A Coursing Legend

Poems and ballads have been composed in his honour. A popular pet food bore his name and a monument to his memory stands at the crossroads in Colligan outside Dungarvan where the Waterford-Killarney and Dungarvan-Clonmel roads intersect. In this manner, "The Immortal Black" is commemorated near the place where he was whelped and reared. And when road works in the area in recent years necessitated the realignment of the junction the monument was moved a few yards and re-erected in a position that has considerable reduced the risk of damage from traffic. M'Grath's memory is today as fresh in the Deise Country as it was shortly after his retirement from the coursing fields over a hundred years ago.

A black dog by Dervock-Lady Sarah, Master M'Grath was whelped in 1866. His breeder was James Galwey Colligan Lodge, Co. Waterford, and his owner was Lord Lurgan.As a puppy he raced through the 32-dog Visitors' Cup at Lurgan in October 1867 and, one week later, divided the Moneyglass Purse for 32 puppies at the Creagh meeting with his kennel mate, Master Nathaniel. Despite these performances, he was virtually unknown when he crossed the Irish Sea for his first tilt of the Waterloo Cup in February 1868. The pre-coursing favourites were Brigade and Bab-at-the-Bowster and apart from his immediate connections few gave the Irish challenger any chance. It was not long before M'Grath was impressing the Altcar experts.

His opening opponent was Belle of Scotland, and they had an undecided course first time to slips. He won the re-run easily and then in the second round accounted for Ralista so impressively that he was installed second favourite. The third round saw M'Grath disposing of Marionette and next time out he caused another upset by defeating the favourite, Brigade, in a somewhat unsatisfactory course. The semi-finals produced a memorable buckle between the Irish black and the 1867 winner, Lobelia. The holder led from slips but M'Grath went by and just snatched the verdict in a course that had spectators on tender hooks with excitement. The final was something of an anti-climax in comparison. Master M'Grath easily defeating Cock Ribbon to take his first Waterloo Cup and set all Ireland cheering his exploits. Two more Waterloo cups were follow and attendant fame in Ireland and Great Britain.

In 1870, after failing in a bid for "three in a row" Waterloo cups "The Master" was then retired to stud, but was put back into training late in the year for a fourth and final crack at the Altcar hares. With him across the Irish Sea went the hopes and aspirations of every native of the Emerald Isle, willing the black to victory. He did not let them down, though on this occasion it must be admitted that luck was on his side. In the final, Master M'Grath met Pretender. The Irish veteran took the first turn by only the proverbial whisker but had much the better of matters thereafter and long before the flag went up, the crowd was cheering his historic victory.

M'Grath was escorted from the field by enthusiastic thousands and back in Dublin excitement knew no bounds. Crowds thronged the streets each evening to hear from the newspaper offices of the black's progress at Altcar. When the result of the final was announced the delighted thousands cheered and celebrated far into the night.

In the years between, many great greyhounds have caught the imagination of the Irish public. But none has succeeded in supplanting the black from Colligan in the hearts of his countrymen. He wasn't outstandingly big, even as greyhounds went in those days but for sheer heart and never say-die spirit, it is probable that his equal was never subsequently whelped.

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