Vincent Carmody has shared with us his memories of Race Weeks in the 1950’s. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about The Harvest Festival of Racing in a different era. I hope you enjoy the following account too.  

This is surely the one week of the year that Listowel people, no matter where in the world they find themselves, will harbour nostalgic thoughts of their home town and the magic that race week brings. Everyone will have different memories and the following are some of mine.

The build up to the week started nearly immediately after returning to school after the summer holidays.

Writing compositions on the week of the races or a trip to the Island.

The nineteen fifties Race Week of which I write consisted of three days racing, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Paul Kennelly from Ballinruddery making several trips around the town with his hay cart, firstly, dropping of the large concrete stands in which the poles that the multicolored buntings would stand, when these would be in place. He was accompanied by his sons who would climb large trestle ladders and string the buntings from pole to pole. For a while it was the practice to tie bunches of ivy on to the poles.  This was discontinued after some unfortunate hungry ass, who had been tied to a pole, starting eating the only green within his range and died on the spot. Little was Paul Kennelly to know as he decorated the town that two of his sons would make their mark at another racing festival at another time and in another country, I refer to Martin (Murt) Kennelly and his brother Sheamus, who won the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup with their horse Bregawn.

Birds amusements would have have arrived at the weekend and would be ready to open on the Monday night, the bumpers and chair o planes were the main attraction, they were always in the back market. The front market( prior to the building of the Mart premises in 1960) was known as the tinkers market. Very many travelers, from all over, would have their horse drawn caravans parked in rows inside the wall at Market Street. The lower side of this yard contained many sideshows and rows of swinging boats owned by independent operators. The colourful sight of the tinkers caravans at night time with the timber fueled bonfires burning outside have remained in my senses since. 

On the Monday evening special trains would arrive at the railway station transporting racehorses. They would then be walked down through the streets and back-ways to the different stable yards where they would be billeted for the week. Hay, straw and the tack would follow, brought from the train by Joe Stokes or Jet Carroll on their long cars. Most of the stabling was privately owned, however the race company had fifty stables at the back of William Street (below the Creamery yard), now a public car park.

On each race morning there was an opportunity to make handy money, the Race Company had their town office upstairs at Leanes in the Square (Harnett’s chemist shop). One could buy race cards there for nine pence, and sell them at one shilling. Having bought them, there was a ready market with the throngs of people alighting from trains and buses, each race day there were four special trains as well as the regular ones. These would come from Dublin, Limerick, Newcastlewest and Tralee. Buses would transport people from places not serviced by the railway.

 Many private houses became eating houses overnight to cater for these travelers culinary needs. Posters would have been procured from  the printer Cuthbertson in advance. These posters usually proclaimed hot and cold meals and meat pies.

To be continued….