The date was Sunday, February 27, 1898, the venue was Cork’s famous suburban lake at The Lough and the top prize was a second-hand bike with golden ball bearings.
But the poster for donkey and pony races which has turned up in the library of an old house turns out to have been the fruit of an elaborate prankster’s imagination.
A new set of bagpipes and 1,000 gooseberry bushes were among the other prizes that appeared to be on offer in the two-foot sheet which auctioneer Hugh McPhillips unfurled recently while clearing a house in Monkstown overlooking Cork harbour.
But after telling the Irish Examiner that local historians knew of no records of such sporting events at The Lough, further investigations have turned up the truth behind the poster.
It seems that local hurler Murty Downey, who played for the nearby St Finbarr’s club, specialised in practical jokes around the turn of the last century, and this was one of his most famous. According to a club history, the names of the donkeys, owners and jockeys were the product of his sense of humour.
The Kieran Flannery listed in the programme as the owner of After Hours in the 3.30 Donkey Race, turns out to have been the owner of a local hostelry which still operates under the Flannery’s name on the Glasheen Road. A donkey named Bacchus and a mythical jockey named Bounce correspond to the names given some of Downey’s team-mates of the same era.
The note across the top reads: “To commemorate the Completion of the Bicycle Track around the Lough, a few Sporting Citizens have decided on reviving the ancient pastime of Donkey Races... (to be run under the Rules of the I.N.H.C.)”
Other runners on the two-race card — the second being for ponies — were Betty Donovan’s Chicken Choker, Sally McGann’s Evening Echo, Polly Barrett’s Pride of Gould St under the stewardship of Uncle Buckley, and a mount named Brewer’s Wash, whose jockey was listed simply as Troubles.
A two-mile handicap race for “bona-fide labourers of the parish” was also advertised, offering a first prize of 20 shillings, while entertainment was promised from the band of the Greenmount Industrial School and the game of Aunt Sally — a precursor to skittles — was also to be played.
The list of stewards includes Cork’s mayor of the day, Patrick Meade, the city engineer HA Cutler and Patrick Drummy is given as Clerk of the Sales. The same man appears to be sponsoring the fifth prize of a hundred-weight of pickled gams, described in brackets as being his “own killing”.
The Lough is still a popular recreational area, with the outer of two paths around it measuring a mile around, but would have been surrounded by market gardens in the late 19th century.
While the poster may have been just a spoof, Mr McPhillips said it gives some interesting historical and social insights into Cork in the end of the Victorian era. It goes under the hammer at Marshs auction rooms in the city centre next Saturday.
“I’m sure it might be of interest to local pubs or people interested in Cork history; it’s the kind of thing that could fetch €100 or it might make €500,” he said.
Also included in the catalogue will be a bill of lading dated August 17, 1785, in which William Crawford is sending seven firkins of butter to London on the ship the Thomas, anchored in Cork under the captaincy of Sam Seldon.
It came from the same house in Monkstown which was home to the late Michael Foley, born in Cork in 1895 and who was once a reporter for The Cork Examiner. He went to work as a journalist in Manchester in the 1920s and later worked in Belfast, before returning Cork in later life to the house in Monkstown where the poster was found lying with hundreds of books in his library.
“His daughter told me he was a great collector of books and items of local interest, and he often got a great laugh from the old Lough Races poster,” said Mr McPhillips.
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