The History of the Galway Races
Galway History

The History of the Galway Races

Craic, ceoil, and hopefully a few winners, the Galway Races always brings a great buzz to the City of Tribes and this year's festival promises to be one for the history books. Known as ‘race week’ locally, the festival traditionally draws hundreds of thousands of people from all over Ireland and worldwide but how did this famous festival begin? Let's find out!

Each year, the famous Galway Races Summer Festival is held each year during the last week of July and involves seven days of unrivalled action. Opening Day kicks off with a colourful musical opening performance in the parade ring before the first race. The historic Galway Plate Day takes place on Wednesday followed by the world renowned Ladies Day which combines the very best in racing and fashion for the pinnacle of the summer racing calendar. The festival’s final day features the hugely popular Mad Hatter’s Competition – it’s fun for the whole family with fantastic prizes up for grabs.

The origins of the festival at Ballybrit begins back in 1869. When over the course of a two day event, 40,000 people showed up to watch the horse racing. At the event, Eyre Square was used as a campsite to accommodate the huge crowds arriving into the city for the races. According to the Galway Races' website; "There was wide advance publicity. The Midland and Great Western Railway agreed to carry all horses to and from the course free of charge provided they had run in a race – a great concession and a sure encouragement to entrants. Special trains came to Galway from all over the country and the Lough Corrib Steam Navigation Company ran a special service from Cong for the two days racing."

From this successful meet, the summer festival was extended to a 3-day meeting in 1959, 4-days in 1971, 5-days in 1974, 6-days in 1982 and, most finally to 7-days in 1999. The summer festival remains the highlight of the business year for most local businesses as crowds and horses flock from all over the world to attend one of the world's biggest race meetings which draws more than 150,000 spectators in the summer. Undoubtedly the most famous and busiest day of the festival is Thursday, Ladies Day, when ladies compete for the coveted title of Best Dressed Lady or Most Elegant Hat. Over 40,000 people headed to Ballybrit on Ladies day alone in 2019.

Interesting Facts

-The Galway Races continues to inspire creatives over the decades since they first meet and have been the subject of W. B. Yeat's poem ‘At Galway Races’. They are also the subject of eponymous folk song, popularized by The Clancy Brothers, The Chieftains, and The Dubliners.

-The bar, where most of the attendees spend their day, was built in 1955, and for many years it was the longest bar countertop in the world. It was replaced by the Millennium Stand in 1999 and the Killanin Stand opened in 2007 replacing the old Corrib Stand.

-On the 30th September 1979, the visit of Pope John Paul II to Galway remains one of the most memorable moments in the history of Galway and indeed the Racecourse. It is estimated that 280,000 people flocked to Ballybrit to enjoy the papal visit.

-The festival was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, and in 2021, attendances was restricted to 1,000 people per day, before returning in full in 2022.

If you would like to know more about the annual Galway Races or book your tickets to attend its next edition, check out their website at;

All photos courtesy of the Galway Races

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