Charles (Lal) M Burke – stalwart of Irish horse racing

An Appreciation

Charles "Lal" Burke, the only son of Flor and Tess Burke, passed away peacefully on October 19th, and was the last of a generation of Burkes responsible for introducing new concepts in on-course betting to Irish horse racing.

A gentleman with a warm smile, a great voice and a talent for picking winners, Lal’s passion for horse racing and the business of bookmaking was handed down from his father, uncles, and grandmother.

Born on June 17th, 1925, he was educated at Clongowes Wood College. In 1943, Lal joined Tote Investors Ireland, the family enterprise established by his father and uncle in 1931 as the country's first legal on-course credit betting service. There he worked alongside his cousin Frankie. In 1965, Lal succeeded his father as managing director of Tote Investors Ireland and his enthusiasm and passion for the "Sport of Kings" saw him go on to found the Racegoers Club of Ireland in 1973. He regularly brought some 500 punters to Irish and British race meetings by luxury coach with on-board hospitality. Members also received the added bonus of Lal's tips for the day's runners and riders. So talented was he at predicting winners that he was Ladbroke's Tipster of the Year in 1994.

Lal's attendance at Irish and international race meetings for work and leisure spanned more than 90 years. He began as a "yearling" watching his father's horses winning at the Curragh and was still going to Fairyhouse and Leopardstown until recently. He also wrote about Irish horse racing and its history for a number of publications, among them Ireland of the Welcomes and the Irish Field.


As a low-handicap junior golfer, he won the Windsor Slipper trophy at Cill Dara Golf Club (1945), beating Joe Carr, the leading amateur of the day.

His golfing accomplishments included personal trophy wins and team successes with his cousin Frankie in the Barton and Lumsden Cups and the Union of Irish School’s Golf Shield, where they represented their alma mater; Lal was also captain of Cill Dara Golf Club, and for many years held the course record. His other sporting talent lay in snooker.

Lal was a dapper dresser and, as a result of his shares in the family Ford dealership garage business, could always be seen driving the snappiest of cars.

After a short courtship that revolved around race meetings countrywide, summer holidays in Bundoran and "hops" at Landsdowne rugby club, Lal married Imelda (Mel) Macken in 1950. Together they raised a family of three sons and one daughter in Kildare and later in Dalkey and Monkstown, Co Dublin. As a couple they were devoted to each over for over 70 years, overcoming many challenges along the way with dignity and determination. Their caring nature is amply demonstrated by their focus on helping people impacted by substance addictions and by cancer. In 1978, inspired by diaries kept by their late son, a psychologist, who died aged 23, Lal and Mel founded Comfort for Cancer, Ireland's first support group for patients and their families.

Lal completed his final furlong a few months after his 95th birthday and was buried not far from Leopardstown racecourse during its final event of the 2020 flat racing season.

He was predeceased by his beloved Mel, and his son Allen. Lal is greatly missed by his surviving children David, Caroline and John, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, extended family and numerous friends.