In the very heart of Ireland is where Kilbeggan Racecourse has been hosting racing for over 100 years. The County Westmeath track specialises in jumps racing but it does so outside of the standard season, instead it hosts all its fixtures between April and September. During this time, Kilbeggan serves up 10 days of racing, most of which usually manage to attract a good turnout despite the remote location of the course.
Kilbeggan itself is a very small town with the racecourse being one of its very few attractions. It is, however, home to a popular distillery that is open to visitors while the Charleville Castle is only around 25 minutes away by car. With enough to keep you busy for a day, you may wish to stay in the area overnight and for this several possibilities are available.
Should you wish to stay in Kilbeggan, the only option at your disposal is the Seber House B&B. Highly rated among guests, it lies in the centre of the town and not too far from the racecourse. At 2.5km away to be precise, the journey is technically walkable but you will find there is no dedicated footpath for much of the journey so this is not something we would recommend. Travelling by car will be much less stressful and the journey takes barely two minutes.
Tullamore – The Closest Sizeable Town
With only one place to stay in Kilbeggan and nothing in the surrounding villages, you may find it best to head 15 minutes south to the town of Tullamore. As a much more sizeable place, there is more to see here and more places to stay. For hotels, you have three options: a pair of fairly expensive four-star hotels, Bridge House and Tullamore Court, plus the more affordable Central Hotel Tullamore. Finally, you have the option of a bed and breakfast should you prefer in the south of town, which goes by the name Sea Dew.
Mullingar a Solid Alternative
While Tullamore is a fine place to stay, it is most definitely worth considering Mullingar, which lies to the north of Kilbeggan, just past Lough Ennell. Around a 20-minute drive from the racecourse, it is conveniently located and much like Tullamore, it has four different places to stay. The centrally located options are Annebrook House, Mullingar Park, the Greville Arms and the Newbury Hotel. The first two mentioned boast the best guest ratings but you cannot go wrong with any of them.
On the main road leading to Mullingar from Kilbeggan, you will also pass the quite luxurious Bloomfield House Hotel, Leisure Club and Spa. Although this will not be to everyone’s taste, it does provide you with a fantastic place to unwind after an evening of racing.
About the Racecourse
Kilbeggan is one of just three racecourses in Ireland that does not host Flat racing and the only one you will find in County Westmeath. It is practically surrounded by countryside as far as the eye can see but despite its rural location, the course is not that difficult to get to. A major reason behind this is the completion of the M6 motorway which opened in 2006, linking Galway to Kinnegad. Thanks to the construction of this 148km road, Kilbeggan is now just over 3km away from a major road.
To make matters even better, there is a turn-off right outside Kilbeggan meaning in less than five minutes you will go from the motorway to the racecourse. When arriving, you will not need to fight for a parking space as there is more than enough room for everyone in the free car park.
Unfortunately, if you rely on public transport, getting to the racecourse is not quite as simple. There is a direct bus service (763) that runs all the way to Dublin, taking an hour and 20 minutes but this will take you to the centre of Kilbeggan rather than to the racecourse itself. As mentioned previously, there is no footpath for much of the way to the racecourse so it would not be a pleasant walk.
You may find it easier therefore to get a train or bus to either Mullingar or better yet, Tullamore, as many more services run to and from here. After this, you will just need to book yourself a taxi to take you the rest of the way. This should not be overly expensive as the journey is only in the region of 15 to 20 minutes from either town. Tullamore will however be cheaper though on an account of being 5km closer to the racecourse.
The right-handed track at Kilbeggan is far from the easiest National Hunt course a horse will encounter. It is a tight circuit with some sharp bends and several rises and falls. The chase track, which is on the outside of the hurdles track, is a little more forgiving though as being on the outside means its turns are a little wider.
Races finish on a 300-yard uphill run-in here so horses do need to have some energy left if they are to make it to the line. Overall, given the various challenges of this course, it is a place at which some horses fail and others thrive. Course specialists, particularly in hurdles races, are therefore a common sight at Kilbeggan so be sure to check for any previous efforts here when working out your bets.
No strict dress policy is in operation at Kilbeggan but they do recommend that visitors choose a smart/casual outfit. This is certainly very much the norm here but you will not be kicked out for rocking up in an old jumper and old pair of jeans.
At Kilbeggan Racecourse you will find two stands. Situated side by side, the one further down the home straight is the older and more basic stand. While it is a no-thrills place to be, it does provide fully sheltered standing space for a large number of spectators close to the winning post. Across the upper rows, you will enjoy an excellent view of the track too.
The best views Kilbeggan can offer though are found within the new 800-square-meter main grandstand. At a cost of €2.5m, this new two-tiered pavilion replaced the tired old stand and gave the course a much-needed degree of modernisation. The ground floor is open to all but to gain but the top floor and its balcony overlooking the track, is a hospitality area.
Although not a stand, it is worth mentioning that Kilbeggan offers a Tented Village which is another fine hospitality area that can cater for up to 2,000 people. If paying the extra cost for admission here, you will enjoy a buffet lunch, a private garden area with a panoramic view of the racecourse and private betting facilities.
Although Kilbeggan provides two main options for giving guests first-class treatment, most people simply show up for the standard experience. If this is more likely to be you, know that general admission costs €15 for adults and €12 for students/OAPs. Accompanied children under 16 are admitted for free. If arriving as a group of 10 or more, the Summer Party Pack at €22 becomes available and this includes admission, a racecard, a €5 food and drink voucher and a €5 betting voucher.
Before we look at Kilbeggan’s most high-profile fixtures, it is worth mentioning that every meeting held here takes place in the evening. Unless their plans change, there is no afternoon racing to speak of which is highly unusual for a racecourse. The atypical approach works for Kilbeggan though as their attendance numbers are certainly respectable for a small racecourse.
Comfortably the biggest race to take place at Kilbeggan is the Midlands National, which became the course’s only pattern race when awarded Grade B status in 2021. It is not as challenging as some other nationals, coming in at 3m1f, but it is still a solid test of stamina for a summer event. The race is the spotlight event of the first July meeting, which is also something of a social occasion. On Midlands National day Kilbeggan runs a ‘best-dressed lady’ competition so you can expect to see lots of fancy outfits and a big crowd.
Although there are no other ‘big races’ at Kilbeggan another major meeting of theirs is the Summer Saturday Festival held in early August. Much like with the Midlands National meet, this is popular as it features the other best-dressed lady competition on the calendar.
The first evidence of racing taking place at Kilbeggan dates back to 9th March 1840. During this time there was a single race, called the Challenge Cup, organised by a local group of gentlemen which was valued at 40 guineas. There was so much interest in the event that it was reported that in the region of 30,000 people showed up to spectate. Despite the troubles Ireland faced during the decade, racing continued interrupted although it did not remain in one fixed location. Instead, it moved around the town, sometimes featuring where the racecourse is currently situated.
Racing in a Local Field
These early meetings stopped in 1855 but did enjoy a mini-revival in 1879. The short-lived return of racing took place at Ballard on 17th April after the Locke family, owners of a local distillery that is still operational today, provided a field in which to race. Racing survived here until 1885 but came back for good in 1901.
1901: Racing Moved to Kilbeggan
The return of local racing in 1901 took place at the present site of Kilbeggan Racecourse. Racing has continued here ever since except for a four-year period during World War II. This is an impressive run considering the various difficulties the country faced early in the 20th century. World War I almost saw the races cancelled but a last-gasp telegram from the House of Commons saved the day.
It was financial concerns rather than external threats that later became the problem for this Westmeath racecourse. The Racing Board threatened to close the venue on several occasions in the 1950s and 1960s as debt reached as much as £13,000. A huge push to raise money was made though with the racecourse committee and local people trying all sorts of ways to save their struggling racecourse.
The Switch to National Hunt
Having battled their way past a difficult period, fortunes began to turn at Kilbeggan. The 1970s proved to be a fine decade for the racecourse for two reasons. The switch to National Hunt racing in 1971 was the first success and the second came two years later as Kilbeggan began hosting sponsored races. With plenty of interest in local jumps racing, and people willing to fund it, Kilbeggan had the funds to open a new complex in 1990 and to purchase the racecourse lands.
Further improvements to the course followed not too long after such as the opening of the new pavilion at a cost of €1m in May 1999. There was also the resurfacing of the concourse area, the creation of the tented village site and widening the racecourse so it could accommodate larger fields. With investment totalling €1.7m, Kilbeggan offered an experience few racecourses in Ireland could provide at the time. Annual attendances subsequently picked up at a rapid pace, going from 24,000 in 1995 to 50,000 by 2000.