In addition to its famed love of horse racing, Ireland also boasts a thriving greyhound racing scene, with the country home to a total of 17 officially recognised venues. There was however a time when those numbers were significantly greater.
The 21st century has been a difficult period for the greyhound industry as a whole, with several venues beginning to feel the financial squeeze. Some tracks have survived and thrived once more, whilst others have been added to the list of defunct tracks. Amongst those consigned to the history books is one of the most famous and historic of all – that of Harold’s Cross in the capital city of Dublin. Established in 1928, the track closed its doors for the final time in 2014.
Former Greyhound Racing at Harold’s Cross
The wheels for the Harold’s Cross Greyhound Stadium were set in motion on the 13th of February, 1928 with the formation of Dublin Greyhound and Sports Association Ltd. Taking heed of the success of the Dublin-based Shelbourne Park, which opened in 1927, and the popular Celtic Park in Belfast, the new company quickly assembled a new track at Harold’s Cross on the south side of Dublin.
1928: The Track Opened
Ireland’s third greyhound stadium opened for the first time on the 10th of April, 1928, benefitting from considerable hype in the local press which advertised the stadium as having space for 40,000 racegoers. The track made a flying start to life, introducing the race which would become the Irish Greyhound Derby in 1928, the same year in which the circuit was graced by the legendary Mick The Miller.
Superstars of the sport continued to strut their stuff around the Harold’s Cross bends in the following decades, as punters flocked to the track in their droves to see the likes of Nanny Goosegog and Spanish Battleship in action. Track facilities also steadily improved over the years: 1935 saw Harold’s Cross become the first Irish track to use automatic starting stalls, and a new tote system was introduced during the 1960s.
1960s: A Downturn in Fortunes
The late 1960s represented the first real downturn in fortunes for the track. The permanent switch of the Irish Greyhound Derby to Shelbourne Park in 1968 preceded rumours of the site being sold to housing developers. Thankfully that fate was avoided courtesy of a bailout by Greyhound Racing Ireland (GRI). GRI and Dublin Greyhound and Sports Association Ltd then oversaw a significant investment in the site, headlined by the building of a new grandstand and restaurant in 1977.
Things remained on an even keel until the 1990s when, following a period of falling business, the takeover rumours began to circulate once more. However, trade soon began to pick up and Harold’s Cross remained in business.
2014: The Decision to Close
That period of stability was, however, to prove relatively short-lived. 2014 finally marked the end for the stadium which had hosted many of the most prestigious races in the sport, and also acted as the home of five League of Ireland football teams between 1929 and 1993.
What Happened to Harold’s Cross Greyhound Stadium?
When it came, the end was something of a controversial one, being more a consequence of the overall situation in Irish Greyhound Racing, rather than a specific issue with the track itself. The first death knell for Harold’s Cross came in 2011 when, against the advice of their solicitors, GRI opted to build a brand-new facility at Limerick at a cost of €21 million.
Irish Greyhound Racing Debt
Fast forward to 2014 and Irish Greyhound Racing’s governing body found themselves in debt to the tune of €20.3m and in danger of folding completely under the weight of their repayments. A way out was needed, and quickly. In an effort to assist the ailing industry, the government produced a report containing a list of recommendations – the first of which was the prompt closure and sale of the Harold’s Cross site.
Dublin Already Had Shelbourne Park
Harold’s Cross appears to have been selected due to its location on a valuable patch of land so close to the capital city, with the fact that Dublin already boasted Shelbourne Park Greyhound Stadium no doubt also playing a role. Heeding the advice of the government, it was announced in late 2014 that the track would indeed be sold.
This decision was unpopular with owners, trainers, and patrons at Harold’s Cross, who pointed out that the stadium had been consistently returning a profit. Nearby Shelbourne Park was also against the sale, stating that they had come to rely upon Harold’s Cross as a feeder track.
Final Meeting in February 2017
Despite the protests, which continued over the following years, the decision to sell was confirmed in early 2017. Initially set to race on for the first half of the year, the closure was brought forward, with Harold’s Cross staging its final meeting on the 13th of February, 2017. All racing operations were transferred to Shelbourne Park, which extended its calendar to accommodate the additional fixtures. The 12 staff at Harold’s Cross meanwhile were offered alternative positions by GRI.
Sold to the Department of Education
Having initially recommended the sale, it was ultimately the Irish Government who stepped in to purchase the stadium, via a €23 million deal which saw the six-acre site switch into the hands of the Department of Education.
On receipt of that €23 million sale price, the Dublin Greyhound and Sports Association Ltd immediately paid a dividend of €13.95m to GRI, before writing off assets worth €6.5m and winding down the business. With many having placed the total value of the site closer to €13m, some have suggested that the deal represented a form of underhand state aid.
GRI used the money they received from the deal to pay off a significant chunk of their longstanding debt, with a portion of the funds earmarked for investment across several Irish tracks, including Shelbourne Park.
The Current Site
As of 2022, the Harold’s Cross Stadium is a slightly depressing sight. With the bulldozers yet to move in, the stands remain in place, although the gates are now permanently locked. The track itself has become widely overgrown, giving the overall facility the look of one left to fall into a state of disrepair. There are, however, plans in place for the building of a series of educational premises, so perhaps it won’t be too long before this once thriving patch of land is put to good use once more.