Michelin restaurant to stay open during Galway races

Owner JP McMahon endured backlash for labelling race week as ‘rag week for adults’

Happy to be opening during the Galway races . . . Chef JP McMahon in the kitchen at his Aniar Restaurant in Lower Dominick Street, Galway, on Monday. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Happy to be opening during the Galway races . . . Chef JP McMahon in the kitchen at his Aniar Restaurant in Lower Dominick Street, Galway, on Monday. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy


Galway restaurateur JP McMahon is opening his Michelin-starred establishment during race week after he received a backlash following its closure last year.

Aniar, which is located on Dominick Street in the city and boasts fine-dining cuisine in Galway’s west end, is open from Tuesday to Saturday.

Two years ago Mr McMahon promised that he would close the award-winning restaurant during the Galway festival in 2017, describing race week as “rag week for adults”, with high levels of drunken behaviour.

But the Dublin native received a backlash from certain sectors of the Galway public and has decided to reopen his doors this week and evaluate the situation.

“It’s never nice to be on the backlash of negativity from various parties. For me, a lot of businesses close in the city during race week. All sort of trades close down. It’s just unfortunate not too many restaurants do, so we were at the forefront for negative criticism,” said McMahon, who also owns Cava Bodega and Tartare Café and Wine Bar in Galway.

“We open this year, I will see how it goes. It is not the busiest week of the year in terms of Aniar because it’s more of a fine dining restaurant. But I will see how it goes. I just didn’t want more negativity.

“It was on social media and in some of the local papers. Various councillors and different people were saying it affected the image of the city.

“But I don’t control the image of the city. Closing one of my restaurants won’t change the image of the city. Unfortunately, the races are predominantly drink-driven and me closing is not going to change that.

“I am a food ambassador as well and it’s hard to disentangle that from the restaurant.”

Food column

Mr McMahon, who writes a weekly food column for The Irish Times, said half of the locals stood by him, and he didn’t want a repeat of previous years, when alcohol-fuelled behaviour made it difficult for Aniar to operate.

“We just had a lot of disruption, with people vomiting outside the restaurant. It’s a busy street and you might have people banging on the windows as well. Some people weren’t turning up. Everyone in town has these problems,” he added.

Traditionally, July is the busiest month of the year for Aniar thanks to the Galway Arts Festival, but the mood in city changes when the racing festival begins.

“I will see what happens,” Mr McMahon said. “The bookings are average at the moment. A lot of local people, if you ask them, they will actually leave town for the weekend. They will take their holidays during race week. A lot of the tradesmen close for the week as well.

“I will see how it goes and it’s a tough one to call. No doubt it adds so much to the city in terms of the economy. But it’s just a decision that each individual business needs to make.”

The festival got under way on Monday evening with Ruby Walsh taking centre stage by winning the opener on his return to Ballybrit. Easy Game gave him his first win since he aggravated a broken leg injury at the Cheltenham festival in early March.

“It’s great to be back. It’s all about tomorrow now. I wouldn’t say it’s emotional, no, not emotional anyway,” said Walsh. “One week’s work in nine months, I have to smile about something.”

Winners’ enclosure

Walsh’s wife Gillian, who was in attendance along with three of their four daughters, Isabelle, Elsa and Gemma, was delighted to see him back in the winners’ enclosure. “I’m thrilled for him. It’s a great result. It means the world to him. It’s just been very frustrating the last few months because his comeback last time was so short-lived,” she said.

After President Michael D Higgins’ criticism last weekend of gambling platforms advertising through sports, Paddy Power came out in defence of its continued involvement in Irish sporting events and said it would support “sensible” gambling regulation.

“Paddy Power has always supported sensible regulation in Ireland and we firmly support the introduction of the Gambling Control Bill, which will create a suitable regulatory framework for the sector, at the earliest opportunity,” said a spokesperson.

The seven-day festival is estimated to contribute €54 million to the local economy.