Galway city: ‘You wouldn’t even know it’s race week’

Corporate lunches, late-night bars, music and racegoers are all missing due to Covid-19

Usually during Galway's race week, Eyre Square would be packed with punters getting ready to travel out to Ballybrit. This year, the races are closed to the public, the shuttle buses are absent. So far, the city is noticeably emptier.

Nevertheless, hotels across the city are fully booked, or nearly so, "but not with the usual race-goers", said Rory Fitzpatrick, general manager of the Clayton Hotel near the racecourse.

“They have been replaced by families and ‘staycationers’ who wouldn’t normally visit the city this week,” said Fitzpatrick, who would usually be busy hosting a 250-strong corporate lunch to kick off the racing festival.

Like many other hotels, the Clayton usually hosts live bands, entertainment and a shuttle bus service to the course, but this year there is “nothing, you wouldn’t even know it’s race week”, he told the Irish Times.

‘Residents only’

“Normally this would be the busiest week of the year, and although it’s fully booked, it’s a far cry from where we would normally be,” said Fitzpatrick. This is largely due to a fall-off in bar sales.

Back in Galway, some hotels are operating strict “residents only” rules for the week, a far cry from the usual festival when racegoers would fill bars until the early hours.

Eliza Kelly, food manager in The Skeff Bar in Eyre Square said: "We would usually order hundreds of kegs for race week, but we've kept it small this year, it's not even close."

Predicting that bar sales will be no more than a quarter of the usual festival takings, Kelly said “the Skeff’s” late bar is not allowed to have live music, while its nightclub, DNA is closed.

Staycationer influx

Rooms in the Skeffington Arms Hotel are fully booked, but its front office manager, Tina Robink, said they had lowered prices by at least €150 to attract staycationers: "There is only one person staying tonight that is in town for the races."

Some pubs, however, are demanding customer deposits because of the number of no-shows and “bar hopping”, said Dita Gapcuka, restaurant assistant manager of Busker Brown’s Bar and Kirby’s Restaurant on Cross Street.

They are “so many no-shows, people are chancing their arm bar-hopping and tend not to show up”, she went on, adding that the business is expecting to be “a lot busier later in the week” as Ladies Day approaches on Thursday.

Paul Grealish, owner of The Kings Head on High Street, feels "there is an onus on pubs not to mess up". The pub is heavily booked this week, but "it's no different to any other week since opening on July 2nd".

A lot of Irish are visiting for staycations, he said, but the pub owner says the King’s Head will turn over a “tiny fraction of what we would normally do” because they are operating as a restaurant.