1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Curragh

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

CURRAGH, a level stretch of open ground in Co. Kildare, Ireland, famous for its race-course and its military camp. It has an area of upwards of 4800 acres; and its soft natural sward, which has never been broken by the plough, affords excellent pasture for sheep. From the peculiarity of its herbage, the district is known in the neighbourhood as “the short grass”; and the young men of Kildare are jocularly distinguished as the “boys of the short grass.” The land is the property of the crown, which appoints a special officer as the ranger of the Curragh; but the right of pasturage is possessed by the landowners of the vicinity. The oldest mention of the Curragh occurs in the Liber Hymnorum (the manuscript of which probably dates from the 10th century) in connexion with St Bridget, who is said to have received a grant of the district from the king of Leinster, and is popularly credited with the honour of having turned it into a common. It is evident, however, that long before the days of the saint the downs of Kildare had afforded a regular place of assembly for the people of the south of Ireland. The word cuirrech, cognate with the Lat. cursus, signifies a race-course, and chariot-races are spoken of as taking place on the Curragh as early as the 1st century A.D. The Aenach Colmain (Curragh fair), also called Aenach Lifè (the fair on the plain of the Liffey), is frequently mentioned in the Irish annals, and both racing and other sports were carried on at this, the principal meeting of its kind in southern Ireland, and the plain appears from time to time as the scene of hostile encounters between the kings of Meath, Leinster and Offaly. In 1234 the earl of Pembroke was defeated here by the viceroy of Ireland, Lord Geoffrey de Monte Marisco; and in 1406 the Irish under the prior of Connell were routed by the English. In 1789 the Curragh was the great rendezvous for the volunteers, and in 1804 it saw the gathering of 30,000 United Irishmen. The camp was established at the time of the Crimean War, and is capable of accommodating 12,000 men. The races are held in April, June, September and October.

See W. M. Hennessy, in Proceedings of Royal Irish Acad., 1866.