The annual horse races on Laytown Strand in County Meath are something truly special and earlier this week Dublin-based photographer Donal Moloney was able to check attending the striking event off his bucket list.
On Tuesday, jockeys and horses took to the beach, with the waves lapping in the distance, for the 149th annual event. Six afternoon races were held…once the tide was out.
The first recorded Laytown Strand Race was in 1868. It’s the only beach race that takes place under the rules of Ireland’s Turf Club.
Moloney told IrishCentral, “I'd been threatening for years to photograph the event. So, it seems, had every other photographer on the planet.
“Such a unique event only comes around once a year. It's no wonder grabbing a decent angle was so difficult.
“Nevertheless, I was glad to tick it off my bucket list.”
The Laytown Races have, for many generations of people living close to Meath, been a unique annual event and colorful family day out. Every year the strand is filled with racegoers, bookies, fast-food outlets, ice cream vendors, fairground rides, and roulette tables all sharing the strand.
Nowadays attendance numbers are in the region of 5,000, but this is a far cry from the 1990s when crowds would commonly reach 10,000.
The races are run over distances ranging from five furlongs to two miles but all races include a U-shaped turn at Bettystown where the horses make a colorful, sweeping return before heading back to the Laytown finish.
Back in 1868 the races took place in conjunctions with the Boyne Regatta and it is assumed that a rowing competition took place on the high tide and the horse races when the sea had receded. Charles Stewart Parnell, the great Home Rule leader, was one of the first stewards of the strand races.
Despite the Bishop of Meath’s opposition, in 1901 the local parish priest became involved in the organization and the races became a well-organized annual event.
In the 1950s and 60s Laytown was considered an important meeting for horses preparing for the great Galway Festival. With no all-weather surfaces for training at the time the sands at Laytown were considered ideal preparation for the Galway track.
Over the years many celebrities have been spotted at the Laytown races. In 1950 the Aga Khan, one of the sport’s legendary owners, and his wife the Begum were in attendance.
There is something undeniably special about these beach races, which Moloney captures beautifully in his photos. As the race organizers themselves have said, “It’s not Royal Ascot. It’s not Glorious Goodwood, but Laytown Strand Races…is a surviving feature of a culture fast disappearing from these islands and it is as much a part of our heritage as Puck Fair and the Rose of Tralee.”
* Donald Moloney is a professional photographer based in Dublin. Much of his work is photographing people. His work has been displayed throughout the world and has included campaigns for Coca Cola, Kellogg’s, Bank of Ireland and Vodafone, to name but a few.
He is currently documenting the lives of homeless individuals and the stories surrounding the decay in abandoned homes and buildings of those long forgotten around Ireland.
For more visit his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter (@karaokejogger) or check out his website, www.donalmoloney.com.