In an article dated 3 April 2013 entitled "When the Easter Rising happened the British establishment were all at the racetrack - My grandfather, too, attended the Grand National horse race on that historic day."
Fairyhouse, County Meath: Back on April 24th 1916
the British establishment showed up here on Easter Monday for the horse
racing highlight of the year in Ireland, the Irish Grand National.
most Irish events of the time it was a pale version of the British
Grand National horse race, the greatest race on the racing calendar.
accounts reflect a grand old time, the British military officers in
particular, on break from the First World War, were in fine humor
enjoying the spectacle of the day.
It was a day known for the height of fashion as the Dublin ladies tried to catch the eye of the dashing military officers. The weather that long ago day was spring like.
History records that All Sorts won the big race, trained by Richard Cleary, but the names would soon be forgotten.
around Fairyhouse on Easter Monday 2013 it is hard to imagine that the
place has changed that much. Sure there are modern buildings now but the
layout of the racecourse which lies among windswept hills some 20 miles
or so from Dublin is still the same. To the south are the Dublin
Mountains, covered in snow this week after Ireland’s cold spell. To the
north and south and east are the rolling hills and lush green fields of
The track itself is a natural amphitheater but very
exposed to the elements. The whipping wind on Monday last kept many
spectators quartered inside.
Also at the track that day in 1916
was Joseph Devins, a shopkeeper, my then 33-year-old maternal
grandfather who had traveled up from Clare for the day on what must have
been an unusual day out for him.
At around 11am that day in the
center of Dublin, 1,200 men, far fewer than expected because of a
countermanding order wrongly sent, showed up in front of the GPO, made a
left turn and changed the course of Irish history. A man called Patrick Pearse read a proclamation. A revolution began.
Out at Fairyhouse mounted messengers soon arrived hotfoot with startling news that an uprising was underway.
was consternation at the track. All public transportation was suspended
as the military commandeered all forms of transport. My grandfather was
unable to find any way to get to the station to catch his train home.
home in Ennis, County Clare, my grandmother, Jane Devins, soon began
fretting as the shock news of an uprising reached them.
family lore that it took Joseph a full week, walking all the way, to get
back to Clare and safety and that my grandmother fainted when he walked
in the door as she had given him all up for dead.
survived. I thought of him on Monday and what it must have been like at
Fairyhouse on that day in 1916. In 2013 a gallant mare, a 50/1 outsider
called Liberty Counsel, shocked the punters and won the race. I liked
that she had the name of liberty — somehow it fit the mood and the
events of that famous day long ago.