Last greyhounds to run at Brandywell in Derry after 80 years
THE last hare will run on Derry's Brandywell dog track this week, marking the end of an era for greyhound racing in the city.
A favourite with fans for more than 80 years, the track is being moved to the nearby Showgrounds as part of ambitious plans to redevelop Derry City's soccer stadium.
Once a hugely popular sport across the north, greyhound racing has undergone a marked decline.
At one time, Belfast alone boasted three tracks, at Celtic Park, Dunmore and Ballyskeagh (now Drumbo).
However, Celtic Park and Dunmore as well as a track in Dungannon, Co Tyrone have all closed.
Greysteel kennel owner Gregory Moore blamed the decline on a decrease in prize money.
“There are times of the year like Christmas when you get parties out at Lifford (Co Donegal) or when their nights in Derry when all races are finals and you get big crowds when there’s good prize money but it has declined - it’s a pity,” he said.
One of Ireland’s smallest greyhound tracks, the Brandywell has hosted races since 1932.
The sport even found its way into local lore with a reference in the city’s anthem The Town I Love So Well.
For Mickey McLaughlin, director of the company which has managed the track for 40 years, this week’s final meeting will be an emotional occasion.
“We were only told last week that the move was on so everything’s very rushed. We’re hoping to go ahead on Thursday but that meeting might move to Friday if the weather dictates,” he said.
Mr McLaughlin said greyhound racing and the Brandywell have a special place in Derry's history.
“It goes back to the days where every other house in the Brandywell and Bogside had a greyhound and Phil Coulter wrote about the men feeding the kids and then walking the dog.”
After Derry City stopped playing in the Irish League and in the years before the club was admitted to the Republic’s League of Ireland, Brandywell was known more as a dog track than anything else.
“We raced three nights a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, come what may. Even through the worst days of the Troubles, we raced at the Brandywell," Mr McLaughlin said.
“They could have been beating the tripe out of each other in the Bog (Bogside), but in the Brandywell the dogs went ahead. The only thing that ever stopped the racing was the weather."
The Derry man is expecting a huge turn-out for the final meeting, with enthusiasts expected from as far away as Sligo and Dundalk.
Weather permitting, tonight’s final seven-race card gets underway at 8pm.