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Dublin: 12°C Friday 23 April 2021
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Five things you didn't know about the Galway Races

It’s had the Pope and the world’s longest bar – though not at the same time.

Image: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

WITH ONE OF the biggest fixtures on the racing calendar – the Summer Festival at the Galway Races – kicking off this evening, it seems only right that we go back down memory lane a bit and pick out some random bits and bobs for your afternoon amusement.

They’re a pretty old-school thing
The first ever racing festival at the famed Ballybrit racecourse was a two-day meeting in August 1869. Back then, Ulysses S Grant had just taken over as the 18th President of the United States, some random book called War and Peace was being published, and Queen Victoria had just appointed Gladstone as prime minister.

The festival only became a 3-day event 90 years later, but had more and more days added over the 1970s and 1980s before becoming a week long in 1999.

It had the world’s longest bar…
Anyone who has been to the races before they became a 7-day event in 1999 may recall the old main Corrib Stand – or, at least, they’ll recall it if they weren’t at the bar below for too long.

The bar along the foot of the old stand, which essentially stretched its entire length, was anecdotally the longest bar in the world for many years but had fallen into disrepair before the new Millennium Stand was opened in ’99.

…and the shortest gap between two fences
As if for perfect contrast, aside from having the longest bar in the world, it also has the shortest gap between two fences of any racecourse in the world.

Keep an eye out for the last two fences at the end of the ten-furlong course – which themselves are in the middle of a slight dip in the ground. If a horse takes the second-last badly, it might not make it over the final fence.

The Pope wandered along in 1979
Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.”

The Bible is fairly black and white on gambling – but not that Pope John Paul II was too bothered when he attended the races in September 1979 as part of his visit to Ireland.

280,000 people showed up to hear him speak and to hear the immortal words:

Young people of Ireland, I love you.

It was such a great occasion – even in the early 1900s – that Yeats wrote about it
One of William Butler Yeats’ more celebrated works celebrated sport’s ability to help its spectators escape from the humdrum of the real world and for a brief few minutes live on a higher plane:

THERE where the course is,
Delight makes all of the one mind,
The riders upon the galloping horses,
The crowd that closes in behind:
We, too, had good attendance once,
Hearers and hearteners of the work;
Aye, horsemen for companions,
Before the merchant and the clerk
Breathed on the world with timid breath.
Sing on: somewhere at some new moon,
We’ll learn that sleeping is not death,
Hearing the whole earth change its tune,
Its flesh being wild, and it again
Crying aloud as the racecourse is,
And we find hearteners among men
That ride upon horses.

Just remember that when your odds-on favourite stumbles between the last two fences.

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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