Galway Racecourse holds a very prestigious place in the hearts of numerous racegoers from the region and thousands of fans from all over the globe. A subject of well-known songs and poems, Galway Racecourse is indeed in the heart of its fans and enthusiastic artists from Galway and beyond.
In mid-1764 there was a key five-day race function at Knockbarron near Loughrea, and exactly 100 years after this, the Western Plate’ race was restricted to “gentlemen riders qualified for National Hunt Races at Punchestown or members of the County Galway Hunt”. The very first sporting festival staged in Ballybrit was a colorful two-day affair with the very first race meeting held on Tuesday, 17th August 1869.
Modern records depict that a staggering forty thousand people turned up to attend the popular race meeting. To take care of the crowds who thronged the city in the lead-up to the sporting festival, the spacious public park area in Eyre Square was converted into a camping site. The Chairman of the Stewards at the racing meeting was Lord St. Lawrence, then M.P. for Galway and a chief contributor to Punchestown Racecourse. His colleagues also participated in the custom of hunting and steeplechasing – famous gentlemen like the Marquis of Clanricard, Lord Claremorris, the inimitable Captain Blake Forster, Henry S. Persse, the unrivalled Pierce Joyce, George Morris and the widely celebrated Valentine Black.
The much-awaited tour of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Galway on the 30th September 1979 is among the most unforgettable highlights in the illustrious history of Galway and indeed the Galway Racecourse in Ballybrit as well. It is reliably estimated that well over 280,000 individuals arrived at Ballybrit to witness the epoch-making papal visit. There were about 77 concelebrants, 200,000 communicants with 800 clergy people administering communion and more than 4,000 distinguished stewards.
There was a palpable great air of anxious anticipation, excitement, and relative calm amongst the 280,000 crowd eagerly awaiting the appearance of the papal helicopter. Flocks of fans thronged to the racing site with layers of garments on, backpacks, ubiquitous plastic bags containing food and flasks. There were hordes of people on the roadside vending stools, huge umbrellas and portable flags of various sizes.
In more one hundred years of uninterrupted racing at Ballybrit, Galway has gone from strength to greater strength with now more than 150,000 people attending the weeklong festival each year. Recognized as the greatest mid-summer racing festival in Ireland, enthusiastic punters from all over the globe tour the well-known race track yearly for a great blend of racing and old Irish craic. When racing is over they flock into the metropolis to carry late into the silent night. The Galway Race Course Committee pays notable tribute to Lord St. Lawrence, the worthy gentleman who started it all.
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Contact details: Galway Racecourse, Ballybrit, Galway, H91 V654, Ireland
Tel: + 353 91 753870