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A race week like no other as fans stay home in eerily quiet Galway

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Eamon Fitzgerald from Co Laois is still coming to Galway each day this year despite a lack of track action and quiet streets. Photos: Andrew Downes

Eamon Fitzgerald from Co Laois is still coming to Galway each day this year despite a lack of track action and quiet streets. Photos: Andrew Downes

Andrew Downes, XPOSURE

Eamon Fitzgerald from Co Laois is still coming to Galway each day this year despite a lack of track action and quiet streets. Photos: Andrew Downes

Eamon Fitzgerald got the early train to Ceannt station from Borris-in-Ossory, Co Laois. He comes to Galway every year for the races.

But eating fish and chips at a long table by himself outside McDonagh's on a deserted Quay Street is not what he had in mind.

"I would come here more for the music than the racing. The music this time of year is brilliant," he said.

"I was hoping there would be at least a bit of music."

Glancing up and down the street, Eamon wondered aloud how he would fill the time between now and the last train home at 7pm.

"I don't stay too late, I always get the last train. The free travel is great," he said.

"I used to always go out to the track, but I'm not able to walk as well now.

"But I watch the racing on the TV in the pub. And when you get to my age, it can be just as good.

"I have the odd flutter - just small bets. There is no doubt about it that it is nothing but quiet here now.

"But it's nice to be able to sit at a table by myself. You like the bit of peace and quiet when you get older."

Fiona Loughman (25), manager of Willow boutique on Mainguard Street, agrees it is a race week like no other, with the horses running behind closed doors at the racecourse .

"It definitely doesn't feel like race week, even here in the shop with our occasion wear. Race week would have been our busiest time," she said. "It is way quieter. I have a footfall counter, and it's way down."

Loretta Ní Ghabháin, director of Lorg Media, recently facilitated the successful streaming of Galway Film Fleadh online.

But she thinks the races are a different beast.

"With the Film Fleadh, we were able to create a sense of community online, but a huge part of the Galway Races is being side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder with your buddies," she said.

"The streets are busy, but they are nowhere near like they were for race week.

"And nobody looks like they are going racing. We are all walking around in our Birkenstocks and flats.

"It was actually very eerie to watch the races online. That's when it hit me, the strangeness of it all.

"To see the horses running and nobody watching them was weird.

"Normally Quay Street is jammed. It's a very different Galway.

"We like to mix and mingle and see each other's eyes. And have the drinks and be out on the streets, even if it is raining."

Maria Morley is a dedicated follower of fashion. And when we catch up with her on Shop Street, she is the best-dressed woman in Galway. "I go every single year (to the races), and the last two years, I made my own headpieces. I worked for two months, making a fascinator. So not being able to go is a let-down," she said.

"I came to town to see was there going to be anyone all dressed up, and nothing. They might be all at home, dressed up and sipping prosecco. You never know."

Irish Independent