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Connacht Tribune

Races stir up memories of politics rather than ponies

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Bertie Ahern at Galway Races at the height of the 'Fianna Fail tent' era

It seems almost a shameful admission for a Galwegian to make but my interest in the Galway Races is only one or two notches above zero.

And it wasn’t as if we city kids weren’t exposed to horses growing up. My father, who worked for the Department of Agriculture, bought a horse when we were teenagers which were kept in a field near the Ardilaun Hotel. My younger brother took to horse-riding quickly and still loves horses.

Maybe I was at that teenage moment where you are indifferent to everything other than what your peers regard as important. But the gee-gees held no interest for me, then or now.

Sure, I went to Galway Races but the abiding memories had little to do with the phosphorous flash of colour and sound of speeding hooves as the horse zipped by the stand. It had to do with the funfair and the hurdy-gurdies when I was small, the fact that the pubs stayed open till 1am when I was a young adult.

Going to the races knowing nothing about horseracing is a disadvantage. There’s only so far you can go backing a horse because it has a catchy name. And you realise quickly too that the lads who got inside information from the horse’s mouth had actually been speaking to Shergar in their own homes with nobody else listening. I often wonder was the term ‘bum steer’ invented in Ballybrit?

When I started off as a reporter with The Connacht Tribune, the hardy annual story every year was to quantify the exact extent of what it was worth to the city each year. You would ring the race track, the local tourism chief, a few councillors, pub owners and shopkeepers.

And then you would pluck a figure from the air that was one-tenth science and nine-tenths hunch. The only important thing was the amount was bigger than the previous year. The vital component of the story was that the word ‘splurge’ would get its annual outing in a headline and first paragraph.

I made a terrible mistake one year when I left out the word ‘million’ in my copy and informed the readers of The City Tribune that Galway was set for a £13 splurge.

Always there was a bit of a mixture of puritanism and hypocrisy on my part.

I kind of disapproved of the excess and void-headed behaviour – the all-night poker sessions; the all-night drinking sessions; the 24-hour non-stop gambling. The lack of proportionality, the approval of all this behaviour, the fact that it was all filed under the generic heading of ‘craic’ all jarred with me a bit.

So, for me, if there was one week of the year to make myself scarce in Galway it was the week of the Races. And so that seemed a good enough solution to keep this killjoy away and the legions of Irish punters happy without having their ‘craic’ interrupted by a holier than thou.

But then, as luck would have it, politics began to rear up its ugly head. The Galway Races always happened to coincide with the end of the political year and half the TDs and Senators in the country would decamp to Galway.

It was a particularly Fianna Fáil phenomenon. Bertie Ahern always went down to Galway before going on his holiday to Kerry. Charlie McCreevy, when he was Minister for Finance, would spend the whole week there with his binoculars looking like a piñata pony with all the multicoloured ribbons aflutter.

And so too would Brian Cowen, before and during when he was Minister, but always more low-key than the flamboyant McCreevy.

When the economic situation seemed very strong in the 1990s, somebody in Fianna Fáil’s fund-raising department came up with the idea of the party putting up a corporate tent in Ballybrit and getting people to stump up vast amounts of money from the pleasure of sharing crab, prawn sandwiches and salmon with the likes of The Bert, Charlie, Cowen and the rest of the gang.

It was like Great Gatsby for the Soldiers of Destiny. Suddenly every mover and shaker in Irish society was lining up to get into the tent, to make large contributions and to rub shoulders with the leading members of the Government.

Seanie Dunne was there and the Bailey brother and Bernard McNamara. And just about every other developer and banker and speculator you could shake a stick at. And so every year, we political journalists would make the pilgrimage down to gawk into the tent (like the Downton Abbey staff) and watch all the so-called influencers at play.

It was mainly just people standing around drinking and eating and talking and gambling – very boring to the onlooker. What was important though was the identity of the people and the amounts they were putting into the coffers of Fianna Fáil. The Fianna Fáil tent at the Galway Races became the symbol of all that was wrong during those years of excess.

You had all those separate camps ruling the roost, oiling each other’s palms in one way of another. When you have that kind of close relationship, you have to be a very strong human being indeed to be able to resist comprising or conceding your position.

And as we have seen too often in the past politicians usually have spines and backbones with the strength of marshmallow. After a few years of excessive focus and spotlight, Fianna Fáil finally copped on that the caper might be great for fund-raising but it was dire for image and publicity. The party gradually began to pull back from it and eventually abandoned it altogether.

But it was too late. When the economy crashed and everything started to go south, the ‘Galway tent’ became a pejorative term for describing the Fianna Fáil brand of clientilism, where favours could be bought and certain wealthy people were always accommodated.

The Galway Tent was a pretty noxious example of that phenomenon. It is still true that if you are wealthy, or belong to a wealthy and powerful group or lobby (doctors, lawyers, farmers, financiers, big business, some public service trade unions) your level of access to government (and extent of influence) will always be much, much higher than the ordinary citizen who are the drone bees of Irish society and pay all their taxes.

While it was flagrant during the Fianna Fáil years, it is still evident and explains in some way the disparities in income gaps between the wealthiest in our society and the poorest. I’m not decrying the Galway Races.

I’ve met legions of people over the years for whom the week is their highlight of the year. Sure it’s all about splurges and craic and madness. And that’s all fine and dandy.

People can manage their own money as they see fit. But if there is one case where politics and sports should not mix, it is this. It important our political decision-makers remain sober and boring and predictable in how they manage our money.

Connacht Tribune

Free House provides a launch pad for Galway’s musical talent

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Turnstiles...providing a launching pad for themselves and others.

Groove Tube with Cian O’Connell

Back in the summer of 2019, a series of ticket-free, DIY gigs took place in a packed-out Club Áras na nGael on Dominick Street. Dubbed Free House, the nights breathed life into Galway’s local music scene and raised the profile of the featured acts – as well as that of the venue itself.

It began as a vehicle for punk four-piece Turnstiles who – largely through bass player Jake Tiernan – curated and performed in the events and, as they went from the strength to strength, so too did the project.

Now, as venues prepare to welcome fully-fledged gigs back, Free House is returning, with Jake and Turnstiles’ drummer Luke Mulliez facilitating the project.

Beginning this Friday with two surprise bands back in Áras na nGael, the plan is to stage an event every two weeks.

When they first occurred, the gigs were defined by their inclusivity as much as the quality of the acts that performed. It was all manner of artist in a venue that could host any type of gig-goer. The challenge now is to cultivate the same atmosphere in an ever-changing environment.

“I’ve had this fear that, even for the next year, everything is going to have to be super regulated and what was good about those gigs was that everything was unregulated,” Jake admits.

“The furthest I can see restrictions going is a capacity limit so if they say ‘a hundred people max’ then that’s fine. We could have a hundred free tickets and I think we could get the same atmosphere.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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Connacht Tribune

One half of Hollywood’s golden couple sings Galway’s praises after trip

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Magic Mike star Joe Manganiello and his chihuahua Bubbles, with Fergus Lally of Galway’s Celtic Chauffeurs at the Cliffs of Moher.

He may be married to the highest paid actress in the world, but that did not stop Magic Mike star Joe Manganiello savouring the best that Galway had to offer – hailing the people, the cheese, chocolate and salmon during his trip west.

The American actor, who played stripper Big Dick Richie in Steven Soderbergh’s box office hit Magic Mike, was not joined by Modern Family’s Sofía Vergara until a week later on his trip around Cork.

But he did ring his wife of six years in the US while exploring the countryside of south Galway and Clare with guide, Fergus Lally, who had picked him and his chihuahua Bubbles up from the Glenlo Abbey Hotel in Bushypark on the city’s edge.

“I had a great time with him. I brought him to the Cliffs of Moher and along the way we stopped off at the Hazel Mountain Chocolate factory, the cheese shop at the Aillwee Caves and he had a tasting at the Burren Smoke House in Lisdoonvarna,” reveals Fergus.

“He had an amazing time tasting all the foods. The back of the car was full – everybody did well out of him. He was blown away with the places I brought him. He loved the history of the Corcomroe Abbey and Dunguaire Castle in Kinvara. He was a great guy. I was delighted to drive him. The two of us just clicked.”

Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now – or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie  

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Connacht Tribune

Mini pause proves there are no easy routes to recovery

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Melbourne...continuous lockdown for most of the past two years.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

You think we have it bad this week – what with the delay in a full reopening?  You could be living in Melbourne. The city with a population of five million has been under almost continuous lockdown for most of the past two years.

Since March 2020, there have been 262 days of lockdown in Melbourne, across six periods where people’s movements were incredibly restricted. That included curfews between 9pm and 5am.

Australia and New Zealand were two of only a handful of countries in the world which pursued elimination, rather than containment, strategies with the virus, or Zero Covid as it was called.

For a long time, it seemed like the correct strategy, the one setting the standard. Both countries clamped down hard with very restrictive lockdowns and effectively closed their borders.

They threw all their resources into testing, contact tracing and even testing the wastewater. Those who were identified as cases and close contacts were isolated. The countries also introduced mandatory hotel quarantine.

And it was very effective; when the Alpha (Essex) strain hit Ireland and other countries in December and January, both countries were fully open and enjoying unrestricted access to stadiums, hotels, restaurants, schools. Anytime, there was the hint of an outbreak strict local and regional lockdowns were imposed, some for several weeks, some for longer.

Sure, there were long and severe lockdowns. But there was also a lot of freedom, over 450 days without restrictions.

The strategy only worked if you cut off the country completely from all other countries in the world. New Zealand, for example, did that because it did not have sufficient capacity to deal with the kind of crisis China and Italy had faced, when people died because they could not be intubated, or there were not enough ventilators to go around.

There were downsides. The cost, for one, was exceptionally high. It meant a huge diminution in people’s personal rights. Limited availability in mandatory quarantine hotels meant a lot of New Zealanders and Australians living abroad were prevented from returning home.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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