Rag week for adults: Why a Michelin-star restaurant is closing for the Galway races

Chef tweeted the promise last year, while criticising ‘abusive’ race week customers

Restaurateur JP McMahon intends to keep a promise he made last year to close his Michelin-star establishment during Galway Race Week.

“Abusive customers. Drunk and disrespectful. People pissing and vomiting on door. I’ll close the restaurants for #GalwayRaces next year,” he said on Twitter on July 29th, 2016.

Since then, he has decided to keep two of his three restaurants open, but to close his award-winning Aniar on Dominick Street.

“I think it is time a more balanced approach was taken towards race week, which makes it more inclusive – beyond horses and drinking,” he told The Irish Times.


“Of course it brings people to town, and it is wonderful for publicans and hoteliers, but it is murder for a small 24-seat restaurant with a big window on to the street,” he says.

He has described the seven-day event as “rag week for adults” and says it was beyond embarrassing to be serving food to visiting north Americans while people vomit outside the door.

“There’s also the fact that a lot of people book, confirm with their credit cards and don’t ever turn up – once a group of 12 didn’t arrive, which is half of the restaurant,” he says.

McMahon says that when he came to Galway first in 1999, race week was the highlight of the tourism year, but numbers have steadily increased for the arts and comedy festivals, film fleadh, jazz and food festival events.

“You walk through the crowds at Seafest on the docks in late June, or during the arts festival events in Eyre Square, and people are not drinking, whereas during Thursday and Friday of race week all you see is people out of their mind,” he says.

‘Darker side’

“Perhaps it is the darker side of the city and we have to accept that, or perhaps Galway just needs to grow up.”

Galway racecourse manager Michael Moloney says he cannot control what happens in town, but his staff at the racecourse have a system of searching bags at turnstiles.

A “strict policy” on alcohol includes the issuing of wristbands to people who may look under-age but have their passports or identification with them to prove otherwise, he says.

“We have 150,000 people over the week, for a great atmosphere, and our corporate hospitality is sold out for the first six days for the first time in a few years,” Mr Moloney says.

Air taxis may not return to 2007 levels , but “there will be a big pick up in helicopter traffic,” he forecasts.

Chief Supt Tom Curley of Galway Garda division says Ballybrit represents the division's largest policing effort of the year, from traffic management to security. New city bye-laws on alcohol consumption in public have been suspended for the week, apart from designated areas, but he says that his staff will enforce the public order Act where appropriate.

“Nobody puts pressure on a Garda superintendent in relation to enforcement, it is important we have high visibility... and it has to be said that a lot of people commute to Galway for the day now,” he says. “I could always do with more gardaí, but it is a relatively quiet city for the numbers visiting.”

Alcohol consumption

Fianna Fáil councillor Peter Keane, who drafted the city's new bye-laws on alcohol consumption, credits Mr McMahon for putting the city "on the food map" with his three restaurants, but says his decision to close Aniar is a "rattle in a pram effort".

“No one enjoys a pint more in Quay Street during race week than me, but I also know that the Latin Quarter and West End traders regulate the area closely, with use of plastic glasses and deployment of private security, to ensure drinking does not get out of hand,” he says. Mr Keane believes there is a wider issue of Garda resources for Galway city throughout the year, given that the number of assaults causing harm, he says, have risen by 31 per cent in the first five months of this year, compared to the first five months of 2016.

The summer festival at Ballybrit has a pot worth €2 million in prizes, and opens on Monday for seven days – it was a two-day event for some years after its first race meeting on August 17th, 1869.

Among the attendance will be Offaly businesswoman Lisa McGowan, who holds five best dressed lady titles from various race meets, including Galway last year. She doesn’t remember witnessing much in the way of excess, partly because she was selected early by judges.

After she secured her title, she says she was subjected to vicious comments on social media. However, the overwhelming support she received afterwards for voicing her concerns publicly gave her the “last laugh”, she says.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times