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    Greyhound Racing in Ireland
Greyhound Racing in Ireland
Greyhound racing. Source: https://igorka.ru/

Greyhound Racing in Ireland

Ireland hosts 17 racecourses dedicated to greyhound racing, slightly fewer than the 20 racecourses in the United Kingdom, despite the UK being almost four times larger in area.

The histories of greyhound racing in Ireland and the UK are closely intertwined. The first official greyhound race in England took place in July 1926 at Belle Vue Stadium in Manchester. Not long after, in April 1927, Ireland held its first greyhound race at the Celtic Park stadium in Belfast. Just a month later, Shelbourne Park, a specialised racetrack for greyhound racing, opened in Dublin. These early events sparked a widespread enthusiasm for greyhound racing among the Irish, leading to its significant presence in the country's sporting culture. 

Coursing in Ireland. Source: https://www.irishexaminer.com/
Coursing in Ireland. Source: https://www.irishexaminer.com/

Irish Coursing Association

Greyhound racing has deep roots in Ireland, where hunting hares with greyhounds has been a national tradition for centuries. The sport of coursing, where greyhounds chase live hares, was a beloved pastime for many dog owners. In 1916, the National Association of Irish Coursing Club (ICC) was formed to oversee and regulate this traditional sport. As greyhound racing transitioned from forests and fields to purpose-built racecourses with artificial hares, the ICC took control of these activities. Even with the introduction of artificial hares, the pursuit of live hares continued. This continued until 1958 when the Greyhound Racing Act was passed, transferring all racing authority to a new governing body, Greyhound Racing Ireland (GRI).

Despite the ICC's traditional focus on coursing, its influence remains strong with 89 affiliated coursing clubs across Ireland. Local coursing competitions are held regularly throughout the counties, and the ICC organises two national competitions annually in February. The sport is sometimes criticised as violent, but there are stringent rules and regulations in place to ensure the welfare of the dogs and hares. Dogs must always race wearing muzzles and cannot harm the hare in front of the public. Competition times and the number of races are strictly controlled.

Regarding greyhound racing, the ICC manages Northern Ireland's Lifford Racecourse in County Donegal, Ryan McBride's Brandywell Racecourse in Derry, and Drumbo Park Racecourse in County Down.

The ICC is also involved in breeding greyhounds. All greyhounds bred in Ireland are registered in the studbook after birth, a process that can now be done online. The majority of Irish-bred dogs are sold to racecourses in the United Kingdom. For example, the renowned British greyhound Mick Miller, the first two-time winner of the English Derby in 1929 and 1930, had Irish ancestry.

The rules of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) require that dogs must be registered and microchipped before they can race. Therefore, every greyhound competing in Ireland or intended for sale must have a certificate of registration and a microchip. Veterinarians insert the microchip into the dog, and the details are recorded in a database accessible to local authorities and animal welfare organisations.

Dog racing at the Hippodrome. Source: https://mungfali.com/
Dog racing at the Hippodrome. Source: https://mungfali.com/

Greyhound Racing of Ireland (GRI)

In 1958, the management of coursing and greyhound racing was separated, leading to the establishment of Greyhound Racing Ireland (GRI), formerly known as Bord na gCon in Ireland until 2020.

Bord na gCon was tasked with various responsibilities that are still being successfully managed:

·       Organising, controlling, and conducting dog racing at subsidiary tracks

·       Issuing licenses for racing and licensing industry officials

·       Organising betting operations at racecourses and issuing permits for bookmakers to operate

·       Controlling the sale of greyhounds and promoting the export of dogs

·       Allocating grants for prize money and improving racecourses

GRI currently fully controls the operation of 9 racecourses, while 6 racecourses are privately owned, with their activities licensed by GRI.

There is ambiguity regarding the two racecourses in Northern Ireland. Derry and Drumbo Park racecourses are located in the United Kingdom and are technically outside the control of Ireland. They are neither licensed nor funded by GRI. According to the convention, racing at these racecourses should fall under the governance of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB). However, these racecourses do not possess licenses or grants from the GBGB. The industry itself is divided on whether racing at these racecourses should be considered Irish or British. Currently, the unusual status quo regarding the ownership and control of racing at Northern Irish racecourses remains in place, which suits all involved parties. 

Drumbo Park Stadium. Source: https://www.tripadvisor.ru/
Drumbo Park Stadium. Source: https://www.tripadvisor.ru/

Key Locations and Major Events in Irish Greyhound Racing

Most Irish racecourses are well-equipped with modern amenities, including comfortable stands, restaurants, and facilities for betting. Betting on sports, horses, and greyhound racing is highly popular among the population, supported by approximately 900 bookmakers across Ireland. Leading bookmakers in the market include Paddy Power and BoyleSports.

Ireland's premier greyhound race is the Irish Greyhound Derby, held annually at Shelbourne Park. Alongside the English Greyhound Derby, these races are renowned as the prestigious "Big Two" in the greyhound racing world, representing a pinnacle achievement and dream for every dog owner.

Shelbourne Park hosts several other prestigious races, including the Champion Stakes, Oaks, and Easter Cup.

Other notable greyhound racing events in Ireland include:

Tsesarevich Race: Held annually at Mullingar Stadium, Westmead, with a prize fund of €10,000.

The Laurels: An annual event at Curraheen Park, County Cork, offering a purse of €30,000.

St. Ledger: Held annually at Limerick Stadium, County Limerick, with a prize fund of €30,000.

These events attract top greyhounds and enthusiasts from across the country, contributing to the vibrant and competitive landscape of Irish greyhound racing.

Greyhound Protection Concerns in Ireland

According to the well-known international animal rights organisation Grey2 USA, Ireland breeds 1000% more greyhound puppies than the industry requires. On June 26, 2019, the RTE News program "RTE Investigates: Greyhounds Fleeing" highlighted the harsh treatment of retired greyhounds. Reports revealed that these dogs are often killed in factories and slaughterhouses, drugged, and left without assistance when injured. Despite the overproduction of greyhounds, the Irish Government allocated approximately €300 million from 2001 to 2024 to support Irish breeders.

Despite the widespread popularity and affection for greyhound racing, the industry in Ireland has significant dark sides and unresolved issues. Animal rights activists emphasise organisational shortcomings within the industry, stressing that cruelty towards living beings is unacceptable, regardless of financial interests. These issues require urgent attention and solutions at the state level.

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