Why the Long Face?

Having lived in Dublin for the last few years, I have ‘missed’ the highlight of my home town’s social calendar every summer: The Galway Races. While ostensibly a celebration of hospitality, bonhomie, and sporting endeavour, it sends many of the city’s residents into hiding or away altogether, as the ravening hordes descend upon the town for a week of bacchanalian excess. I imagine those who love the festival the most are the bar and hotel owners, and among those who loathe it the most number the actual staff of those establishments. One notable proprietor decided to keep his restaurants closed last year, though in researching this article I see that the doors are open again this time around.

Most of the summers since my mid-teens that I spent in Galway involved working in retail, or more recently in the TEFL industry, so I escaped the pure hell of working in the hospitality industry for these 7 days every year. Nonetheless, the nature of my jobs meant that I was invariably in Galway to experience a week of piss- and puke-soaked streets, garnished with broken glass and innumerable fast-food wrappers. Oh how I miss it. Thankfully, the long weekend at the end of Race Week generally allowed me to get away somewhere, often to a very different type of festival; be it a underground punk fest or a rock/metal festival abroad.

But back to the main point. The whole festival is predicated on what the noted philosopher Bernard Black called a ‘circus of death‘. The sport’s defenders will often talk about how well the horses are treated, and clearly some owners and trainers do have some form of affection for the animals. Others, not quite. There have been many other well-documented cases of abuse of animals in the horse racing industry. Like this one. At the end of the day, the horse is status symbol, a plaything of the wealthy, and disposable when no longer a viable asset. I’ve heard the same argument, about race horses being treated well, made in relation to how well bulls in Spain are treated, before being sent into arenas and tortured to death.

Horses are treated well, as long as they are lucrative. Those that are not deemed to worthy, or are too old to race anymore, face the slaughterhouse. As people, even carnivores, in Ireland seem appalled by the prospect of eating horse meat, it is generally all exported to countries unburdened with the same cognitive dissonance in relation to diet. Some of the meat ends up in Tesco-brand frozen food of course. The U.S., on the other hand, has outlawed horse slaughter. So they get around this by exporting 130,000 non-race-worthy horses per year to Canada and Mexico, in appalling conditions, to be skinned and dismembered, often while still conscious.

The lucky horses, however, get to run around tracks in Galway, Punchestown, Ascot, Kentucky, etc. with miniature harlequins on their backs, in order to make money for their owners, while dapper lads in cheap suits, ladies in ornate hats, brown-envelope-accepting Fianna Fáil politicians, and unfortunate gambling addicts watch on. Should a horse get injured in the race, they are generally put to death. This year’s tally at time of writing totals 105 for British racecourses. A leg break for a horse is far more serious than it is for one of us, so defenders of the practice will again say it is more humane to put the horse down. So surely it would be more humane to not force them to race, thereby not increasing their chance of breaking a leg, or their neck?

But then this big money industry would disappear of course. The stud farms, pubs, hotels, drug dealers, and bookies need the cash.

So this week every year, I am never more content to be away from my otherwise wonderful home town. Fuck the Galway Races.

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