Seven consecutive days of some of the best quality horse racing, in one of the world’s friendliest cities; that’s the Galway Races. Although there are meetings at other times of the year, to many people, the Galway Races means the summer festival of racing that starts on the final Monday of July each year at the historic Ballybrit Racecourse just 5 kilometres from the city of Galway itself.
There are historical records showing horse racing in the Galway area as long ago as the middle of the thirteenth century but the first festival at the current course dates back to August, 1869. Since then, both the course and the Festival, have developed enormously. The race course itself, with its famous last two fences being the closest together of any course in the world, has a famous finishing dip – and an equally famous finishing ‘roar’ from the Galway crowd. Within the past ten years, two superb new grandstands have been opened – The Millennium Stand in 1999 and the Killanin in 2007 – making sure that the facilities at Ballybrit are equal to anywhere else in the world. The only downside to this development for some fans was that the old much-loved Corrib Stand was demolished – along with its bar, the longest in the world.
The only week long meeting in the United Kingdom or Ireland, the Galway Races attract thousands of spectators from across the globe – especially on Wednesday,the day of the Galway Plate, and Thursday, when the Galway Hurdle is contested. Additionally, the Thursday of the meeting has become famous for being Ladies’ Day, when elegance and sophistication is the order of the day.
This western Ireland city has long been famous for the warmth of its hospitality and this is abundantly true of the Galway Races. The gates open about two and a half hours before the first race and the atmosphere is immediately welcoming. The food and drink outlets of the course help in this aspect – there is a wealth of choice for race goers from places such as Racers Fast Food Restaurant to the Guinness and Oyster Bar and the Hot Beef Hut. There are also two Champagne Tents and numerous other restaurants serving everything from full meals to quick snacks. The picturesque Mayor’s Garden area has some delightful picnic spots. For those searching for the ultimate racing experience, the Plate Hospitality Suite and the Hurdle Hospitality Suite – both in the Killanin Stand – offer fabulous views across the course amid luxurious surroundings.
Ticket information for the Galway Race Festival, at the end of every July, can be found on their official website.
The racecourse at Galway is only 3 kilometres from Galway Airport and many visitors arrive directly by plane. The airports at Knock and Shannon are respectively only two and one and a half hours away by road but the road journey from Dublin is nearer to three hours.
With so many visitors to the Festival it’s no surprise that most of the hotels in Galway itself book up well in advance of the meeting. Many frequent visitors reserve their accommodation for the following year when they leave after the races so be sure to plan ahead with regard to finding somewhere to stay. There are, additionally, two highly recommended hostels in Galway – Barnacles and Sleepzone; the former right in the centre of the city close to the action.
Whether you are an experienced race goer or someone who wants to combine a visit to the beautiful west of Ireland with a trip to the races, you’ll get a typically warm welcome when you visit the wonderful Galway Races.