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PUNCHESTOWN IN THE OLDEN TIMES

Kildare Observer April 28 1906
 
Punchestown in the Olden Times
 
At a time when it is admittedly difficult to find anything new to say concerning Punchestown, we think it will not be inappropriate this week to quote an appreciation of it which appeared in “Our Van” in Baily’s Magazine of 1874, and most likely from the brilliant pen of Mr. J. Comyns Cole, a gentleman who for many years was an annual visitor, generally accompanied by Mr. Charles Browne, well remembered by some readers as the genial “Robin Hood” of “The Field.” We quote as follows:-
 
Dublin was unusually lively, we thought, and though there was no Viceroy either at the Lodge or at Punchestown, the Duke of Abercorn not having then arrived, yet business and pleasure seemed both brisk. The Grafton street shops were gay with colours, and in the afternoon the pave was gay with pretty women. There was the usual big sale the following day at Sewell’s, and this time the late Lord Howth’s horses were the attraction. They did not fetch extravagant prices, as may be supposed; and Mr. Croker, of Ballynagarde, in the Co. Limerick, a gentleman who has taken very kindly to steeplechasing and other sports, gave the top price- 405 guineas-for Yorkshire Relish. Shelmartin, who had shown some form at the Curragh when a two year old, went for 860 gns, and Royal Arms, the bargain of the sale, for 125 gns. The yard was crowded to excess, and one met everybody, and talked over everything-sport, politics and scandal-with effusion. In fact, there was more coffee-housing than business, it struck us. The day was a wretched one, necessitating some living above the weather, and rendering visits to Morrison’s, Bailey’s, the Clarendon, etc. etc., not unpleasant. Red Banks are always more or less soothing, and frequent liquoring-up is a vicious habit not confined to either side of St. George’s Channel. The next day was a lovely one, and Punchestown was in its glory. True, we missed the Lord Lieutenant and his surroundings, the cortege, the reception at the Stand, the bows and courtesys, the uncovered heads, and all the rest of the pageant, but still there was about the usual show of beauty and form in the Ladies’ Stand, and about the usual sport.
Somehow one does not see the horses in Ireland we used to. Perhaps we don’t see them anywhere; but it struck us, both here and at Fairyhouse that the class was moderate. This was particularly apparent in the Farmers’ Plate, for which race we have seen many a good horse run before now, and much buying and selling result therefrom; but this year we don’t think there was anything that would have tempted Lord Combermere, Sir Watkin Wynn, Sir George Wombwell, or any of our hunting men, who, by the way, were not present this time in any force. Some lamented deaths kept many away, but still we missed familiar faces that might have been there if they had pleased. Has Punchestown lost its savour? The army was represented by the Scots Fusiliers, the 5th Dragoon Guards, the Enniskillens, the 14th Hussars, the 12th Regiment, etc., and in the luncheon paddock their hospitable boards were duly spread. The same ridiculous order respecting tents and marquees was in force as last year, and the consequence was that on the second day, owing to a tremendous hailstorm just about the luncheon hour, we partook of that meal under circumstances of general discomfort, more especially to the ladies, which would hardly have been pleasing to the Horse Guards if General Order had seen it. For ladies barely apparelled to stand up to their ankles in mud and water, and eat soddened cold lamb, mayonnaise of salmon with which hailstones had played the very deuce, and cake well sopped in rain when a covering might have obviated all this, seems a very ridiculous and unnecessary thing, and for which we are deeply indebted to that same General Order, and if he had only been there to partake of the pleasure, we all felt it would have been very gratifying. We thought that Lord Drogheda had done his utmost last year in the way of making Punchestown paths pleasant, but he had been hard at work, it appeared, ever since the last meeting, and had spent nearly £500 in levelling the straight run in and raising the ground between the two last fences into an embankment, by which the going was most materially improved, besides a capital view being obtained from the Stand. Formerly there was a nasty dip here, and the ground very rough and broken-now one might play croquet on it. All these improvements have been carried out under Lord Drogheda’s direction and Mr. Waters’ superintendence, and, moreover, the fences have been all looked to, and, where necessary, repaired, and in fact, everything done that could be done to make Punchestown perfect. The mud through which on the second day one waded in the field leading from the road to the course, set us thinking that but one thing is now needful, and that is a road over the said field-a great boon could it be accomplished. But we can’t expect anything, and will be thankful by comparing what the hillside was ten or twelve years ago, and what it is now. There was but little speculation in Dublin on the Prince of Wales’ Plate or Conyngham Cup; in fact, it would be more correct to say there was none. We remarked last year on its absence, and Bailey’s and the clubs this time were blank draws as far as business was heard of was that a gentleman dropped £700 at roulette in a certain street which shall be nameless, and that he didn’t get it back the next night, which was singular. Heraut d’Armes had been made favourite for the Prince of Wales’ Plate, but at the post Night Thoughts, a Queen’s Plate winner at the Curragh, had decidedly the call in the betting. Mr. Forbes’s horse did not quite look in his Liverpool bloom; and Albert, second in the Grand National at Fairyhouse, was even a better favourite than he. Scot’s Grey with the same weight which he could not carry to the front on the previous Monday was, of course, out of the hunt; and there was a very good-looking horse in Albert’s stable-Egyptian-about the best-looking we saw, but, if they could win with Albert, of course, it was no use exposing Egyptian, who will win races some day, if we mistake not. Heraut d’Armes did not jump at all kindly, for he ran into the fence past the Stand without attempting to rise at it, and was out of it there and then; Albert, who had always been well up in front, taking the lead at the double, and, though he was headed between that and the third fence from home, he easily quitted his horses there, and won hands down, Gamebird and Gaslight being second and third. We were glad to see Waterford with Captain Middleton again up, win the Grand Military, which he was done out of last year by a wrong description of age-hard lines for its owner. He won in such a common canter that we should like to see him in better company. One of the notable features of Punchestown was the good form shown by “Mr. St. James.” That gentleman will, we feel sure, excuse us, when we say his riding was a surprise to us. He exhibited a knowledge of pace, judgement and patience, with which we had not credited him. He rode Leinster Lily admirably in the Drogheda Stakes, and the way in which in the Kildare Challenge Cup he stalled off in a rush of Capt. Smith’s on Lady Mary was artistic. He had previously ridden Warbler in the Bishopscourt Plate, and three wins in one day at Punchestown has, as far we remember, never been accomplished before. On the second day “Mr. St. James” was unfortunate enough to get two falls in the Railway Plate and the Veterans’ Sweepstakes, and in the latter he must have won if Phoenix had stood up. As it was he was only beaten by Highlander by a length. We have seen more people at Punchestown, and had more fun than on this occasion; still, as the young ladies say, “It was awfully jolly,” bar the mud. One thing Punchestown deserves special kudos for, time was well kept. We got rather behindhand the second day, for which the weather was, perhaps, responsible; but on the first day we got back to Dublin by 6.30-a feat we certainly never accomplished before. The railway service (we hear the company took £500 less than last year) was perfect; and one special brought us from Sallins to Kingsbridge in 25 minutes-very good indeed. As there was a time when the Great Southern and Western Railway did not do this or anything like it, we hasten to record its present excellent behaviour, from which we hope it will never lapse. Lord Drogheda was everywhere, so was Mr. Waters; and as we look upon them, each in their own degree, to be the embodied spirits of Punchestown, we trust to find them next year with renewed energies and fresh improvements, that will make it what it has been, and always ought to be, facile princeps among Irish meetings.
 

The Kildare Observer of April 1906 quotes an article from "Our Van" in Bailey's Magazine which describes events in and around Punchestown in 1874. 


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