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A last hurrah for the Titanic at Punchestown

The ripples from the sinking of the Titanic in the early hours of 15 April 1912 spread to the Punchestown Festival national hunt meeting just ten days later in the same month. The Kildare Observer’s social columnist at the races recorded that “Rumour was current at Punchestown that the Honourable C. Alexander had his passage booked for trip on the ill-fated Titanic but was persuaded stay in Ireland and win the Kildare Hunt Cup. He did and scored a rare double event.” It is a comment which reads somewhat flippantly in the face of the Titanic catastrophe – there was more importance placed on the fact that the Hon. Alexander had ridden two winners at Punchestown rather than any reflection on the gravity of the disaster. 
Certainly there was no evidence that the shipping catastrophe cast any pall over the Punchestown meeting of 1912. In fact the opposite held – the Kildare Observer reported that there was a “Record attendance and Grand racing” in two days of brilliant sunshine. Punchestown veterans accustomed to dodging April hailstones at the track will have been relieved by the fact that the weather was brilliantly fine for “Princely Punchestown” on the first day of the two-day meeting with the sun shining from a cloudless sky. And thus there was a record crowd attracted to the east Kildare track.
However the Kildare Observer picked up on a slight shift in travel patterns of the racegoers of that year – a shift which was to become the dominant through to modern times. The paper noted that Kingsbridge railway station in Dublin, normally bulging with Punchestown-bound passengers, had lost something of its brilliancy on a race-day morning. And why? Because of the advent of the motor war which saw a small but trend-setting elite of Dublin society now taking to the newfangled motor carriage to travel from the metropolis to Punchestown.
Setting the trend for the new mode of travel to Punchestown were the Lord Lieutenant, the Duke of Abercorn and his wife the Duchess. The vice-regal party having motored from Dublin were met at Punchestown by the top hats of the Kildare Hunt Club committee accompanied by an escort of huntsmen “all mounted and dressed in the regulation hunting garb and escorted to the Hunt enclosure.”
The purple prose which described the glittering social scene at the opening day of the festival meeting continued into day two. According to the Kildare Observer reporter who seemed to double as a meteorological correspondent the “the Punchestown meeting was continued on Wednesday under the same brilliant conditions as it commenced. Large as the crowd had been in the public enclosure and out on the course on Tuesday, it was half as large again on the second day”. And on this occasion the emphasis seemed to be on male rather than the female fashion scene which usually dominates Punchestown social coverage: “The hunt stands presented the same animated scene as on the opening afternoon, but as usual the silk hat and morning coat was relinquished by the men on the second day.”  The 1912 meeting was also free of the scourge of petty theft and intemperance which had blighted previous meetings . The Kildare Observer summed up the good mood of Punchestown 1912 in reporting that: “ Never has there been less drunkenness or of the common peccadilloes begotten of inebriation … and as evidence of this we might point to the fact that there was not a single offence requiring investigation by the Resident Magistrate on the course.”  However the event was not completely crime free. On the Wednesday evening a book-maker named Condon reported that he had been robbed of a sum of £60. He alleged that a man who was standing near his bookmaker’s stand had plunged his hand into the bag which Condon carried suspended around his neck and decamped with a handful of his money.
Such snippets regarding petty crime at the festival, and more eloquently written pieces about the social scene at the races, occupied pages in the newspaper of the last week in April. The latest casualty lists released in connection with the Titanic sinking just a fortnight previously merited just a paragraph at the bottom of a page. This taken together with the rather frivolous way in which the Hon. Alexander’s luck in missing the Titanic was reported suggest that even one of the world’s greatest maritime disasters ranked in second place to the annual phenomenon known as Punchestown. Series no: 277

The sinking of the Titanic did not infringe on the Punchestown festival in April 1912 so writes Liam Kenny in no. 277 of his Looking Back series. Our thanks to Liam

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