Greyhound racing has come to an end at Brandywell Stadium in Derry after 50 years
Racing enthusiasts young and old (pictured) from all over the North West gathered to say goodbye to the old Brandywell racing track on Saturday..
Racing will return when a new track is completed at the adjacent Showgrounds towards the end of next year.
Greyhound racing was first launched in the city in 1932.
Indeed, the sport helped save Brandywell Stadium from ruin when it was constantly targeted by vandals in the 1970s.
The final greyhound racing events planned for last Thursday and Friday night had to be cancelled due to the track being frozen.].
Race nights were traditionally been held at the Brandywell every Monday and Thursday, with public and private trials afterwards and on a Saturday morning.
Racing manager, Michael McLaughlin, was presented with a plaque to mark the occasion.
Long-time “doggie man” Charlie “Junior” McDaid, a well-known former driving instructor, has had a lifetime association with greyhound racing in the city.
He said: "The Derry track was a licenced greyhound track from 1947..
"The licence was taken out by a man called Duddy from Limavady and his brothers-in-law the McCourts and they ran the track.
"Prior to this there were a number of what you would call 'flapping' tracks and then those tracks died out and the licenced track became functional in around August 1947.
"Since then greyhound racing has continuously kept going in the Brandywell and it has changed hands a number of times.
"It was established as the 'Brandywell Greyhound Track Ltd' in 1976 and it then changed hands to the McLaughlin family who are now the licencees."
“Junior” recalled the effect the Troubles had on the greyhound racing.
"In 1969 the track closed down," he said.
"The licencee was a man called McQuade from Dungannnon and he refused to come and open the track because of the intensity of the Troubles raging in the Bogside and Brandywell area at that time.
"A committee was formed at that time by local greyhound enthusiasts who worked to refurbish and reopen the Brandywell to keep the greyhound racing going.
"The racing kept going and survived the worst of the Troubles."
“Junior” stressed greyhound racing was always a cross-community sport..
"On the opening night at the Brandywell in 1969/70, Protestants and Catholics mixed together and it was a good sporting occasion," he said.
"People of all creeds and classes came together and that's the good thing about greyhound racing. People of different faiths never had an issue coming to the racing.
“Junior” said Brandywell was the best training track in Ireland.
"They designed the Brandywell greyhound track so that the corners of the track were cambered and it was an ideal training track for young greyhounds," he said.
"Greyhound trainers attended the Brandywell to school their young greyhounds from as far away as Galway and schooling trials took place on a Saturday morning.
"They would have been there from 800am, waiting to train their greyhounds.
"It's still regarded as the best training track for young greyhounds in Ireland."
Looking to the future of greyhound racing in Derry, “Junior” said: "We will have to wait and see."
He added: "Everyone is hoping for the best and we hope we can retain what we have.
"It will be emotional now that it's gone, we hope it will be the same for all the 'doggie men'.
"It's the end of an era."
Leo Gallagher (87) has been attending greyhound racing in Derry since he was 12.
He recalled his memories of a life steeped in the sport.
"I first started going to the races in 1941.
"We would come out of school at 3pm and head up to the racing which was held at Celtic Park then.
"I always enjoyed the racing, my father used to keep and raise greyhounds in our back garden. I kept the odd one myself.
"We have had plenty of great nights at the racing over the years, the Ulster 500 used to be the big one.
Leo said Saturday’s meeting was a “sad one for Derry's 'doggie men.”
"It's a sad occasion and I don't believe it will be on the go again.
"I hope it is because it brings people together from all over and I've made some lifelong friends."
Derry City and Strabane District Councillors Gary Donnelly and Sean Carr attended the gathering and said they were confident greyhound racing would return.
"We'll see it back without a doubt," said Cllr Donnelly.
"There's a long tradition of greyhound racing in Derry, these people kept it going through some hard times.
'Working class people were able to get involved in sport after being priced out of other sports."
"It was always a cross community event and I'm confident it will keep going at the new track," he said.
Cllr Carr said: "The greyhound fraternity looked after the Brandywell during the time soccer was banned from the stadium.
"I can remember when the grass on the pitch was a few feet long and it was the greyhound men who cut it.
"I'm confident it will return to the Brandywell."
Racing manager, Michael McLaughlin, admitted the gathering was a sad occasion but said the racing would be back at its new track in the Showgrounds.
"After a lifetime of racing, 46 years, it is sad to see it going," he said.
"We have seen generations of families coming o the racing and we've had a great camaraderie over the years.
"It's great to see some faces here who haven't been down in years.
"I'd like to thank everyone for their support over the years, the Irish Racing Club, Clonmel and Derry City Council who helped us keep the racing going over the years."
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