seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

Establishment of the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake

The Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake is established in the Irish Free State on November 17, 1920. The lottery is established to finance hospitals.

The Sweepstake is generally referred to as the Irish Sweepstake or Irish Sweepstakes, frequently abbreviated to Irish Sweep or Irish Sweeps. The Public Charitable Hospitals (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1930 is the act that establishes the lottery. This act expires in 1934, in accordance with its terms, and the Public Hospitals Acts are the legislative basis for the scheme thereafter. The main organisers are Richard Duggan, Captain Spencer Freeman and Joseph McGrath. Duggan is a well known Dublin bookmaker who has organised a number of sweepstakes in the decade prior to setting up the Hospitals’ Sweepstake. Captain Freeman is a Welsh-born engineer and former captain in the British Army. After the Constitution of Ireland is enacted in 1937, the name Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake is adopted.

The sweepstake is established because there is a need for investment in hospitals and medical services and the public finances are unable to meet this expense at the time. As the people of Ireland are unable to raise sufficient funds, because of the low population, a significant amount of the funds are raised in the United Kingdom and United States, often among the emigrant Irish. Potentially winning tickets are drawn from rotating drums, usually by nurses in uniform. Each such ticket is assigned to a horse expected to run in one of several horse races, including the Cambridgeshire Handicap, Epsom Derby and the Grand National. Tickets that draw the favourite horses thus stand a higher likelihood of winning and a series of winning horses have to be chosen on the accumulator system, allowing for enormous prizes.

The original sweepstake draws are held at the Mansion House, Dublin on May 19, 1939 under the supervision of the Chief Commissioner of Police, and are moved to a more permanent fixture at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) in Ballsbridge later in 1940.

The Adelaide Hospital in Dublin is the only hospital at the time to not accept money from the Hospitals Trust, as the governors disapprove of sweepstakes.

From the 1960s onwards, revenues decline. The offices are moved to Lotamore House in County Cork. Although giving the appearance of a public charitable lottery, with nurses featured prominently in the advertising and drawings, the Sweepstake is in fact a private for-profit lottery company, and the owners are paid substantial dividends from the profits. Fortune magazine describes it as “a private company run for profit and its handful of stockholders have used their earnings from the sweepstakes to build a group of industrial enterprises that loom quite large in the modest Irish economy. Waterford Glassworks, Irish Glass Bottle Company and many other new Irish companies are financed by money from this enterprise and up to 5,000 people are given jobs.” At the time of his death in 1966, Joe McGrath has interests in the racing industry, and holds the Renault dealership for Ireland in addition to large financial and property assets. He is notorious throughout Ireland for his ruthless business attitude and his actions during the Irish Civil War.

In 1986, the Irish government creates a new public lottery, the National Lottery, and the company fails to secure the new contract to manage it. The final sweepstake is held in January 1986 and the company is unsuccessful for a licence bid for the National Lottery, which is won by An Post later that year. The company goes into voluntary liquidation in March 1987. The majority of workers do not have a pension scheme but the sweepstake has fed many families during lean times and is regarded as a safe job. The Public Hospitals (Amendment) Act, 1990 is enacted for the orderly winding up of the scheme, which has by then almost £500,000 in unclaimed prizes and accrued interest.

A collection of advertising material relating to the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstakes is among the Special Collections of National Irish Visual Arts Library.


Leave a comment

Birth of Sir Peter O’Sullevan, Horse Racing Commentator

Sir Peter O’Sullevan, Irish-British horse racing commentator for the BBC, and a correspondent for the Press Association, the Daily Express, and Today, is born Newcastle, County Down on March 3, 1918. He is the BBC’s leading horse racing commentator from 1947 to 1997, during which time he describes some of the greatest moments in the history of the Grand National.

O’Sullevan is the son of Colonel John Joseph O’Sullevan DSO, resident magistrate at Killarney, and Vera (née Henry). As an infant, the family returns to his parents’ home at Kenmare, County Kerry and he is raised in Surrey, England. He is educated at Hawtreys Preparatory School, Charterhouse School, and later at Collège Alpin International Beau Soleil in Switzerland.

In the late 1940s O’Sullevan is involved in some of the earliest television commentaries on any sport, and makes many radio commentaries in his earlier years (including the Grand National before it is televised for the first time in 1960). On television, he commentates on many of the major events of the racing year, including the Cheltenham Festival until 1994, The Derby until 1979, and the Grand National, Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood until he retires in 1997. During his career, he commentates on around 30 runnings of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris and racing from the United States and Ireland as well as trotting from Rome during the 1960s.

During his 50 years of commentating on the Grand National, O’Sullevan commentates on numerous historic victories. These include Bob Champion‘s run on Aldaniti in 1981 after recovering from cancer, 100/1 outsider Foinavon‘s win in 1967, and the three-times winner Red Rum in 1973, 1974 and 1977. He also commentates on the 1993 Grand National, which is declared void after 30 of the 39 runners fail to realise there had been a false start, and seven go on to complete the course. As the runners approach the second-last fence in the so-called “race that never was,” O’Sullevan declares it “the greatest disaster in the history of the Grand National.”

O’Sullevan becomes known as the “Voice of Racing.” In a television interview before his 50th and last Grand National in 1997, he reveals that his commentary binoculars came from a German submarine. He is knighted the same year – the only sports broadcaster at the time to have been bestowed that honour. He is also a racehorse owner, including of Be Friendly, who wins the King’s Stand Stakes at Ascot, and Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp. He is twice successful in the Haydock Sprint Cup (then Vernons Sprint) in 1966 and 1967. Another horse he owns is Attivo, whose victory in the 1974 Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival is described by O’Sullevan as the most difficult race to call.

Attivo also wins the Chester Cup and the Northumberland Plate during the 1970s. O’Sullevan’s final race commentary comes at Newbury Racecourse for the 1997 Hennessy Gold Cup, and he visits the winners’ enclosure as a winning owner in the race which follows courtesy of Sounds Fyne’s victory in the Fulke Walwyn Chase. He is succeeded as the BBC’s lead commentator by Jim McGrath.

After his retirement, O’Sullevan is actively involved in charity work, fundraising for causes which revolve around the protection of horses and farm animals, including the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH), the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre and Compassion in World Farming. The National Hunt Challenge Chase Cup (run at the Cheltenham Festival) is named after him in 2008 to celebrate his 90th birthday. In 2010, Aintree Racecourse names O’Sullevan as one of the eight inaugural “Grand National Legends.” His name is inscribed on a commemorative plaque at the course, alongside the likes of Ginger McCain and Captain Martin Becher.

O’Sullevan meets his wife Patricia, daughter of Frank Duckworth of Manitoba, Canada, at a ball in Manchester in 1947. She dies of Alzheimer’s disease in 2010.

O’Sullevan dies of cancer at his home in London on July 29, 2015.


Leave a comment

Birth of Pat Taaffe, National Hunt Jockey

pat-taaffePatrick “Pat” Taaffe, Irish National Hunt jockey, is born in Rathcoole, County Dublin on March 12, 1930. He famously rode Arkle to win three Cheltenham Gold Cups between 1964 and 1966.

Taaffe and Arkle, dominate National Hunt racing in the mid-1960s, winning the Irish Grand National, the King George VI Chase, two Hennessy Gold Cups, three Cheltenham Gold Cups and the Whitbread Gold Cup.

Taaffe is also a capable winner without the help of Arkle, winning a fourth Gold Cup with Fort Leney (1968), two Grand Nationals and records six Irish Nationals (1954 on Royal Approach, 1955 on Umm, 1959 on Zonda, 1961 on Fortria, 1964 on Arkle, 1966 on Flyingbolt).

Taaffe also wins the 1970 Grand National in Aintree, Liverpool on the Fred Rimell trained 15-1 shot, Gay Trip, twenty lengths clear of his nearest pursuer. After retiring as a jockey, he goes on to train Captain Christy, the 1974 Gold Cup winner. Although a brilliant horseman, the business side of training does not come naturally to him and his training career never flourishes.

Pat Taaffe dies at the age of 62 on July 7, 1992 in Royal City of Dublin Hospital of a heart condition, having previously undergone only the third heart transplant operation in Ireland (1989).


1 Comment

Birth of John Gubbins, Racehorse Breeder & Owner

john-gubbinsJohn Gubbins, breeder and owner of racehorses, is born on December 16, 1838 at the family home in Kilfrush, County Limerick. He is fourth son of Joseph Gubbins by his wife Maria, daughter of Thomas Wise of Cork.

Of three surviving brothers and five sisters, the third brother, Stamer, breeds horses at Knockany after distinguishing himself in the Crimean War. He dies at the age of 46 on August 7, 1879, after a horse falls on him while “schooling” over fences.

John Gubbins, after being educated privately, inherits the Knockany property from his brother and purchases the estate of Bruree, County Limerick. A fortune is also left him by an uncle, Francis Wise of Cork. Settling at Bruree in 1868, he builds kennels and stables and purchases horses and hounds. He hunts the Limerick country with both stag and fox hounds, and is no mean angler, until forced to stop by the operations of the Land League in 1882.

From his youth he takes a keen interest in horse racing. At first his attention is mainly confined to steeplechasers, and he rides many winners at Punchestown Racecourse and elsewhere in Ireland. He is the owner of Seaman when the horse wins the grand hurdle race at Auteuil, but sells him to Lord Manners before he wins the Grand National at Liverpool in 1882. Usna is another fine chaser in his possession. Buying the stallions Kendal and St. Florian, he breeds, from the mare Morganette, Galtee More by the former and Ard Patrick by the latter. Galtee More wins the 2000 Guineas Stakes and the St. Leger Stakes as well as the Epsom Derby in 1897, and is afterwards sold to the Russian government who later pass him on to the Prussian government. The Prussian government also purchases Ard Patrick just days before he wins the Eclipse Stakes in 1903, when he defeats Sceptre and Rook Sand after an exceptionally exciting contest.

Other notable horses bred by John Gubbins are Blairfinde, winner of the Irish Derby, and Revenue. In 1897 he heads the list of winning owners and is third in the list in 1903. In 1903 Gubbins is rarely seen on a racecourse due to failing health and sells his horses in training. In 1905, however, his health apparently improving, he sends some yearlings to Cranborne, Dorset, to be trained by Sir Charles Nugent, but before these horses can run he dies of bronchitis at Bruree on March 20, 1906.  His final instructions are, “As I aspired to breed fast horses, please see that my hearse is pulled at speed on my final journey.” Gubbins is buried in the private burial ground at Kilfrush.

In 1889 he marries Edith, daughter of Charles Legh, of Addington Hall, Cheshire. She predeceases him without issue. His estates pass to his nephew, John Norris Browning, a retired naval surgeon.