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Naas Races – Chapter 3 – The 1930s

Royal Danelli in action, 1939. He was frequently to be seen at Naas in the 1930s. Dan Levins Moore, his jockey, was a son of the Master of the Ward Union Hunt. Dan, who went on to train the great 1970s champion L’Escargot, was father to the trainer Arthur Moore.


From ‘The Centenary of Naas Racecourse (1924-2024) – Nursery of Champions’ by Turtle Bunbury.


Back to Naas 100 Contents


Hard Times


Count John McCormack, who won the 1930 Maddenstown Handicap at Naas with Beaudelaire. Illustration by Derry Dillon, extracted from Past Tracks (2021).

The global depression unleashed by the Wall Street Crash had much reduced the spending power of Ireland’s public, a fact quickly recognised by the Naas Race Company, which slashed the price of admission in June 1930. [1] This was probably at the suggestion of the accountant Sean Curry, the company’s new auditor, who also oversaw the leasing of the grassland in and around the course for grazing. [2] By the time he took his seat, the course also had its Tote machines in place. Despite the economic situation, the directors were confident that the £504 gross profit realised at the end of 1929 could be ‘greatly improved upon’ over the remainder of the year. [3]

As such, there was some relief when the November meeting drew what was possibly the biggest crowd in the racecourse’s history. ‘Great racing was the unanimous opinion,’ stated the Leinster Times. ‘The various events are generously endowed, and the patronage of trainers and owners always assures plenty of runners. It is no surprise that, even in hard times, the attendance is invariably a tribute to the efforts of the management to provide the maximum of comfort and enjoyment, with tip-top competition.’ [4]

Most punters journeyed to Naas via the ‘fast special train’ that came south from Kingsbridge (now Heuston), Dublin for a return fare of 3 shillings in third class or 6 shillings in first class, or north from Tullow, County Carlow. However, there was a cheaper option of a 2 shillings and sixpence return fare for those who boarded one of Fureys Saloon Coaches on Dublin’s Burgh Quay. On one such coach trip, just as the grandstand came into view, a genial conductor offered to let a passenger off early, suggesting he would be as quick to cross the fields to the course. The would-be racegoer looked from the conductor to the four or five hedges between him and the grandstand.

‘Who do you think I am? Shaun Goilin?’

Shaun Goilin had won the Aintree Grand National by a neck two weeks earlier. It was a popular win at Naas as not only was the jockey Tommy Cullinan a Naas regular, but Shaun Goilin had himself won a two-mile flat race at Naas as a five-year-old. [5] [He won the 1925 Kilcullen Plate at Naas]. He is thus the first known Grand National winner to have run at Naas.

At that final meeting of 1930, a combination of large fields and heavy ground made picking a winner difficult. Count John McCormack, the famous tenor, scooped the Maddenstown Handicap with Beaudelaire, who went on to win the 1931 Irish St Leger, while Mrs Oliver Slocock’s Happy Memories won the feature race, the November Handicap. [6]


Fiscal Matters


Thomas Whelan.

The Naas Race Company suffered a tremendous blow on 21 March 1931 with the death of its chairman Thomas Whelan. Mr Whelan had been instrumental in establishing the racecourse a decade earlier. His funeral cortege was one of the largest ever witnessed in the town. [7]

Mr Whelan, who had been ill for some time, had delegated P. J. Brophy to serve as acting chairman of the company in his absence. In February, Mr Brophy headed up a deputation of six from the Naas Race Company that attended a meeting chaired by Kildare native, Patrick Hogan, the Fine Gael Minister for Agriculture, to discuss the ongoing effects of the betting tax. The deputation, which also included four representatives from the horse-breeding industry, informed the minister that on account of the ‘injurious’ tax, Naas had lost £1,400 (equivalent to perhaps €120,000 today) in the first year. Minister Hogan promised ‘to give the matter every consideration’. [8]

Charlie Farrell was formally elected chairman of the Naas Race Company shortly afterwards. Accompanied by Senator J.J. Parkinson, he was part of another deputation that met with Ernest Blythe, the Minister for Finance, and urged him to remove the betting tax for a year.[9] The deputation was victorious and the Finance Act, passed on 8 July 1931, duly exempted horse racing from the betting tax. An attempt to reintroduce it in 1932 failed. (See below)


Hot Sun & Equine Coughs


On 3 June 1931, horse racing entered a new era when the Epsom Derby became the first horse race to be televised. [10] The following day, Senator Parkinson’s already fine season reached dizzy new heights when his stable at Maddenstown saddled no less than four winners at Naas. [11]

The races were attracting more and more people, not least the doyens of ‘high society’. The artist Jack Butler Yeats, brother of W. B. Yeats, had been coming to Naas since at least 1927, when he painted a work called The Paddocks.* He returned in 1931 and painted another work, entitled Hot sun, Naas races. [12]

However, there were mounting concerns about the possible spread of a contagious equine cough. In November 1931, the directors of the Naas Race Company glumly informed the County Kildare Committee of Agriculture that they could not host their annual County Show for fear that participating horses might infect horses competing at the next race meeting, who might, in turn, spread the cough among the training establishments of the Curragh and beyond.

From a crowd perspective, the year ended on a positive note with a large turnout for the December meeting. [13] As the Leinster Leader mused, ‘There is some indefinable attraction about racing at Naas that we don’t get elsewhere.’ [14]

* In the UK, the area where the horses are paraded before a race is known as the paddock, but in Ireland it is generally known as the parade ring.


Ministerial U-Turns


1932 was dominated by the general election on 16 February, which swept Fianna Fáil into power as Éamon de Valera formed a government, with the support of the Labour Party. In pursuit of money for his cash-strapped colleagues, Seán MacEntee, the new Minister for Finance, boldly sought to reintroduce the dreaded betting tax. The stewards, directors and shareholders of the Naas Race Company promptly held a meeting at which they denounced the tax ‘in the strongest possible manner’. The directors made it clear that the racecourse could not continue to operate if such a tax was imposed.

The possible closure of Naas made headlines across the country and prompted multiple consultations and appeals from anyone in the firing line. They also met with Minister MacEntee to express their concerns directly. [15] At length, the minister did a U-turn and announced that all games and sports, including horse racing, would remain exempt from the tax. This happy news coincided with a meeting on 28 May 1932, at which Senator Parkinson saddled four of the six winners. [16]


The Sport of Kings


The Tote Account, the largest pool betting operator in Ireland, was established in 1932 and began accepting bets by telegram. One of the first people to place a bet on the Tote in Naas was Charles Hervé Alphand (1879-1942), the first French minister in the Irish Free State. His wife was a daughter of the Comte Margerin de Cremont, apparently descended from the MacGrians, a Leinster family who emigrated to France in the 14th century. The Irish Times published a photograph of Monsieur Alphand at the Tote on 4 April 1932.

The sport of kings was gaining ever more traction in the press, boosted by the advent of radio commentary and international stars like Phar Lap, whose dominance of the flat came to a deadly end in April 1932, and knobbly-kneed Seabiscuit, who famously beat the 1937 Triple Crown winner, War Admiral, to become a public sensation at a time when the US was desperate for good news stories. Closer to home, Golden Miller, the Meath-bred phenomenon won the Cheltenham Gold Cup for five consecutive years between 1932 and 1936, as well as the Aintree Grand National in 1934.

There was high drama when John Tyrrell, owner of the lands on which much of Naas Racecourse lay, was knocked down by a vegetable truck one evening in May 1932. He was driving home in a pony and trap, having just supplied the County Hospital with milk, when the lorry ran into the back of him near Fishery Lane. [17] He recovered and survived until 1946. [18]

Shortly before this accident, Naas Racecourse hosted the Kildare Feis, at which there was a hurling match and two camogie matches. D. J. McKeon won his third marathon at the same event and was thus presented with the Ballinagappa Cup by Charlie Farrell. [19] Long before the racecourse was founded, Naas G.A.A. had been based at Spooners Lane, Tipper, opposite the grandstand. In 1932, the club moved to new grounds on the Dublin Road, a transfer initiated by Fr Owen Brennan who sadly died before his dream became a reality. The move coincided with a golden age for the Naas Senior Football team, which won back-to-back county championships in 1931 and 1932.


Sweepstakes & Pipe-Openers


In June 1932, Count John McCormack – a familiar figure at the Naas races – caught the attention of the world when he sang César Franck’s Panis Angelicus at a public mass in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. [20] The mass was part of the 31st International Eucharistic Congress, a huge, international gathering of clergy and laity from the Roman Catholic church.

Meanwhile, the growing popularity of the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake, known as the Sweep, was making household names of races such as the Cambridgeshire Handicap, the Derby and the Grand National. Established in 1930, the controversial Sweep raised the equivalent of €170 million for the Irish health service by 1987, creating a network of over 400 hospitals, clinics and medical centres across Ireland. [21]

Naas hosted eight meetings during 1932. [22] One of the course’s more popular stars was Heartbreak Hotel, a mare who won the 1932 Grand Sefton Chase at Aintree, run over part of the Grand National course, and then finished sixth in the Grand National itself. She raced at Naas in November 1932, coming third of three, but it was, as one commentator put it, merely ‘a pipe-opener’. [23]


Millionaires & Golden Girls


1933 would be remembered as the year Hitler came to power in Germany, on 30 January. Eight weeks later, there was tragedy at Naas when the popular jockey Marty Hynes fatally fractured his skull during the Grand Stand Plate. [24] Among those in attendance that fateful afternoon were the Scottish and Irish rugby teams, and the American millionaire Brose Clark, heir of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. Mr Clark was in Ireland looking for ‘more good horses’ following the success of his wife’s Irish-bred Kellsboro Jack, who had won the Aintree Grand National in record-breaking time a few weeks earlier. [25] Also present were Gwen McCormack, daughter of the tenor, and her friend Clodagh ‘Lambie’ Kennedy, a daughter of Cub Kennedy of Bishopscourt. It must have been especially awful for Lambie, given that her older brother Edward, an amateur jockey, had been killed in a fall at a Longford steeplechase three years earlier. [26]

There were happier memories on Sunday 22 June when the Naas Cross-Country Club reigned supreme in the Leinster Novices’ Athletics Championships at Naas Racecourse, completing four circuits of the course ahead of their 17 opponents. Following the prize-giving, the Naas Fife and Drum Band led the crowd as it marched into town for refreshments. [27]

One highlight of the rain-drenched meeting of 7 October was a victory by Millennium in the Athgarrett Plate. The horse was owned by Aileen Brinsley-Plunket, described as ‘a new recruit to the ranks of women race-horse owners’. [28] A granddaughter of the brewing magnate Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh, she was one of the ‘Guinness Golden Girls’. A few weeks later, she was among an especially ‘fashionable gathering’ at Naas to watch her horse Pullfield run second in the Mountjoy Plate. On that occasion, ‘the wintry atmosphere enticed many women racegoers to wear fur coats while others chose teddy bear coats which looked cosy and warm.’ [29]


The Age of Jazz


The 1934 season kicked off when Ireland’s five biggest newspapers, namely The Herald, The Independent, The Mail, The Press and The Times, sponsored a plate race each on 5 January. (It is notable that the Irish Racing Writers still sponsor a race at Naas to the present day.)  With record entries, additional boxes were built while the course by now had stabling for 77 horses. Notably absent from the list of media patrons was the Kildare Observer, one of the great champions of racing at Naas. The newspaper had long struggled to maintain its following with its conservative, Unionist-orientated outlook and was fated to close in 1934, leaving the coast clear for its nationalist rival, the Leinster Leader, to mop up as the local paper of choice. The directors of the Naas Race Company were more attuned to local sensibilities than the Observer, donating a bullock to the Naas Gaelic Football Club for a raffle that same month. [30] Among other fundraisers, they hosted a whist drive at the racecourse in aid of Eadestown Parochial Funds and Kilteel New Chapel. [31]

By the spring of 1934, a new form of music known as jazz was blaring out from record players and radios. On 14 April, Naas staged a brace of £200 events (circa €18,000 today), which drew a high attendance from ‘all departments’, but most notably ‘the vanguard’ of those who came annually from England to enjoy the races at Punchestown. The visitors were rewarded with ‘pleasant’ weather and racing that was ‘full of interest from first to last’. [32]

Among others who made it to Naas during this period were the writers Francis Stuart and Liam O’Flaherty. The latter, who had just finished writing Skerrett, was on the cusp of global stardom after his kinsman John Ford filmed a successful adaptation of his novel, The Informer, which hit the cinema in 1935. Writing to a friend, O’Flaherty recalled:

‘I went to Naas races yesterday and it cost me nothing. One of the races was very good and I had a conversation in the train with an old maid from north county Dublin. She talked about farming all the way, mostly the dairy business that “gives you a handy cheque every fortnight and doesn’t cost much for upkeep, even when you milk by hand as we do”.’ [33]

Francis Stuart, who married Maud Gonne’s daughter Iseult, had not intended on staying so long. As he said, he had gone to get some stamps on the morning of the races ‘and the upshot was that I stayed to lunch, and lunch with brandies afterwards dragged on till four or five. By that time, I had heard so many horses mentioned and so many bets made that no matter what won each race, someone in the place was sure to benefit.’ His companions included ‘the owner of a very moderate horse about which he was always talking’ that defeated two other horses to win ‘a small hurdle race’ at Naas. The owner won £40 but, as Stuart observed, he had already paid £20 to get ‘the services of a good jockey’ and he owed another £20 to the trainer. Moreover, it ‘cost him four or five pounds to enter the horse and get it and himself to the course’, and he lost on the forecast bet he himself had placed on the race. ‘To make matters worse,’ wrote Stuart, ‘he was being congratulated on all sides. He was even photographed for the press beside his victorious animal. He had then to stand various friends several bottles of champagne. In the final attempt to straighten out matters, he lost his remaining eight pounds on the last two races.’ [34]

Some years later, O’Flaherty would write: ‘Francis Stuart has now given up both horse-racing and Jesus.’ [35]


Trousers Kelly


At the end of the October meeting in 1934, the happiest couple on the course were William J. Kelly and his wife, Kathleen, who won both the Mullaboden Plate and the Eadestown Plate that day.[36] Trousers Kelly, as he was known, was a high-class tailor and outfitter with shops in Sligo and Grafton Street, Dublin. By 1926, his House for Men shop was offering 1,700 suits and 800 overcoats for sale. Following the death of the Earl of Mayo in 1928, he bought Palmerstown House, the earl’s home, near Kill, County Kildare, from where he ran one of the most successful studs in Ireland during the 1930s. His daughter Peggy and her husband Con Ryan later bred Roland Gardens, winner of the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in 1978.

Watching the Kelly’s horses romp home that day was Captain Paddy Saul, who had served as navigator for the East to West crossing of the Atlantic as part of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith’s global circumnavigation in the Southern Cross, a Fokker monoplane. [37] Another international star to visit Naas was Mrs J. M. Semple, a renowned ‘big game’ huntress, who had lately shot the world’s third largest lion in Kenya. [38]

See also Grafton Street.




In 1935, a Commission of Inquiry into the Horse Breeding Industry concluded that Irish racing had been in ‘long and severe’ decline since the record-breaking year of 1925, with a ‘drastic’ fall in the number of races and runners, as well as prize money. [39] That horse racing was in disarray was underlined by the disappointing field of entries for the 1935 Irish Grand National and several other steeplechases.

So, all hail Naas which was roundly applauded for putting the steeplechase back on the sporting map following a series of closely contested Maiden Steeplechases commencing on 2 March. That day’s racing took place during a transport strike that left Dublin City’s half a million residents without train, streetcar or bus service. Consequently, a large crowd of expectant racegoers found themselves stranded at Kingsbridge (now Heuston) with no train to Naas. [40]

The Naas executive also showed its collaborative spirit when it offered free stabling and forage to any horses competing at the Punchestown races that April. [41] At that fine event, many were still reeling from the news that J.J. Maher, the great horse-breeder, had died at sea off Gibraltar. Mr Maher was one of the stewards at the first race meeting at Naas in 1924. [42]

Attendance at the November meeting in 1935 was reportedly one of the largest in Naas’s history. [43] With a cold snap running through an otherwise fine autumn day, the braziers were ‘much appreciated’ by the crowd. Jockeys likewise approved of their ‘enlarged accommodation’ and ‘spotless enclosures’. The highlight was a tightly fought November Handicap, won by Kildonan’s Hope who went on to win the 1937 Royal Whip Stakes at the Curragh. [44] Jack Ruttle’s Hazelhatch stable saddled two winners that afternoon, Peaceful Princess and Wild Maid.


Irish Press, 13 September 1950.

The Peard Starting Gates


By 1935, Phoenix Park was being managed by Henry Homer ‘Harry’ Peard of Castle Park, Castleknock. He was a son of John H. H. Peard, founder of Phoenix Park racecourse (where racing began in 1902) and winner of the Park “1500” in 1935 and 1938 with Dancing Comet and New Comet respectively.

In 1935, the Meath Chronicle reported that Harry had just obtained a Patent for his improvements in connection with starting gates for racecourses, known as Peard starting gates, which he had reportedly introduced in 1929. The necessary parts were constructed of sound deadening material to ensure a practically silent operation of the gate when raised and minimise fright to the race horses when the gate was rapidly raised.

A brilliant shot, Harry was a member of the Irish international clay pigeon shooting team. He was also a good yachtsman and keen golfer. A bookmaker in his early career, Harry was still managing director of Phoenix Park when he died at Sunningdale Ascot aged 59. His wife was secretary of the racecourse while his daughter, Mrs D. Besson, lived in England.


Alice Maythorn & Cherry Pip


The trainer Joe Osborne with Alice Maythorn, winner of the 1936 Irish Grand National. The horse was owned by his brother, Dr Paddy Osborne, another Naas regular. (Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 17 April 1936).

At 12:15pm on Monday 6 January 1936, the Great Southern Railway’s ‘Fast Special Train’ pulled out of Kingsbridge Station (Heuston) and headed south with hundreds of racegoers bound for Naas. [45] The main event of that meeting was the three-mile Press Chase, won by P. J. Osborne’s mare Alice Maythorn, under Paddy Powell. The Osborne’s popularity was evident by a deafening ovation that resounded as the duo passed the post four lengths clear of their nearest rivals. Also receiving multiple congratulations that day were the trainer Oliver Slocock of Hanover House, Carlow, and Miss Margaret Parkinson, daughter of Senator J.J. Parkinson, who had just announced their engagement. [46]

Two months later, a large crowd showed up for the 7 March meeting, despite the rain. J.J. Parkinson scored another big win when Cherry Pip won the coveted Naas Steeplechase; the gelding was owned by Aileen Magrath, wife of the businessman and Irish Sweep founder Joseph Magrath. The presence of the Guinness family was noted once again with the appearance of Lucy de László, neé Guinness, wife of the Hungarian painter Philip de László, along with their youngest son, Johnny.

Also in the crowd was Bridget Redmond, daughter-in-law of the Home Rule campaigner, John Redmond. Her father was the Curragh-based racehorse owner John Mallick. Following the sudden death of her husband Captain William Archer Redmond four years earlier, Bridget had been persuaded to stand as a Cumann na nGaedheal candidate at the 1933 elections. Her success made the 27-year-old the youngest female TD in Dáil Éireann at the time, and she held her seat until her premature death 20 years later. In 1937, the Dáil would ratify the Constitution of Ireland by which the Irish Free State came to an end and the 26 counties became known as ‘Éire’ or ‘Ireland’.


Of Russians & Rugby


At the June meeting, the ‘glorious weather’ meant that many of the women who ‘came in light coats and skirts were forced to take off their coats it was so warm, while quite a number were stockingless.’ The sight may have appealed to a group of Russian bloodstock agents who were brought to the races by Senator Parkinson. By this time, the senator had 120 horses in training at the Curragh, the largest string in the world. He had also been commissioned by the Soviet government to buy racehorses for the Russian state stud at Yerevan, the capital of Soviet Armenia. By the close of 1935, he had arranged for 70 stallions and 25 brood mares to be shipped to the Armenian stud. [47] One wonders how many of his Soviet colleagues vanished during Stalin’s Great Purge, which began in August 1936. At Naas in June 1936, the Russians and the stockingless women watched Peg Watt’s Appletoi win the coveted June Steeplechase, valued at 200 sovereigns. [48] Major Watt, her husband, was Master of the United Hunt Club in Cork for many long years.

Another prestigious visitor during this era was Sir Alexander Maguire of Maguire & Paterson matches. [49] On the bitterly cold afternoon of 3 October 1937, the Liverpudlian matchmaker and his wife were at Naas to watch Walter’s Pride win the Nursery Plate for trainer Jack Ruttle and jockey Joe Canty. [50] It was Sir Alexander’s second-ever triumph as a racehorse-owner. Eighteen months later, he and Ruttle would capture arguably the biggest trophy on the racing calendar when Workman won the Aintree Grand National.

Ahead of the Scotland-Ireland football match at the end of October 1937, both teams attended the Naas races at which both Kildonan’s Hope and Walter’s Pride racked up second wins at the course. Scotland went on to beat Ireland 3-1. [51]


Jack Rogers (1867-1941)


One of the best-known faces in Naas at this time was Jack Rogers, Ireland’s leading trainer in 1935, 1936 and 1937. Also known as ‘J.T.’ Rogers, he was the son of one of Britain’s most influential cattle auctioneers. During the Great War, he became the first of his family to settle in Ireland, moving to Crotanstown Lodge on the Curragh. A dominant figure in Irish racing between the wars, he was, prior to 2008, the only trainer to win all five Irish Classics in one year, achieving the record in 1935 with just two horses.[52] His son Bryan was his assistant trainer throughout this period.




All these high-profile trainers and attendees were helping Naas to bolster its coffers as the economic recession began to ease up. The course was already considered Ireland’s leading provincial venue. In February 1937, Charlie Farrell, chairman of the racecourse, informed a general meeting of the Naas Race Company that they were in ‘a satisfactory position … after a long period of anxiety and worry’. As such, the directors recommended that a dividend be paid, the first since the company’s incorporation 14 years earlier. Prize money was also on the increase, leading the directors to hope that the quality of competing horses would likewise improve. [53] The Leinster Leader was impressed:

‘Considering that Irish racing has passed through a “thin” period, and that many provincial venues have been put to the “pin of their collar” to survive, [the financial report] is further indicative of the all-round popularity of the Naas venue and an emphatic tribute to competent and enterprising management.’ [54]


Useful Doubles


Six weeks later, Dr Jim Magennis, a flamboyant pioneer of blood transfusions, watched his horse Galli Galli win the Naas Steeplechase on an afternoon of sleet and rain. [55] Dr Magennis, an icon of St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, was the last person to be painted by Sir John Lavery; the artist arose from his deathbed to paint the doctor and his nurse. The day Galli Galli won was not one for fashionistas: ‘rain marred the pleasure of women racegoers for smart ensembles were hidden beneath waterproofs, and many women came prepared for wet in Wellingtons, which were most suitable for the very wet state of the ground.’ [56]

In April 1937, Jack Ruttle’s stable enjoyed a Naas double when Golden Fold won the Fishery Plate, and Tim Hyde rode Miss Ruby to victory in the Maudlins Plate. Much of the focus that afternoon was on Lord Charles Cavendish’s hat. A second son of the Duke of Devonshire, Lord Charles sported ‘a novel type of sporting hat … green and Tyrolean in shape, [with] numerous wild bird feathers stuck in, indicating that the wearer is “a good shot”.’ Lord Charles was married to the dancer and actress Adele Astaire, sister of Fred Astaire, and lived with her at Lismore Castle, County Waterford. That April afternoon was a happy one for Lord Charles; his horse Spanish Bill, trained by Roddy More O’Ferrall, won the Kingsfurze Plate. [57] Lord Charles and his famous wife would continue to be familiar faces at Naas meetings until shortly before his death in 1944.

At the November meeting, Roddy More O’Ferrall saddled two more winners while, in the Athgarrett Hurdle Race, the favourite, Silver Salt, owned by Joseph McGrath, was beaten by his stable companion, Panda, owned by Senator J.J. Parkinson.


Standing Ovations & Mysterious Deaths


A formidable trainer, ‘Old Joe’ Osborne was renowned as a Naas specialist. His best known horses were known as ‘The Thorn’ breed and carried names such as Alice Maythorn, Alice Rockthorn, Alice Baythorn and Prince Blackthorn. Alice Maythorn was owned by his brother, Dr Paddy Osborne. At the opening meeting of 1936, Joe ran her in the Press Plate at Naas with Paddy Powell in the saddle.  [Northern Whig, 6 January 1936, p. 2.] The mare and jockey were given ‘a deafening ovation’ as they passed the post four lengths ahead of their nearest rival. Seven weeks later, Alice Maythorn ran again at Naas in the Stand Plate and came third. [Ireland’s Saturday Night, 28 March 1936, p. 4.] She went on to win that year’s Irish Grand National by six lengths. On 1 April 1938, Joe sailed back from Aintree to train and ride ‘a very popular double’ at Naas with Baybush and Baythorn. On 4 March 1939, he enjoyed another fine day at Naas when he saddled three winners, all ridden by ‘Red Mick’ Prendergast, a brother of the trainer, Paddy Prendergast. These were Donohill, who took the £250 Chase, Jack’s the Boy who took the Osbertown Chase and Baybush who shared in a dead-heat in the opening event.

For the 1938 season, the Naas executive took a remarkable decision to offer free transport to any owners wishing to bring their horses to the course by rail – ‘a wonderful concession to owners,’ opined the Leinster Leader, ‘and especially at Naas, where the fixtures get the highest percentage of runners of any meeting in Ireland.’ [58] The same newspaper also noted the pleasing ambience of the enclosure since the ‘management’ had planted it with flowers and shrubs.[59]

The highlight of the opening meeting on 7 January 1938 was a win for jockey Eric McKeever on board Jackbook in the Press Plate. He had been involved in a nasty fall six days earlier that had him pinned to a bed in St Vincent’s Hospital for most of the week. Somehow, he managed to extricate himself from the bed and get to Naas where his victory earned him a standing ovation from the crowd. Alas, 1938 was not Eric’s year. Also known as Frederick Edward McKeever of Parsonstown Manor, Batterstown, he was killed when his car collided with a wall on his way home from the Leopardstown races in July 1938.

The main subject of tittle-tattle that day concerned the strange death of four of Ginger Wellesley’s racehorses within nine days of one another at his training establishment in Newmarket. Wellesley, a regular at Naas, employed Michael Conway, the manager of Naas racecourse, as his principal manager and vet. Mr Conway attended the post-mortem of some of the horses and was closely involved with the investigation. When he and Ginger attended the Naas meeting, he opined that an unidentified irritant poison was to blame. [60] Two weeks later, Ginger’s stable issued a statement that ‘none of the common poisonous substances’ had been found and there was ‘no cause for alarm’. [61] Ginger had previously announced his intention of closing his Newmarket establishment and moving to Ireland to train for Mr Myerscough. [62] The writer Dick Francis, 17 years old at this time, must have allowed his imagination to wander.


Nosegays & Nationalists


The Naas meeting of 7 February 1938 was a horror, with rain of ‘such persistency that a considerable number did not leave the stands, and those who did walked upon soil which spoiled ladies’ shoes and accentuated the disagreeableness.’ [63] In contrast, the meeting of 5 March was held amid ‘brilliant sunshine, mild air, and not a trace of mist … One saw the horses clearly at the very farthest point from the stand, the silk of their jockeys making vivid streaks across a countryside that is changing its sombre greens and browns to brighter tones.’ [64]

Many women in the crowd wore ‘lovely homespun Irish tweeds’ bedecked with silver fox furs, colourful nosegays and hats ‘to suit the fashionable “page-boy” coiffure’ that was all the rage that year. Bryan Rogers – now a trainer in his own right – opened his Naas account when Old Flier won the Fishery Plate under the jockey, Harry Beasley Jr.

Later that month, Royal Danieli narrowly lost the 1938 Aintree Grand National to the American thoroughbred Battleship, with Workman third. Trained by Reggie Walker, Royal Danieli was a regular at Naas, where he came fourth in a Grand National trial in February 1938 and where he won the Grand National Qualifying Plate on 31 October 1939. Dan Levins Moore, his jockey, was a son of the Master of the Ward Union Hunt and was father to the trainer Arthur Moore.

On 1 October 1938, Harry Beasley was in the saddle again when Speech Day, owned by the hotelier Sir Victor Sassoon, won the Mullaboden Plate at Naas. Another popular winner that day was Richard Wallace’s welterweight Idrop. Watching in the crowd were the nationalist writer Sylvia Dryhurst and her husband Roibéard Ó Floinn (aka Robert Wilson Lynd), who wrote a column for the New Statesman under the pseudonym Y.Y., a play on two Ys meaning wise. They were accompanied by Beatrice Elvery, Lady Glenavy, an artist well known for her stained-glass window designs. Séan Lemass, the Minister for Industry and Commerce, and P. J. Ruttledge, the Minister for Justice, were also in attendance. Paddy Ruttledge, as the minister was known, became the leading racehorse owner in Ireland in 1939 when his horse Mondragon won both the Ulster and Irish Derbys.

In November 1939, Jack Chaucer came home third in a Grand National Qualifying Plate at Naas. Four months later, he won the 1940 Irish Grand National for Cecil Brabazon. Owned by Larry Egan of Egan Bottles, Jack Chaucer also won the first Red Cross Chase at Leopardstown in 1940.


The Tote Beachcomber


Minister Ruttledge, who was also one of Ireland’s leading horse owners, may have been amused by the trial of John Whelan, a young Naas man, who was charged with larceny after he presented a winning Tote ticket that had been lost by another man. It transpired that Mr Whelan, a son of the racecourse caretaker, was well known for picking up discarded Tote tickets on race days on the off-chance one of them was a winner. After the 21 May meeting, he found a £5 ticket for Spanish Armanda, who had won the Newlands Plate, and presented it to the Tote which was obliged to pay him £7 and 14 shillings. The judge was lenient, accepting Mr Whelan’s undertaking to cease his habit and maintaining that he was ‘too young to become a beachcomber of racecourses’. [65]

The day of Spanish Armada’s victory was a terrible one for the amateur jockey Tom Dreaper, who was riding in the Naas Hunters Chase. [66] He was thrown from his horse with such force that he broke a leg, was unconscious for two weeks, and in hospital for another six. He would go on to have astonishing success as a trainer with Prince Regent, Flyingbolt and, most famously, Arkle.

There was sadness across the Naas community in 1938 with the death on 14 October of Charlie Farrell, co-founder and chairman of the Naas racecourse. [67] He had lived long enough to see the course become one of the finest in the land. He had also seen many positive developments in Naas itself such as the new Sweepstakes-funded 50-bed St Mary’s Fever Hospital, opened by Sean T. O’Kelly, the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, on 21 July 1938. With Charlie’s passing, Edward Brophy succeeded as the new chairman.




The star horse of 1939 was undoubtedly the Cork-bred Workman. Following his triumph in the 1936 La Touche Cup at Punchestown, the powerful brown gelding was purchased by Sir Alexander Maguire for 1500 guineas and sent into training with Jack Ruttle at Hazelhatch Stud near Celbridge. Workman made his Naas debut with ‘a superb exhibition of fencing’ on 13 March 1937, although beaten by Lough Cottage. [68] In 1938, he came third in the Aintree Grand National, won by Battleship, and fourth in the Grand Sefton Steeplechase.

On 4 February 1939, Workman returned to Naas to win the Naas Plate, a handicap chase of three miles. [69] The following month, Sir Alexander Maguire would hold the Grand National Trophy aloft after Workman won at Aintree under the jockey Tim Hyde. [70] Workman competed at Naas several more times over the ensuing years, and always drew a crowd, but he never re-found his winning ways. [71] [See pic of Workman and Royal Danieli from Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News – Friday 17 March 1939.]


The Gathering Storm


Miss Olive Creed (whose father, Mr C. F. P. Creed, trained Irish Grand National winner Shaun Peel), Mrs John de Bromhead, Mrs A. H. Watt, aka Peg, and Mr Bryan Rogers, the Irish trainer, whose Test Match won the Shannon Plate at Limerick in 1939.

Sporting a long coat of tomato-red tweed with a yellow cross-stripe, a felt pull-on and ribbed wool stockings, the artist Pamela Rathdonnell was among a big crowd who assembled at Naas to watch The Gripper win the Champion Steeplechase on the bitterly cold afternoon of 22 April 1939. Perhaps she tried her luck on the new slot machines that had just been introduced by the Tote. By the time they ceased operating in 1965, the machines had sold 60 million tickets.

The following month, there were ‘huge fields, perfect weather and a large crowd’ for the May Steeplechase, including Gerald Annesley, a son of the artist Mabel Annesley, and James Rank, the milling millionaire and brother of film magnate J. Arthur Rank. [72] The highlight was a ‘great duel’ between Mrs Hubert Hartigan’s Amico, who won, and C. A. Rogers’ Klondyke. [73] In the Sallins Plate, Wonersh scored his third consecutive victory for owner Dorothy Paget, trainer William Hilliard and jockey Harry Beasley. [74]

Against this backdrop, the war clouds continued to gather over Europe once more. On 1 September 1939, Hitler’s forces invaded Poland. Two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany, while the Taoiseach Éamon de Valera declared Ireland’s neutrality. At Naas, there was such a concerted effort to keep the racing calendar on-track that, at its next meeting, the Tatler observed that ‘racing celebrities were even more plentiful at this pleasant meeting … than were the blackberries in that quite abnormal September with its Indian summer.’ [75] Indeed, despite the outbreak of war, racing continued at Naas throughout the so-called Emergency years.




Meanwhile, there was sadness with the passing of James Dowling, a founder and first secretary of the Naas Race Company. And yet there was cause for optimism too with the opening of the Naas Cotton Mills on the site of the barracks on 20 October. As the end of 1939 approached, there were also happy tidings for Morny Wing, who won his third successive title as champion jockey, and for Michael Conway, the manager of the racecourse, who announced his engagement to Honor Lawlor in November. The Irish Independent took the opportunity to applaud Mr Conway and the Naas executive for overseeing ‘a most successful season’ and for offering so many ‘liberally endowed’ races, with prize money on the increase. [76] ‘There is no doubt that the year witnessed a strong revival in the sport,’ concurred the Leinster Leader, ‘a revival marked by an improved standard of racing and a very healthy public interest.’[77]




[1] Charge for Naas Races, Leinster Leader, 7 June 1930. Mr Curry was elected auditor of the NRC in May 1930.

[2] Letting for Naas Race Co Ltd, Leinster Leader, Sat 18 Jan 1930. It was leased in four lots ranging from 21 acres down to seven.

[3] The seventh annual meeting of the Naas Race Company was held on Friday, 16 May. The revenue account for the year ended 30 November, 1929, showed a gross proft of £504 0s. 11d. (€42k). The report was unanimously adopted. Messrs. C. Farrell and P.J. Murphy, who had retired by rotation, were unanimously re-elected on the Board. Mr. Sean O’Curry, A.C.R. A., was re-elected auditor.
The following day, 17 May, the Totalisator was used for the first time at the Naas Races.
There were reduced admission charges at the Grand Prize Meeting at Naas Races on Thursday, 19 June. The charges were as follows: Grand Stand-Gents, 10/- (ten shillings)-; Ladies, 5/-,(five shillings), Public Stand, 2/6 (two shillings and six pence) and People’s Park, 1/- (one shilling). The price of a Race card had also reduced to 6d (six pence). There was £850 in Stakes (€60k).

[4] Nass Races re Baltinglass, The Nationalist and Leinster Times, Sat 4 Oct 1930.

[5] Ridden by his owner, F. J. de Sales La Terriere of Clogheen, County Tipperary, Shaun Golin won the Kilcullen Plate at Naas in 1925. Belfast News-Letter, 9 March 1925, p. 2Civil & Military Gazette (Lahore) – Saturday 19 March 1932, p. 8. Shaun Goilin, an Irish-bred horse, ridden by Irish jockey Tommy Brady (T.B) “Tommy” Cullinan, won the Aintree Grand National the prior day at odds of 100 to 8. Only 5 finished out of field of 41. Tommy also won the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle in 1930, as well as winning on Duke of Florence at Naas in October, 1928.

[6] Ireland’s Saturday Night, 1 November 1930, p. 6. The Naas Race Committee was in luck at the meeting on Saturday, 1 November, when an improvement in the weather brought possibly the largest attendance ever seen up to that time. Racing had been excellent, though the large fields and heavy ground had made picking a winner difficult. That said, there was later subsequently ‘grave suspicion’ over the manner in which Bray Beau was ridden by John Doyle.

Beaudelaire was trained by Roderic More O’Ferrall.

[7] He died in a Dublin Nursing Home owned by the Mater Hospital on 21 March 1931. He was unmarried. Obituary in Kildare Observer and Eastern Counties Advertiser, 4 April 1931, p. 2. Following his death in a Dublin Nursing Home, which came a shock to his relatives and numerous friends in the town of Naas and the County Kildare generally, his remains were conveyed to Naas and met at the outskirts of the town by a huge concourse of people. Rev. Professor Foynes, Carlow College, received the remains at the Church of Our Lady of St. David.  Solemn High Mass was celebrated and Requiem Office was chanted for the repose of his soul.  His funeral took place subsequently to the New Cemetery, the cortege being one of the largest ever witnessed in the town up to that point,  and was representative of all creeds and classes.  At a special meeting of the NRC, on 28 March, a vote of sympathy was passed to the relatives of Mr. Whelan.

[8] On Sunday, 8 February, Kildare native, Mr. Patrick James Hogan, FG, Minister for Agriculture, received a deputation for those interested in the horse-breeding industry and in racing. He was asked to use his influence to have the Betting Tax removed. The Naas deputation consisted of: – Naas Race Company – Messrs. P. J. Brophy (acting Chairman), E. Brophy, E. S. Dowling, C. Farrell, J. W. Osborne, and M. N. Conway (Manager). The Reps. Of Horsebreeders – Senator J. J. Parkinson, Messrs. C. Burke, F. Burke, and T. Waters. The minister was asked to use his influence to have the Betting Tax removed. It was pointed out that the tax was having a most injurious effect on racing, and that the Naas Race Co., had lost £1,400 (€120k) the first year it was imposed in spite of the fact they had reduced their stakes that year by £1,000 (€86K).

[9] Betting on Racecourses, The Irish Times, 25 Feb 1931.

[10] The race was won by Cameronian, with Freddie Fox as his jockey.

[11] Leinster Leader – Saturday 13 June 1931, p. 2.

[12] Hilary Pyle, ‘Jack B. Yeats: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings,’ Volume 1 (Canongate Books, 1992), p. 390.]. The painting was included in a catalogue of the ‘Artists and Russia exhibition’ for Mrs Winston Churchill’s aid to Russia fund, The Wallace collection, Hertford house, Hertfordshire, 1 July-4 August 1942. I am unsure where either of these paintings are today, and have not yet found a copy of either of them.

[13] For the July meet, attendees from the Baltinglass district were notably reduced because there was too much work to do on the farm.  Local trainer-owner Mr. W. Ash’s charges were regarded as having excellent chances until they met with an accident on the way to the meeting.

At the last meeting of the season on Saturday 7 December 1931, the Naas Executive had a very large attendance. And for those pessimists who ever said that racing in Ireland was doomed, it had been a most successful year for the Naas Racecourse Company. Unfortunately, it was not good ending for Runaway Jack (trained by Mr. Oliver T. V. Slocock) who broke his hind leg in his box on the course.

[14] Leinster Times, Sat 28 Feb 1931.

[15] On 24 May 1932, Charlie Farrell and Michael Conway were part of the deputation that met the then Finance Minister, Seán McEntee, to appeal for a remission of the Entertainment Tax.

[16] In August 1932, the Cappagh Chase at Naas was won by Lady Heath, a mare owned by Mr. E.L. Lloyd.

[17] John Tyrell injured, Irish Press, 19 May 1932; see court case at Leinster Leader, 11 June 1932, p. 5.

[18] He died on 15 January 1946. Leinster Leader – Saturday 26 January 1946, p. 4.

[19] ‘There were several attractions at the Kildare Feis, held at Naas Racecourse, including a hurling match, two camogidhe matches and a marathon race from Dublin, won by D. J. McKeon, now the owner of the Ballinagappa Cup, which he has won three times, and presented by Mr. Charles Farrell, Ballinagappa.’ Irish Independent, 2 May 1932. Charlie had by now been formally appointed as chairman of the Naas Race Company

[20] Count McCormack had high hopes for Golden Lullaby to win the Epsom Derby but it didn’t happen. The filly, trained by R. More O’Ferrall, was pipped by Red Clover in the Naas Plate [at the Phoenix Park], according to Kildare Observer and Eastern Counties Advertiser of 17 August 1929 causing: ‘A very big reverse to backers … She has been doing lot of work all the season, and a short rest might be beneficial to her at present.’ On 11 Sept 1929, the eve of Wall Street Crash, the Count entered If in the Kilcullen Plate at Naas, while his wife Countess McCormack entered La Spia in the Nursery Handicap but, for whatever reason, neither horse ran. (Kildare Observer and Eastern Counties Advertiser, 31 August 1929, here). On 28 May 1932, he had Domremy (who came second to Stand Off) in the Waterford Plate and Janet Gaynor, an also ran, in the Cork Plate –both trained by More O’Ferrall. See here.

[21] The Sweep was born after the enactment of the Public Charitable Hospitals Act of 1930, and an amending act in 1931, expressly “to enable funds to be raised by means of sweepstakes and drawings of prizes.’ See The Irish Sweep by Turtle Bunbury.

[22] ‘At attractive programme awaits visitors to the popular Naas enclosure on Saturday afternoon. Each of the six events has obtained excellent support from owners and trainers and there will be no lack of runners. The majority of the races down for decision have an open appearance and the sport throughout the afternoon should be of a most interesting character. The first race is timed for the convenient hour of three o’clock, and, as racing at the local venue is extremely popular with metropolitan and provincial sportsmen alike, it will be surprising if the fixture does not attract a big attendance of racegoers.’ Kildare Observer and Eastern Counties Advertiser – Saturday 13 August 1932, p. 8.

[23] Edinburgh Evening News – Saturday 31 December 1932, p. 17. The best horse Willie O’Grady rode was the brilliant Irish mare Heartbreak Hill, trained by Harry Ussher. Willie partnered her to victory five times in Ireland and also landed the 1931 Grand Sefton Chase, beating the previous year’s Grand National third Sir Lindsay by eight lengths.

[24] ‘Irish freelance jockey (Joseph) Martin Hynes, aged 33 and familiarly known as Marty, died in Mater Hospital, Dublin, on Saturday, 1 April 1933, following a fall at Naas races the previous afternoon. His brother John identified the body. Martin, of Laytown, Co Meath, was riding Glentoi (owned by Mr. L. F. Ball) in the fifth race – the 4.40 Grand Stand Plate – when, at the third fence, his mount’s hind legs caught on its bushes, throwing Martin some ten yards clear. Uninjured, Marty was about to rise when one of the following horses collided with him, fracturing the unfortunate rider’s skull. He was rushed to hospital, where an operation failed to save him. Marty married Eileen Levins in April 1930. For many years employed at Mr Delaney’s stud at Laytown, he was also a keen golfer and member of the Bettystown Golf Club. Marty was interred at Calvary Cemetery following a Requiem Mass at St Mary’s, Drogheda. He left a widow (Eileen), a young child, and two brothers, Frank and Sean.’

The news of his death rocked the racing world and was received with feelings of the deepest regret by the Irish racing community, for Martin was liked and respected by all who knew him. Following an inquest in the Dublin Morgue, a verdict of “accidental death” was returned.

After the verdict had been returned, Mr. F. Harold Clarke extended his deep sympathy to Martin’s young widow and family on behalf of the Irish Turf Club and the Irish National Hunt Committee. Mr. T. J. Flemming, Clerk of the Course at Naas, also expressed sympathy, as did the Naas Race Committee and Company.

There was a very large attendance at his funeral, with people prominent in racing and hunting circles among those present. His death would also have been a stark reminder to the Kennedy family, who had lost their oldest brother Edward Kennedy (b. 1909), when he died on 17 August 1930 at Longford following a fall in a steeplechase.

The lamentable death of Martin Hynes served to further emphasise the hazardous nature of the steeplechase jockey’s calling.

[25] The Sketch, 12 April 1933. ‘MR. F. AMBROSE CLARK, whose wife owns Kellsboro Jack, the Grand National Winner, has been over in Ireland looking out for more good horses to buy. He is shown with LADY NUGENT (centre), wife of Sir Walter Nugent, Bt., and MISS DOREEN O’BRIEN, at the Naas Races.’

[26] ‘MISS GWEN McCORMACK and MISS CLODAGH KEN NEDY were snapped at Naas Races. Miss McCormack is a daughter of the famous tenor, Count McCormack.’ Clodagh would go on to marry the Earl of Roden.

[27] After making a bold bid for the Leinster Novices’ Championship the prior year, the Naas Cross-Country Club won the coveted title, with the handsome Cup generously presented by Mr. Joseph McDonald, Naas. The race consisted of four circuits of the racecourse, about four miles, and the going was heavy. Notwithstanding this, the time was very good and the keenest competition prevailed for the leading places. At the conclusion of the race Mr. P. C. Moore, Chairman of the Leinster Council N.A.C.A., said the Naas Racecourse Company deserved their very best thanks for kindly putting the grounds at their disposal. Cheers where then given and the crowd, headed by the Naas band, marched into the town.

A week earlier, on 15 June 1933, a big day in the programme of the hugely popular Naas meeting, the weather was wet and miserable. However, that hadn’t dampened the racing enthusiasts, who had come see the favourite Cody, Mrs. R. S. Croker’s horse, win the Naas Grand Prize of 500 sovereigns (€45k). Tailor-mades were worn under mackintoshes, with pull on hats in bright shades of blue, scarlet, and green.

On Saturday, 29 July, the Naas stewards were congratulated on their firm dealing with certain unnamed wrongdoers at the previous fixture. It had been reported that the punishment meted out should discourage “tricky” owners and trainers from trying any “funny” business at future Naas fixtures.

[28] She was the wife of Flt Lt Hon Brinsley Sheridan Bushe Plunkett, daughter of Arthur “Ernest” Guinness and granddaughter of brewing magnate Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh.


By a Lady Correspondent, In spite of wet morning which cleared in the afternoon, a fashionable gathering attended the popular Co. Kildare meeting at Naas, on Saturday, the 28th. Many Dublin racing enthusiasts journeyed from the city, and were rewarded by interesting programme, and large fields, where some exciting racing was witnessed. The wintry atmosphere enticed many women racegoers to wear fur coats while others chose teddy bear coats which looked cosy and warm. The Hon. Mrs. Brinsley-Plunket was present with her husband, the Hon. Mr. Brinsley-Plunket, where she saw her horse Pullfield, run second in the Mountjoy Plate. She chose smart fur coat worn with a pretty dark green hat. Mrs. More O’Ferrall was another who favoured a fur coat m a becoming shade of brown with a hat to tone. Mrs. Gerald Wellesley’s Welsh tweed costume was green with whmhshe wore a scarlet jumper and a dark green velvet tight-fitting. hat. Lady Grace choice was a long coat in a pretty shade of claret with a hat , c ur Mrs. G. F. Dunn looked well in brown. Mrs. J. T. Rogers came prepared for the rain and favoured a smart navy showerproof coat worn with a navy hat. Mrs Barry Brown, wore a becoming astrican coat with her black hat. Miss Clodagh Kennedy came with her brother Mr. Edward Kennedy, and looked well a scarlet hat worn with a fur coat. Others present included Mrs. C. Mitchell and Major Mitchell, Mr. Hartey Bacon, Lord Fingah Captain M ‘b P. Grace, Captam de Burgh, Mre. B. Goodbody, Miss H. Cooper, Mrs D. Peard, Dublin ; Captain Boyd-Rochford. Miss L. Brabazon, Dr T. B. Maginms, Dublin; Mrs. de Burgh, The Hon, Gerald Wellesley, Mr. Bryan Rogers, A Mr- N. Conway, hon B- More O’Ferrall. and many others.’

Kildare Observer and Eastern Counties Advertiser – Saturday 4 November 1933.

[30] In January 1934, the Naas Race Company donated a bullock to the Naas Gaelic Football Club for their “Bonanza” raffle in order to help defray the cost of the newly acquired athletic and football grounds. This was one of 30 valuable prizes and the tickets were one shilling each (€10).

[31] The Whist Drive took place on Friday 19 July 1934 at 7:30 pm. Tickets were three shillings and six pence (3/6) and included refreshments.

[32] The April meeting was highly successful and the large crowd in evidence at the enclosure on the 14 April had a thoroughly enjoyable experience, as the racing was full of interest from first to last. The weather conditions had been pleasant and the track in splendid order. The enterprise of the go-ahead executive in staging a brace of £200 events (€18k) was rewarded by the attendance in all departments, and amongst those present were quite a number of English visitors – the vanguard of the big cross- Channel contingent which annually appeared at Punchestown. From the point of view of the backer, perhaps the only minor irritation, was the fact that several extremely well-backed candidates failed to realise expectations, and on the whole, the bookmakers surely had the better of the battle with the punters. But that was merely the fortunes of war, and had in no way detracted from the general excellence of the fixture. Naas, by hard work, sound management and commendable far-sightedness on the part of Mr. Michael N. Conway and the executive in general, had attained an enviable position in the world of Irish racing. It was reportedly the leading “provincial” meeting in the country, and deservingly popular with owners, trainers and the racing public alike.

On that occasion, the Hon. Ernest Guinness and his wife flew into Bishopscourt, near Kill, and then made his way to the course.

[33] Liam O’Flaherty, ‘The Letters of Liam O’Flaherty’ (Wolfhound Press, 1996), p. 335.

[34] Francis Stuart (1902-2000) recalled his visit to Naas in his memoir, ‘Things to live for – Notes for an Autobiography’ (New York: Macmillan, 1935), p. 166-170:

‘A man came out from breakfast and joined us.

“I have been waiting for Abbots Worthy,” he said, “I have been waiting for him ever since he ran second at York.”

A Jew who was touring Ireland with his wife hovered on the outskirts. The fever even seemed to affect him.

“I think I was given that horse once for the National,” he said.

No one took any notice.

He was obviously a tyro. Not one of the regulars. Another man came down from his room. He was the owner of a very moderate horse about which he was always talking. The horse was entered in a small hurdle race at Naas the next day.

He dressed the part of “the owner.” He wore a tie of his racing colours, which were a sickening mixture of green and salmon. There was a gold horse – shoe pin in the tie. He had on riding boots and very pale breeches. He did not try to join us just then because he saw that we were more interested in other horses than in his. He went through into a room called the drawing-room where no one ever sits except one or two oldish ladies. It is a bleak room with a lot of bamboo furniture in it. “The owner” used to sit there drinking alone until someone appeared whom he fancied he could impress with talk and hints about his horse. By that time, probably completely befuddled, he would talk proudly about the “fifty pounder” and sometimes even refer to the race as the “Naas blue riband. ” The sequel to this was immensely funny though it has nothing to do with me or this book at all. I had called in that morning to get some stamps and the upshot was that I stayed to lunch, and lunch with brandies afterwards dragged on till four or five. By that time I had heard so many horses mentioned and so many bets made that no matter what won each race someone in the place was sure to benefit. In fact they might have had a private bookmaker there so that the money would not have had to leave the hotel at all.

Liam left a few days after that for California and the next time I was in the place “the owner” had left too. His horse had won the race all right and that is what had finished him. What happened was this, and although it sounds like a satire that I invented to show up what can happen to people who race horses in Ireland, it is nevertheless true. There had only been three horses in the race. The value of the race was nominally fifty pounds but after money for the second and third and some percentage for something else had been deducted the actual amount left for the winner was forty pounds or a little over. In order to get the services of a good jockey ” the owner” had promised him twenty pounds if his horse won. It had cost him four or five pounds to enter the horse and get it and himself to the course. He also owed his trainer twenty pounds arrears in training fees which he would expect after a win.

His horse started the outsider of the three and he put ten pounds on it on the tote. As he could only get four to one against with the books he considered that an astute move. He also invested five pounds to win twenty-five by forecasting that his own horse would be first and one of the other two, which he named, second. This is called ‘ placing them ‘. His horse won with the result that he lost two pounds on his betting operations. The horse that he had named for second place was third and on his ten pounds investment on the tote he won three. After he had given his jockey his promised present, he had twelve or thirteen pounds to the good out of which to pay his trainer the twenty pounds arrears. To make matters worse he was being congratulated on all sides. He was even photographed for the press beside his victorious animal. He had then to stand various friends several bottles of champagne. In the final attempt to straighten out matters he lost his remaining eight pounds on the last two races.

[35] Liam O’Flaherty wrote of Stuart after the war: ‘Francis Stuart has now given up both horse-racing and Jesus. What on earth has he got left as apart from Gertruda whom he brought back from Germany as apologia pro vita sua, in other words a living proof that he had put away his love for Adolf Hitler and turned his face towards Israel.’ (See Kevin Kiely, review of A. A. Kelly, The Letters of Liam O’Flaherty, Wolfhound 1997, 458pp., in Books Ireland [q.d.]

[36] Morny Wing rode Mr Kelly’s Crusheen to win the Mullaboden Plate, while J. Moylan carried Kathleen Kelly’s colours to victory in the Eadestown Plate aboard Colquhoun. WJ Kelly also worked closely with Walter Nightingall (1895-1968), the trainer based at the famous South Hatch Stables in Epsom, from where he trained horses for Dorothy Paget and, later, Sir Winston Churchill, notably Colonist II.

[37] Captain Jonathan Patrick “Paddy” Saul, was an Irish sailor and pioneer aviator who was the navigator for the East to West crossing of the Atlantic on Sir Charles Edward Kingsford “Smithy” Smith’s year long round the world circumnavigation flight in a Fokker Trimotor three- engined monoplane named the Southern Cross. It took off from Portmarnock Strand – heading to Harbour Grace, Newfoundland – on Tuesday, 24 June, 1930. Thousands of spectators, who had kept an all-night vigil, watched at 4:25 am when the giant plane took to the air within two minutes after a run of 1,500 yards. When the plane had started on her run she had been followed by two fast military Red Cross ambulances, but she outpaced them at once. The plane wheeled to the left over Ballydoyle and faced out to the sea. Flying high, she circled round Ireland’s Eye and Howth, and then came back and gave a final good-bye to the immense crowd which had lined the sand hills for a full two miles. During the flight, Paddy experienced discomfort and danger as he fought to repair a damaged compass in freezing, fog-bound conditions. In spite of conflicting compass bearings on board, which caused the flight to lose time and waste fuel, he eventually spotted land and the Southern Cross arrived safely. Thus he had participated in a stage of the first aerial circumnavigation of the globe and the aircraft was the first to make the east–west crossing and be able to continue its journey afterwards. Upon reaching New York, Paddy and his fellow crew members were each presented with the scroll of honour from Mayor James John “Jimmy” Walker, son of an Irishman.

[38] Social side of Naas Races-Leinster Leader-1 Jun 1935.

[39] Michael McCormac, ‘The Irish Racing and Bloodstock Industry – An Economic Analysis’ (1978), via Jed Kelly.

[40] A ‘very large crowd’ turned up at Kingsbridge station (now Heuston) for the 2 o’clock special and were left stranded. Among the hundreds of disappointed intended travellers were Munster members of the Women’s international hockey team who had rushed away from the playing ground in taxis without changing their clothes in which they had been playing to catch the 5 o’clock Mail for Cork.

[41] Free Stabling at Naas for Punchestown Races, Irish Times, 21 April 1935.

[42] J.J. Maher died on 24 March 1935.  He and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Bayley, went on a cruise to Rangoon, India, in January of that year, and he died on the return journey. News of his death was received by Capt. M. King-French, Clonsilla.

[43] It was reported that the attendance at the November meeting at Naas had been one of the largest ever seen and the racing was first class. The Naas executive was nothing if not progressive and, with Mr. Michael N. Conway (Secretary and Manager) at the helm, the venue had gone from strength to strength. The course was reportedly one of the best in the country and the enclosures splendidly appointed, no stone had been left unturned in providing for the comfort of patrons. The programmes at the various Naas fixtures were drawn up with care and commendable foresight and evidently made just the right appeal to owners and trainers alike with huge entries and big fields. On Friday, 1 November, the Naas executive was lucky in the weather, as a fine autumn day, though with a cold snap, favoured the fixture. The spotless enclosures were looking their best and the braziers were much appreciated. During this racing season many improvements had been carried out, including enlarged accommodation in the jockey’s room. It really was little wonder that Nass was so popular with the race-going public, as everything possible had been done to attract patronage. The consensus among owners, trainers, jockeys, the public and the press was that the Naas executive deserved its success.

[44] The feature event at the aforementioned fixture was the Naas November Handicap, 1.5 miles, and this brought out a big field and was productive of spirited wagering. Corofin, Grey Crusader, Kingsmere and Bay Ride were those who came in for most support. Gray Crusader and Bay Ridge were prominent in the early running but the former had had enough when the straight was reached. Bay Ridge continued to hold his place and shortly after, Rattle Up, Kildonan’s Hope and Corofin joined issue. As in the Irish Cesarewitch the prior month, Corofin was unable to quicken in the closing stages and Kildonan’s Hope, Bay Ridge and Rattle Up fought out a most interesting finish. Bay Ridge (owner, Mr. H Kennedy and jockey Morny Wing), after making most of the running, just failed to hold off the challenge of Kildonan’s Hope (Mr. O. Fitzpatrick’s daughter of Knight of the Garter and Lemon Sponge, jockey M. Nolan) who won by a length.

[45] The train departed at 12:15 pm and returned at 4:00 pm. A first class ticket had cost 5/- and a third class one had cost 2/6. The weather wasn’t at all kind to the racegoers but an interesting programme was enjoyed by those who braved the elements. In the Press ‘Chase (3 miles), Mr. P. J. Osborne’s mare, Alice Maythorne decisively outstayed Gaultier, Knight of Munroe and Dublin Orb.

[46] In 1936, the Sisters of Mercy opened their first Secondary School In Naas. They transferred this school to a thatched” building in Abbeyfield. In 1960, it moved to the present St Marys College. This was extended in the l980s and again in the 1990s.

[47] Leinster Leader – Saturday 28 December 1935, p. 9.

[48] Northern Whig – Monday 22 June 1936, p. 2.

[49] Sir Alexander lived at Ardmulchan, County Meath, during this time. He rented the house from the Fletcher family who built it for many years, and was the only person have made alterations – a set of stairs linking the first and second floor, so his manservant could be nearer to his bedroom, as well as the steps that descend from the house to the river.

[50] Sir Alexander Maguire made his fortune from match manufacturing, producing the Maguire & Patterson brand amongst others, and who played a significant part in the prohibition of poisonous white phosphorus from match manufacturing. He was present at Naas races on Saturday, 3 October, for the first autumn meeting where large fields and exciting finishes had been the order of the day, to see his horse, Walter’s Pride, win the Nursery Plate. This was only his second horse to win since entering the world of racehorse ownership, the other, Free State Lady, won the Juvenile Plate at Baldoyle two weeks prior. Women racegoers had come prepared for the bitterly cold east wind which swept the course, many wearing fur or heavy tweed coats.

[51] A large crowd assembled for that second October meeting. Among those in the enclosure were the Hon. Gerald and Mrs. Wellesley, Mrs. B. M. Webster, who had won two races, and Mr. Roderick More-O’Ferrall.

[52] J. T. Rogers started his 1935 Classic campaign in stunning style by training the first three in the Irish 2,000 Guineas – Museum, Parisian and Chirgwin. The first two both started at 100-1. The trainer followed up with Smokeless in the Irish 1,000 Guineas and went on to win all five Irish Classics with just two horses – Triple Crown winner Museum and the filly Smokeless. That was the year that Museum became the first horse to complete the Irish Triple Crown, comprising of the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger.

His 11 Classic wins were: two 1,000 Guineas (Harvest Star 1936 and Smokeless 1935); three 2,000 Guineas (Phideas 1937, Museum 1935 and Double Arch 1931); two Derbys (Phideas 1937 and Museum 1935); one Oaks (Smokeless 1935) and three St Legers (Battle Song 1936, Museum 1935 and Hill Song 1932). Smokeless and Museum enabled him to make a clean sweep of all five Irish Classics in 1935, a feat never previously nor subsequently accomplished. It might be noted that the Irish Classics of that era ‘were not run at level weights and rarely attracted the best English-trained horses’.

He also trained Trigo (winner of the Epsom Derby, St Leger and Irish St Leger) to win the Phoenix Stakes as a two-year-old.

He had four runners in the Irish Derby: the first two favourites, Smokeless and African Lily, and the unfancied Museum and Parisian, whose Guineas performances were regarded as flukes. Nevertheless, Museum, owned by Sir Victor Sassoon and ridden by Steve Donoghue, profited from a weak English challenge to score by a length, with Smokeless third. Smokeless then took the Irish Oaks, although she was lucky to beat the English-trained favourite Solerina.

Museum gave Rogers a rare success in his native land by winning the Ebor Handicap by a short head under 7st 13lb, and then completed the trainer’s unique Classic clean sweep with an easy victory over stablemate African Lily in the Irish St Leger.

It testified to the moderate standard of pre-war Flat racing in Ireland that Museum, a colt at least 7lb below top class, became the first horse to win the Irish Triple Crown. Unbeaten Windsor Slipper became the second in 1942; there will never be a third. See: ‘‘Rogers’ unique achievement has passed test of time – until now” – John Randall, The Racing Post, 21 Sept 2008 (London, England).

[53] The Naas Race Company Ltd., held its annual general meeting at its Registered Office at Kingsfurze, Tipper Road, Naas, on Friday, 26 February.

Mr. Charles Farrell (Chairman) who presided, said he assumed they had all read the statement of accounts and the balance sheet, and to these he had little to add as they spoke for themselves, and they gave a good idea of the satisfactory position in which they found themselves after a long period of anxiety and worry.

The shareholders, said the Chairman, had every reason to feel gratified with the result of the past year’s working. The profits, after providing for all outstandings and payment of all expenses, justified the Directors in recommending that a dividend be paid on the issued capital of the Company for the

year under review. He continued to say that is was the first dividend which the company had paid since its incorporation, and the fact that it could be done during the period of depression they were all living through, gave good ground for the hope that this satisfactory condition would continue and improve.

The stake money paid out during 1936 was substantially increased over previous years, and this they hoped to enlarge in 1937. Six of the races to be held during this year, under I.N. H. S. Rules, which had secured a record entry, had the “Added Money” increased from £1,300 in 1936 (€115,000) to £1,500 in 1937 (€130,000).

The Directors thanked the various owners, trainers and the general public for the generous support accorded the Naas meetings and hoped this support would continue in the future.

[54] ‘The popularity of Naas as a venue  with owners, trainers and the racing public alike was again amply demonstrated by the outstanding success of last week’s fixture. There was a splendid attendance in all departments and big fields and keen sport were, as is customary at this venue, features of a highly enjoyable afternoon’s racing. Mr. M. N. Conway, M.R.C.V.S., the extremely capable Secretary’ and Manager of the Naas Race Co., and his competent staff, are to be congratulated on the excellent work which has brought Naas to the proud position of our leading provincial venue—and maintained it there. Though the competition for the prize-money at the various Naas meetings is exceptionally keen, owners are eager to run their horses there, and though, on the whole, Naas is not exactly a “backers” Paradise, the racing public give the venue extended patronage. These facts, we consider, speak volumes for the excellent manner the Naas meetings are managed. It is extremely gratifying to able to write of this County Kildare enterprise in such deservedly glowing terms. We learn that the annual report of the affairs of the Naas Race Co., which will be shortly forthcoming will reveal a very satisfactory financial position. This again, considering that Irish racing has passed through a “thin” period, and that many provincial venues have been put to the “pin of their collar” to survive, is further indicative of the all-round popularity of the Naas venue and an emphatic tribute to competent and enterprising management. A Parkinson Double. The opening race at last week’s reunion was the Independent Hurdle for which Mrs. P. J. Fleming’s mare. Lady Consul, was made a hot favourite … Leinster Leader – Saturday 16 January 1937, p. 6.

[55] Bob O’Connell, ‘Young Days in Green,’ St Vincent’s Hospital, Elm Park, annual, 1971, p. 29-30. Galli-Galli won the Irish Caesarevitch in 1934, as well as the Curragh Plate at Naas in 1934   . See Naas 1930s Images for more on James Benedict Magennis, son of the Nationalist Edward Magennis.

[56] SOCIAL SIDE OF NAAS RACES. (By Our Lady Correspondent.) In spite of unpleasant weather conditions quite a representative attendance assembled at Naas Races on Saturday last where some good racing with close finishes were the order of the day. The trophy of the meeting, the Naas Steeplechase was won by Galli Galli for that fine sportsman Dr. J. B. Magennis, who is as well known in medical circles as in racing circles. His many friends were glad to see Mr. M. N Conway, the popular Secretary of Naas Races, out and about after his recent illness. From a feminine point of view, rain marred the pleasure of women racegoers for smart ensembles were hidden beneath waterproofs, and many women came prepared for wet in Wellingtons, which were most suitable for the very wet state of the ground. Leinster Leader – Saturday 13 March 1937.

[57] LORD CAVENDISH’S HAT. I noticed that Lord Charles Cavendish was wearing a novel type of sporting hat at Naas on Saturday (says the Diarist of the “Irish Times.”) Although not the kind of hat one goes racing in, it was otherwise the last word in headgear. Green and Tyrolean in shape, it featured clushion cord band, similar to one I had seen sported by a London artist friend not long ago. Stuck in the cord were numerous wild bird feathers, which indicated that the wearer is a good shot. Incidentally, Lord Charles did not have long to wait for success on the Turf, for Spanish Bill registered his first win at Naas. Waterford Standard – Saturday 17 April 1937

[58] Leinster Leader – Saturday 06 November 1937, p. 5.

[59] Leinster Leader, 26 Jun 1937.

[60] Irish Independent, Friday, 7 January 1938. The four dead horses were Silver Crest, Whimsical Walter, a gelding by Haste Away out of Rosyth II and a filly by Tolgus out of Persia. Naturally, their deaths caused alarm within the racing industry as rumours spread that an as yet unknown deadly contagion had killed them. Mr. Conway, who had been present at the post-mortem in London, tried to allay their fears by telling them that he was of the opinion that an irritant poison was the cause of the deaths. Following the post-mortem and extensive blood tests, no evidence of any contagion had been found and neither had the source of the irritant poison believed to be responsible.

[61] Daily Herald – Friday 21 January 1938.

[62] Since its inaugural meeting in June 1924, sports journalists had reported favourably on the Naas races and Naas racecourse and the year 1938 was no different. One such report had the following to say about the October Naas fixture and about its Secretary and Manager, Mr. Michael N. Conway, prior to it taking place on Saturday the 1st … No doubt what ever can be cast on the popularity of the Naas venue, and Saturday’s fixture at that excellently appointed and splendidly managed enclosure is certain to attract the usual large and enthusiastic attendance. Great credit for the phenomenal success of Nass as a racing venue must be awarded to Mr. M. N. Conway, M. R. C. V. S., the “Livewire” and highly efficient Secretary and Manager. Visitors to Naas always find everything in perfect order. The programme is invariably framed with due regard to the needs of owners and trainers and of such an attractive character that the racegoing public, assured of good fields and brisk sport, extend faithful and generous patronage.  The card for Saturday’s meeting is of the high standard that we have learned to associate with the Naas venue. It is well balanced and pleasantly varied, whilst the stakes are well worth winning. Fields will be on the big size and the racing is sure to be of an exceptionally interesting kind…

There were reportedly 170 entries for six races at Naas that day.

[63] Racing of the best at Naas but downpour, Irish Independent, 7 Feb 1938.

[64] Sunday Independent, 6 March 1938.

[65] Leinster Leader, 26 Jun 1937. Full details of the trial from Leinster Leader, 13 August 1938, p. 5, are here.

[66] Leinster Leader – Saturday 28 May 1938, p. 6.

[67] Charles Farrell, co-founder and former director, died at his residence in Ballinagappa on 14 October, 1938, and his funeral was private. All he asked was that a prayer be said for him. He was straightforward, honest and true and was one of nature’s gentleman.

[68] Leinster Leader – Saturday 20 March 1937, p. 6.

[69] Cambridge Daily News – Wednesday 18 January 1939, p. 7.

[70] Ed Galvins who lives at Ardmulchan, where Sir Alexander Maguire lived at the time of Workman’s victory, recalls how Sir Alexander paraded the victorious horses in Navan after his win and gave a party for all the primary school children in the area. Sean Walsh, who we met during Vanishing Ireland interviews (and who died at 98 in c. 2022) recalled the party and seeing Workman on his holidays out in the paddocks here. The Galvins have a print of the horse in their tack room.

[71] At Naas, Workman was unplaced in the Troytown Handicap Steeplechase of 21 October 1939 (won by West Point), in which race he may have injured a tendon. He also competed in the Osberstown Steeplechase of 2 March 1940 and the Hospitals Chase of 23 February 1943.


Huge fields, perfect weather, and a large crowd all went to make the recent Naas meeting a pleasant one. The only fly in the ointment was finding ’em, as, excepting in two races, outsiders came up with the greatest of regularity. In the big race of the day, the Naas May Steeplechase, Mrs. Hubert Hartigan’s Amico won, after a great duel with Mr. C. A. Roger’s Klondyke,” the only other within hailing distance being Mr. M. P. Minch’s Ford Radio.”. The little gallery includes Mr. Gerald Annesley, a well-known owner, and son of Lady Mabel Annesley. Dan Levins-Moore who was Royal Danieli’s jockey in this and last year’s Grand National, rode Mr. C. A. Roger’s Klondyke into second place in the Naas May Steeplechase. He is the son of the late Mr. T. Levins-Moore, who was for many years Master of the Ward. Major Mitchell is one of the committee of three who hunt the Kildare. The Duke of Devonshire’s eldest brother, Lord Charles Cavendish, is the owner of Up Sir,” which was unplaced in the May Steeplechase. Sir Ernest Goff, who was the jockey, is a well-known Irish amateur rider. Mr. B. Rogers trained Brook Lawn,” which was ridden by Lord Kildare in the Wallop Plate, and finished down the course. Lord Kildare will be sole Master of the Kilkenny Hounds next season, as his partner has taken over the Westmeath. Miss Pansy Grace is very well known in the dog world, her father, Sir Valentine Grace, being a judge at many Irish dog shows. Mr. James Rank, the millionaire owner, whose wife is also a well-known owner, was of course back in England in time for Epsom.

Mr. Gerald Annesley and Miss Rosalind Mansfield Talk Matters Over.

A Well-Known Turf Trio – Dan Levins-Moore, Mr. Bob Gore, and Major C. Mitchell.

Owner and rider of Up Sir, Lord Charles Cavendish and Sir Ernest Goff.

Trainer and rider 0f Brook Lawn Mr. B. Rogers and Lord Kildare.

Miss Pansy Grace and Mrs. Ken Homan greet the camera with a smile.

Mr. James Rank, Millionaire Owner, with Miss Audrey and Miss Corinne Odlum

Photographs, Vyvyan Poole, Dublin

The Tatler – Wednesday 31 May 1939, here.

[73] The latter was ridden by Dan Levins-Moore, a son of the Master of the Ward Union.

[74] Wonersh would have to settle for fourth in the Irish Derby on 21 June 1939.


Irish racing celebrities were even more plentiful at this pleasant meeting in Kildare than were the blackberries in that quite abnormal September with its Indian summer. For instance, they call Senator Parkinson ‘The King of Irish Racing’, for he has headed the winning trainers’ list many a time, and the jockey with him is one of the famous steeplechasing family and son of that beautiful horseman, Harry Beasley, who won the Grand National on Come Away.”

In the picture alongside is the artist who trained Sir Alexander Maguire’s Workman,” the very good steed that won this year’s National. Mr. P. F. Cannon is Ireland’s Arthur Coventry,” for he has been starter to the Irish Turf Club for very many years and Mr. Nesbit Waddington has just succeeded to the managership of the Aga Khan’s stud in Ireland, on the much-regretted death of Colonel T. G. Peacock. Lord Glenavy is more addicted to yachting than horse-racing, but, like all Irishmen, has a warm corner in his heart for it nevertheless. Colonel Hill-Dillon, who is a steward of the Irish Turf Club and an owner, is with two of the four sisters of the young Lord De Freyne, who was only born in 1927.

Senator Parkinson, Eire’s principal trainer, with Harry Beasley.
V Lt.-Col. S. S. Hill-Dillon and The Hon. Patience and The Hon. Patricia French.
Workman’s Trainer, J. Ruttle, and John Doyle.
Mr. P. F. Cannon, the famous Starter, and Mrs. G. Robinson in the Members.
Mrs. Owen Murphy with Lord Glenavy.
Mr. Nesbit Waddington with Miss Helen O’Loughlin.
Photos: Poole, Dublin.

The Tatler, 11 October 1939, here.

[76] Naas Races, Irish Independent-7 Nov 1939.

[77] Leinster Leader, 9 December 1939, p. 6.