the greyhounds,” she added.

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