Tuesday 27 September 2016

Horses to the rescue, lifting our spirits on a winter's day

Niamh Horan and Allison Bray

Published 27/12/2015 | 02:30

COLOUR AND CULTURE: The Wren Boys of Ashbourne wave off the Ward Union Hunt. Photo: David Conachy
COLOUR AND CULTURE: The Wren Boys of Ashbourne wave off the Ward Union Hunt. Photo: David Conachy
The Edge and Bono of U2 at Leopardstown. Photo: Tony Gavin

They say that in Ireland, National Hunt racing is uniquely democratic, a place where the pauper can rub shoulders with the aristocracy, united in their shared love of the Sport of Kings.

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However, on a day when sheets of rain are lashing Leopardstown, like yesterday afternoon, the elite in the luxury of their corporate boxes stay dry while the ordinary punters make do with the rather less reliable shelter of a good brolly.

Fresh from spending Christmas Day with their families, Bono and The Edge (who had spent the morning walking on Killiney Hill) were joined by Guggi, Jim Sheridan, actor Stephen Rea and fashionista John Rocha as they watched the day's races from the top level of the Leopardstown pavilion.

Always the gentlemen, they came down the stairs to greet photographers after dinner. "No interviews, we just wanted to buy you guys a drink," said an upbeat Bono.

They had a feast, of course - duck and foie gras, burgundy braised lamb shank and a trilogy of Christmas desserts - and the revellers were in high spirits as they watched the thoroughbreds during a dry interlude on an otherwise miserable day.

Director Jim Sheridan, who enjoys a bet on the horses every Saturday, celebrated a win in the first race after a decent punt on JP McManus's Coney Island. He had spent a quiet Christmas with his wife Fran.

The master storyteller said his children were in America for the holidays and so instead he would spend the weekend quietly with Fran, watching favourite Christmas movies like It's A Wonderful Life before meeting up with their family again this week for a break in Capri.

Actress Alison Doody was beaming after being surprised by the arrival of her daughter from Los Angeles.

Dressed in a fitted black suit, the blonde former Bond girl was looking forward to her new movie Brother, which is due out in January.

"It's a black comedy and very, very funny. I'm living in my home in Cork and I want to meet up with an old love of mine after my wealthy husband dies. My lover comes to Ireland, wanting to take advantage of me and I have had a child of his, unbeknownst to him, and want his organs," she explained.

Roz Flanagan was spotted enjoying the day out. Dressed in a mink-trimmed coat, the blonde reality star was aware that her choice of clothing mightn't go down well with everyone. "I know it's bold but it's so cosy," she said, pulling it up around her neck. Roz was also wearing a diamond heart-shaped necklace, a sumptuous gift from husband Vincent.

Elsewhere, the Kerry footballers were in the Circle Lounge on the third floor of the grandstand, soaking up the atmosphere, sans Paul Galvin, who was busy making some last-minute preparations before his wedding to presenter Louise Duffy in the coming days.

Other well-known punters enjoying the day out were the US Ambassador, Kevin O'Malley and his wife Dina; the British ambassador, Dominick Chilcott; RTE presenter Miriam O'Callaghan and TV3 presenter Ivan Yates.

Meanwhile, the racing provided thrilling excitement, with Douvan cementing his position at the top of the market for the Arkle at Cheltenham with a captivating performance in the Grade One Racing Post Novice Steeplechase.

Patrick Mullins, deputising for Paul Townend, who was stood down with injury, never had to get serious with his father Willie's novice chaser, who looks like the real deal.

Elsewhere, veteran jockey Tommy Treacy was unable to produce a fairytale finish to his riding career when Vigil came third behind Mullins' A Toi Phil in the maiden hurdle. Treacy, who rode Danoli to many famous triumphs at the Foxrock track, announced his retirement from the saddle in the immediate aftermath but will continue to work with his boss Dermot Weld.

Torrential rain didn't stop another St Stephen's Day tradition going ahead when the motley group of revellers known as the Ashbourne Wrenboys got up to their usual divilment.

They've been around for almost 35 years, but aside from loyal supporters in north county Dublin and Meath, they are a well-kept secret despite scores of faithful followers who flock from surrounding areas to witness their antics, that kick off at the annual Ward Union Hunt at the Ashbourne House Hotel every St Stephen's Day.

"We're the unsung Wrens," joked founding member Paddy Duffy, 72, ahead of the traditional assault on the streets of the village.

But aside from bringing a bit of "divilment and merriment" to the streets and pubs of Ashbourne, the group has raised more than €150,000 for local charities.

This year, it hopes to raise between €4,000 and €5,000 for the Alzheimer Society.

The group ranges in age from 14 to over 70, and includes members from all walks of life. They hope to attract new members in the course of 2016 when the group will celebrate its 35th anniversary. "I'd love to see more people take up the tradition," Mr Duffy said.

Sunday Independent

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