THE CURRAGH PLAIN AND ITS FORMER GLORIES

by ehistoryadmin on July 13, 2017

The Kildare Observer 27 May 1922

The Curragh Plain and Its Former Glories

The Curragh is dead; long live the Curragh! The Camp was completely evacuated last week by the British military, and possession was taken over by the Irish Army, already well equipped and each and every day getting better and better. In the minds of racing folk the Curragh symbolises simply the home of the thoroughbred and a great racecourse. The fact that the centre of the great plain has for years been a big town has perhaps dawned on but a small percentage of race-goers to the frequent important fixtures at the headquarters of the Irish Turf.

Racing Preceded Camp

The racecourse, however, has a longer history than the Camp, as George IV gave a grant of the Curragh, and it was only during the war in the Crimea that the military encampment was established. The first race run there was in April, 1741. The expanse covers 4,885 acres, and so invigorating is the air that to its health-giving property the proverbial hardihood of the Irish racehorse must owe a great deal. This is the world-renowned racecourse, where a four-miles course is laid out within the circumference. An eminent sporting writer stated a long time since that the following events could take place simultaneously on the noble plain, none interfering with the other: –

All the troops (then) in Ireland under review.

All the R.I.C. ball practising at the Rifle Buttes.

All the trainers strings at exercise.

Kildare Hounds drawing the gorse for a fox.

Mr. Pallin’s Harriers drawing furze brakes for a hare.

A Coursing Meeting if there were hares.

Coursing at the Curragh

Mr. James Galway, the breeder of the famous greyhound, Master McGrath, told him he often saw a Curragh hare run clean away without their having given her a single turn from the best brace of greyhounds in the country. Coursing meetings of importance were held on the Curragh long ago, and there is the Hare Park (of recent unhappy memories) into which the hares could run for safety, holes being in the walls at convenient places for them.

Revels of Turf Club

In the ancient town of Kildare was the old Turf Club House. As the enthusiastic scribbler exclaimed: “Oh, what tales these walls could tell.” Around this very table the great men of old feasted and made merry upon the night of the Curragh meetings. Many were the magnums of port and claret drunk over the mahogany. See here were the marks of the dice-boxes which in vehemence were dashed down while high play was indulged in. Mountjoy Lodge, occupied at the time by Dan Broderick, who trained for Capt. Stamer Gubbins, is situated on the verge of the plain, and from here many famous horses were sent out to carry his colours to victory. Michael Dennehy, still with us next. None could train a horse on the flat or over a country better in his day, and his escutcheon never suffered the slightest tarnish.

Birdcatcher’s Birthplace

Conyngham Lodge was built, as the name implies, by a Tara Marquis, and Captain George Joy died there in 1891. At the Turf Lodge were stabled the famous Rotler and Guiccoli, the dam of the great Birdcatcher. At Lark Lodge the bones of Birdcatcher are buried. Brownstown was the birthplace of the great horse, and here took place the death of the one time distinguished cross-country jockey, Mr. George Knox.

From Normandy Lodge, Mr. Richard Sadlier sallied the day on which he won the famous welter private match at Punchestown on his brown horse Bismarck, beating Mr. Alan Macdonagh on Humming Bird, and Mr. Harry Linde on Nereid. At Jockey Hall was installed Echidna, where she dropped The Baron and here the latter held court as sire and from Pocahontas begat Stockwell. During his tenure here, Mr. John Hubert Moore in the sixties and seventies sent out such horses as Scots Grey, Curragh Ranger, Furley, Rufus, Revenge, Revoke, etc., and over the private course at the back his father taught Garrett Moore to ride a steeplechase.

Linde at Eyrefield

George IV visited Athgarvan Lodge to Mr. Bowes Daly in 1821. Their maius of cocks were often fought on the green plot opposite the drawing-room windows, and here in the dining-room during the night’s carouse was many a battle brought off upon the mahogany. At Eyrefield Lodge was Henry Eyre Linde, whose family lived there as far back as 1807. At the back of the house was the private steeplechase track, a mile and a quarter, with every description of fence. The late Mr. Tommy Bensley was his principal lieutenant, and subsequently on Harry assisted him, while Dan McNally was the head lad. The Setton Steeplechase winner was frequently an inmate of Eyrefield, and was nearly always steered by Mr. Harry Beasley.

The three brothers Beasley superintended the training of a highly select lot of racehorses at Eyrefield House.

A Famous Landmark

Donnelly’s Hollow! There on the 13th December, 1815, Dan Donnelly, the Irishman, beat George Cooper, they gypsy. Upon this sward, level as a billiard table, the twenty-four foot ring was pitched. Around it ample space was afforded, within their inner circle for the upper ten, while the high sloping banks which surmount three sides of the plateau, sheltered the gladiators from the wind and afforded the occupants of the outer ring a full view of the battle.

Re-typed by Jennifer O’Connor

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