In a Word . . . Aintree

 

I know very little about horses but even I realise that today is Grand National day at Aintree. Horse racing, no more than Formula 1, leaves me unmoved. Anything over 400 metres in athletics, Ì find boring.

All that going around and around.

Not so with other members of my family. My mother used love a flutter on the horses until she felt it get out of control. Losing €5 each-way bets was bad enough but when it evolved into repeated €5 to-win losses it was a case of either stop or join Gamblers Anonymous.

And she was never into anything anonymous.

My father may have been a fan of Arkle back in the day, but he never bet at all. He preferred dogs and politics, but had a couple of horses. He was a county councillor, Fianna Fáil for most of the time but, as he said truthfully in a letter once, his party colleagues didn’t know whether he was for them or against them and sometimes he didn’t know himself.

He went Independent eventually.

A letter he wrote was published in the Roscommon Herald and addressed to Queen Elizabeth. It began “A Bhanríon Éilís, a chara mo chroí.” My father was a keen Gaeilgeoir.

The letter urged her to ignore all the anti-British palaver of the time (1970s) and acknowledged how Ireland was very grateful for the jobs provided in England. He even encouraged her to send her sons Charles and Andrew to Ballaghaderreen where they could have fun with the horses he owned, or the “asses up in Aughalaustia”, near Ballagaderreen.

This, as locals knew, referred to asses of the two-legged variety in that townland and with whom he was then in dispute.

And my father was very fair when it came to comparisons of people with animals. He loved dogs. In our house we grew up with dogs. His enthusiasm for dogs carried him to unexpected heights during a speech on introducing dog licences in Roscommon Co Council. He was opposed.

His argument, as reported widely in local papers, was that he had five sons and a sheepdog “and the sheepdog is worth the five sons put together”.

It proved very useful thereafter. Whenever he approached any of us five sons subsequently to do something or other for him, we would refer him to the dog.

Aintree, from Old Norse einn and tré, meaning ‘a single tree’.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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