The 2000s has so far proved to be a pretty tough era for greyhound racing on both sides of the Irish Sea. Whilst many tracks have continued to thrive, or at least survive, an increasing number have been forced into permanent closure. Then we have a third category of greyhound venues, those stadiums which have closed, but only temporarily, with high hopes or even concrete plans to bring them back to life.
Falling into that latter category is the County Donegal track of Lifford. First opened close to the Northern Irish border in 1959, the venue had become a hugely popular destination with greyhound fans in the north of the country until running into problems in 2019. Here we take a closer look at this excellent track, including the high-profile reopening plans.
Greyhound Racing at Lifford
Cattle dealer, James Magee, is the man responsible for the building of Lifford Greyhound Stadium. A keen greyhound enthusiast, Magee already boasted a schooling track on his land, and in 1959 decided to convert that track into a professional circuit.
Magee remained in charge of the operation of the track until passing away in 1971, at which point the ownership passed into the hands of his sons Cathal and Seamus. One of the first acts of the brothers was to erect a brand-new grandstand, giving Lifford a significant boost.
The Abraham David Trophy and Irwin Cup were amongst the early signature events at the track, whilst all-time great Yellow Printer began his career at Lifford as a puppy. The track had made a strong start and had been well run as a family business.
Lifford Greyhound Racing Company
Ticking along steadily throughout the 70s and 80s, by 1991 the Magee clan had decided to call it a day and put the track up for sale. It did, however, take fully 10 years to find a buyer, with the site being purchased in 2001 by the newly formed Lifford Greyhound Racing Company.
The new owners contributed significantly to the facilities at the site, ploughing the substantial sum of £1.2m into a major refit, including a new grandstand complete with two restaurants. Despite that upgrade, it wouldn’t be too long before the track ran into problems.
When & Why Did it Close?
In 2018, the stadium was put up for sale with an asking price of €1.9 million. Racing manager Matthew Duffy cited a lack of support from the Irish Greyhound Board as the driving force behind the sale, and stated that the final meeting at the track would be held on the 17th of August, 2019.
As announced, the Lifford Greyhound Stadium did indeed close its doors to the public on the declared date. To the disappointment of fans in the area, the track remained closed for the following two years, obviously not helped by the global health issues of the time, but by late 2021, it appeared that Lifford’s spell in limbo may soon be coming to an end.
When Will Lifford Greyhound Track Reopen?
It was in October of 2021 that the announcement came that the track would be returning, with Sunday 6th March, 2022 pencilled in as the date of the grand reopening. The impetus behind this revival came from the new owners Lifford Greyhound Racing Club (Canaradzo Ltd) – a consortium of businessmen with vast experience in the industry, the highest profile of whom is Denman owner, Harry Findlay. Findlay knows a thing or two about dogs, horses and betting in general, and also has reasonable financial resources at his disposal.
With strong support from the UK Tote, the new owners proposed to be wholly self-funded, erasing the reliance upon support from elsewhere which had blighted the track in the recent past. Punters in the area were no doubt keen on the Australian-style business model, which promised to employ hugely competitive betting margins and provide maximum value to patrons. Throw in the promise of 100 new jobs, and a boost for the Lifford community in general, and there didn’t seem to be much not to like about this new development.
However, as of September 2022, the stadium remains closed. A new track has been laid and trials have been conducted, but that 29th of March opening date has come and gone, as has a rescheduled date for June of 2022. Who is to blame for this delay very much depends upon whom you ask.
The ownership group lay the blame at the door of Greyhound Racing Ireland, whom they state have refused to issue a licence to the track without providing a legitimate reason. Coming under increasing pressure from investors, fans and the media, they are being urged to grant this licence at the earliest opportunity.
GRI on the other hand agree that they have not issued the track with the required licence, but only because they do indeed have a very good reason not to do so – namely that, to do so under the proposed business model, would contravene the body’s obligations as the Tote licence holder under the Totalisator Act 1929. They state that the track has been informed of this situation and asked to come up with an alternative model.
As of August 2022, this new proposal has not yet been presented to the GRI, and the rift remains. Until the two sides can come together and work out a solution, the greyhound fans of Lifford will have to wait a little longer to re-enter the stadium. However, with so much infrastructure in place, and significant capital already invested by the new ownership team, it is surely only a matter of time before this popular track resumes its position on the Irish Greyhound Racing landscape.