The Loughlin family from Millbrook in Naas
For families in Naas, the Punchestown Racing Festival is as important a tradition as Christmas, and you don't get more 'Naas' than Gerry Loughlin.
The youngest of seven children, he still lives in the house he was born in at Millbrook, Naas, and he still has a keen interest in the festival, although because of ill health his days of walking out there might be over.
His parents William and Brigid, brought the children out to the Punchestown Festival as soon as they were old enough, and Gerry (72) well remembers his Punchestown debut.
“It was the first year they held a three day meeting; the first day was called off because it snowed. I wasn't allowed to go on the second day in case it snowed again. I remember feeling very miserable, sitting upstairs in the window over Bill McCormack's shop, counting the cars going by and feeling very sorry for myself!”
He never remembers missing a Punchestown during his childhood years after that. “It was one of the highlights of the year in Naas; a real social occasion. The whole town closed. The shops closed, the schools closed. Everybody went out to Punchestown races. It was a tradition.
“We walked out the Craddockstown Road. On the way out we felt that when we reached the 1912 house we were nearly there, and on the way back we felt we were nearly home once we passed it.
“My mother, God be good to her, made loads of sandwiches and pastries and tea in a flask and brought it all out in a big basket. The whole family would meet half way through the card, up at the lake near the last fence, and sit around eating the sandwiches and drinking tea. Then it was back to the business of racing.
“My first bet was a shilling. I remember I had managed to get together five shillings for the races and by the end of the day I had lost every one of them, the story of my life! But there were uncles and aunts who came from all over to Punchestown and they'd hand you out some money so you could carry on the next day. We always managed to have a bit of money for Punchestown.”
“When I married Maureen the Punchestown food became her duty and I have to say her sandwiches were just as nice as my Mother's!”
Maureen, a daughter of Johanna and Edmund Enright from Athgarvan, never went to Punchestown races until she married Gerry in 1965. “The schools all closed in Athgarvan too. I think they closed all over Kildare because of the traffic. I remember every year as children we would sit and count the cars going to the races, then count the cars going home. We weren't allowed outside the gate.”
But from her first visit to the festival, she was hooked. “I thoroughly enjoyed it. I never wanted to miss it after that. Then my children came along and I brought them out too. They loved the fair rides, the amusements and stalls. Schools closed for them too and we all went out.”
At the time visitors mostly went to the stand side of Punchestown racetrack whereas Naas people mainly went to the centre of the track, where there was everything a racegoer would wish for, including a tote.
Back in Naas after each day's racing the festival atmosphere continued. “There were crowds in the town from the Monday evening until Friday and there was music everywhere, banjos and accordions. It was good fun for everyone; even as kids we joined in.
“The local farmers had horses in the races at the time. There was a great rivalry between them to see who would win. There were great characters around who are now dead and gone, like Paddy Hackett (senior), Barney Noone, the Fennessy's and the Gordon's. They'd mind your bike for 6p and they wouldn't leave until all the bikes were collected. There were stories and laughs; a really good atmosphere everywhere.”
Gerry had a keen interest in horse racing and loved to pick winners. “Myself and my brothers would walk to the middle of the track. You could see every bit of the course from there and we would watch a race, walk back to the tote to collect our winnings (or more often not collect anything!) put a bet on the next race, then back to the centre again.”
A Quarter Master Sergeant based in Naas, it was taken for granted that Gerry would get time off work for the races. “I always had three days off for Cheltenham, then three for Punchestown. I didn't even put in for them, everybody knew I'd be off.”
His father wasn't so lucky. “During the Civil War he was on sentry duty with a friend of his and that man put his rifle down and said, 'let's go to Punchestown'. They both did and I'm sure they had a great day, but they were in big trouble when they got back to barracks - they were jailed for it!”
It has been a few years since the couple braved a trip to Punchestown. The last time they went by car and stayed in the stands. “It wasn't as good. It hadn't the same atmosphere.”
They brought along some of their grandchildren. “The grandkids had a ball; they loved it.”
Something tells me the Loughlin family Punchestown Tradition will continue for some time yet!
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