Punchestown, Ireland

Punchestown is in Co. Kildare, just outside of Naas. It is the home of the National Hunt festival, which occurs every year at the end of April – sadly 2020 withstanding. Each year it commences on a Tuesday (around 3.45pm) and runs through until Saturday. However the key races are run Tuesday to Friday, with the Saturday being billed as day for the locals/families. The program of racing is excellent, with grade ones aplenty and also featuring the traditional Cross-Country race over the banks.

Faugheen on his way to winning the Beginners Chase at Punchestown in November 2019
And after winning the Beginners Chase

Getting there

Punchestown is about 45 minutes drive from Dublin airport. You can also get to Naas by bus: https://www.buseireann.ie/ and via train from Dublin Heuston to Sallins (outside of Naas) and Newbridge (near the Curragh). See: https://www.irishrail.ie/

Accommodation

The nearest sizeable town is Naas. If visiting for the Festival, you would need to secure accommodation very early. Other places worth considering are Blessington, Kildare town, Celbridge. Other more far-flung places are Portlaoise, Athy and the outskirts of Dublin – for example Citywest Hotel: https://www.citywesthotel.com/

In Naas the main hotels are: Lawlors: https://www.lawlors.ie/ the Osprey: https://www.ospreyhotel.ie/ and the Killashee (on the outskirts): https://www.killasheehotel.com/

In Newbridge you have the Keadeen, which is a short distance from the Curragh racecourse: https://www.keadeenhotel.ie/ If staying in this area a trip to the Newbridge Silverware venue is highly recommended: https://www.newbridgesilverware.com/ As well as having a retail outlet and cafe, there is also an excellent free museum which showcases famous people’s outfits and other memorabilia. There is a great permanent exhibition of Audrey Hepburn garments, as well as those worn by Grace Kelly and Diana, Princess of Wales and much more.

The quintessential ‘LBD’ best worn by Audrey Hepburn.
A temporary exhibit in 2016 at the Newbridge Silverware museum – the dress that Marilyn Monroe wore to sing Happy Birthday to President JF Kennedy, which subsequently sold at auction that year, for a record-breaking $4.8m

Eating and drinking

Most main towns in the County of Kildare, take part in the best dressed window, with the central theme being the Punchestown Festival.

As it’s such a revenue generator for the local area, most bars will offer live entertainment, so you won’t be lacking on that front.

The Osprey Hotel in Naas usually has a daily pre-raceday preview, with leading jockeys and commentators, tipsters etc. taking part.

The Ballymore Eustace Inn: http://www.ballymoreinn.com/ in the hamlet of the same name is a great spot for dining. Booking recommended.

Kilcullen has plenty of options too: Bardons: http://www.bardons.ie/ Fallons: https://fallons.ie/ Both highly recommended. The latter takes reservations, the former not.

Plenty of options in Naas to choose from, from Asian to Italian to locally sourced traditional offerings. The Lemongrass is a good easy option for Asian: http://www.lemongrassnaas.ie/

Pre-racing drinks, if you want to get away from the crowds in Naas, then Blessington is a good spot. Plenty of bars on the main street, where you will still encounter fellow racegoers, but will be able to breathe and hear one another talk!

If you are an overseas visitor and are unsure of where to base yourself, please contact me and I will be more than happy to advise.

Racecourse

If you are staying in Naas or the City Centre, there are a range of bus providers offering transport. Please visit: https://punchestown.com/ for more information.

In terms of ticket types, there are usually 2 levels – general admission which is about €30 per day and the reserved enclosure which is about €40 per day. You can get decent discounts for advance bookings. There are other hospitality options which you can view on https://punchestown.com/

Barry Geraghty in the parade ring

There is a shopping village, not on the scale of Cheltenham, but decent and with the usual outlets of paintings, sculptures, hats, country attire etc.

Punchestown has benefited from an investment programme which has added extra stand and bar capacity in recent years. Generally speaking it’s comfortable, but if you want to secure a spot for the day – early arrival is recommended.

Plenty of indoor and outdoor food offerings, everything from Irish fast-food options such as Eddie Rockets (burgers) to Abrakebabra (kebabs funnily enough…) to more finer offerings.

Rachael Blackmore, after winning on True Self, with the one of the 3 stands in the background

General vibe

Serious international racing figures attend, along with a large quotient of the more youthful local population on certain days and anyone else in-between. A real melting point of characters.

There is a daily best-dressed competition, with the final on the Friday of the week, so expect plenty of people decked out in their finery. However, anything goes – from novelty outfits, to more down-to-earth casual clothes.

It is reminiscent of a scaled down Cheltenham in terms of the party/drinking atmosphere, but not as raucous as aspects of the Cheltenham Festival can be.

Last year was a seminal year, when Ruby Walsh surprised everyone by announcing his retirement, after winning the Punchestown Gold Cup on Kemboy. There were great scenes to be enjoyed on this Wednesday.

Punchestown usually throws up an annual talking point, the previous year being Paul Townend taking the wrong course with the subsequent dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner – Al Boom Photo.

Summary

A great few days for any hardcore National Hunt fan. A well-managed facility – you’ll have a highly memorable day or few days at this venue and for a fraction of the price of a trip to Cheltenham, with a higher degree of comfort and accessibility.