Volcanic ash has the capacity to impact human health, livestock, crops and infrastructure, including international air traffic. For recent major eruptions, information on the volcanic ash plume has been combined with relatively coarse-resolution meteorological model output to provide simulations of regional ash dispersal, with reasonable success on the scale of hundreds of kilometres. However, to predict and mitigate these impacts locally, significant improvements in modelling capability are required. Here, we present results from a dynamic meteorological-ash-dispersion model configured with sufficient resolution to represent local topographic and convectively-forced flows. We focus on an archetypal volcanic setting, Soufrière, St Vincent, and use the exceptional historical records of the 1902 and 1979 eruptions to challenge our simulations. We find that the evolution and characteristics of ash deposition on St Vincent and nearby islands can be accurately simulated when the wind shear associated with the trade wind inversion and topographically-forced flows are represented. The wind shear plays a primary role and topographic flows a secondary role on ash distribution on local to regional scales. We propose a new explanation for the downwind ash deposition maxima, commonly observed in volcanic eruptions, as resulting from the detailed forcing of mesoscale meteorology on the ash plume.