Galway Races after dark: no city for old men and women

Does race week really live up to its billing as ‘rag week for adults’?

True to his word and right on cue JP McMahon, the chef/patron of the Michelin-star Aniar restaurant in Galway, shut it down for Galway Races Week.

There was a degree of incredulity when he announced after last year’s festival that he would not be opening for the next one, memorably describing it as “rag week for adults”.

Mr McMahon tweeted in haste last July. “Abusive customers. Drunk and disrespectful. People pissing and vomiting on door. I’ll close the restaurants for #GalwayRaces next year”.

For his troubles he was accused of arrogance, of charging such high prices in Aniar that he could close his doors during the busiest week of the year, and even of being “anti-Galway”.


Sceptics noted that his aversion to the Galway Race Week did not extend to his other two restaurants in Galway, Cava Bodega and Eat@Massimo, both of which remain open for the festival.

He singled out Ladies Day night as the worst night of the festival. Yet on this night, Lower Dominick Street, on which Aniar is situated, is like a ghost street.

The atmosphere elsewhere is febrile and you can hear the raucous sounds of buskers and festival-goers in the background. It’s a balmy evening and dry after a day of heavy rain showers, but for all the passing traffic on Lower Dominick Street it might as well be a wet Wednesday in November.

There are a few patrons in the pub and the restaurants either side of Aniar, but it is like the festival has passed the street by. It’s so near and yet so far from the action.

Elsewhere, Galway is packed. There is a queue several hundred metres long down Eglinton Street for the Carbon night club .

It stretches almost to Brown Thomas and there is a pool of vomit outside what is Galway’s most exclusive store. A few oblivious patrons trod through it. People lurk in doorways the worse for wear or take over the busker’s mikes.

The Galway Races has long traded on its multigenerational appeal, but there is hardly anybody over the age of 30 on the streets of the city centre.

Perhaps, the older generation are frequenting the more exclusive hotels or they’ve gone home or else they do not have not the stamina given the early start for the races on Ladies Day.

From Shop Street, through Quay Street and the Spanish Arch, there is hardly room to move. The big attractions are the two crossbars, one in Shop Street and another opposite Tigh Neachtain. Patrons are invited to swing from them.

It is easier said than done and few make the 100 seconds target especially with copious pints on board.

In a doorway paramedics are attending to a man with a bloodied head while gardaí stand nearby, yet Galway University Hospital’s accident and emergency department is nearly deserted at midnight.

The general atmosphere is one more of drunkeness than violence. The urinating in public is confined to dark alleys not shop fronts.

A visitor from Mars might not find the whole thing very edifying, but most Irish people would be, to paraphrase Captain Renault in Casablanca, shocked, shocked to find drinking and cavorting going on in Galway during race week.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times