Thursday 22 February 2018

Democracy reigns where politicians fear to tread - on the corpse of the tent

Ray Mc Sharry enjoying the Galway Races at Ballybrit. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Ray Mc Sharry enjoying the Galway Races at Ballybrit. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Hang the title and the protocol. On one of his favourite days of the year, the President was in expansive, relaxed 'Michael D' mode, soaking up the welcoming atmosphere of his home patch.

He might privately loathe selfies - but the numerous punters with whom he posed would never have guessed.

And he clearly relished the accompanying chats.

Michael D seemed to take it for granted Galway would beat Tipperary in the hurling, saying he is looking forward to "the Galway/Kilkenny" clash and believes "the time has come now to spread it around a little".

He expressed some sympathy for player Joe Canning, who "gets so much abuse when he's not superb", adding, "but he was great the last day".

By the beam on his face and the satisfaction in which he surveyed his betting slips, we suspected that he had a winner in the Galway Plate. But an inquiry provoked a scandalised: "Oh, we couldn't say that!"

We wanted to ask him how his own horse, Aimhirgin Lass, was doing - but as he headed off happily through the course, we hadn't the heart to interrupt.

The openness displayed by the First Citizen brought to mind a deeply contrasting Galway Races - of dark political skullduggery.

One photographer recalled watching how the crowd had parted like the Red Sea to allow the seamless passage of four builders, rock stars of that era.

The number of waspish helicopters, peak boom, had prompted one American visitor to observe: "I feel like I'm in 'Nam."

After years of none, they are back up to 120 choppers expected for the week.

But the politicians have never returned.

Eight years on from Brian Cowen's decision to scrap the Fianna Fáil tent, the taint still lingers.

"It's got a bit of a bad name now," ventured one political handler, when asked if anyone from the party intended to go. Nobody did.

Where it once stood is now a empty ground of loose chippings and standing bollards.

Nobody was available from the Galway Races to comment on whether there were any plans to attract a political presence here once again and to shake off the old associations.

But has the unique atmosphere of this historic racing fixture lost something with the absence of the fabled caravan city of backslapping, deals and matches?

One veteran of the Galway Tent did not think so.

"The tent was made out to be something bigger than it was," she dismissed.

"There's something socially spiritual about the Galway Races - it's a very democratic place. It was around before the politicians and it is around when they've gone."

Roaming the grounds revealed that there was, however, one last man who remains standing.

Through thick and thin, Ray McSharry has never missed a year.

The former Fianna Fáil Tánaiste shrewdly observed that the corporate entertainment side, "the feature of many discussions on the tent over there", is still going on in the new Killanin stand.

"There was always a bit more made of it than was the case, you know," he said.

"I was in the tent on a Tuesday when Bertie Ahern would be there... but my racing is out and about amongst the people, always was.

"I hated being in corporate entertainment at any time," he claimed, adding that he is a member of the turf club and has always particularly enjoyed the point to point.

Irish Independent

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