The Sights and Sounds of Punchestown

This text will be replaced by the flash music player.

The calendar of my youth read:
"In the beginning there was Christmas
Then there was Easter
And then there was Punchestown"
The priest from the altar
"Today is Walking Sunday
This is the fifth Sunday after Easter
This is the first Sunday before Punchestown"

Walking Sunday
Women with prams
Children and picnics
Walking to Punchestown.
The day for inspecting the racecourse
The two-mile race for youths
The six-mile race for men
Jack Hartigan in charge
I would run in the two—mile race
Ending up down the field
Out of breath and with a stitch

Monday in school
How would this day pass
The tips rolling in
For Dandy's Joy
Ten per cent
Little Trix

Pat Taaffe
Martin Maloney
Bobby Beasley
Joe Osborne
Paddy Sleator
Tom Dreaper
My savings in place
From collecting empty Jam Jars
Running errands
Swiping the odd empty porter bottle

Monday night the crowds
Came from all over the country
Our house a bed and breakfast
Our bedrooms vacant
We slept on the landing
Tuesday morning
The wakening of the town
My mother at mass
My sister Jo
Gave the Travellers their breakfast
They were in the kitchen
When my mother got in
With one swipe of her hand
Language they understood
The strangers were banished
I walked up town
Mingled with the visitors

The Gardi drilling in the Courthouse
Taking instructions on the traffic
At last time to go

The double-decker bus to the course
Children writing car numbers into school jotters

On the course
The heather blazing yellow
Larks filling the air with singing
First sounds of Punchestown
Dublin women selling race cards
Racing card
Card a shilling
Racing card
Card a shilling
Racing card
Racing card"
Their voices silencing the larks

A banjo player belting his harmony
A fiddler five paces down playing a jig
An old man cross—legged playing the pipes
A man outside crunched on his hunkers with a sign
Please help the cripple
Once the first race was announced
He ran off to have a bet on a horse
The miracle of healing

African Prince Monolula
Decked in his ritual African dress
A long peacock feather
Out of his turban
A diamond in the centre
His silks white as snow
Buttoned with jewels
His shoes matching his silks
Curling like a teapot
Standing head and shoulders above everybody
Selling inside information to the punters
Giving everyone a different tip
The Prince quivering from punter to punter shouting
—I has a horse
—I has a horse

People flowed onto the course
Meeting friends
The Huntsmen and the army on horseback
Clearing the course before each race

The race
The oohs
The awes
From the stand
Following every yard of the race
This was a Festival of Festivals
Down to the big double
Sounds of horses coming
Jockeys roaring

The jump onto and off the bank
A grey horse
Running adrift
Falling into the trench
The beginning of the end for him
I patted his head
He nibbles my corduroy
We became friends
And then the dying
The sound of the gun
And it was over
My friend was gone
Sadness gripped me

Back to the far side of the course
A frenzy of activity
Bookies with their assistants
The tic tack men
With white gloves
Standing on stools
Interchanging prices
The marquee
Sounds from Kildare to Manchester
Intermingling with satisfaction of delight.
The hangers—on scrounging a pint
Asking for a few bob to be repaid on Friday
A fiddler playing a hornpipe
Three lads singing Danny Boy
The inevitable row
The fight
Moving to the rear of the tent
Once outside
The row forgotten
The shake hands
Arms around each other
And back inside
A man with a monkey on his back Roaring
Everyone's a winner
Get the monkey off me back
I'm drowning with this monkey
I'm drowning with this monkey
Another five pound winner
—Another five pound winner
Handing a young lad six pence

A man on the Black Jack shouting
—As low as you like and as high as ten bob
—Any ace or space you like
—You're winning too much
—Make way for your elders
—Here comes Hung one
—His brother was Hung too

A Roulette operator reciting his mantra
—God made the bees
—The Bees made the honey
—The farmer did the dirty work
—And the budget made the money

A strong man cracking his whip
—Stand back
—Stand back
—Watch me
Holding a long steel chain
He roared
—I'm from the depths of Africa
—Inside me are the Jewels of Africa
—The authorities are still looking for them
—I will swallow this massive chain
Then bit by bit the chain disappeared
The onlookers gasped in awe
Then the chain came up again
Thunderous applause
The collection
We gave our pennies

Then the bed of nails
A rasp on a tin lid gathered the crowd
The nails spoke volumes
The big man laid on the nails
Then asked a heavy man to stand on him
We waited for the blood to gush
But he catered for two large men
To our disappointment
There was no blood
Then he got a round of applause
And collected with his cap

The roar
—Hairy Mary from Tipperary
—Give me five pounds in small change
—Immediately Georgie
—Another winner Georgie
—Another winner
—Another ten pound winner
—I'm being destroyed Georgie
—I'm being destroyed
He handed the winner a shilling

The three card trick men
Setting their fold-up card table
In the middle of the crowd
One man watching for the guards
The lad in the middle shouting
—Find the lady
—Find the lady
—For ten bob
—Find the lady
We will take all bets
His man
Finding it every time
Coaxing the onlookers to bet
The money down
The lady went missing
So too the lads
As the crowd swallowed them up

I followed a man wearing a trench coat
He discarded his hunt stand badge
I cleaned it on my corduroy trousers
Marched into Hunt stand
A world apart
Accents of Eton or Oxford
The bowler hat
Walking stick and fur coat
I backed Dandy's Joy
He fell at the last
I lost all but my bus fare home

Back outside I listened to my friend roaring
—Give me five pounds in small change immediately
—I have a unique offer to make
—A unique offer
—Your money back or a free draw
—Your money back or a free draw
—I'm giving them away Georgie
—I'm giving them away
It was an offer I could not refuse
Down to my bus fare
I could not lose
I bought a ticket
A dud
Then I asked for my money back
At first he ignored me
I called him again
He ignored me
I called the third time
—What son
—You want your money back
—You want your money back
—This young lad wants his money back
—Go away son
I persisted
Telling him it was my bus fare money
I reminded him of his pitch
—Their betting their bus fares here
—Five pounds in small change
—Their betting their bus fares
—Please sir
—Can I have my bus fare back
—We have an embezzler here
—An embezzler
—Get the guards
—Get the guards
—They're cleaning me out
—They're cleaning me out
—Please sir my bus fare
—I will have to walk home
—Go on son and walk
—That's what your feet are for
—Please sir
—Clear off son
—You're driving me mad
—Driving me mad
—This young lad is driving me insane
—Insane Georgie
Finally I had to leave and walk home
Although broke,
With tears
My foot a slow march
I was happy and sad

The end of Punchestown for another year
These sights and sounds
Entered my eyes and ears
They would lodge in my mind
Remain to ward off trouble ahead
Moments to be recalled
When I would be in difficulty
And always the hurt would dampen

Click here to buy the book with CD!