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‘The Leopardstown Races, eh, Ross? A great way to blow off the old cobwebs after Christmas!’

Leopardstown on Stephen Zuzz Day is a tradition for the O’Carroll-Kelly men

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Ross O'Carroll-Kelly: Charles. Illustration: Alan Clarke.

“So how was Christmas?” the old man goes.

The focking state of him, by the way. He’s wearing the camel hair coat that he always wears to Leopardstown on Stephen Zuzz Day, then the fedora with the feather in the band that Dermot Desmond threw up in the air at Cheltenham six or seven years ago and the old man picked it up, and a pair of binoculars slung around his neck.

I’m there, “Christmas? Yeah, no, quiet.”

He’s like, “It was the same for your mother and I.”


“No,” I go, “I mean it quite literally. It was quiet – as in, no one in the gaff was even talking to me?”

He’s like, “Good Lord!”

Ronan goes, “What happened, Rosser?”

Ro, by the way, has gone for the Madonna when she was married to Goy Ritchie look – we’re talking flat cap and sports jacket – although he actually looks like he’s heading off to clean Mary Poppins’s chimney.

I’m there, “Yeah, no, I left it too late to buy the bird and we ended up eating turkey slices from the deli counter in Bornhill Stores. Same story with the ham. Sorcha’s old pair had faces on them for the whole day.”

I’m the only O’Carroll-Kelly man who’s dressed normally – and, by normally, I mean I’m wearing sailing shoes and a sailing jacket, despite Leopardstown Racecourse being six kilometres from the nearest sea.

I’m there, “I actually think Sorcha was on the point of forgiving me. But then she took out the karaoke machine and there was a strong feeling in the house that the Jamaican accent I put on while singing Mary’s Boy Child crossed the line into – at the very least – cultural appropriation? So – yeah, no – I focked off to bed early. I’m actually glad it’s over for another year.”

Ronan stares out the window of the old man’s box.

He goes, “Have you any muddy on this next race, Rosser?”

I’m like, “Yeah, no, I’ve 20 snots on Hinterland Sam.”

He’s there, “Ine godda thrun a few bob on Madly Deeply Do. Ine arthur been gibbon a tip by a jockey,” and then off he focks to see one of the dudes with the faux-leather, zip-up bags.

Hoss – or Hoss O’Carroll-Kelly, to give him his full name – was a racehorse that me, Christian, JP, Oisinn and Fionn bought four years ago in what would have to be described as a classic case of old school mickey-swinging

The old man looks through his binoculars, then goes, “The Leopardstown Races, eh, Ross? A great way to blow off the old cobwebs after Christmas! You know, I love this tradition that the O’Carroll-Kelly men have! I hope you’ll keep it up after I’m gone!”

I’m there, “Jesus, there’s no need to be so morbid about it. Maybe ease off on the brandy – singles instead of doubles from here on in.”

He goes, “Oh, I’m far from drunk, Kicker! No, I’m just saying that I hope when young Brian, Johnny and Leo are old enough, you’ll bring them here on St Stephen’s Day, just like my father brought me! And I hope, if Ronan and Honor have male heirs, you’ll do likewise!”

All of a sudden, Ronan comes tearing back into the box, going, “Rosser, Ine arthur seeing him!”

I’m like, “What? Who?”

And he’s there, “Ine arthur seeing Hoss!”

Hoss – or Hoss O’Carroll-Kelly, to give him his full name – was a racehorse that me, Christian, JP, Oisinn and Fionn bought four years ago in what would have to be described as a classic case of old school mickey-swinging.

A bunch of former Blackrock College students had bought one – the famous Orthurian Fame – and the thing was absolutely flying it, winning races left, right and centre. So we ended up buying one as well, the sole object of the exercise being to enter him into every race that their horse ran in – just to try to urinate on their parade. There are no limits to my pettiness when it comes to scoring points over that so-called school.

Anyway, long story short, Covid happened and there was suddenly no racing, so we ended up getting rid of the thing. Hugo McCallister, the dude who sold it to us in the first place, bought it back for about a quarter of what we paid for it. And I never heard about the animal again – until now.

I’m there, “It couldn’t be him, Ro. Sure that was, like, four years ago. He wouldn’t be still racing.”

Ronan goes, “Rosser, I know him. I was the one what rode him, remember?” to which I don’t really have a comeback line? “Come on, foddy me!”

So – yeah, no – I follow him down to the cor pork and he ends up being right. The famous Hoss is in, like, a horsebox and – I shit you not – he recognises me pretty much straight away, at least judging from all the, I don’t know, neighing that he ends up doing?

I know fock-all about horses or their ways, but I like to think he’s saying, “Here’s this focking legend again!”

I pat him on the nose and I get this incredible feeling of – I want to say – nostalgia?

I’m there, “I’m buying him back. I don’t care who owns him or how much I have to fork out.”

I’m there to Honor, “Don’t be ridiculous. Every south Dublin girl wants a horse”

I whip out my phone and I ring Honor. She answers on the third ring. She’s like, “Oh my God, it’s my racist dad!”

I’m there, “I put on a Jamaican accent, Honor. Just like your old dear puts on a Spanish accent when she’s talking to the cleaner.”

I can’t remember her name.

“Anyway,” I go, “forget about last night. I’ve got a late Christmas present for you. Brace yourself – it’s a horse!”

She’s like, “I don’t want a horse.”

And I’m there, “Don’t be ridiculous. Every south Dublin girl wants a horse.”

“I used to?” she goes. “But I grew out of it. Can I have a cor instead?”

All of a sudden, I hear a voice go, “Hey! What are you doing at that horsebox!”

It turns out to be the dude who owns the horse now. He’s from – what I would broadly call? – not south Dublin. I tell him my story. I tell him that I’ll pay any amount of money for the animal and I don’t even know where I’m going to keep him yet?

But then he tells me his story. He has a racehorse – Thyme of My Life, the favourite in the four o’clock – who has a bit of an unpredictable temperament. And Hoss – I’m happy to hear that he’s still called Hoss – is his comfort animal. When he’s around, the horse just settles. He says they’re very much in love.

He’s like, “That’s why I couldn’t sell him – for any amount of money.”

I’d love to put that to the test – the old man has deep pockets – but in the end I don’t bother.

Instead, Ronan goes, “Can I ride him? Just for old time’s sake?”

The dude goes, “I see no reason why not,” and then he opens the back of the horsebox.

And from the look on Ronan’s face, I can tell that it’s the greatest Christmas present he’s ever had.

Ross O'Carroll-Kelly

Ross O'Carroll-Kelly

Ross O’Carroll-Kelly was captain of the Castlerock College team that won the Leinster Schools Senior Cup in 1999. It’s rare that a day goes by when he doesn’t mention it