Farm Ireland

Wednesday 16 January 2019

Opinion: Michael D goes back to his roots in the heart of point-to-point

President Michael D Higgins
President Michael D Higgins
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

On Friday, March 9, Siobhán Madden, was tidying her desk at the AIB bank in Adare, Co Limerick, in preparation for taking the following week off to go to Cheltenham, when she got a prank call.

Or so she thought.

Siobhán hails from the Cork village of Liscarroll, 25 miles away, where she is honorary secretary of the Point-to-Point.

It was there that a woman named Alice Canty, whose family have run the post office for generations, was born in 1900.

She went on marry Clare man John Higgins. Their three children include Michael Daniel Higgins, now Ireland's ninth President.

Last summer, a staunch member of the Liscarroll Point-to-Point Committee made a submission inviting the President to attend its annual race meeting, on March 25.

The phonecall for Siobhán was from the Áras to confirm that visit.

This was following on from the tremendous success of last year's race-meeting, which marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vincent O'Brien, Irish racing's most influential figure, in the other half of the parish, Churchtown.

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Run with the support of the O'Brien family and Coolmore, the meeting included a display of some of his famous memorabilia. A crowd of 3,000 attended.

This area is widely regarded as the home of jumps racing, as the first known steeplechase, now legendary, took place between Buttevant Church and Doneraile Church in 1752.

Some 115 point-to-points a year are now held in Ireland, the majority run by hunt clubs as their main annual fundraisers.

The sport is rightly seen as a nursery for national hunt racing. Graduates have included several Gold Cup winners, including Denman, who won at Liscarroll.

Point-to-points are the ultimate pop-up event.

Thanks to the generosity of landowners, racetracks are magically created by dedicated volunteers from fields which are ordinary farmland throughout the rest of the year.

A track, parade ring, bookies ring, marquees and ancillary services are put in place. Then there is the publicity, getting sponsorship and other administration.

Michael D spent almost three hours pressing the flesh, with jockeys, owners, stewards, etc, as well as ordinary Paddy and Patsy Punters who filed up to meet him.

Such a visit is surely a strong signal that he intends going for another term as President.

Meanwhile, the real business of the day continued - runners, winners, fallers. Conversations were peppered with the likes of, "Are you making money?", "Have you any tips for me?" and "Will you have a bag of chips?"

One jockey who fell was asked, "are you all right?" In the typical vernacular of those thrill-seeking souls who people this robust sport, he replied, "sure the ground is soft."

The going in Liscarroll was softer, but loose rather than the tacky, on the exact same date, 34 years earlier; an occasion which has special resonance for my own family.

My 16-year-old brother Gerry had his first ride in a point-to-point on a mare owned and trained by my mother Rita, named Rainy Weather. She won by 20l, fulfilling his childhood dream. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.

The sport has become more professional but it was lovely to see there is still room for the smaller guy, with Lisnagar Oscar, bred, owned and trained by Fermoy butcher and long-time points supporter Denis Fitzgerald receiving a traditional boisterous reception.

Just before leaving, my pal Siobhán introduced me to the PRO, a young man named Michael Purdon.

"So how are you going to follow this up?" I asked mischievously. "Oh, Trump or Obama," he replied, in like manner, adding, "watch this space."

It was a fun day out.

Indo Farming

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