All eyes on Cheltenham as two local horses slug it out for glory

In his weekly column John Arnold outlines why punters and supporters in Bartlemy and all over the country will ‘be on the edge’ as the Foxhunters race unfolds.
All eyes on Cheltenham as two local horses slug it out for glory
LEADING THE WAY: The 1938 Bartlemy Horse Fair committee, who resurrected the event that year. The photo contains lots of horse connections to this day.

NO-ONE is exactly sure where the saying ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ originated. Apparently, some smart Alec said it was an old Chinese proverb thought up by Confucius or one of his buddies.

There’s no proof whatsoever that the saying comes from China or the Middle East — it may well have been a slogan invented by an entrepreneurial photographer trying to drum up business.

One way or another, certain pictures or paintings are extremely evocative. The picture I include with this piece is one such item.

Though taken more than 78 years ago, on Monday, September 19, 1938, it has special resonance this week — Cheltenham Week.

What is tradition? Is it a practise or a custom or a habit or a pastime or a way of living handed down from generation to generation? I suppose it’s a mixture of all those and more.

There’s a great tradition of music in Clare, football in Kerry, road bowling in Cork and Armagh, and hurling in the Glens of Antrim. Now, these pursuits are not exclusive to the areas I’ve mentioned but they still flourish strongly there as they did centuries ago.

The traditions of a place, a county or a country are not ancient, musty, mothballed things — no, they live on and make our cultures unique.

What a boring world it would be if we all spoke the same language, looked the same and even thought the same.

In recent weeks, there has been a bit of International diplomacy going on between Ireland and England as regards where the skeleton of Napoleon’s horse Marengo should finally rest — in Bartlemy or Buttevant. A song has been written by John Spillane based on ‘truth, facts, traditions and myths’ — no fake news here!

A prominent London newspaper did a feature on the story with the headline ‘Remains of The Neigh’. It now seems that the issue may be resolved at inter-governmental level in tandem with the Brexit negotiations!

The tradition of breeding and racing and selling horse in this area goes back hundreds of years. It still continues and flourishes to this very day.

For followers of National Hunt (Jump) racing, Cheltenham week is something special. It’s not just the Irish v English element, though that’s important, but this week represents the opportunity for anyone who has a horse that’s handy over fences to be centre stage.

For GAA fans, it was always September Sundays and for rugby and soccer followers World cup and European campaigns.

Of course, Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliot will take dozens of horses to Cheltenham, as will mega-owners like JP McManus and Michael O Leary, but this week also represents a chance for the ordinary race-horse owner to go for glory.

The highlight of Cheltenham is tomorrow’s Gold Cup but for the people of this parish and much of Cork and Munster, the one ‘written up in lights’ is the race after that — the Foxhunters Chase.

Confined to amateur riders, this year two local horses will contest the Foxhunters. Two men from the one parish (both related to me, incidentally) Michael ‘Trixie’ Barry and Roger Sweeney will bid for the ultimate honours in this race.

Roger’s horse Salsify has already won the Foxhunters twice, in 2012 and 2013, ridden on both occasions by his son Colman. In 2005, Colman also rode the winner Sleeping Night for trainer Paul Nicholls. As a three-time winner, Colman Sweeney has the accolade of top jockey in the Foxhunters Chase since 1946.

Colman is now retired as a jockey so Stephen Clements takes the ride on Salsify.

Roger Sweeney and Trixie Barry both live just a few furlongs from Terramount, where that gallant and brave Gold Cup winning mare Dawn Run was foaled. For Trixie Barry and his wife Mary, this adventure is really a dream come true as their horse Sweet as A Nut bids to win the Foxhunters.

The horse qualified for Cheltenham by winning a Hunters Chase at Limerick, followed up by a point to point win at Tallow.

Speaking to Trixie a few days ago, he’s just overjoyed to be in Prestbury Park with a runner, “I’ve been going to Cheltenham as a punter and supporter and national hunt racing fan with donkey’s years but to actually have a runner in the Olympics of jump racing is very special, unreal in fact. I love the sport and, win or lose, we’ll enjoy the festival.”

The Horse Fair in Bartlemy flourished for centuries. Huge numbers of horses came from all over Munster to be sold there. Horses from south Leinster — Carlow, Wexford and Kilkenny — were transported by rail as far as Tallow in Co. Waterford and thence by road to Bartlemy early on the morning of the fair.

Then, in 1903 or ’4, a fair was started in Tallow the day previous to Bartlemy and that led to the eventual demise of Bartlemy. By the mid-1930s Bartlemy Fair was gone.

In 1938, then, a committee (as in the picture above) was formed and they successfully revived the fair that year. Unfortunately, the following year World War II started and that played molly bawn once more with the fair.

The tenth man from the left in the back row (with the moustache) is Patsy Barry NT, the grandfather of Cheltenham-bound Trixie.

Fourteenth from the left is Jim Barry of Mellifontstown, Bartlemy. His son James now lives near Fethard in Co Tipperary. James sold an unbroken three-year old horse by Vinnie Roe, out of Annie Hall to Trixie Barry and that horse is Sweet As A Nut.

Tomorrow in the Foxhunters Chase in Cheltenham, Sweet As A Nut will be ridden by John Barry from Conna. His grandfather, also John Barry, was from Ballyda in Bartlemy and is in the picture second from the right in the front row.

That John Barry was son of Paddy Barry, a second cousin of Patsy Barry NT and a second cousin also of my grandfather!

What it all means is that the owner of Sweet As A Nut, Trixie Barry, and the jockey John Barry are fourth cousins, once removed.

In the back row of the picture you can see a man, wearing a cap, looking over the shoulder of Jim Barry. That is Paddy Murphy, now 96 years old and the only person still alive from that 1938 picture. On Monday last in the Old Cemetery of Clonmult was buried 98- year-old James O Keeffe of Ballynattin, Ballynoe. I met him at Christmas and he remembered buying a plough horse at that fair 78 years ago for £30. James was a wonderful man with a brilliant memory, may he rest in peace.

Bartlemy Fair was revived for a few years in the 1990s under the guidance of Denis Barry — another grandson of Patsy Barry NT.

On the day of the revived fair in 1938, a horse race was also held — third in that race was David Barry of Ballyda — a grand uncle of jockey John Barry — there’s tradition for ye!

Tomorrow in Cheltenham in the Foxhunters Chase, Limerick trainer Enda Bolger will attempt to complete a three-in-a-row with On The Edge. Punters and supporters in our parish and all over the country will also ‘be on the edge’ as the race unfolds. It promises to be a mighty occasion for all interested in the sport of kings.

As Trixie Barry told me the other day: ‘T’would be great to win it but just being there is simply brilliant.”

More in this section

Sponsored Content