Galway races, but not as we know them
Entries hailed from as far apart as Donegal and Tipperary, with some staying on for Ballyconneely the following day, but many saving themselves for Dingle’s meeting next weekend.
As the horses with their featherweight “pilots” lined up for the €1,200 Omey Plate, Willie Creighton had his back to the wind, and clouds. Barely straining his ear and hardly glancing at the course, he could tell the winner – Neon Tiger – as it crossed the line, followed by Swagger Jagger.
Bets are not of Ballybrit proportions out here, he said. “You’ll have people putting on €2, maybe five, and the odd €50 for fun.”
“It’s always good here as it attracts a crowd, but the weather and the recession has had a big impact on other meetings, and some have even been cancelled this year,” he said, shaking his head.
Galway city arts officer James Harrold was observing form with his spaniel, Oscar, as horses rode down into the sea to cool off, and Yogie was announced as the best turned out steed of the day.
Harrold conjured up images of sea god Manannán MacLir as he spoke of the cultural significance of the event. Where the island, with its Christian settlement founded by St Feichín, had inspired poet Richard Murphy, the races had been recorded on canvas by artist Maurice MacGonigal.
The tension was building for the final race of the day – but it wasn’t the Clifden Plate listed as last in the programme. “Just watch for the dash,” Mulkerrin had warned us.
As the Atlantic broached the course, horse boxes and lorries were heading for Claddaghduff, but James Loftus, owner of the bouncy castle and “Jungle Run”, wasn’t quite so fortunate.
He made one attempt with his truck, turned back, left his vehicle on the island and waded across the sound to Sweeney’s Bar. He would have to wait till another ebb late that night to return . . .
Connemara to London and back
ONE HUNDRED years ago, Rosmuc resident Michael O’Malley and neighbour Joe Walsh rode two Connemara ponies to Maam Cross on the first stage of a long journey to London.
That trek is due to be marked today by the Connemara Pony Breeders’ Society when it unveils a plaque to a “remarkable man” who introduced the Connemara pony to the wider world.
As O’Malley’s grandson Tomás recalls, the pair “got on the Clifden-Galway train, changed trains to Dublin, and took the boat to Liverpool”.
“They then rode the horses across Liverpool to take a train to London, and did the same journey back again,” he says.
On his return from London’s Olympia exhibition centre, O’Malley wrote to the Irish Farming World, warning of the threat to the breed posed by “unsuitable sires”.
His letter sparked off a debate in the publication, and the first society was eventually formed in December 1923, with O’Malley as its first secretary and Fr CJ White as its first president.
The plaque unveiling in O’Malley’s native Rosmuc today marks the opening of the annual Connemara Pony Festival in Clifden, and the 89th show will take place on Wednesday and Thursday.
A full programme of events is on the website cpbs.ie.