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The Galway Races - A Winning Bet Every Time!
by Gerard McLaughlin

"Cloone River, winner by a mile,
Coming home in style at Galway.
O dream maker, you heart shaker,
Wherever you're going,
We're going your way.
Two drifters off to see the world,
There's such a lot of world to see.
We're after the same rainbows end
Around the final bend,
My Galway Hurdle friend,
Cloone River and me."

The last days of July. In some years, the first day or so of August. Throughout the Irish countryside, familiar horse-boxes and anonymous green trailers emerge from hawthorn lanes and leafy side roads to join the streams of traffic flowing inexorably towards the Galway Races.

Dermot Weld, Aidan O'Brien, Noel Meade and John Oxx all have horses running; and the gods of thoroughbred racing are considering the best laid plans of Paul Nolan, Willie Mullins and Pat Hughes.

A Magical Incantation
To racegoers travelling along the Dublin to Galway road, the names on the signposts are a magical incantation: Tyrrellspass, Kilbeggan, Horseleap, Moate, Athlone, Ballinasloe, Aughrim, Kilreekill, Loughrea, and Craughwell. Fields and hedgerows rush by; the distinctive stone walls begin to appear; and the pulse quickens.
Oranmore at last! Devotees converge from Cork, Kerry, Tipperary, Limerick and Clare, their eyes alert for the heart-warming directional signs to 'the Galway Races'.

Traffic Branch gardai ensure the smooth flow of traffic. You park your car and emerge to the nostalgic scent of freshly mown grass and the familiar echoing sound of the public address system.
The ivied ruins of the Old Norman castle and the distant prospect of the hills of Clare evoke memories of previous Galway festivals.
The long wait is over. You're home!

"Race Card or Biro!"
"Race Card or biro! Racecard or biro! Get your racecard or biro here!" Lily, the racecard seller, captures the traditional spirit of the Galway Races: "I'm an auld gambler. I love the horses. I'm 84. I'm coming here since I was a child, and all belonging to me. I went once on a horse and cart during the war to the point-to-points. Oh, I met everyone ... owners, trainers, jockeys. I'll go in now after selling me racecards and all and I'll stand at the Tote and I'll go round. I'll come out then at the last race and I'll sell me bit of stuff. But I love the horses. I love the jockeys. I love everyone. And they're very kind to me. Every one of them, from the king to the beggar, is good."

"I was there"
The click of the turnstile, like the click of the hypnotist's fingers, induces the trance. The atmosphere envelops you, draws you in. You become immersed, absorbed, engrossed - a part of the ebb and flow, the rhythm, the pulse, the heartbeat of Galway Races.
It is more than a race meeting. It is a convivial social and cultural occasion. A chance to meet and make friends. An opportunity to create the memories that in years to come you will recall with nostalgia and the proud declaration:"I was there."

Special Offer!
For one group of incorrigible optimists, who have no accommodation booked, the hundreds of 'No Vacancies' signs around Galway have necessitated a frustrating odyssey through Salthill, Barna, Spiddal, Iveran and the distant outcrops of Connemara. "There's three of us sleeping under an upturned currach!" jokes the man with the pint. €39.99 for bed and breakfast. The woman said it was a special offer. Still, I wouldn't miss Galway for anything."

"He misses nothing"
The first horses in the opener have begun circling the flower-bedecked parade-ring: Proud To Be Irish, According To Billy, Ease The Way and Givemeasummerdance. A girl with a brush and pan moves behind them, fastidiously removing visible and invisible signs of horse manure. "He misses nothing, that John Moloney," comments a pipe-smoking onlooker. "He could hear the grass growing. Did you see him on that TV3 programme? Up from the crack of dawn. Preparing for this week these last twelve months. Hadn't even time to sit down while he was eating his breakfast cereal. Checking the rain gauge. 'None of this modern computer model weather forecasting for me,' says he. 'If you can see Black Head out in Galway Bay, you know it has cleared.' Walking the course. Prodding and poking at the turf to test the going. Oh, it was well said that if you want a job done well, give it to a busy man."

RTE's Ted Walsh tells his fellow-presenter Robert Hall: "The place looks absolutely terrific. They've spent money well. They have a new weighroom here which is really ultra modern It puts all the others around the country in the shade. It's got everything in it. As I've said before, John Moloney leaves nothing to chance. He listens to everybody and tries then, according to the pocket, to improve everything. It looks terrific."

In training since Punchestown
A woman in a voluminous green dress is studying the racing page of the Irish Independent: "City of the Tribes ... Biggest sporting event in the country ... Tens of thousands of racegoers flooding into Galway since late last week ... Standing-room only in city-centre bars ... Non-stop night life ... A week long party round every corner." "It's all true," she laughs. "I've been in training for this week since Punchestown. I'm a course and distance winner, so I should be all right."

Enough material for a trilogy of novels
Galway attracts a diverse collection of clerics and cabinet ministers, poets and ploughmen, doers and dreamers, lovers and leavers, movers and shakers, hucksters and three-card-tricksters. Listen to the tips and gossip; the banter and repartee; the quick-witted quips and humorous asides; the well-rehearsed anecdotes and pithy observations. Watch the posing and posturing; the flirting and pouting; the tossing of hair and the fluttering of eyelashes; the coy introductions and promises to meet. Yes, you'll get enough raw material at Galway for a trilogy of novels!

Pat O'Hare - The 'Ansar' to a Galway punter’s prayer
And then, there's the punter's perennial dilemma: "What should I back in the Plate?" The newspaper nap? The stable whisper? The leading trainer or the jockey in form? At the entrance to the betting-ring, Former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds is placing a bet with bookmaker Pat O'Hare who has been laying the odds at Galway since the early sixties.

If you want inspired information, who better to ask than a friendly bookmaker? "Do you fancy anything in the Plate, Pat?"
The response from the astute layer is immediate: "There's good money for Ansar. He'll be very hard to beat."

"Life of a Lord!"
The minute hand approaches 3.40pm; the grandstands fill; the Tote queues dwindle; and the scribbling punters in the SP shop submit their final hectic selections. Commentator Des Scahill's inimitable voice reverberates across the racecourse evoking memories of names destined to resound forever among the stone walls, hedgerows and whispering grasses of historic Ballybrit: Leap Frog, Bunclody Tiger, Spittin' Image, Shining Flame, The Lady's Master, Boro Quarter, Randoss, Firion's Law, Feathered Gale, Moscow Express and Life Of A Lord. Life Of A Lord ... What an appropriate name for a winner at Galway!

"They’re Off!"
"The white flag has been raised. They're under starter's orders ... and ... They're off!" As the race for the Galway Plate unfolds, thousands of eyes focus on the racetrack itself, on the giant screen, or on the scores of closed circuit television monitors. Twenty-two gleaming runners come thundering past with jockeys in shimmering heraldic silks. A multicoloured passing tapestry. Emerald green with orange hoops; yellow Cross of Lorraine; royal blue epaulettes; black chevrons; pink with light blue stars; red with yellow stars; and black and white quartered bringing up the rear.

"come on, you little daisy!"
The cheers rise to a deafening crescendo as last year's winner Ansar jumps the last 'ears pricked' and races up the hill to win by seven lengths and three-quarters of a length from Ursumman and Light On The Broom. At the fortnight-in-Vilamoura odds of 10/1!
"Come on, you good thing!"
"Come on, you wee dote!"
"Come on, you little daisy!"
Whooping with boisterous delight and brandishing your winning tickets, you and your laughing friends set off to celebrate a successful Galway gamble. "Anyone for the last few choc ices?"
Ah, the rich treasures and rewards of Ballybrit!

Images: Gerard's web site

Related articles by Gerard:
Galway Races – Where the Pint is the Unit of Currency!
The Galway Races - Enough Raw Material for A Trilogy of Novels
Related article by Bridget:
Ladies' Day at the Galway Races


 

Fri, Nov 3, 2017

The Round Towers

The Round Towers of Ireland are remarkable among the world's ancient monuments; one author has called them 'Elegant, free-standing pencils of stone.' Today, 65 survive in part or whole. Hand-crafted in native stone and cemented with a sand, lime, horsehair and oxblood mortar - a technique imported from Roman Britain - it's said by many historians that they were built by monastic communities to thwart Viking invaders. And yet, there's reason to believe that the towers were built long before Christianity came to Ireland. Whatever their origins, monasteries did indeed flourish where the round towers existed. And why not. These imposing edifices provided a watch tower, a keep and a refuge.
Image: By kind permission of Stephen Cassidy, The Cassidy Clan.


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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.
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