Against the Odds: Cursed Jones’ Road and a lost Derby flutter haunt the Fitzpatricks

As the Dubs run riot, Vinnie’s mind drifts back to a century ago

Wed, Jun 5, 2013, 06:00

As Dublin toyed with Westmeath at Croker on Saturday evening, Vinny Fitzpatrick was reminded of the Mae West line about how “I used to be Snow White . . . but I drifted”.

Infused by half a dozen pints of Foley’s finest porter, Vinny could feel himself drifting as the Boys in Blue rolled over the lads from the Lakelands who hadn’t a snowball’s chance of repeating their 2004 win under the late Páidí Ó Sé.

Vinny knew he should follow the flight of every ball, hand-pass, tackle and shot, lest he stand accused of a dereliction of duty by the lads when the post-match inquest got underway but this wasn’t a championship dogfight, it was a stroll.

Dublin, he felt, would probably be better off playing in the Ulster Championship where they would be guaranteed a decent game of ball.

The energetic dash of half-back Jack McCaffrey caught Vinny’s eye and reminded him of a curly-haired tyro who once scored 3-7 against Dollymount Gaels in an underage challenge match in St Anne’s.

After the effervescent Jack popped over a fine point in the first half, Vinny cottoned on to the huge banner atop the higher tier of the empty Davin Stand which read “100 years of Croke Park – 1913-2013”. Soon after, Vinny started drifting in earnest, back in time.

Family tree
The year 1913 was a highly significant one in the Fitzpatrick family tree, linked by a bizarre series of events involving the late James “Jemser” Fitzpatrick, paternal grandfather of Vinny.

Jemser, who passed away when Vinny was a nipper, went to his grave cursing the purchase of Croke Park by the GAA, Jim Larkin, and the stewards at Epsom on Derby Day. “Don’t talk to me about 1913. It was the year from hell,” Jemser used to wail, overlooking the fact he married Molly Braithwaite from Sandymount that November, a contented union which lasted over 50 years.

Jemser had taken umbrage when the GAA bought Croke Park from Frank Dineen. As a tough-tackling wingback, Jemser had played at Jones’ Rd sports ground, as they were previously known, for Bohemians and Freebooters.

He was aghast at “bog ballers and stick fighters”, as he called them, getting their hands on the sacred turf and vowed never to set foot in the place again while he still drew breath. Before he died in 1964, he insisted his coffin in Glasnevin Cemetery should be placed in the turf facing Dalymount Park.

As for Jim Larkin, Jemser had held the trade union activist directly responsible for losing his job with Guinness. Jemser, by trade a cooper, was one of six Guinness employees to support the Dublin Lockout of 1913.

A member of the ITGWU, Jembo went on strike in sympathy with his fellow union members. Larkin told him not to worry that he would be re-instated, but the Guinness hierarchy turned a deaf ear to Big Jim’s rhetoric and Little Jemser was out of a job. When Larkin died in 1947, Jemser had downed six bottlers of porter in memory of the “Guinness Six-Pack Strikers of 1913”.

But Jemser’s greatest ire of the summer of ’13 was reserved for Lord Roseberry, Lord Wolverton and Major Eustace Loder, the acting Epsom stewards on Derby Day, Wednesday, June 4.

The bile he felt towards the GAA and Jim Larkin was nothing compared to his sourness for the toffee-nosed stewards who deprived him of £15 in winnings.

Jemser liked a bet and had placed a tenner, the equivalent of more than two weeks’ wages, at odds of 6 to 4 on the Derby favourite, Craganour.

The race became immortalised by the death of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, who stepped out on to the racetrack at Tattenham Corner and was mown down by the king’s horse, Anmer.

But Jemser’s attention was on the post-race debate by the stewards who disqualified Craganour, the winner, for not keeping a straight course, and elevated the runner-up Aboyeur, a 100/1 shot, into first place.

Incandescent with rage
There was no radio broadcast in those days but when Jemser saw the race highlights on a Pathé Newsreel in the Volta cinema house in Mary Street, he had been incandescent with rage.

The finish had been a rough and tumble affair but Craganour had won on merit and there had been no objections from any other connections, not even from the owners of Aboyeur, a crew of gamblers.

Jemser had tracked down the names of the Epsom stewards and each year sent a note, care of Epsom Racecourse, Surrey, addressed to the “Three Headless Horsemen of the 1913 Apocalypse”.

According to Molly, Jemser’s last whispered words were “Craganour my love, Craganour”.

By coincidence, Saturday was also Derby Day at Epsom. It had been a race free of scrimmaging but not upset as Dawn Approach, sent off at 5 to 4 favourite, blew a gasket early on, along with his chance of victory.

Vinny, as was custom, had a financial interest and having placed a €20 on Galileo Rock for a place at eight to one was covered for his Bank Holiday beer money.

The thought of beer brought Vinny back from his daydream. He glanced at the scoreboard as the half-time whistle peeped – the Dubs led 0-12 to 0-4. He fancied a second half wager and turned to Brennie beside him.

“What’s the spread Brennie on Dublin’s winning margin? We’re eight points up but I expect we’ll ease up with substitutions and the like.”

Brennie played with the stubble on his chin, for he was making a concerted effort, at 49, to grow a beard. “I’ll give you evens on the Dubs to win by 13 points or more.”

Vinny considered not just the bet but where his reflective musings had taken him, all the way back to the 13th year of the previous century. It had to be an omen. “Brennie, you’re on, for a score,” he said.

With that, he looked up at the dazzling sky, for it was the warmest Saturday of the year. “Jemser,” he said aloud, “this one’s for you, and for Craganour.”