The patter of hooves on the turf, the cheers from the crowd, the banter with the bookies, dressed up or dressed down, a day at the races is a grand social occasion for all and Irish racing has a personality and atmosphere that is second to none.
Horse-racing is a national obsession in Ireland and a day at the races provide a very special slice of Irish life.
The Irish racing season kicks off in fine style over the Easter break, with the Irish Grand National Festival at Fairyhouse, just 10 miles from Dublin. While down in Cork, Mallow Racecourse holds it's own Easter festival of Steeplechasing.
Here's an interesting fact: Did you know that the term ‘steeplechase' originated in Ireland in the 18th Century? The phrase was coined in Co. Cork after a wager between Edmund Blake and Cornelius O'Callaghan in 1752 on whose horse was fastest. A cross-country race was organised from the steeple of the church in Buttevant to the steeple of St Mary's church in Doneraile...
Back to the racing......
The biggest event in the Irish racing calendar falls in April with the Irish National Hunt Festival at Punchestown. This is the finale of the National Hunt Season with 10 Grade 1 races over 5 days following hot on the heals of Cheltenham in England and pits some of the finest horses in Britain and Ireland against one another for a prize fund of over €2m. Punchestown in Co. Kildare (the Thoroughbred County) attracts thousands of loyal punters each year. Around 7,000 bottles of Moet and 2,000 kegs of Guinness are consumed throughout the festival and many small fortunes are won and lost over the 5 days.
This year Punchestown runs from April 22nd - 26th and events include the Punchestown Gold Cup and the famous Ladies Day on the Friday with prizes for fine fillies on two legs as well as four.
Also in Co. Kildare, the Curragh has been the spiritual home of Irish horse racing since the days of the ancient Celtic Kings and come May hosts a true classic with the Irish Guineas, attracting top European flat racers.
But the biggest flat racing event of the year comes to the Curragh a month later with the Irish Derby at the end of June. This event brings out the world's top thoroughbreds and an international entourage of race goers and socialites for the big Derby weekend.
In July the racing action moves to the south and west with the Killarney Festival, four days of racing amid the Lakeland scenery of the Killarney National Park, in one of the most picturesque race settings anywhere in the world. At the end of the month Galway is the setting for one of Ireland's most colourful racing spectacles with the Galway Races attracting some 200,000 race-goers to a week-long festival that brings the whole county, nevermind the city of Galway to a halt!
In August the racing moves to the seaside setting of Tramore, Co. Waterford before returning the Co. Kerry for the Tralee Festival in late August racing among the fine fillies of the Rose of Tralee beauty pageant.
Also in Kerry, the Listowel Harvest Festival sees seven days of racing for what they call a perfect Kerry summer - they hay is saved, Kerry's Gaelic Football team are on their way to Croke Park to win the Sam Maguire Cup and the people are enjoying a day at the races.
Also in September the Irish St Leger returns to the Curragh.
October sees the two-day race event at Gowran Park near Killarney, but the autumn months remain quiet in anticipation of the big Christmas finale, the Leopardstown Festival in Dublin, a great way to spend the lull between Christmas and New Year.
Irish racing is all about enjoying the craic. There's no dress code in Irish racing, dress up dress down, shirt and tie or t-shirt and jeans, old dress or new frock and hat, anything goes! Festivals usually have prizes for the best-dressed, especially for the ladies on Ladies Day. At Punchestown the prize for best-dressed lady is around €5,000 so it may be worth turning on the style!
If heading out to the races in Ireland there are two essential accessories; an umbrella, and a copy of the racing news.
Outside of the racing, Ireland's other Equestrian events include the prestigious Dublin Horse Show held each August by the Royal Dublin Society. Dating back to 1868, the Dublin Horse Show is a national institution and this five-day event features around 1,400 horses competing in 127 international classes including the prestigious Nations Cup and the Aga Khan Trophy.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Connemara Pony Show, also in August, which celebrates one of the great icons of the Auld Country, the plucky little Connemara Pony that has acted with distinction on battle fields throughout Europe from the Middle Ages right up to the First World War.
When it comes to horses, Ireland boasts some of the best stock in the world and at the centre of the Irish blood stock industry is the National Stud. Founded by Colonel Hall Walker, of the Johnnie Walker Whiskey, the National Stud in Tully, Co. Kildare is open to visitors, where you can tour the Stud farm and see the horses and their foals - the kids'll love it!
If you fancy taking the reins yourself, Discovering Ireland Vacation can arrange horse riding vacations in Ireland for all abilities, with anything from forest hacks to romantic rides across sweeping beaches. Contact one of our vacation specialists for details.
For accommodation options checkout our list for hotels near the RDS