‘Hidden Ireland’ slips out of sight in blaze of glory

IT WAS the biggest and best sporting event in Ireland not just yesterday but all week.

The stands were full, the excitement amongst the thousands present electric, the thrills and spills were of the highest order, the competition was razor-sharp, the organisation and stewardship was flawless, and the clouds were torn asunder with round after round of applause.

And yet, when I was leaving at the finish of the day’s sport there was a sports bulletin after the 4pm news on local station Tipp FM and the National Coursing Meeting in Powerstown Park in Clonmel was not even mentioned!

Worse still (and I’m sure the local station reported fully later) was the fact that there was not even a mention on the RTÉ website of the fact that the annual coursing extravaganza in Clonmel even existed. There was a preview of the horse racing there today of course but that event, can we say gently, caters largely for a different constituency. The omission by the national broadcaster of even a mention never mind a results report was nothing short of scandalous.

Coursing is not PC yet is it? There was indeed a peaceful anti-bloodsports picket as always around the main entrance. RTÉ, apparently, were operating their own boycott of a hugely popular sport with tens of thousands of followers throughout the island and beyond. And, without fear or favour, the closing day of the 85th national meeting was as wholesome a sporting and social gathering as you could find yesterday in all of Europe.

There was the power of the so-called Hidden Ireland about it, folk who were the salt of the earth of the Four Green Fields gathered in their thousands to cheer the exploits of the greyhounds they love.

It was visual, it was vital, it was exciting, the atmosphere was powerful, the sport was great. The hounds are muzzled nowadays. There was no blood. The hares all scudded safely home after every chase. It was mighty stuff.

Clonmel’s coursing yesterday, its huge excited gathering of men, women and children, was different, I think, to those of the earlier decades of the sport.

At a deeper level maybe it is one expression of the rural community’s growing sense of being nearly oppressed nowadays by a growing catalogue of legislation such as the planning laws, the strategic rundown of rural services across the scale of health and education and related areas.

The dogs have been muzzled now for years. There may be a fear amongst the plain people who are the keenest followers of coursing that they are in the process of being muzzled in some way nowadays.

It was notable in the crowded spaces around the stands that the Countryside Alliance had a high profile presence. And there was a table where the petition to prevent coursing being banned was being signed by hundreds all day.

If the followers are the salt of the earth – with a leaven of very interesting looking characters thrown in – it is equally true that the greyhounds they love so much are the princes and princesses of a show which has them in either red or white collars and being slipped every few minutes. Behind the stands for God’s sake, there was a man selling largely opulent jacuzzis for greyhounds! There was every kind of tonic and food available, owners could buy new collars with the name of their dog inscribed. There was even an automatic turntable yoke that could walk seven or eight at a time, turntable style. You name it, it was there at 20% discount.

I met a busload of old friends from Moyvane in Kerry. They have been coming every year since 1988 even though some of them have little knowledge of coursing. It’s a countryman’s day out with your own people. They are getting harder to find. I enjoyed every minute of it.

The dogs have all got quite exotic names and very colourful bodywarmers on a final day without a drop of rain. Lisloose Accord was the fastest bitch in the Oaks and Adios Alonso won the coveted Derby.

One of the most fluid movements in sport has to be the explosive discharge from slips of a pair of hounds. Again and again Tom Murphy and Richie Quinn displayed the art. Judge John O’Connell on horseback with his traditional red jacket looked almost as elegant as the young Waterford lady called Heather who was the Best Dressed Lady of an absolutely splendid sporting day.

Long may it survive and thrive.

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