The Irish greyhound has a long and noble history going back hundreds of years.
Get me a stack of bibles and I’ll swear on them: not one of the many hundred greyhounds that left our kennel to go racing ever ran on anything but merit. No drivers, no stoppers. Sometimes they had some confidence behind them - other times they travelled on a wing and a prayer, the Chancellor having sprinkled them with holy water.
It was a family affair, and we had fun. Okay, so there were long faces and a lot of silence when one we thought had a chance got beaten. And it would usually be raining as we made our way home.
In contrast, on winning Shelbourne Park nights, before the big road to Dublin was built, there’d be a stop in Balbriggan for chips, or for cones in a wee shop in Swords with the owner’s name written over it in Irish. O Lochrain, I think it was. (The ice cream was nice, but nothing compared to what’s nowadays on sale in Barrys out in Grange.)
We won some big prizes and small prizes, and in 1994 had a night to remember, not in this country but at London’s now-closed Wimbledon Stadium. A dog – Moral Standards - which first saw the light of day in what we called the ‘maternity wing’ of our modest kennel romped home in the final of the English Derby. He was English-owned and –trained, but Bellurgan-bred.
It would be carrying naivete to the extreme to say the way we - and thousands of owners and trainers like us - played the game was standard practice. It wasn’t, and, in the light of what was revealed in that programme on RTÉ television last Wednesday night, there’s still a lot of skulduggery about.
How often would it be said: “Oh, he’s a great man to get one out of the box”, or, “You can’t beat so and so when he gets one to a final,” or “He’s got the gear.” This was all to suggest their dog was getting more than a raw egg for breakfast.
In truth, the playing pitch was never level, but the game had, and still has, so many grades the small-time operator, playing for the love of it, could find himself a chance, happy to pick up even the most modest of winning prizes. Higher up the scale there was a lot of dirty work at the crossroads, and in many other places as well.
Malpractice featured heavily in the first half of last week’s programme. What was said is beyond challenge; for the sake of the many who continue to play according to the book, and, indeed, for the game’s future, the authorities must reach for the bleach to get things cleaned up.
The cruelty aspect could be challenged, however. If it was intended to blacken greyhound racing, add fuel to the fire lit by the earlier revelations, then it succeeded. What was shown from China and other foreign countries was horrific, enough to churn even the sturdiest of constitutions.
But is it only greyhounds that are treated in such a cruel manner? Almost certainly not. And were the unfortunate greyhounds Irish or English-bred? Could they not have been bred in the countries where these sickening practises are carried out?
That said, if there’s a channel to those countries from this part of the world, even to the places where the emphasis is on racing, everything possible must be done to close it off.
The Irish greyhound has a long and noble history going back hundreds of years to when they first did what they were bred to do, and that’s course hares. The cheaters, the unscrupulous, the sadists shouldn’t be allowed to re-write history.