THE COLLEGE RACES - A HISTORY
There's something special about the College Races - it's in the air, intangible, inexplicable, but real and very special. Perhaps it's the tradition, one hundred and thirty nine years of athletic endeavour and a popularity which made the Races one of the most important sporting competitions in Dublin life, establishing for the event a high social reputation. Perhaps it's the season. The days are longer and warmer now. College Park is in its prime. The aroma of freshly cut lawns and flowering herbage pervades and you can almost touch that glorious lazy, hazy, summer feeling. Perhaps it's the buzz o another good-humoured Trinity Week in full swing. Perhaps it's just the Strawberries and Cream.
The College Races were first run in 1857, under the title of the 'Dublin University Football Club Races' and have been run nearly every year since. This was the first athletic competition of the modern era to be held in Ireland and while record are scarce, it is known that they generated much enthusiasm and the events popularity quickly grew. A contemporary record speaks of 37000 tickets of admission being issued for two days of competition at the Races. Field Magazine of 1874 commented:
"Looking at it from the social point of view, the Dublin University Sports have always been par excellence the outdoor gathering of the year in Ireland. For them the highest toilettes have been reserved; to them has come the aristocracy, not only of Dublin, but the whole of the Emerald Isle. The multitude of spectators has been a thing to be seen and believed, the gathering at Oxford and Cambridge sports may equal it in brilliance and ra, but cannot approach it in numbers."
It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of the event in the history of Irish Athletics. But naturally some people do. The legend that the 16lb shot, since the standardised weight used throughout the world, originated from the size of the shot used on College Park is surely apocryphal, that weight having more to do with the regulation cannon ball used by Her Britannic Majesty's Forces than anything else.
The first interruption to the competition occurred when, in the words of one historian of the College: "The Races of 1878 were followed by a students' celebration of such liveliness as to be described as a riot and the board clamped down." The event was allowed to resume in 1881, but only as a one day fixture with open races cut from the programme. The College Races became an almost purely College event, outsiders being invited for the social and sporting sides of the celebration, but in many ways incidental to it.
In the next hundred years, having lost some of its appeal to the outside public, the College Races became and remained the non-academic highlight of the University's summer term. On the occasion of its fiftieth celebration in 1909, here-to-fore an isolated event, it was made centre-piece of the newly created Trinity Week and has remained the regular Wednesday attraction of the festivities ever since, apart from those one or two years during the war and the 1996 S.I.P.T.U. strike, when they were not held.
Never again will we witness crowds of 20,000 or more attending the Races and with regret it must be noted that the days of top hats and tails are also at an end. However this does not mean the College Races must accompany them into extinction.
A COLLEGE RACE
The following article conveys some of the tradition and magic of the Races. It was found in a back issue of T.C.D. Miscellany published on June 17th 1926.
Eric and Freddy had shared rooms in happy partnership for nearly two years. Their academic careers were reaching a harmonious conclusion when that College Fate which dogs so many undergraduates made the rift in the lute and drove them discordantly apart.
They met her simultaneously at a lecture. They looked once and were conquered. Description of her beauteous charm is in vain. Each decided that she was the one and only. Each decided to win her by hook or by crook. Veiled hostilities commenced forthwith, leading to liverish bickering and hot-hearted squabbling. Within a week all was changed.
The approach of Trinity Week brought things to a head. Her impartiality made it difficult for either of them to steal a march on the other and take her to all the events, much though he would have wished. A final quarrel drove them to that final panacea of all indecision - a toss of the coin. Freddy won the privilege of taking her to the College Races. Eric obtained the Trinity Dance and the Regatta.
The more one gets the more one wants. Eric had come off decidedly better in the toss, yet he could not rest satisfied. Freddy was not to be trusted. Heaven knows what he might do at the College Races! Having the first say, he might settle everything once and for all, leaving Eric to a cheerless dance and a blighted Regatta. No, decidedly no, Freddy must be circumvented and he must take her to the races himself. But how? The only solution his fevered brain could conjure up was forcible abduction in their car - and her confounded impartiality rendered that course impossible and dangerous. But what about the car? Freddy was taking her to lunch in it first. Perhaps he could dismantle it - but no, that would not prevent the love-driven Freddy. Then the bright idea flashed upon him. Syrup!
"Brightly dawns the Racing Day", sang Eric, when at last, Wednesday came round. He was the soul of politeness to Freddy all Morning, even helping him to clean up the car. Was it not preparing the sheep for the slaughter? He readily helped to dress him with meticulous care in spotless flannels and College Blazer. Blithely he sent him on his way with a cheery good-bye and a smile which nobody could have suspected was full of duplicity. Then he dressed himself with even more meticulous care and set about his fell work. Giving Freddy plenty of time to become comfortably ensconced in the café, he proceeded thither, purchasing a bottle of colourless syrup en route. It was the work of moment to smear the driver's seat with the treacly mixture, unbeknown to any of the passers-by and return with all speed to Front Gate, there to await their arrival. He pictured Freddy leaving the café, head in air, his gaze bent on his (and Eric's) beloved, failing to see before it was too late, the snare prepared for him. He visualised her arriving alone, owing doubtless to Freddy's "indisposition". He saw, in an ecstasy of delight, himself taking her to the College Races, then to the Dance, then the Regatta. Saturday evening, after the Regatta, would be the best time to get it off his chest. A summer evening by the river - no more romantic setting could be imagined. By Saturday night all would be over and she would be his! With a sudden burst of magnanimity, he purchased a spare pair of flannels for Freddy - poor dear, he would need them! He also obtained tickets for the Races, the Dance and the Regatta.
Half past two and still no sign of them! Eric, waiting at Front Gate was fast becoming impatient and worried. Surely no hitch could have occurred. And yet...? Doubts began to assail him. He felt like returning to the scene of operations, as a criminal haunting the scene of his crime, when a porter summoned him to the phone. It was a message from her. He was at once to go to the café as he was urgently wanted. Hatless and with some misgivings, Eric hastened thither. He saw the car outside, untouched and he found her alone in the café. What's that? Freddy called away? And would meet her inside the park in a half an hours time! And she could get in all right as she had a student ticket off her own, so Eric need not bother, and would Eric mind driving her down? Blank consternation fought with a guilty pretence at sang froid, as with quaking knees and moist brow and his finest clothes withal, he led her to the car, entered and sat down in the driver's seat....
Freddy went to the Races and the Dance and the Regatta - and won the toss.
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