The Emerald Isle

with the calcium and minerals essential for building strong bones. Then, of course, there is that indefinable extra, the affinity between man and horse, which seems infinitely stronger in Ireland than elsewhere. Ireland has always been highly-populated with horses, of which nearly a quarter are racehorses. Racing horses has been part of the fabric of life in Ireland for centuries and kings, both legendary and historic, had their private racing greens. Horse fairs and public assemblies gave ordinary folk the chance to take part in racing, too, although a ban by Oliver Cromwell on Sunday racing, followed by the upheavals in Irish life after the Battle of the Boyne, put a distinct dampener on racing. Steeplechasing began quietly to fill the gap and by the mid-18th century was well established in Ireland, with hundreds of race meetings taking place all over the country. The first race officially to be called a steeplechase took place in 1752, when two men raced each other between Buttevant and Doneraile in County Cork, using the spire of St. Leger Church in Doneraile as a guide to their finishing post. Today there is virtually year-round racing at some 280 meetings in Ireland, whether racing on the flat, National Hunt racing, or point-to-point. Irish horses, moreover, are often to be seen grabbing attention in racing outside Ireland, particularly in England, where an Irish horse first won the Grand National in 1880 and the Derby some 20 The Emerald Isle OPPOSITE & ABOVE: The Irish National Stud at Tully, near Kildare, County Kildare, has produced many famous winners. 147