The Irish and Their Love for Horse Racing

The Irish have proudly bred and trained powerful thoroughbred horses for over a century that compete worldwide in prestigious horseracing events. Horse racing may be as old as the act of riding the beast itself. And pitting two horses against each other in a contest of speed, strength, and endurance is as ancient as Ireland.

The Emerald Island, known as modern-day Ireland, supports 26 racetracks, including the prestigious Curragh and Laytown Seaside Venue. If you want to bet on horse races, you’ll find plenty of opportunities near your location and through one of the many online bookmakers, no matter where you live in the country.

Ireland’s passion for horse racing wasn’t born in modern times. Many accounts of Celtic chariot races thundering across the Curragh plains are supported by ancient manuscripts dating back to the first century A.D. The earliest verifiable evidence that such races occurred is from a royal warrant issued in 1603 authorizing the Derry governor to conduct fairs and set up markets where horses could be raced.

The sport of horse racing remained an integral part of Ireland‘s culture lasting through the Celtic era and extending to the present. The Irish captured wild horses roaming the highlands and bred and domesticated them over time, morphing them into the powerful beasts that live today. The animals bred in the early centuries quickly became Europe’s strongest and fastest horses, representing the foundation of Ireland’s thriving horse breeding industry.

Under the reign of King Charles II during the 17th century, the seeds were sown for the establishment of Irish dominance in the horseracing industry primarily due to the King’s personal love for competitive sports. His affinity for horseracing paved the way for organized competitions and even included forming the “King’s Plate Races.” King Charles II became known as “The Merry Monarch” for reinstating laws that had been banned by Oliver Cromwell and declared illegal.

The modern-day Grand National race is equivalent to the Kings Plate races of King Charles’s day, but the Lords of Ireland vehemently opposed the race, whether Protestant or Catholic. But the people loved the races, and their voices prevailed.

Horses that won the Kings race were valued for breeding purposes, and the Curragh became known as the horse breeding capital of Ireland, a place where breeders travelled to acquire fast and strong horses.

However, Irish Penal Laws were enacted in a bid to suppress the rapid growth in the burgeoning sport by prohibiting Catholics from owning horses valued at more than £5. Consequently, in a show of solidarity, racing enthusiasts held events that were limited to horses worth less than £5, effectively allowing the entire racing community to participate in competitions in defiance of the discriminatory ordinance.

By openly supporting fair and inclusive sporting events, horseracing as a spectator sport swept across the land fueling the formation of societies of breeders, jockeys, and racing fans that promoted their cherished sport. Horseracing became a daily topic in the media of the time, elevating horses and jockeys to the status of becoming household names, as exaggerated accounts of daily race results blanketed Ireland. 

The early establishment of the Society of Sportsmen ultimately evolved into the Irish Turf Club that we know today. The Turf Club went on to become a regulator for the horseracing sports industry with jurisdiction over all races held in Ireland, a position of power from 1784 until 2017.

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