From shin-kicking to the slippery pole: Irish horse racing's offbeat history


Raf Diallo
Raf Diallo

20.18 19 Jun 2019


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Horse racing is a staple of Irish sport but it's emergence in Ireland isn't particularly well known.

That's where Paul Rouse comes in. The UCD professor of history and sport has been educating us on the origins of many sports in Ireland recently and today he put the spotlight on racing.

He joined us to shed light on the history of horse racing in this area.

One area he began by touching on the fair days, signs of which still exist in many country towns.

"Horse Entertainment"

"One of the ways in which people enjoyed sport was to engage in various forms of horse entertainment," said Rouse.

"In Westmeath, they had swimming races between horses and part of the challenge was the horse would go pretty crazy when it's in the water.

"The jockey would have to stay on the board."

That wasn't the only of horse-related events they came up with.

"They used to race horses in various places. For example in Cloghane, vaulting over horses was one of the big things," he said.

"Then in Glenmore in the north end of Donegal, they used to race horses.

"You had for example shin-kicking competitions and grinning competitions where the person who could make the ugliest face at each other would win.

"There was the slippery pole . The slippery pole was this pole which extends into the air and there's a whole load of grease and oil put on it. And the idea is you get up. So it's sport but not really sport. It's fun as much as anything else."

That social aspect helped the transition from those fair days to the horse racing industry we would recognise today.

"The third thing that really mattered during this period was that royalty became intrinsically involved with the organisation horse racing," he said.

You can watch the full chat with Rouse on the YouTube video player above. Our horse racing coverage is brought to you in association with GoRacing.ie.


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