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TV | Barney Curley: The Man Who Beat The Bookies

Featuring unseen interviews from before his death, the extraordinary story of the racehorse owner and punter, Barney Curley - from his tough origins as a Catholic in Fermanagh, through his audacious betting coups and his charitable decision to “give a little back” by donating all of his winnings to charity and die penniless.

“It was never about the money, it was all for the challenge”

On 26 June 1975, an obscure racecourse in Ireland became the setting for an astonishing gambling coup that would go down in history and establish its orchestrator as one of the sport’s most feared and enigmatic characters.

An unfancied horse called Yellow Sam romped home at 20-1 but, at the track that day, few even knew what had really happened, nor was anyone aware of the origins of the drama or its true motives, buried as they were in decades of Northern Irish history.

With exclusive access to the fascinating character who pulled off one of the most well-orchestrated and audacious gambles in sporting history, this film will be driven by a heist-like narrative arc and tell the story of a man driven by extraordinary times to do incredible things.

The film will also explore the illuminating origins of the risk-taker in question and place him in the context of the history of the people of his region. That man was Barney Curley, and he was a product of Northern Ireland.

Born in 1939 to a poor Catholic family in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, Barney went on to live an extraordinary and surprising life that in retrospect makes perfect sense. To be a Catholic in 1940s Northern Ireland, was to be excluded from society, with little access to the labour market or political power, to be harassed by police, to be confined to the poorest quality housing, to be segregated from the best schools, to be a second-class citizen.

It has been said that if you are abandoned by the social contract, then you will, in turn, abandon the social contract and seek to live a life outside it. Intelligent, determined, resourceful, Barney had few orthodox roads open to him and, like many Catholics of his time, he therefore found his own direction.

This is a story about an extraordinary character, about what it was like to be a Catholic in mid-century Northern Ireland and about one of the most audacious betting coups in history.

Driven by in-depth interviews with Barney and others who were central to the story of his life (family, clergy, jockeys, bookies, punters), we will also use powerful archive from Northern Ireland of the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s to paint a contextual backdrop to the choices of his life.

Colourful archive from the world of horse racing in these decades will help to portray the sporting and business world where he found a home.

The film will combine archive and contemporary footage of Barney today, with carefully planned and executed dramatic scenes to tell the story.

Those seminal moments of Barney’s life will largely be told by high-quality dramatic reconstructions – including his dad’s loss at the Greyhound track, Barney’s brush with the IRA, his time as a showband manager and, ultimately, the detail of the Yellow Same coup itself, from its inception through to reconstructing the race in dramatic fashion.


RTÉ One, Monday 11 October at 9:35pm

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