Yesterday was the first day of the annual Galway racing meeting festival. Over the next seven days up to a quarter of a million paying customers will pass through the gates at Ballybrit racecourse on the outskirts of Galway city for Ireland’s largest racing carnival which has taken place each year since August 1869.
The event is now so popular Ballybrit has drafted in dedicated air traffic controllers to deal with the 84 helicopters registered to land at the track. A bevy of politicians, property developers and entrepreneurs will be avoiding the legendary traffic jams around the area by using one of the 300 landing slots a day at the racecourse. The new travel option costs €700 for a few minutes to escape the snarl and is growing in popularity.
Galway is Ireland’s most westerly city and the only city in the province of Connaght. Galway is a boomtown and is one of the fastest-growing cities in Europe. It has a population of over 70,000 and receives thousands more visitors every summer to what has been called the party capital of Ireland. The narrow streets are crammed with people in search of traditional bars and music.
Galway was first settled in 1124 when the King of Connacht Tairrdelbach mac Ruaidri Ua Conchobair built a strong castle called Dún Bhun na Gaillimhe ("Fort at the Mouth of the Gaillimh"). By the end of the 12th century, the English forces of Henry II defeated a western army and forced the King of Connaght to retreat and sue for peace. The first Galway city charters was granted to Galway over six hundred years ago, but the most comprehensive one which introduced the position of Mayor in the Borough, was granted in 1484.
The Local Government (Ireland) Act of 1898 democratised Local Government away from the prerogative of the landed gentry. In 1937, the Local Government (Galway) Act re-established the town of Galway as a Borough and incorporated the inhabitants and successors as a City Council under the name of “The Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Borough of Galway”. The city’s growth was acknowledged when the status of County Borough was granted to Galway in 1985.
However the current council are dealing with a major embarrassing headache. Over 230 people have become ill in the last three months due to an outbreak of cryptosporidium parasite that has contaminated large areas beyond the city and is threatening to spread into neighbouring counties. The city council is advising that tap water should not be used for brushing teeth, gargling, making ice or washing salads. Even the Archbishopric of Tuam has had to find an alternative source of holy water to avoid poisoning parishioners.
The use of bottled water is a daily reality in Galway because of poor environmental planning and enforcement. Dodgy environmental dealings and cowboy housing schemes have left many parts of the city and the county without waste systems connected to the main sewers. Many people have been prevented from building new homes on their family lands as a result of a decision by Galway County Council not to allow any more connections on the massive mid-Galway water scheme.
The city remains subject to a boil water order after three months. Now Galway's vintners and hoteliers are considering suing Galway City Council. Val Hanley, Chairman of Galway City Vintners and proprietor of the Hanley Oaks Hotel, told a Galway newspaper that the vintners and the Irish Hotel Federation had discussed the ongoing water crisis. The cryptosporidium outbreak has already cost both memberships in purchasing ice, water and filtration systems in order to keep customers safe. The racing festival will be provide a welcome distraction for the city and, one would assume, the vast quantities of bottled beer consumed will prove a welcome change from the bottled water.