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Lords of the Curragh Ring
by Gerard McLoughlin

In the privacy of their gleaming Merc's and BMW's, acquisitive bookmakers draw on their cigars and confide that never in the field of human conflict was so much given by so many to so few.

Be that as it may, thousands of us, undeterred by previous reversals, will once more be striding optimistically towards the betting ring at the Curragh on Irish Derby Day.

If, up to now, you have resisted the strident pleas of Channel 4's gesticulating John McCririck to "come racing", I urge you to think again. You will learn more about the psychology of human behaviour in three hours in the betting ring than you would during a university term of lectures and tutorials.

Before the first race, the bookies congregate in hermetic huddles, chatting, calculating, and conspiring. Their assistants man the pitches; blacking out non-runners, rummaging in the stout betting bags and flivelling wads of Euros.

"Runners" and tic-tac men meticulously arrange wooden boxes and stools to ensure an unimpeded view of all the odds boards in the ring.

Early prices for the Derby are prominently displayed but few serious punters are interested since the grapevine has news of a "job" in the first race. It is a case of getting the money on "at first show". So the big race glamour can wait. Byte-sized bookmaking graduates from the chalk-and-spit brigade ostentatiously display their brightly coloured digital display boards - the products of the largesse of generations of mug punters.

As one odds layer said in a recent press interview: "The public like the new computerised boards - they are attracted by a bit of flash. Although they cost about ten grand including the computer, they are well worth it."

Too right they are! It's heart-warming indeed to see that all that money is being put to such philanthropic use.

Over the public address system the familiar message resounds: "The horses are leaving the parade ring." The betting buzz intensifies as the layers scrub their blackboards, nod to their tic-tac men, and begin to chalk their prices with professional circumspection.

The wide boys and the form students cluster around the pitches eagerly anticipating the "show" and poised to pounce if the layers inadvertently "overprice" one.

3/1 …. Before the chalk has been withdrawn from the board, the moneyed fists thrust forward. "Six monkeys to two ….. three grand to one …… three …." In their wake follow the impressionable and the bewildered … "Three ponies ….. three score …. three tenners." But the 3/1 is now 5/2 and the sharks have sped elsewhere.

In the midst of this feeding frenzy, the embattled bookmakers dispatch their harassed runners to "bet it back" or "take all the threes you can get". But such injunctions are hopeless, since only the blind, deaf, or masochistic would now be offering such apparently suicidal odds.

There is a momentary hiatus as thwarted punters settle down once more to scan the mesmeric blackboards, the digital display screens, and the poker faces of the layers.

Golden-skinned models pose obliviously with glasses of champagne; preening thespians embrace each other histrionically; and predatory politicians elbow their way through the electorate, intent on snapping up last-minute betting opportunities.

"The white flag has been raised … They're under starters order … And they're off."

The cheering climbs inexorably to a deafening crescendo as the horses come galloping down the long home straight, their necks stretching and hooves pounding. Chestnuts, bays and browns. Blinkers, hoods and sheepskin nosebands.

Craine, Murtagh, Manning, Eddery, Smullen and Kinane crouching and driving relentlessly towards the winning post …. Yellow cross sashes, blue chevrons, plum cap, scarlet epaulettes, gold braid and sleeves, and white cross of Lorraine.

The voice of the commentator reverberates throughout the enclosures and across the broad grassy plains of Kildare: "The winner - number six … Second - number nine …. and the judge has called for a photo for third …"

The exultant cheering and whooping gradually give way to a babel of laughing congratulations and conflicting opinions. Already the bookies' assistants are shuffling the sheets of runners to display the field for the second race while their employers celebrate or commiserate with one another.

Behind each betting pitch the clerks complete their calculations and return their "holding cards" to the inconspicuous officials of the Racing Board. They gulp tea from disposable white cups, chew slabs of milk chocolate or bite deeply into thick roast beef sandwiches.

Punters repair to the bars or the grandstand to assess prospects in the next race. And there are still almost two hours of activity before the Derby takes place!

Gambling might indeed be the one sure way of getting nothing for something; but, all things considered, on Budweiser Irish Derby Day there is no choice but to repair to the Curragh of Kildare

Note: We first met Gerard when he was writing articles for the now-defunct Themestream web site. His pen name there was Cosmas O'Shaughnessy. He has written many terrific articles and poems.

In the meantime, he would love you to visit his web site. If you're interested in furthering your career, it will be well worth your time. Assignments Plus


Fri, Nov 3, 2017

The Round Towers

The Round Towers of Ireland are remarkable among the world's ancient monuments; one author has called them 'Elegant, free-standing pencils of stone.' Today, 65 survive in part or whole. Hand-crafted in native stone and cemented with a sand, lime, horsehair and oxblood mortar - a technique imported from Roman Britain - it's said by many historians that they were built by monastic communities to thwart Viking invaders. And yet, there's reason to believe that the towers were built long before Christianity came to Ireland. Whatever their origins, monasteries did indeed flourish where the round towers existed. And why not. These imposing edifices provided a watch tower, a keep and a refuge.
Image: By kind permission of Stephen Cassidy, The Cassidy Clan.

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