Ah, the fabled Galway Races in the West of Ireland. The wonderful seven days of racing at the end of July, concluding the Sunday before the August bank holiday in Ireland. A mix of flat and national hunt, sometimes on the same card.
These days with newer roads, Galway can be reached from Dublin in about 2.5 hours. The nearest international airport is Shannon, in Co. Limerick, with Knock airport in Co. Mayo, also offering flights to and from several destinations.
The bus and train stations are very centrally located off Eyre Square, which is the landmark spot of Galway, so no need for a taxi if staying in central Galway City.
Once in Galway City, there are continuous buses from Eyre Square to and from the racecourse. Ballybrit – the actual name for the racecourse is situated about 15 minutes’ drive from Galway centre.
Accommodation & general entertainment
Such is the enduing popularity of the festival, accommodation will be booked year in, year out, so you need to plan your trip well in advance. There is everything from 5* luxury hotels, to guesthouse and hostel type accommodation.
The Hardiman Hotel on Eyre Square – formerly known as the Meyrick, is a very popular pre and post racing meeting point: https://www.thehardiman.ie/ Other popular haunts are the 5* g Hotel: https://www.theghotel.ie/ and the 5* Galmont (formerly the Radisson Blu): https://www.thegalmont.com/
I plan to stay in Westport, Co. Mayo for this year’s festival – should it go ahead, which is just under an hour’s drive.
In terms of great bars, Galway is blessed with them and you won’t have too look far for entertainment. It also has a very sophisticated dining scene, with Michelin star establishments included: https://www.aniarrestaurant.ie/ You will struggle to have an inferior meal in Galway, unless you end up at Supermacs! – Nothing wrong with Supermacs at all though. Supermacs started in Galway and has since become a huge Irish fast-food success story. Excellent fodder after a day’s drinking. Galway has it all.
An Pucan off Eyre Square is a good all-purpose bar, it does food all-day including breakfast and has a large internal capacity. It’s a sports bar, so as well as the racing, it will have screens showing different sports: https://anpucan.ie/
In keeping with a lot of Irish racecourses, Galway has benefited from significant investment in recent years, and as a result has large capacity stands & extensive hospitality options.
The main days of the festival week are the Wednesday – Galway Plate day and the Thursday – Galway hurdle. If you like a crushing atmosphere with no-holds barred then these days are for you – particularly the Thursday. However there are some great lesser profile evening meetings, during the week, which are just as good to get a real taste of Ballybrit. The Thursday – there is usually a large contingent of local students out for the day, so it can be mayhem from early on, especially if it’s raining and everyone pours inside the stand.
Of course, fashion and style is very much a cornerstone of the whole Galway festival. A lot of ladies plan their outfits months in advance and the competitions are highly competitive, but not confined to ladies only – there are best-dressed comps. for men too, with very lucrative rewards for winners.
There is usually a flat entry fee of about €30 for flagship days such as Plate & Hurdle day, where you can avail of a seat for an additional €20 – recommended. Galway enjoys huge crowds, so you will struggle for comfort if not in a hospitality area. Please see: https://www.galwayraces.com/ for further information.
Loads of food and drink options, with a lot of the main fast food chains in Ireland having outlets too – Abrakebabra, Eddie Rockets for example, as well as offerings for the more discerning palate. Galway and the West of Ireland in general is renowned for it’s seafood, so expect to enjoy plenty of this, if that’s your preference.
Galway probably has more festivals than any other county in Ireland, including the racing one. As such the whole city has hospitality off to a fine art. The Ballybrit experience is ebullient, exhilerating and not for the faint hearted. It will not suit those that do not like crowds and raucous carrying-on! It attracts punters from all backgrounds – rural and city dwellers alike, as well as international visitors.
If you want a more comfortable West of Ireland racing experience, then I am reliably informed that the summer meetings at picturesque Ballinrobe, in Co. Mayo would be a good bet.