Barney Curley Documentary: The late Barney Curley is the subject of a new documentary show to air on RTÉ One tonight (Monday, October 11).
‘Barney Curley: The Man Who Beat the Bookies’, will explore the incredible story of the racehorse owner and punter, Barney, who died earlier this year.
Featuring unreleased interviews, the documentary recounts the Irvinestown native’s harsh origins as a Catholic in Fermanagh, through his audacious betting coups and his charitable resolve to “give a bit back” by leaving all of his riches to charity and die destitute.
‘Barney Curley: The Man who Beat the Bookies’ is a True Films production for RTÉ and BBC Northern Ireland and can be shown on RTÉ One tonight at 9.35 pm.
Unfortunately, Barney Curley: The Man Who Beat the Bookies (RTÉ One, Monday, 9.35 pm) isn’t quite that film. The biggest difficulty is that it tries to be two things at once.
More than half the running time is spent to the “heist” Curley pulled off in the mid-1970s, in which he wrong-footed the bookies to score a jackpot worth more than €2 million in today’s money.
Tacked on towards the end is a wider meditation on his life and times. This, however, feels like an afterthought following the racecourse hijinks to which the programme’s title refers.
A longer running time might have given the tale the opportunity to breathe. Or perhaps the filmmakers could have taken a page from Curley’s form book and gone all-in on an authoritative portrayal of the events at Bellewstown Racecourse, in Co Meath, in 1975 and left the autobiographical components in the cutting room.
As it stands, The Man Who Beat the Bookies lurches across the finish line in a bit of a heap.
The retelling of his major coup over the bookies is, at least, nicely done. Born in Irvinestown, Co Fermanagh, Curley relocated to Co Wicklow during the Troubles (having been caught in the crossfire of a shoot-out between the Provos and the British) (having been caught in the crossfire of a shoot-out between the Provos and the British).
There he put behind the world of show bands for that of horse racing – and was soon racking up big losses at the bookies. To stay in business he needed a hefty payoff.
The famed gambler and horse trainer, who was born in Irvinestown, Co Fermanagh, pulled off the optimal bet in 1975 when he won the equivalent of €2 million on his horse Golden Sam, which he named after his hometown. He then determined to stop gambling.
Curley acknowledges that he never celebrated his historic triumph and recalls his troubled connection with his father, Charlie, which pushed him to establish himself on the racetrack in the first place.
His father was an unsuccessful gambler, and he recalls his father laying “his final shot” on a hound in 1956 who went on to break its back on the first bend of the course. That’s an image that he has retained to this day.
He remembers seeing him “carrying the dog in his arms” after he had lost everything, and he was sad.
“That’s all there is to it. The celebration had come to an end. “There was no turning back,” he acknowledges.
In the lack of financial aid, Curley was ejected from a fee-paying boarding school and forced to work with his father in the chemical industry in Manchester, where they worked double hours six days a week to pay off the debt.