The field of dreams
An Irishman’s Diary about psychic race predictions
‘In one version, it’s said that Godley’s dreams involved him reading the next day’s racing results, in vivid detail. In McEntee’s account, however, the visions were less specific: “He simply dreamed of colours and numbers and matched them in the newspaper to that day’s runners”.’ Photograph: Getty Images
I didn’t make it to the Mushroom Festival in Leitrim last weekend, unfortunately. But my prior mention of the event (Irishman’s Diary, October 10th) has provoked a fascinating e-mail from John McEntee, Cavan man and veteran journalist.
It concerns John Godley, aka Lord Kilbracken, the former master of Killegar House – where the mushroom festival now takes place – whose very colourful life included spells as a wartime pilot, House of Lords peer, farmer, and foreign correspondent.
According to the e-mail, his talents also extended to the paranormal: “second sight” to be specific. And when they were friends in London years ago, McEntee heard from Godley how he used his psychic powers to launch a career in newspapers.
Godley claimed to have inherited the gift from his mother who, he said, had foreseen the death of her first husband in a first World War flying accident.
She had even tried to talk the man out of attending the fatal event – a test flight, for the benefit of watching political leaders. And when he insisted on going, she absented herself from their home all day to preempt the spectacle she had dreamed: a car from the war department arriving to break the bad news.
But it was no use. When she came home, the car was waiting anyway. And sure enough, she was a widow.
By a happy contrast, Godley’s clairvoyance manifested itself in an entirely different way: the ability to dream the winners of horse races. There are differing accounts of how this happened. In one version, it’s said that the dreams involved him reading the next day’s racing results, in vivid detail. In McEntee’s account, however, the visions were less specific: “He simply dreamed of colours and numbers and matched them in the newspaper to that day’s runners”.
Either way, his predictions were tested – in one case, he put the details in a sealed envelope beforehand – and earned him a job. McEntee again: “He was hired by the Daily Mirror and for a year or so was invincible. His mistake? He started betting on his own visions. As soon as he did, the dreams stopped and he was eventually fired.”
According to another account, Godley’s racing dreams started in 1946, during which year he foresaw a streak of winners, including that of the Aintree Grand National. Then the talent deserted him for 11 years, until returning briefly in 1958, when his dreams again included the big race at Aintree.
(If the dreams stopped in 1947, by the way, it was almost tragically bad timing, because that year’s Grand National was won by the 100-1 Caughoo, an Irish no-hoper that emerged from heavy fog to canter home by 20 lengths. So dense was the fog, indeed, that the second-place jockey later accused the first of having completed only one circuit, in the meantime hiding behind a fence and waiting until the exhausted others came round again. The jockeys exchanged punches about it, although surviving footage shows Caughoo jumping Becher’s Brook twice, thereby clearing his pilot of all charges. In any case, getting back to Godley, the poor visibility might also have affected clairvoyants attempting to see the race in advance.)
The 1958 Grand National, as it happened, was won by another Irish horse, Mr What, at 18-1. And I mention those odds – unusual, even in big handicap races – because they will have a certain resonance for Pogues fans: from the opening verse of Fairytale of New York, where a betting win (“Got on a lucky one/Came in eighteen to one“) is a metaphor for the young lovers’ happiness.
This brings me in turn to another, sadder, event of last weekend, Phil Chevron’s funeral, and to a coincidence that, in its own way, bordered on paranormal.
For even as the much-
lamented singer was being laid to rest on Saturday afternoon, a horse called Streams of Whiskey was running in the 2.15 at Hexham. And of course Streams of Whiskey is the title of a Pogues’ signature song, a crowd favourite that Chevron (although he was in later years, of necessity, teetotal) must have played many times.
Now, perhaps it wasn’t the only Pogues song-title carried by a racehorse at the weekend. Maybe there were others and they lost, unnoticed. But I happen to be the possessor of a psychic power known as “hindsight”. So with complete confidence, I can now assure those readers who, like me, regret not backing Streams of Whiskey (at 9-1), that its victory was a foregone conclusion.