The Magnificent Master McGrath

Master McGrath

Master McGrath was a greyhound who became an Irish National hero by beating England's racing pride ‘White Rose’ and carrying back the coveted Waterloo Cup to Ireland three times.

The dog was born at Colligan Lodge, the home of James Galway, a well known trainer and owner of Greyhounds in Dungarvan, County Waterford in 1867, where Lord Lurgan had sent down one of his dogs for breeding. A small, weak pup, he went on to become the most celebrated and successful racing dog of his time.

Master McGrath was one of a litter of seven pups and although small, was powerfully built. As a pup his pet name was "Dicksy". He was named after a young boy, Master McGrath, who was upset as the dog was going to be drowned because it was not very attractive looking and he convinced the trainer, Mr. Galway, a friend of Lord Lurgan to save it.

Master McGrath with trainer James GalwayThe dog showed none of the outstanding qualities which were later to make him famous at his first trial; his performance was so bad that James Galway ordered him to be given away. As luck would have it his "slipper" (handler) took charge of him and having more faith in him, entered him in several races which he won. After these wins he was returned to his trainer.

This description of the dog conveys the power and speed of the chase. ‘His eyes were like to living balls of fire. The muscles on his back sprung and twitched like whalebone. The dog looked as if he were supercharged with electricity. I knew at once the hare had no chance. McGrath swept round her when she broke and crashed into his game as if shot from a gun. I can never forget it.

McGrath made his name in the Waterloo cup run near Liverpool, wining for the first time in 1868 and 1869. In 1870 there was a hard frost and McGrath crashed through the ice of a river coursing the hare and was just saved from drowning. Lord Lurgan swore that the dog would never course again and it is said that Lord Lurgan lost a fortune on the race along with many people in Lurgan who had to pawn the deeds of their estates and property to meet the debts of English bookmakers.

But the dog was to run one more time and in 1871 he went back to Liverpool to win the Waterloo Cup for an unprecedented third time where he was paraded before Queen Victoria at her majestry's request. His success enabled his owner to build a terrace of houses in Walthamstow, London from Master McGrath's winnings. These houses now form part of Shernhall Street, but are still clearly marked at one end of the terrace as "Master McGrath Terrace".

One years later he was dead. Master McGrath died in 1871 of heart disease which had already ended his career as a sire. An autopsy revealed an unusually large heart, twice the size of a normal dogs, which is thought to be the reason for his success. Known as 'the immortal black', he lost only once in 37 course meetings.

Newspapers at the time reported it thus:

Lord Lurgan's world-renowned greyhound Master McGrath, thrice winner of the Waterloo Cup, died rather suddenly at the Kennels, at Brownlow House, Lurgan on Christmas night.

On Friday and Saturday Master McGrath looked dull, and on Monday, when Walsh; the trainer, went, about half-past eight o'clock, to arrange things, the dog refused to rise, and appeared to be suffering. Medical aid was at once procured, but about half-past ten on Christmas night, 25 December 1871 he died.

In order to satisfy the public whether foul play had been resorted to, an investigation took place on the 28th of December at the Kennels, Brownlow House, Lurgan. It was conducted by the Rev. Dr. Haughton, of Dublin, secretary to the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland, and Mr Bray, V.S., of Lurgan. They first received a statement regarding the symptoms the animal exhibited from Friday, when it was first noticed that he was ill, and after describing the medicines which were administered, all of which were proper prescriptions for a dog under the circumstances, they stated there was no reason to believe that other medicines had been used besides those mentioned by Walsh, the trainer.

Both gentlemen then made post-mortem examinations, when it was found that the cause of death was tubercle and pneumonia affecting both lungs the tubercle being of some standing, probably from one to two years. The immediate cause of death was double pneumonia affecting both lungs. In this diseased condition the heart hypertrophied, being double the size of a dog of Master McGrath's weight. A sculptor afterwards took a cast of the dog.

He was buried in the grounds of a house called "Solitude" in Lurgan. The house has since been demolished for development and Master McGrath's grave lies at a house once owned by an early English settler.

The Master McGrath Monument is located at the junction of the Clonmel and Cappoquin Roads outside Dungarvan to mark his winning of the Waterloo Cup. The only public Monument to any greyhound in the Republic but one of three to this special dog.

The Ballad of Master McGrath

Eighteen sixty nine being the date and the year,
Those Waterloo sportsmen and more did appear;
For to gain the great prizes and bear them awa',
Never counting on Ireland and Master McGrath.

On the twelfth of December, that day of renown,
McGrath and his keeper they left Lurgan town;
A gale in the Channel, it soon drove them o'er,
On the thirteenth they landed on fair England's shore.

And when they arrived there in big London town,
Those great English sportsmen all gathered round -
And one of the gentlemen gave a "Ha! Ha!" Saying,
"Is that the great dog you call Master McGrath?"

And one of those gentlemen standing around
Says, "I don't care a damn for your Irish greyhound,"
And another he laughs with a scornful "Ha! Ha!
We'll soon humble the pride of your Master McGrath."

Then Lord Lurgan stepped forward and said, "Gentlemen,
If there's any among you has money to spend -
For your grand english nobles I don't care a straw -
Here's five thousand to one upon Master McGrath."

Then McGrath he looked up and he wagged his old tail,
Informing his lordship, "I know what you mane,
Don't fear, noble Brownlow, don't fear them, agra,
For I'll tarnish their laurels," says Master McGrath.

And Rose stood uncovered, the great English pride,
Her master and keeper were close by her side;
They have let her away and the crowd cried "Hurrah!"
For the pride of all England - and Master McGrath.

As Rose and the Master they both ran along,
"Now I wonder," says Rose, "what took you from your home;
You should have stayed there in your Irish domain,
And not come to gain laurels on Albion's plain."

"Well, I know," says McGrath, "we have wild heather bogs
But you'll find in old Ireland there's good men and dogs.
Lead on, bold Britannia, give none of your jaw,
Stuff that up your nostrils," says Master McGrath.

Then the hare she went on just as swift as the wind
He was sometimes before her and sometimes behind.
Rose gave the first turn according to law;
But the second was given by Master McGrath.

The hare she led on with a wonderful view.
And swift as the wind o'er the green field she flew.
But he jumped on her back and he held up his paw
"Three cheers for old Ireland," says Master McGrath.

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