Rory Staunton would have loved Tom Gibney’s underdog’s win at Fairyhouse race course


Andrew Thornton with Lion na Bearnai after the Fairyhouse win on Monday

It rained for most of the day in County Meath on Monday, quite an appropriate scenario as a small parish church not far from Fairyhouse race course witnessed a tearful family’s farewell as Rory Staunton departed for brighter heavens.
You may or may not know about young Rory. You may or may not have heard of his untimely death at such a young age last week.

If you’re a regular on IrishCentral you will know of the pain and the torture his parents and his sister have shared with his uncles and aunts, cousins and friends these past few days since his tragic death in New York on April 1.

If you didn’t know Rory – and I didn’t – let me share some of the passion and the fervor of his 12 brief years on this earth as relayed by his dad Ciaran from the altar of Rathfeigh church.

From listening to the words of a heartbroken father I know Rory now and I know well, at least I would like to think so.

Rory, his dad told us, was a passionate sports fan who cared as much about the Mayo county football team as he did about the Notre Dame footballers so beloved of his uncle Niall O’Dowd of this parish.

I now know Rory. I know him as a young man who held the former Mayo player Ciaran McDonald in such high esteem that he got his dad to park outside the McDonald family homestead just to see what sort of life the blond bombshell lived away from the football field.

Clearly, Rory Staunton was a young man who could offer an insightful view of the fortunes of Kerry or Louth, the other counties in his sporting life back home in Ireland.

He was, as his father exemplified in such moving words on Monday morning, a young man who loved his sport exactly as he loved his life. All denominations, all creeds, all beliefs were to be welcomed and to be loved.

Ireland’s government leader Enda Kenny was at Rathfeigh church on Monday morning. Hours later he was at Fairyhouse, not seven miles away, on official duty for one of the great events of any Irish sporting year.

The Irish Grand National is an institution. It has been held over the Easter weekend and at Fairyhouse for so many years now. British troops were even at the venue on Easter Sunday in 1916 when Padraig Pearse and his Rebels took advantage and staged an uprising at Dublin’s General Post Office.

I know Rory Staunton well enough now to know that he would have approved of Pearse’s ideology and his cunning plan to make hay for Irish freedom while British troops were betting on horses of a different color in the appropriately named Royal County.

I would also like to think that Rory Staunton would have approved of the sporting tale that unfolded over the same Fairyhouse turf in Meath on Monday afternoon as Kenny looked on.

The 2012 Irish Grand National was supposed to be won by Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary or billionaire tycoon JP McManus, the two biggest owners in the racing game here and two men with five entrants each in the big race. 

The bookies and the pundits all told us as much. They spoke of Allee Garde and Groody Hill and Four Commanders and Alfie Sherrin and Arabella Boy as the favorites in the 30 horse field.

Hardly anyone spoke of a horse trained a few more miles down the road in the historic town of Kells, home of the book of the same name as a friend of mine likes to tell American tourists now that they are back among us again.

Tom Gibney is a small time trainer, not just in racing terms but in any terms. He only has five horses on his watch at his Kells stable, and he has never entered a horse in the Irish Grand National before.

But guess what? Lion na Bearnai proved that fairytales do come true on Monday afternoon as the 33-1 10-year-old came storming home to secure a stunning win for Gibney, jockey Andrew Thornton and the owners in the Lock syndicate from Meath who paid just $12,000 for the horse five years ago.

Theirs was a story to behold on a very sad day down round our way. Theirs was a story to celebrate, a victory for the little guy against all the odds.

I didn’t know Rory Staunton as I’ve already explained. But I’ve a feeling he’d have enjoyed Lion na Bearnai’s victory in the Irish Grand National on the day his ancestral homeland said goodbye. I hope he did.