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Your Galway Races Festival Survival Guide

There’s something for everyone out West this summer.

EVERY LAST MONDAY in July in Galway, things begin to stir a bit.

It’s a week when the city comes alive – not just with race-goers. With those down for the craic, the serious tipsters, those down for the fashion, those there to win some money, or just to have a flutter and soak up the atmosphere. There’s a mix of young and old, tradition and modernity.

It’s quite the experience – so here’s the low-down on how to get the best out of the institution that is Galway during the races.

1. Having the craic

The Galway Races take place over seven days – making it the longest of all the race meets that take place in Ireland. That means you’ll want to pace yourself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Remember that as you lob your fivers onto that favourite horse on Monday afternoon.

Whether or not you’re big into the form is irrelevant – as the fastest-growing festival in the country, fun is the real currency of the occasion. The busiest days are the Galway Plate (on the Wednesday) and also the Galway Hurdle and Ladies’ Day, which are both on the Thursday.

Make sure you’ve got your gladrags at the ready – feel free to wear whatever you like, the more outlandish the better. The beauty of the Galway Races is that no one will look twice.

Healy Racing / Horse Racing Ireland Healy Racing / Horse Racing Ireland / Horse Racing Ireland

But, while you’re having the craic, don’t forget the get down to brass tacks (no pun intended). Make sure you have your transport sorted so that you can get out for all the buzz in Ballybrit. The bus will bring you under the track and out to the roar of a delighted crowd if a favourite has just come in.

Arrive early to explore your surroundings (turnstiles open two and a half hours before the first race, after all) and don’t forget you can have a gawk at the gussied-up horses before a race in the Parade Ring. There’s also the fun of queuing for the bookies, making sure you get to their window before the prices change.

2. Exploring your surroundings

A week is a decent break – and there’s a lot to see in beautiful windswept Galway beyond the city. While you’re over West, make it your own.  Conamara, the Aran Islands, a stroll along the Salthill prom, Ceibh an Spideal… It really is your oyster. (Which reminds us: try the oysters!)

The city itself will be hopping every night, with the streets full of performers and musicians and revellers, but most of all on the Thursday. Keep your eyes peeled for the women back from Ladies’ Day, a very different sight from the way they arrived at the track, with their headpieces and heels in hand.

Connemara (Conamara) : vue sur les Twelve Pins View from the Twelve Bens/Pins Shalambaal Shalambaal

3. Learning the lingo

Speaking the language is key when it comes to fitting in with the hardened old pros. This  blaggers’ guide is essential for barstool conversations. But if you’re stuck, you can also always break out the following:

  • “He’ll hate the ground”
  • “She was crying out for a better trip”
  • “He was off the bridle”

And remember: it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Confidence is key – and you’ll be sure to have that after your first flukey win, right?

William Bereza William Bereza

4. Embracing the history

Records of organised racing in Galway go back as far as the mid-13th century, when match races were run under the auspices of King’s Plate Articles.

The Galway Races are an Irish institution at this stage – with the first race meeting having been held in 1869. It was extended to a three-day festival in 1959, then four in 1971, five in 1974, six in 1982, before eventually becoming the seven-day mammoth it is today in 1999.

Altogether, the week draws up to 150,000 Irish and international spectators. So you’ll definitely make a few new friends, anyway.

unnamed Caroline Norris / Horse Racing Ireland Caroline Norris / Horse Racing Ireland / Horse Racing Ireland

5. Soaking up some culture

It’s not just about the time off work, the schlep to Ballybrit, chips in McDonagh’s or even the cold pint in Tigh Neachtains. Down through history, lots of big names have weighed in on the Galway Races. John B. Keane said that they were “a state of mind”. And then, of course, there’s W.B Yeats’ poem At the Galway Races:

Crying aloud as the racecourse is,
And we find hearteners among men
That ride upon horses.

And you might hear a blare or two of this well-loved ditty from the band inside the gate:

Vito Likavec / YouTube

Have you any Galway Races knowledge going spare? Let us know in the comments.

Can’t make the Galway Races? Never fear – there are plenty more upcoming racing festivals you can catch this summer. To make up for missing the craic in Ballbrit, you can always have a great time at the Curragh Oaks, the Killarney August Festival or the Irish Champions Weekend. There are so many racing weekends to choose from, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Find out more at goracing.ie

Want to find out more about the lingo, the horses, the trivia and the jockeys? Look no further>

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