Harrismith had a Gold Cup winner!
First run in 1921 – or in 1926 ? – over 3200m for a stake of 2000 pounds sterling, the Gold Cup is Africa’s premier marathon for long-distance runners. It boasts a proud history and captures the public imagination. The race starts at the 400m mark in the short Greyville straight; there’s much jockeying for position as the runners pass the winning post for the first time before turning sharply right and heading towards the Drill Hall; normally many runners are under pressure before they turn into the home straight; the race is known to suffer no fools when it comes to fitness and stamina, and it takes a special type of horse and jockey to win the event.
And away they go!
Usually the final big race meeting of the South African racing season, the Gold Cup is often decisive in determining the Equus Award winners for the season. Initially a Grade 1 race, the Gold Cup was downgraded to Grade 2 in 2016 and to Grade 3 in 2017. Nevertheless, it is still the most important horse-racing marathon in the country.
The distance and unforgiving conditions that prevail as the field go past the Greyville winning post twice, are great levelers and a look at the list of champions beaten in the Gold Cup is a long one, with less-fancied runners carrying less weight often winning.
Sun Lad won the first running in 1926. He raced in the silks of leading owner-breeder Sir Abe Bailey. The Gold Cup was one of just two wins for Sun Lad during the season. He is frankly unlikely to be regarded as one of the race’s better winners.
The first horse to win the Gold Cup on two occasions was Humidor, who was victorious in 1933 and 1935.
And so to us:
Harrismith’s winner was the horse Rinmaher (pronounced ‘Rinmahar’) owned by the George Shannons of Kindrochart. What year? Probably 1932 or 1934?
Mom and Dad both tell the story of raucous parties on the Shannon farm where at a suitably ‘sensible’ stage the Gold Cup would be taken off the mantelpiece, filled with champagne or whatever hooch was going and passed around to the ritual comments from the more sober of “Here we go! We’re drinking moths and mosquitoes again!” At least it had lovely handles to give an imbiber a good grip!
Here’s a nephew of the winning owner on a slower horse:
Later: Sheila rousted Colleen Walker, granddaughter of George Shannon, who straightened me out on some Gold Cup details. She even had an earlier pic of Jack and Suzanne the Shetland. More questions: Is that Kindrochart? Is that George?
Mom tells me that after I had me tonsils out at about age three, she took me to Kindrochart for recovery for the poor little tender chap. I clung to her skirts and wouldn’t go to anyone, but once when lovely friendly Betty Stephens – a huge fan of us kids – offered to carry me up a hill after I’d run out of poof, I condescended.
Mom also tells that I told on Ma Shannon! She had appeared on the stoep in her nightie and I hastened to tell Mom ‘she’s got none clothes on!’ Apparently Ma Shannon tried hard to get me to call her Nana, but I’d not call her anything but ‘Shannon.’
On the way back to the big smoke, driving on the gravel road towards Platberg, Mom was telling Betty about a book she’d read about some nuns – The Nun’s Story – I had the book in my hands on the back seat and was disappointed in it. So I piped up, ‘and it’s got none pictures.’
May 2020 – Mom sent a message that I must phone her! She wants to tell me the full story of the brothers Shannon. Phone Me Soon does not mean that her cellphone will be on, or charged, or answered; so it was a full two days later I got hold of her;
And away they go! She took a deep breath and set off:
Jim and George Shannon left Ireland on a ship bound for South Africa. Somewhere on the journey they had a fight and fell out; They never spoke to each other again!
They reached Harrismith where they both became ‘rough riders’ – breaking in horses for the British army – I guess also for anyone else who wanted horses broken in and/or trained? Somehow and sometime, they both ended up as farmers, George on Kindrochart and Jim on Glen Gariff.
George married Mrs Belle Stephens who came complete with two daughters Betty and Bobby. Then they had a son Jack – some called him Jock – who also featured in our lives as a friendly, lean, handsome, side-burned, smiling, pipe-smoking, pickup-driving, genial figure in khaki. He married Joan from Joburg – Mom Mary and her older sister Pat went to the wedding. Later Bobby married a mine manager and some people thought that was very important. Betty never married, stayed on Kindrochart, worked in town and became a beloved young-in-spirit ‘auntie’ of ours, always a smile and always a tease and some fun. We called her Betty Brooks.
Meantime Jim on Glengariff married Amy, and they had three kids, one of whom they named George, despite the feud ongoing! Maybe there was a prior ancestor George? Other kids were Marshal (died young, not sure what of) and Sylvia. George married Betty McGore and they had sons Jim and Patrick who we knew in Harrismith in the sixties. Handsome lads, Patrick maybe too handsome for his own good!
When the second of the original Jim and George died (I think it was Jim), Jack contacted young George, son of Jim, and said ‘We’re having a party. You and Betty should be there.’ And so a reconciliation took place and they normalised relations. Up until then, their mothers Belle and Amy had been forbidden to talk to each other! She remembers that after a good few drinks and a meal and another good few drinks, the Gold Cup was taken down off the Kindrochart mantelpiece, filled with wine and passed around! George offered his wife Betty first sip and she exclaimed ‘George! It’s full of moths and mosquitoes!’
No doubt there’ll be other versions of this tale – and much more detail. But this is how 91yr-old Mother Mary fondly remembers the story of these good friends from days of yore.