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Galway Races - Where the Pint is the Unit of Currency!
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 OHehir, 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 OHehir.
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 ONelll 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 bookies-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.
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, Galways 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.
The 'Harp' Flag
This was the unofficial national flag of Ireland from 1798 until the early years of the 20th century. Since the 16th century, the gold harp had been on a blue field, but the United Irishmen changed the colour to green.
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March 4, 2011
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