A night spent at the dog races usually encompasses more than just a pack of greyhounds chasing an electronic rabbit around a track. Ladies wear special hats for the occasion. Engagement parties commence around the event. So do hen and stag parties (or the equivalent bachelor and bachelorette parties). To be sure, there’s great craic to be had at the dogs, yet only a small part of the entertainment centers around the dogs themselves. In the split second the dogs whip around the track, the focus is adamantly theirs. When the racing commences the spotlight shines on each dog, which is uniquely marked in number, color and name.
Of the greyhound, the Roman poet Grattius wrote: “…swifter than thought or a winged bird it runs, pressing hard on beasts it has found.”But what about the hare? In the year 1930, the Game Preservation Act was enacted to protect the Irish hare from coursing and hunting in the Republic of Ireland (Irish Coursing Club). The early century presented a new era of dog racing, not only by way of the electronic hare but the venture also. While the electric hare went speeding ahead, it did so around a newly constructed circular track that differed from the open fields formerly used. In 1928, a Munster Express reporter noted the changes, when he said:
“I am not a spectator of a dog chasing a hare, when it is done in the circus; but yet in a field if I happen to be passing by, that sport will possibly divert my mind from some great subject of thought…forcing me to stray from the road” (Toms, David, The Electric Hare: Greyhound Racing in Ireland, c.1927-58).
The uncontrived nature of the pre-1930s etiquette gave dog racing an aspect of rarity. By the early reporter’s opinion, dog racing could perhaps lessen the burdens laying into the minds of the Irish people as they set about their daily routines. It offered something as lively and unadorned, low-key and spectacular as an unrefined gem found in a slash heap. Although the regulations have changed, there is still a subtle thrill to be found at the races. Great excitement lies in what can be called a subtle spectacle–even for today’s standards. In the country dog tracks, where some of the oldest in Ireland preside and function, dog racing today is a road divergent for the observer who looks close enough.
For the true observer, dog racing may not really be about the hound…or the hare. Perhaps it is more about the celebration: the occasion of life, the births, the friendships, the happiness for a new couple. For in such occasions, there is no better understatement to such joy than a subtle looking on of dogs.