Graham Cunningham’s Irish Weekend

Graham Cunningham was in Leopardstown on Irish Champions Weekend, reflecting on a day when the mood wasn’t driven by movement on the track.


“It will be ten days of grief and a spectacle where, like the dazzling mirror of the monarchy itself, we will enjoy our identity and avoid questioning what we have become.”

One striking sentence from the Guardian’s epic 2017 article by Sam Knight about the machine running the king’s death reverberates a week later that began with the loss of a 13-year-old Irish prince and ended with the loss of 96. An old british queen.

What we’ve become in an increasingly disjointed UK can be disconcerting, but there are worlds beyond where the featured race is the race designed to produce Twitter’s hottest clips.

The front pages of the tabloid at Dublin Airport newsstands tout the tragic tale of two children who died in a Westmeath car fire, and a wrinkled cowboy Garth Brooks tells a crowd of 80,000 from Croke Park how he “came here to stir up some hell”.

And then, amid the gleaming office blocks that surround it, the Leopardstown Racecourse provides an oasis of contemplative mind.

The Irish are often said to handle death better than the British – and their tight-knit race tribe has had extensive practice in this section – but that resilience has been severely tested since young Jack de Broomhead was murdered during a pony race in Kerry last Saturday.

RTV anchor Gary O’Brien, a black suit finished with a red ribbon to indicate Jack’s racing colors, tells how “this hit is harder than anything I’ve known all my time racing,” while Leopardstown CEO Tim Husbands reflects on Henry de Broomhead’s time as a board member. In the Foxrock Place where he describes how “every part of the Irish racing community depends on the others and if one part stumbles we all falter.”

The video clip, which was shown before the third race on Saturday, was followed by standing ovations as familiar clans bask in golden sunshine.

Young men dressed to kill Dublin don speakers and Prosecco at the last big session of the summer; Serious punters scour the betting ring in search of value; Few of the old presidents remember the Queen’s relationship with Ireland and the first state visit that provided Anglo-Irish relations more than the decades of diplomacy that preceded it.

Painful history was at the forefront of the tour, which included an emotionally charged visit to Crocker – a scene from the bloody Sunday killings in 1920 – but that 2011 visit also included unofficial trips to visit Sea The Stars at Gilltown Stud, Galileo, and the rest of the stars at Coolmore.

Mick Kinane’s royal memories extend far beyond STS, and he took a long time to air at World Pool, and the former champ recalls a Windsor Castle reception to celebrate Royal Ascot’s 150th anniversary.

Willie Carson was gossiping with Joe Mercer and the Queen and I ran into and said ‘Oh, I’d love to talk to you three. Willy asked her why—and she smiled and said, ‘Well, ’cause you make me feel so much taller!

With modern life being what it is, most of us tend to see the loss of a famous person through the prism of our fleeting interactions with them.

Mine was more ephemeral than most, including a brief glimpse of a gloved hand as the Royal Caravan made its way through my middle school in 1967 and a dash under Epsom right after discovering the boot flew in the heat of the 2011 derby belonging to Carlton House.

A shoe insurance plan that might have cost the Derby Queen nothing came to fruition – although I snapped a photo while she was pregnant – but even a royal skeptic like myself got a kick out of the fact that a cheerful owner sent a message to say how much she enjoyed the C4’s coverage of Estimate’s historic cup success Golden 2013.

Back on track, local racing pioneer Jerry Costigan approaches to say how much he enjoys the current coverage of RTV and expresses the sentiments of many dealing with today’s tune.

He said, “I’m almost seventy now, and more and more, what’s happening in the world makes me want to say thank you to those who make us so happy.”

“What happened to the De Broomhead family is a heartbreaking thing and everyone with a love for Irish racing has been touched by how fragile life is.

“The Queen’s death is very sad in a different way but you can see even from a distance that she adores horses and that’s the one thing that unites us all and makes us go back to racing even when real life seems tough.”

The respect duly accorded to the woman who made the race fit for millions, the global audience would move fast enough after Knight’s ten days of grief and spectacle.

Ten days of grief hardly begin to describe what Jack’s nearest and dearest faces. But friends and empathy are essential in times of trouble. And the loving family he leaves behind will never lack if the mood on this dreary Sabbath is any guide.