The Listowel Races

You can feel the change in the air here with the last week, that lovely smell of autumn. Autumn smells different in the city, usually of burning coal or whatever they burn in their fireplaces.

Down the country it feels fresh, where a shower of rain could knock the cobwebs out of you very fast. September is a beautiful, but very strange month. It’s the month where the evening and darkness pounces on you. It comes out of nowhere.

There is always great fun around Listowel in Co. Kerry at this time of year. Celebrating 154 years on the go, the Listowel races is one of the best racing festivals in the country. It’s called the harvest festival because this is a time to celebrate. All the hard work has been done, all the hay saved etc and now it’s time to ‘leave the handbrake down’ and enjoy some time off.

You can really feel this at these races and around the town. Listowel is a middle sized town about 20 miles north of Tralee and would be busy all year around, but really comes to life for the harvest festival. They also have a very busy June with writer’s week.

I’ve been going to the Listowel races for the past 15 years and have enjoyed every second of it. When I worked with TG4 I remember getting a call from the boss asking me if I would like to be part of the team to cover the races there, I was in my element.

The best thing about the job, outside having a huge interest in horseracing was meeting the people who attended. The producers let me chat to whomever I wanted and it went out on TV. I met some great characters. They come from all walks of life to the Listowel races and that’s what makes it special.

This year I met everyone from farmers from Cavan to a Mr John Mahon a native of Longford who now own a string of pubs in Manhattan. Everybody mixes like they know each other all their lives. It’s that kind of place!
The races and the All-Ireland weekend always came together and with Kerry being very lucky to have great players down the years there was always an added excitement. If the races were on after the football weekend then ‘Sam’ would often pay a visit.

If the races were on the week before the banter was electric. I remember one year when Kerry had won the All-Ireland Dara o Cinnéide, Tommy Griffin and a few more of the player came in with the cup.

When I was working there I never stayed in Listowel I always went back to West Kerry. I felt like I’d never go to sleep if I stayed overnight there, there is some party atmosphere in the town that week and that’s mo good for a man who is working the following day. Anybody who loves racing and likes a few pints too, Listowel is definitely the place.

Since I left TG4 they ask me back to judge the best dressed lady on the Friday. This is the day where I ask myself if there is a recession on in this country at all. Hail, rain or shine these ladies are done up to the 9’s! The competition is unreal and the ladies come from all over the country. I’m not sure how much interest they have in horse racing and it doesn’t seem to matter. I find it very hard to pick a winner; thank God Celia Holman Lee is with me because she is a lady who knows her fashion.

I’m a kind of an ‘I like what I see guy’! I don’t really care about the price of the outfit, if I like it, I like it and that’s that! I know that’s not scientific or probably the best way to do it, but that’s the way I am! Can’t take the man out of the bog and all of that.

It’s like when the Rose of Tralee is over the school term starts, well when the Listowel races are finished the real winter is in the door to you. It won’t be long now until the clock will be going back and the darkness in the same door at 6 in the evening. I have to say I love this time of year!