Racing set forgets country's wealth of woes, even if only for one day
Everyone at the Curragh was determined to enjoy champagne and sunshine despite the Anglo debacle, writes Niamh Horan
Ireland doesn't do anger in the face of adversity – it does defiance. And the feeling was tangible yesterday at the Irish Derby at the Curragh racecourse.
As newspaper headlines warned that the Irish economy had lurched back into recession, it was business as usual for the biggest day of the year on the society calendar.
Instead of torch-wielding mobs, the crowds gave two fingers to the Anglo Tapes debacle and the lies of guffawing bankers by clutching the stems of champagne glasses, raising a toast and carrying on regardless.
The man who personified what everyone was feeling was Bill Cullen.
Looking tanned and dapper with his beautiful partner Jackie Lavin dressed in red by his side, he attracted goodwill from well-wishers, given his difficulties in recent months.
Speaking about the topic on everyone's lips, he said: "What came out in Anglo this week is a disgrace – it's a mess. But it's only depressing if you let it. We are all happy, the sun is shining, we are surrounded by friends."
Ms Lavin added with a knowing smile: "Some of us didn't need to wait to see the papers. We already knew it was going on."
Elsewhere in the private enclosure, local businessman Ray O Brien, president of Newbridge town-twinning programme with Bad Lippspringe in Germany, was dismayed at the news this week: "We have 20 years of friendship with the town there and then this? I will be writing to the mayor next week to apologise for what has come out. To tell him how disgusted we all are and assure them that they are in no way speaking on our behalf."
Across the racecourse, the only indication of the times we are in was the sign over the traditional champagne tent that read "wine and tapas bar".
And yet still they sat outside in the sunshine with €95 bottles of Bollinger.
"As my old man said, 'keep on trucking'," shrugged Dubliner Stephen Kelly as he raised a glass of bubbly.
In the adjoining garden BBQ enclosure, a fattened pig went round and round as it smoked on a spit with an apple stuffed in its mouth. "Now that's what we should do to the bankers," one imaginative punter said as he eyed it up.
A group of 30 friends who had travelled down from Dublin on a Lillies nightclub fun bus were clearly making the most of the day out. Among them was Paul Smith from Clontarf, who said: "We have worked hard enough to bail our country out and now we are finding out this shite again?
"F**k them! At this stage we're entitled to let loose and enjoy our lives. No other country puts up with this s**t. They should be made pay."
Around the parade ring, all the little joys of living that had been sucked out of life as belts were tightened were back in full swing. Racing slips lined the stands like confetti, ties were loosened and friends went in on rounds at the bar.
"What are ya having Mick, same again?" one punter asked his racing partner in the packed-out bar beneath the stand.
"No, no, I'll get it this time," came the reply as he pushed him to one side.
There was no worrying about tomorrow, it was their day out and they were making the most of it.
Entries were up this year at the best-dressed stand as women chose vibrant purples, yellows and pinks.
There was a mixture of vintage, borrowed and high street in the style stakes.
Even model Claudine Keane borrowed her leopard-print headwear from milliner Faith Almond.
She was among 400 guests – including Gay Byrne and Kathleen Watkins, Brian Kennedy, Aishling O'Loughlin, Celia Holman Lee and tennis ace Ana Ivanovich – in the Dubai Duty Free enclosure.
The business, led by Ballinasloe man Colm McLoughlin, recorded sales of $1.6bn last year. It also had huge success in recent days with a golfing day out and black-tie ball in the K Club which raised €100,000 for Autism Action. One particular lot of wine was auctioned off to someone in the crowd for €20,000.
As the sun went down on the Curragh, the crowds continued to fill the stands, cheering the horses.
The big race was won by Trading Leather, trained by Jim Bolger and ridden by Kevin Manning.
Runner-up was Galileo Rock, owned by controversial Cork developer Michael O'Flynn
As the horses thundered past, the crowd rose to their feet and punched their fists in the air. Not in anger – but in defiance.