I know nothing about horses, never did and don’t suppose I ever will. They make me sneeze and my eyes run if I approach closer than a few yards, but I loved going horse racing. Well, what I really loved was the Downpatrick races.
The track was a real switchback course and the horses were mostly unknown and the jockeys would often not have been the people appearing on the racecards for Grade 1 races, but the Downpatrick races were great craic.
I could meet half my parish there and there would be conversation and laughter and £1 bets and delight if you won a fiver, and if you didn’t you had only lost a pound. The Downpatrick races were a gathering of the community and created a great sense of community, they were a great leveller of class (there were no boxes or exclusive enclosures) and a great uniter of creed. The Downpatrick races were a great occasion; my favourite meeting was on a Friday evening in May – it was a wonderful way to mark the beginning of summer.
I thought of the Downpatrick races watching pictures from Galway and the meeting at Ballybrit on the news this evening. “The Galway Races” remains one of my favourite traditional songs, particularly the last verse:
As I rode down to Galway town to seek for recreation
On the seventeenth of August me mind being elevated
There were multitudes assembled with their tickets at the station
Me eyes began to dazzle and I’m goin’ to see the races.
There were passengers from Limerick and passengers from Nenagh
And passengers from Dublin and sportsmen from Tipperary
There were passengers from Kerry, and all quarters of our nation
And our member, Mr. Hearst, for to join the Galway Blazers.
There were multitudes from Aran, and members from New Quay Shore
Boys from Connemara and the Clare unmarried maidens
There were people from Cork city who were loyal, true and faithful;
Who brought home the Fenian prisoners from diverse foreign nations.
It’s there you’ll see confectioners with sugarsticks and dainties
The lozenges and oranges, the lemonade and raisins!
The gingerbread and spices to accomodate the ladies
And a big crubeen for thruppence to be pickin’ while you’re able.
It’s there you’ll see the gamblers, the thimbles and the garters
And the spotting Wheel of Fortune with the four and twenty quarters
There was others without scruple pelting wattles at poor Maggy
And her father well-contented and he lookin’ at his daughter.
It’s there you’ll see the pipers and the fiddlers competing
The nimble footed dancers a-tripping over the daisies
There were others crying cigars and lights and bills for all the races
With the colors of the jockeys and the prize and horses’ ages.
It’s there you’ll see the jockeys and they’re mounted out so stately
The pink, the blue, the orange, and green, the emblem of our nation
When the bell was rung for starting, all the horses seemed impatient
I thought they never stood on ground their speed was so amazing.
There was half a million people there from all denominations
The Catholic, the Protestant, the Jew, and Presbyterian
There was yet no animosity, no matter what persuasion
But “failte” and hospitality inducin’ fresh acquaintance.