Field of dreams

The formidable Patrickswell husband and wife team of Michael and Marie Field have prepared a powerful team to contest the Derby and Champion Stakes at Powerstown Park, Clonmel next week. They spoke to Diarmuid O’Flynn about their training regime- and how they struck up their partnership 47 years ago.

YE KNOW that film, The Man Who Went Up A Hill And Came Down A Mountain?

It’s that time of the year again, the great annual National Coursing Meeting in Clonmel around the corner, you go to meet someone who is lucky enough to have a few dogs qualified, looking for a coursing story, and you come away with a love story.

Not a soapy, soppy Hollywood love story, but an Irish-style love story, grounded, earthy.

Michael and Marie Field from Patrickswell have four dogs qualified for Clonmel this coming week, three in the Derby and one in the Champion Stakes – a sizeable achievement in a sport where so many of the smaller trainer/breeders never get to have even one in a lifetime.

This story is theirs.

They met across a crowded room, a crowded ballroom to be precise, the Canon Hayes Memorial Hall in Effin, Co. Limerick, a place that holds great memories for so many of us.

“It’s very easy for me to remember it,” says Michael; “I was at home in Newcastlewest and a friend of mine, John McCoy, called in; 1964, it was the Monday night before the start of Lent, and it was the only place in the area there was a dance on that night — Donie Collins was playing. There’d be a lot of dancing on Shrove Tuesday, but nowhere else on a Monday, so we headed off. And it was there I met Marie.”

It was fate, of course, that greatest of all match-makers — neither of them had even been there before, neither of them was ever there again.

Marie: “It was the only night I was ever in Effin. My parents had gone out, there was a car in the yard, I rang a few of the girls – you’d travel anywhere in those days for a dance. Looked up the paper and the only place there was a dance was in Effin – where was Effin? We found our way there anyway, I met Michael, but I don’t think I’ve ever been there since.”

We’re a bit caught for space here so we’ll have to skip the courtship; suffice to say that soon enough they were married, and with that came the first joint decision – where to live.

Marie: “I wouldn’t live in the city; I was from a farming family in Limerick, in the North Liberties, had to have a couple of acres. We drove out towards Patrickswell, saw this place, called in to see would they sell a site and a couple of acres, and your man said, ‘Sure ye might as well buy the whole place!’ We ended up doing just that — 24 hours later it was ours.”

Michael: “About 40 acres, and we farmed for a while – I learned it from the Farmers’ Journal!

We had a cow for the house, which Marie milked by hand, and that’s what the kids were reared on, but sure it was in the blood — her family were actually the first farm to bottle milk in Limerick.”

Marie: “We used to deliver twice a day, but it was my mother was the farmer.”

Michael: “The woman here is still the farmer too!”

Michael, you see, was a teacher, was in fact the first teacher hired for Árd Scoil Rís, a story in itself. “I taught in Abbeyfeale when I qualified, a famous private school there owned by a man called Jim Kelly. When he employed me he told me had only a year for me, that his son was qualifying the next year. I said that was grand, my father had just died and I needed to be near home for a while. I got on very well there but at the end of the year the son came home and now I had no job, and jobs were hard to come by in those days, I can tell ye.

“At the end of August I got word that there was a vacancy in Templemore, at the CBS. I went up but in those days it was very informal, not much of an interview – ‘You have the job’, that was all that said to me.

“The following Tuesday I was at the sales in Shelbourne, sold a dog for £250, which was a lot of money then. My mother was with me and we decided to go home by Templemore and arrange digs for myself, which we did. In the meantime, there was another job advertised in Limerick, a friend of mine showed it to me — I was sick when I saw it, but I said ‘sure look, I have a job got’.

My mother persuaded him to apply on my behalf anyway, he wrote a letter, and when I got home from Shelbourne Park that Tuesday evening, having arranged my digs, there was a letter waiting for me in under the door – ‘Please come in for interview, but don’t come on Wednesday!’, which was the following day.

St. Munchin’s Christian Brothers’ primary school at Hassett’s Cross was being officially opened which meant a big ‘do’ for all the teachers in the area, and he didn’t want me there that day. Thursday morning, nine o’clock, I headed for Limerick, went to the monastery, was told to ask for a Br. Floyd.

I went down – turned out that Marie’s father had built the school, though I didn’t even know her yet at this stage; up the stairs – I’ll never forget those stairs, terrazzo stairs — knocked at the door, met Br. Floyd, and this was the whole interview: ‘Are you the boy from Newcastlewest?’ ‘I am.’ ‘Are you registered?’ ‘I am.’ ‘You’re the man we want!

Go up now and ask for a Br. McGinnity, and start planning. And that was it, the start of Árd Scoil Rís – I spent 33 years there afterwards.

We built the school from scratch, had 40 students the first year and we just divided them in half – he took 20, I took 20. We sat down and said, what can we teach? And we divided the subjects between us, the Brother and myself, but when it came to the French, which was becoming very popular at the time, neither of us had a word. ‘I’ll take that,’ he said, ‘Sure I can use Linguaphone and a tape-recorder, and we can get a French teacher next year!’ And that’s what we did.”

So they settled down in Patrickswell, Michael and Marie, just north of the village on the main road to Limerick, raised five fine kids, three sons and two daughters.

“You see the three lads there on the wall, Michael, Edward, John,” says Marie, indicating three family wedding pictures, “And we have two ladies who got married in 2010, Sinead and Elaine, but we’re still waiting for their photos, to hang beside the boys.”

Pride of place in that living-room, however, is a superb photo of another member of the family – Irish track derby winner Kyle Jack.

And here, we come to yet another link in the Field chain, another tie that binds, and the reason we were in Patrickswell in the first place – their mutual love of greyhounds.

Michael: “My father was a guard, and when I was growing up we kept greyhounds, always. We were actually living in the town in Newcastlewest but there was open ground behind us, the town park – it was a town demesne, a fantastic facility, and we backed on to that. There was no GAA pitch or anything there then, we had the whole thing almost to ourselves and used it to train the dogs. We made a few pounds from it too, good money in greyhounds after the war, the 50s, paid the school fees and that. Mind you it was all track dogs – you don’t make money from coursing dogs!”

Marie: “My father was more into horses, but we had a few dogs too, always — we ran dogs in the Irish Cup one year, but I only barely remember it. But, when we got married the first thing to come into this house were the greyhounds, and we’ve had them ever since.

“And it’s like everything else around here, a joint effort – all greyhounds are, no one person could do it all. That’s Kyle Jack in the picture there, he won a track Derby but we bred a coursing Derby winner, Kyle Guest, the biggest outsider that ever won in Clonmel.”

“That was 1979, he beat Ballyard Jumbo in the final, just up, but it was a very short slip, they only went up about 300 yards,” says Michael; “I had a few quid on him at 50/1, on the long odds. He wasn’t ours though, we sold him as a sapling to the legendary Jack Mullan, who kept the name.

But I’ll tell you one thing for certain – I wouldn’t have won the Derby with him!”

This year, however, Michael and Marie are hoping to right that, to have another ‘Kyle’ Derby winner in Clonmel, but this time, all their own.

‘Kyle’ is their prefix, comes from the name of the townland, Barnakyle, and they have Kyle King, Kyle Ranger and Kyle Tanyard in the Derby, with another, Kyle Basil, favourite for the Champion Stakes. For good measure their stud dog Kyle James has three representatives in the Derby.

Will they win? Maybe, maybe not, but one way or the other the love will endure, this love between man, woman, and this special breed of dog.

Arguments? “Sure there’s bound to be!” says Michael, “But that’s part of it — isn’t that what keeps us going, and isn’t it a grand topic of conversation between husband and wife, keep the mind off other more serious matters!”

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