Write a book on any subject and that topic becomes part of the author’s mental make-up both before and long after the book in question has enjoyed its often brief period in the public eye.
Hence the interest sparked by a recent enquiry as to the availability of a copy of The Racing Lodges of the Curragh, out of print since its publication towards the end of the last millennium. Okay, 1997.
One of those 49 Racing Lodges had just changed hands and Michelle got the idea into her head to present the new owner with a copy, if such could be located. Her news was so heartening that a copy was promptly unearthed, in a thoroughly deserving cause.
The Racing Lodge in question is Ruanbeg, on the Curragh side of the spacious estate that takes it name from the Lodge on the outskirts of Kildare town. Ruanbeg has looked so unloved, even forlorn, for years now that news of its rescue constituted surprise and relief in equal measure.
What would have been the final port of call on his anticlockwise tour of the Curragh training establishments pioneered by Harry Sargent in the 1890s, Ruanbeg only came into existence in the early 1900s. William Behan, one of a famous seven-strong racing brotherhood, became its first tenant, in a progress that saw him move from Herbert Lodge – otherwise the ‘Stone Barracks’ and recently home to a Gaelscoil – via Ruanbeg, to Waterford Lodge, where he became private trainer to James Lonsdale. Willie Behan was succeeded in Ruanbeg by Captain F Fetherstonhaugh VS, whose stable was reported as ‘house full’ in 1906.
The outbreak of World War One, with its drastic curtailment of racing in Britain, saw a sizeable influx of now redundant English trainers to Ireland and the Curragh in particular. In June 1916 the Irish Field reported that Penrith trainer RW ‘Bob’ Armstrong was moving into French House. Obviously plans changed, for in November the same paper disclosed that Armstrong was in fact moving into Ruanbeg, replacing JT Rogers, who was said to be moving back across the Irish Sea.
Musical chairs continued, with Jack Fallon succeeding Armstrong, granted a licence ‘to train twelve horses on the lands of the Turf Club.’ A genius with horses, as he had demonstrated time and again in Druids Lodge when working for the ‘Netheravon Confederacy’, Jack Fallon found the going much tougher as a public trainer.
By January 1925 William Rankin held court in Ruanbeg, only to be promptly replaced by DB McKenna, who moved into Ruanbeg from Curragh View, where Christy Roche now lives and trains. That point is worth making for in many instances – notably Curragh View – the house was occupied by one party and the stable yard by someone else.
Hubert Hartigan was in Ruanbeg in 1928, though reportedly on his way to Penrith, a move that Hubert eventually felt obliged to complete in 1935, utterly disillusioned by de Valera’s ruinous Economic War. When Hubert Hartigan returned to the Curragh it was to Melitta Lodge, where he headed the trainers’ table on three occasions.
Jimmy Canty, Hubert’s successor in Ruanbeg, was the first to bring classic honours to the stable when sending out Sea Serpent to win the Irish 1000 Guineas and Mondragon the Irish Derby, both ridden by his jockey genius brother, Joe Canty. That golden year was followed in 1940 by every stableman’s nightmare – strangles.
Seven times Irish champion jockey by the time he eventually hung up his boots, Joe Canty trained for a time in Ruanbeg, parting with it, together with its sixty acres to wealthy Californian widow Gwen Helbush, who intended it as a secure base for Phil Canty, at the instigation of his Californiabased trainer brother John.
Phil’s departure to become private trainer to Athy-based Willie Fennin left Ruanbeg available to the Popplewells, who lived and trained here from 1975 until 1982. They in turn made way for retired jockey Peadar Matthews, who surprised and delighted his large circle of well-wishers when sending out Quintillian to land the 1994 Tetrarch Stakes on his local course.
Peter, Peadar’s son, is senior stipendiary steward with the Turf Club; an invidious assignment, many would say. Although the Kildare by-pass has removed much of the traffic from the old Dublin road, it is hard to envisage strings of racehorses ever again running the gauntlet from Ruanbeg to the Curragh exercise grounds. But that is a trifle in the knowledge that Ruanbeg is once again in safe and caring hands.