The Galway Races — a brief history

The Galway Races are such an intrinsic part of the local as well as national culture, it seems like they have been taking place forever. For many people the Galway Races are the event to go to and they are looking forward to it all year long. To some the main attraction of the event is the old friends and new people you get to meet, to others it’s the atmosphere of excitement and glamour, and to others still it’s the very passion for watching horses race and perhaps engage in a little betting. Although the first Ballybrit race meeting, lasting two days, took place in 1869, a lot has changed since.

A century later in 1969 Guinness sponsored the Galway Hurdle, and that same year the September race meeting took place for the first time. Although the clothes must have looked pretty different to today’s fashion, the enthusiasm for the fixture was probably comparable.

As the event grew in popularity, the next year’s race meeting was extended to a three-day one, and the year after that the summer race meeting entertained people for four full days.

The autumn of 1971 brought the start of a new development which consisted of constructing a new stand that would accommodate 6,000 people as well as a new administration building.

After another three years, in 1974, all those interested got a chance to celebrate their passion for horse racing for an extra day, with the Galway races becoming a five-day event. In 1982 the summer meeting increased to six days.

This way, the Galway Race Course became the event with the largest number of racing days in any one meeting.

The Millennium Stand was launched in 1999. With a panoramic restaurant on the top floor, reserved seating balcony and bar, food and tote betting facilities on all floors, it continues to be extremely popular with visitors. That same year, to everyone’s delight, the Galway Races became a seven-day festival. The year after that, the famous Galway Race Course won the Blue Cross Merit Award.

A vehicle underpass was completed and opened in 2001 and paved the way for the following year’s pedestrian underpass completion. The year 2003 brought the Best Racetrack National Hunt award from the Irish Stable Staff Association, as well as the Powers Gold Label Racecourse of the Year award.

On Tuesday June 29 2004, the Minister for Arts, Sport, and Tourism, John O'Donoghue, officially opened state-of-the-art facilities that included a new weigh-room, media centre, and administration building. In recognition of their contribution to the industry, Galway Race Committee won an award at Horse Racing Ireland’s annual Horse Racing Awards ceremony in December 2005.

The incredibly successful Killanin Stand was officially opened by the then taoiseach Bertie Ahern on July 9 last year. Built at a total cost of €22 million, it was up and running for the time of the summer meeting, turning heads throughout the whole racing festival. And it continues to please.

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