Developments in Ballybrit

Racing in County Galway took place on a number of courses at the beginning of the 19th century... Kilconnell, Eyrecourt, Brook Lodge (near Tuam ), Rahassan, Ballinasloe, Ballymoe, Dunmore, Athenry, Bermingham Hunt (run by John Dennis, Bermingham House, Tuam ), and Carraroe Hunt. Only seven of these courses were extant at the dawn of the 20th century.

The so-called ‘annual Galway Races’ took place 15 times between 1829 and 1857 over a course at Kiltulla, a common about 1.5 miles north of Ballybrit. For some years there was no racing, and then Captain Wilson Lynch of Renmore offered the use of his land at Ballybrit rent free. And so in 1869, the Galway Races, as we know them, were held for the first time at Ballybrit.

“The meeting was held on Tuesday and Wednesday the 17th and 18th of August, bringing chaos to Galway town as huge crowds flocked in, overrunning the facilities. Every available bed in the town was taken, not a stable could be found for a horse and, with the demand far exceeding the supply, prices soared as people battled for food and accommodation. Greed reigned, as landlords, innkeepers and livery stables reneged on their bookings and accepted inflated offers from the desperate, leaving those who had booked accommodation for themselves and their horses on the streets. Things were so bad that the Council was forced to allow the Eyre Square park to be used as a camp for the ‘homeless’ visitors. Food was in short supply and the only mercy was that the weather was dry.

“Just as the town was swamped, so also was the racecourse. An enormous crowd, estimated at 40,000, arrived at Ballybrit, many of them hungry because of the difficulty of getting a meal in the town, and the racecourse simply could not cope. The caterers were strained to breaking point, people were everywhere and the Executive did really well to get all the races run without disruption. In those days, the vast number of people watched the races from the free area, with only the well-off being able to afford to pay for entry into the enclosure. The vast numbers of people roaming the infield made it difficult to keep the course clear for racing, and it was a miracle that nobody was killed.”

The Galway Plate was run for the first time in 1869, and the first hurdle race in Ballybrit took place in 1877 and so, if you will pardon the pun, the Galway Races were up and running. The history of this great meeting has now been documented in a terrific new book entitled The History of the Galway Races by Francis PM Hyland which has just been published. It is profusely illustrated and records the developments and improvements that have taken place on the course, the heroes both human and equine, the people involved on the race committee, and the visiting personalities. It is laced with good stories and there are important appendices giving us all the placings in the Galway Plate and Hurdle, significant dates, notable records, etc, etc. This fascinating publication is of huge interest to the racing fanatic and the student of Galway history alike , and is available in good bookshops.

All of the above information is taken from the book, and our photograph today, also from the book, shows the tea rooms, restaurant, water tower, and weighing room which were all newly built in 1946 in Ballybrit.

You won’t feel it till the Christmas!

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