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LEINSTER LEADER EDITORIAL 15 APRIL 1916

NAAS, SATURDAY,  APRIL 15, 1916.

PUNCHESTOWN

The great national race meeting at Punchestown this year, while having much of its former glamour spoiled by the war, and suffered sadly by a greatly decreased attendance as a consequence, still it lost nothing in the popularity of the pure sporting and social traditions associated with the event. Held under the shadow of the international calamity which has cursed the continent, and which is so universal and worldwide in its evil effects, it afforded contrasts that but served to emphasise the tragedy of the times, and the awful scourge which is inflicting such punishment on humanity. Yet the very fact that the great racing carnival is carried on in such troubled times, on the other hand is an indication of the evergreen character of the meeting, and the place it holds in the popular estimation. Punchestown races form at once a great annual sporting carnival, as well as a grand social reunion, attracting a gathering of people representative of every class and grade of society, from royalty to the most humble walks of life, and is, therefore, unique, standing apart from ordinary racing fixtures in almost every respect. To the ordinary racegoer and sporting spark, it gives in the quality of its racing all the excitement and satisfaction which unalloyed sport only can give; while to the lover of the horse in its most perfect development in powers of endurance, fleetness of foot, and jumping capacity it has no rivals. The fame of its horsemanship and formidable jumps is worldwide, and as old as the course itself, while the scenes and incidents of many doughty deeds and noble efforts witnessed thereon performed by rider and horse have from time to time formed the theme of many prose and poetic effusions. In its sociable and fashionable side, Punchestown is equally renowned, for Punchestown week has long been heralded by those many house gatherings and fashionable functions which ultimately flower into a grand galaxy of royalty, nobility, and beauty on the Grand Stand of the race-course to witness the racing events of the day. Is it any wonder that in the presence of such an assembly Punchestown should be so prolific of all that is best in feats of horsemanship and skilful and daring riding, and that under the stimulus of glittering rank and rare beauty, that competitors should be spurred on to excel themselves, and in turn spur the noble steeds they ride to second their efforts to acquit themselves as befitted the time, circumstance, and place. Among the crowds in the less exalted walks of society who perform the pilgrimage to Punchestown there is the same common disposition to pay homage to the spirit of sport at this Mecca of the racing world, and for the time being class distinctions drop in the common-places of the enclosures. A similar feeling pervades the masses that throng the course, and the easy, informal pleasantries of the stand, and the freedom from restraint in the formalities and friendships of the enclosures, are caught up and carried forward in the more boisterous fun and frolic of the course. In the management in the arrangements for the admission of the proletariat and the catering for their employment there is an absence of that element of commercialism which obtrudes itself and mars many other meetings. In this way Punchestown differs widely from other country meetings and thus preserves its old-time and homely character, where all may freely meet and mix in common enjoyment to the exclusion for the time being of those vexatious class, social and political distinctions which too often bitterly divide and sunder our people. Patrons of Punchestown may be what they will, socially or politically, prior to the racing carnival, but on the course they are all sportsmen and friends out for the common purpose of keeping green the traditions of the day, and in all those elements that go to make a successful sporting carnival and a grand social gathering open to prince and peasant. Punchestown remains a classic, and maintains its old place in the popular mind. These were the leading characteristics and the spirit of the meeting associated with this year’s races, notwithstanding the effects of the war and the trials of the trenches which have left their impression so deeply on the event. True there was an absence, too, of much of that boisterousness which manifested itself at meetings in peace times in the past, and the subdued excitement allowed to manifest itself was but in keeping with a condition of things that could not be altogether ignored. Essentially a peaceful and friendly sporting function, it but serves to emphasise the horrors of the conflict devastating the Continent, and to which many noble patrons of Punchestown have fallen victims. Thousands of those who thronged the course also had friends and relatives sacrificed to satiate the bloody orgy, and these sad circumstances, while tending to a fellow-feeling of sympathy between the mourners of every class, still but served to show the resignation prevailing to bear it all in the interests of the common weal. Having regard to the havoc wrought and the toll of lives exacted from amongst the supporters and distinguished patrons of the races, it is a matter for wonder that the circumstances would permit the holding of the races at all. An agitation was organised last year in England for the suspension of horse racing generally during the period of the war, the promoters being scandalized at the unseemliness of holding race meetings under such circumstances. Their view and opinions obtained a hearing, and there was a prospect of their succeeding until it was put forward and remembered that horse racing and breeding was not alone a sporting enterprise, but an important industry giving employment to very many people, and that as a means of producing and maintaining a supply of horses suitable for military purposes, it was still more an important asset to the State. This, then, accounts for the seeming frivolity of continuing racing hunting, &c., while the war is claiming so many victims, and which, we venture to say, have the further advantages of helping to relieve the worry and sorrow of the war by providing an antidote to a too sombre outlook, with its inevitable evil effects on the spirit and hopes of the people in the awful ordeal they are called upon to submit to. Notwithstanding this ordeal, and the terrible events connected with the war, Punchestown retains much of its pristine splendor and glory, and not even the mighty conflict which is shaking States and Empires to their very foundations can interrupt or seriously interfere with this grand event in the national, social, and sporting life of the people. In another column we give a descriptive account of the days’ doings, but in these general remarks we merely point to some of the more striking conditions under which the meeting has been held this year, and the manner in which it served to bring home to us the deadly consequences of the continental conflict, while at the same time revealing those traditional sporting instincts which are part of our distinctive characteristics, and which must assert themselves in all circumstances no matter how depressing or discouraging.

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