Vincent O’Brien, one of a family of eight children of Dan O’Brien of Clashganniff, took over the job of training horses, some few short years after his father’s death. He had a great knowledge of racing and horseflesh and became one of the best trainers in the world. His success has not been equalled so far and he is now retired. Cottage Rake won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March 1949. I was with my Dad, planting potatoes in the evening, when I heard a band on the road from Buttevant to Churchtown, west of where I live. I said to my Dad “Cottage Rake is being honoured in the village tonight and I am going to it”. He said “All right” and I got on my bike, even though I had a motor bike. I called for a cousin of mine and we arrived in the village to a sea of people.
It was a beautiful March evening – not a puff of wind. Where the triangle now stands (plus a horse), was a bonfire – a tar barrel which brought light to the whole village. Being such a calm evening the smoke went straight up and did not affect anybody.
The star of the evening, Cottage Rake, was taken away to his stable after parading, and then the merriment began. A ring was created a little way from the Parson’s house, now Jim Sampson’s. Inside the ring were the proud owners of Cottage Rake – the Vickermans and the Keoghs. They were also the owners of the great horse – Hatten’s Grace, winner of the Champion Hurdle. Also in the ring was Fr. Savage, the local curate and a good friend of the O’Briens.
In the ring were some crates of bottles of champagne and each individual in the ring had a bottle and a glass, and they freely gave each and everyone a glass or two of bubbly. Yours truly got a glass from Vinny, as he was called by his Dad. Like the majority of those present I never heard of champagne, never mind drinking it, and that particular evening in March happened to be in the religious period of the year called Lent. To young people, and those not so young, it was a period of fasting and abstinence for seven weeks. People were just getting to grips with peace from the 1939 – 1945 world war. Ration books were still in operation. We had gone through starvation for years and it was a bit severe to be asked to abstain for another period of time. However, on that evening the local curate came to the rescue when he, from the centre of the ring, said “All of you who have made resolutions to abstain from things such as cigarettes, sweets and above all, the booze – otherwise the demon drink, can forget about it this night and indulge yourselves, and then you can renew your resolutions when the bell rings tomorrow at noon”.
What I forgot to tell you is that the Vickermans, Keoghs, etc. gave the three publicans in the village the freedom to dish out all the drink possible, between the hours of eight and ‘closing time’, but by that time the only drink available was in the public water pump, as the Guinness barrels and whiskey bottles were empty. In addition, local entertainment was enjoyed and appreciated by everybody present. As far as I can remember those who contributed were Miss Elisabeth O’Sullivan, later Mrs. D. Relihan, the best vocal voice Churchtown produced. To me she could have graced any of the great Opera Houses of the world but no, she stayed in Churchtown. Also Kevin Costello, P Murphy, Nora Farrissey and many others including myself. It was at Vincent O’Brien’s request that each person contributed. To me it was a wonderful evening and a night that can never be repeated. I was informed by my elders that another great day was enjoyed when the Irish Derby was won by a horse named Loch Lomond. This horse was owned by the Cowhey family of Churchtown House. They were the largest landowners in the surrounding area. This horse is buried in front of the hall door of the Georgian House. Cottage Rake was one of the first champions Vincent O’Brien trained. Many others were to follow. Cottage Rake was, for a while, grazing in Walshstown on the farm owned by Mr. P Brown. He was owned then by a Dr. Vaughan of Mallow. The O’Donnells of Buttevant, horse dealers, had the grazing of part of the farm of P. Browne called the Gub, and Cottage Rake was allowed to graze with their horses. Going through the horses one day, Vincent saw the potential and bought him for a client.