Taking a punt at the Phoenix Park racecourse

The Times We Lived In – Published: June 3rd, 1985. Photograph: Eddie Kelly

What on earth are these men doing? The chap on the right is hunched over a notebook, writing something down: on the left of the picture, his colleague is focussing a pair of binoculars, intent on whatever it is he can see through them, yet holding tight to the piece of paper in his hand.

For the answer, you need to look at the placard in the top left-hand corner of the photo. “Des White”, it says. And underneath, “Betting”. Yes, indeed. These are bookmakers, hard at work at the Phoenix Park racecourse in 1985.

Founded in 1902, the course hosted several of Ireland's leading flat races including the Irish Champion Stakes but closed in 1981 due to financial difficulties. It re-opened in 1983, which was the year U2 played Sunday Bloody Sunday to an adoring crowd of 2,000 at the Phoenix Park. But the going was obviously tough for the course: seven years later, in 1990, it shut up shop for good.

Even from the front, it’s unlikely that the pitches manned by these bookies were particularly glamorous. But our photographer has taken us behind the scenes to show that their “offices” are constructed out of tea-chests, placed in a precarious pile which - in the 21st century - would have health and safety officers sweating buckets.


It’s a far cry from today’s hi-tech betting arena, which you can access from the comfort of your own personal portable device. And though I’ve searched high and low, there’s very little info to be had about the racing on the day this image was taken. Clearly, our photographer decided that these guys - one sporting summer casual, the other sweating in a suit - were the stars of the show. And who are we to disagree? Come to think of it, those tea chests are so rare now they’re probably being sold at collectibles auctions. Anyhow. As the saying goes, you may never see a bookie on a bicycle - but now you’ve seen a bookie on a box.

These and other Irish Times images can be purchased from: irishtimes.com/photosales. A book, The Times We Lived In, with more than 100 photographs and commentary by Arminta Wallace, published by Irish Times Books, is available fromirishtimes.com and from bookshops, priced at €19.99.