Local History: Turlough Races in 1928

Turlough Round Tower.

By Tom Gillespie

IN Castlebar Parish Magazine 1987, Eddie McDonnell recalled a racing meeting held on Vinegar Hill.

He wrote : .

The village, which has historical links going back as far as the time of George Robert the ‘Fighting Fitzgerald’, was also renowned for its equestrian traditions, and some very fine local horses participated in the various meetings held in the tower field. , next to the round tower. This racecourse was considered one of the most beautiful on this side of the Shannon.

After the division of the tower field by the Land Commission, subsequent race meetings were held on Vinegar Hill, on the south bank of the river, on which General Humbert traveled to Swinford, via Drumdaff, Kilnacarra, Loughtavarry and Ballyvary after the Castlebar Races.

On May 12, 1928, such a race meeting was held at Vinegar Hill. From the start, the crowd started to gather from all directions. The mode of movement was the sidecar, the hatch, the horse, the bicycle and the “hock mare”.

There were only a few motor cars to see. Jack Mellett brought several loads of Castlebar in his open Ford Tourer, Model T, and Barney Holland drove his private Ford, IZ 37. This registration number may be indicative of the few motor vehicles registered in County Mayo in the ‘era.

Racehorses came from as far away as Galway, Sligo and other remote areas, and many local animals were visible. The bettors were adequately served by the many bookmakers present.

Between the races, there were many shows for everyone to enjoy. Many of Castlebar’s traders toured their wares – the Creshams, Brinklows, Lydons, McGoughs and Devaneys, who operated the swinging boats for the enjoyment of the young.

The cries of “Penny everyone apples and oranges” could be heard throughout the course.

The name of the man who operated the roulette table escapes me. In an effort to draw potential customers into the crowd, he was yelling at the top of his lungs: The smallest of children can play as well as the tallest of men.

” And you sir ? He said to Seamus Browne, who stood in the crowd with Tom Hopkins listening to this great city speaker. Now Seamus, a man who always kept a few half crowns on hand when challenged, declined this one, however, and walked over to Pat Merrick and William Wilcox, who were getting a horse ready for the next race.

The same horse, “Romany”, was an unusual animal, in that it was broken by the wind and “wired directly”. He had a tube fitted to his trachea that hissed like a piping duck as he galloped at high speed. He won this race, and many others.

The main attraction, outside of the Tower Plate, was the farmers’ race. The favorite to win was a local horse from the Plovervale stables. This animal, ‘Log Boy’, was trained and ridden by the owner, Sonny Corley, a hotel equestrian and breeder.

Having had success on the course before, he was considered a big favorite to win. He started at the evenings, but as the money went up it went down to 5/4.

It was a hotly contested race, with ‘Log Boy’ in the lead from the start, but, alas, at the Gordnafulla bend the rider and horse parted ways, leaving ‘Park Lass’ a clear winner at 6/1.

There was a lot of disappointment in the crowd, their local favorite had let them down.

When the crowd dispersed, all converged on the village where the day’s winnings were diverted to Durcan’s, McQuaid’s and O’Donnell’s during the festivities.

The racing dance took place that evening in the local dance hall – the “House of Preaching”. It was located in the High Prairie, at the rear of what was then Loughran Garden. The hall was overflowing with about 200 dancers.

We provided our own music – Mattie Clarke and Dan Peter McGrath, Pakie Barrett and Eddie Duffy on violins, Matt Devaney, John Clarke and yours truly on the accordion, and John Rice on the whistle.

During the intermissions, songs were performed by many local singers and recitations were given by the eloquent Paddy Connor.

Money was scarce at the time, but “crack” was free. Porter was nine pence a pint, or six pence for a “medium.”

Due to the advent of the internal combustion engine and the Land Commission, the “Sport of Kings” in Turlough was gone.

It is hardly if Tower Field or Vinegar Hill will welcome the cheerful crowd of racing enthusiasts as in the past. More is a pity.

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