Memories of the Galway Races — when summer reached its high point

I can still remember the exact point on the road where it first came into view. It was the highlight of my summer, every summer.

Through a child's eyes from the back-seat, looking between two adult heads, one belonging to my late uncle, John, the other belonging to one of his neighbours, over the dash and the car bonnet, it emerged like an ocean going liner on the horizon. The stand at Ballybrit, this was the setting for the cruise on which I would happily embark for the coming week.

This sight, at approximately 4 o’clock on a Monday afternoon in late July, signalled the beginning of Race Week, eagerly anticipated for the previous 51 weeks.

The tailback from Oranmore, almost to Clarinbridge, had taken an eternity to clear, but now we were through the then village of Oranmore where all the Dublin and Cork/Limerick traffic converged on the main street, just beside The Thatch Pub. A mile out the coast road, a right turn, over the railway line, along the winding road, passing the area that is now Doughiska, and, in the distance, my old friend waiting to welcome me. Then paying 50p to park in Connolly's field, climbing the stone walls and at last, the wait was over.

Filled with excitement

To paraphrase Patrick Kavanagh, my chink was very narrow then, and the wonder of it all has rarely, if ever, been matched since. Enticing as the thought of a Moran's Seafood Special or a relaxing drink in O'Donoghues after racing is now, nothing can quite match the excitement and the promise of those days that belonged to a different time.

I have skipped up, and slouched down the steps of those stands. I have observed a town become a city from that vantage point, and often looked over at the Clare hills, little realising the significance they would play in later life.

Sitting on its seats, I have almost won fortunes, but never quite. As a child, from the lower steps, I have seen a blur of colour whizz by and heard the sound of hoof on turf. As an adult I have witnessed great deeds from horse and rider on the track.

It is hard to put specific years on many of the memories, but harder still to believe it is over forty years since Leap Frog jumped his way around, and almost as long since that golden Galway era of Double Wrapped, Steel Duke and Pinch Hitter. The memories of those halcyon days have never dimmed.

The Galway Races, where all the cliches ring true. Much more than just a sporting occasion, it truly is part of what many of us are.

An annual pilgrimage, and an increasingly sentimental one as the years go by. The summer reaches its high point on that opening Monday, and the autumn has truly arrived the following Monday.

It seems to get darker earlier, and the evenings are a little colder, and all because race week is over!

Next week, it will be great to be back.


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