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Galway Races - Where the Pint is the Unit of Currency!
by Gerard McLoughlin

The Galway Races, traditionally run in the last week of July, represent one of Ireland’s most enduring and most characteristic festivals.

Throughout Ireland people of all ages and occupations prepare for the Galway Races with a fervour that is almost religious in its intensity. Budgets are planned, holidays are arranged and business is scheduled to conform with the sacrosanct dates of the annual week-long festival.
More significantly, perhaps, commemorative coups are prepared, often with horses that have abstained reverentially from victory for the obligatory twelve months. Horses will piously avail of the special dispensation permitting them to triumph twice in the one week at this exceptional venue.
On Monday, traditionally the opening evening, the turnstiles begin to rotate and the devotional crowds stream in regardless of prevailing economic or meteorological constraints. Mohair suits, elegant silks and clerical collars commingle spontaneously with cloth caps, braces (suspenders) and stout brown boots.

As the familiar strains of ‘The Galway Races’ resound from the loudspeakers, the emphasis is decidedly on camaraderie and merriment. Profit may be a significant motive; but the real profit is measured not in punts but in pints, not in coups but in craic.

Old friendships are renewed, gossip is exchanged and tips are divulged in penitential whispers. Men and women who would ordinarily spurn the racing pages are suddenly privy to ‘inside information’; and the bookmakers are dutifully thankful.

The weather in the west of Ireland may be notoriously changeable, but Galway race-goers are oblivious of even the most torrential downpour. Disdaining rain coats or umbrellas, many of them seek casual shelter under the elfin awning of the peaked cap or the printed headscarf.

On my first visit to the Galway races, I watched incredulously as men in bespoke suits and women in designer dresses stood in pouring rain while calmly trying to separate the compacted pages of their sodden race-cards.

One worthy devotee, with the demeanour of a belted earl, strode contemptuously through the driving rain in a grey lightweight suit; his only concession to the weather – a pair of Roches Stores carrier bags pulled up over his shoes and secured at the ankles by two hastily tied knots.

‘The apparel oft proclaims the man’, wrote the Bard of Avon. Shakespeare would surely have loved the Galway Races where ‘all the men and women are truly players’.

Galway during race-week is about many things: brimming pints of golden beer, cream-collared tankards of black stout, and celebratory champagne … effervescent and sparkling; galvanic laughter, bone-welding handshakes and lip-smacking kisses.

Galway is about voices past and present; those of the late Michael O’Hehir, and the late Luke Kelly singing ‘As I roved out through Galway to seek for recreation ….; and the racecourse-echoing tones of Des Scahill and Tony O’Hehir.

Galway is about horses. Horses with nodding heads and swishing tails, contentedly circling the crowded parade ring before the shrewdly appraising eyes of gamblers and horse-lovers alike. Horses snorting, whinnying and kicking up grassy clods. Horses with names like Pinch Hitter and Spanner, ridden by jockeys in the mould of John Joe O’Nelll and R. Russel.

It is about men with caps pushed back off their foreheads to betoken astonishment at the peculiarities of racing form. Imperturbable men who, minutes after losing heavily on an odds-on certainty, will endeavour once more to prise reluctant secrets from the same specious form book that deceived them in the first place.

Galway race-goers will queue good-naturedly for smoked salmon, hamburgers or baked potatoes. Aromas of freshly mown grass, leather saddles and pipe tobacco will commingle agreeably with the bouquets of brandy and fine wines.

Irish dancers will jig to a lone banjo player or the combined strains of fiddle, flute and accordion. Under the Cyclopean eye of the television camera, Thelma Mansfield will charm the winners of fashion contests and Michael Kinane will explain how he rode yet another winner.

Galway race-goers are irrepressible. At a recent festival meeting, the rain which had ushered in the opening event continued unabated for two whole days. Suddenly on the third day, just as Captain Luke Mullins was about to release the scriptural dove, the sun broke triumphantly through the clouds.

Right on cue, a cymbal crashed and the resident jazz band burst into a spirited rendition of ‘Everybody Loves Ice-Cream’. Trumpet, clarinet and trombone banished the blues instantaneously. Coats were discarded; and umbrellas became parasols. The very bookmakers began jitterbugging, while one well-known bookie’s-runner launched into an impressive jive routine with and attractive lady passer-by.

The hurler comes off the ditch at Galway. Celebrities from the worlds of art, literature and films congregate. Politicians exchange wisecracks with the electorate.

Bookmakers look forward to Galway to boost their fluctuating funds. A bumper week at this cornucopian venue invariably puts them ‘in front’ for the year. Inexperienced holiday punters contribute ceremonially to the coffers through their artless support of pin-selected horses and those with agreeable names.

On the other hand, informed gamblers and ‘strokers’ with mysteriously inexhaustible funds can cause serious damage at the competitive odds generally available at Galway.

When heavily-supported horses oblige in consecutive races, the resultant queues of winning punters are enough to strike panic into the heart of the most phlegmatic turf accountant.

The bookmaker’s recurring nightmare must surely be a record losing day at Galway with payout queues stretching telescopically into the famous sunset, and his assistants whispering nervously: ‘We aren’t going to have enough readies to pay this lot.’

Miraculously, the trusty betting-bag proves equal to the most exacting demands and yields funds far in excess of its squat dimensions. Talk about loaves and fishes … or rabbits from a hat! Bookmakers regularly perform biblical and theatrical feats at the Galway Races.

Yes, Galway’s always the place to be during race-week.

Note: We first met Gerard when he was writing articles for the now-defunct Themestream web site. His pen name there was Cosmas O'Shaughnessy. He has written many terrific articles and poems and we're hoping he'll agree to publishing several of them here. In the meantime, he would love you to visit his web site. If you're interested in furthering your career, it will be well worth your time. Assignments Plus

Images: google.images.com and the official Galway Races web site.

Related articles by Gerard:
Galway Races – Enough Raw Material for A Trilogy of Novels
The Galway Races - a Winning Bet Every Time!
Related article by Bridget:
Ladies' Day at the Galway Races

 

Tue, Aug 26, 2014


The idols of Boa Island

Boa is at the lower end of Lough Erne in Co. Fermanagh. Here, in the ancient Caldragh cemetery are two pre-Christian stone figures - the Janus statue and a smaller statue, the Lusty Man. Shown is the more famous of the two - a double-sided figure of two beings carved back-to-back. Interestingly, this type of figure is often referred to when the calendar year has just turned and we are glancing back even as we move forward. Also, the month of January is named after Janus, the Roman god of doors and gates. Often flowers and coins are left at the base of both statues - perhaps for good luck in the new year? Speculation as to what the idols represent continues.
Photo Credit: Bucknell University

Click for More Culture Corner.




This wonderful video produced by National Geographic traces the history of the horse in Ireland and the love of horses shared by Irish people. Breathtaking scenery and a soundtrack by the Chieftains makes this one a memorable feast for the eyes and ears.
Click here for The Ballad of The Irish Horse


 

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