Boasting a truly stunning backdrop, Killarney is one of the most scenic racecourses found on the continent, let alone in Ireland. Spectators here have virtually uninterrupted views of the mountains of Killarney National Park and the surrounding countryside, making it a place that is oozing with charm. Ireland’s most westerly racecourse does not just rely on its beautiful landscape, however, as there is plenty else for patrons to enjoy here including a range of excellent facilities.
Killarney was once voted the cleanest town in Ireland and it is a wonderful place to visit for those that have not yet unearthed its delights. The town centre, which is not far from the racecourse, is full of both vibrancy and culture. A little further afield and you have a range of historical sites such as Ross Castle and Muckross Abbey, as well as near-limitless hiking opportunities, often overlooking Lough Leane.
Close to the Racecourse
As so many tourists visit Killarney each year, there is a booming hospitality industry and no shortage of places to stay. Within the town itself, there are over 20 hotels plus many smaller guests houses and B&Bs. To make matters even better, the vast majority of places to stay are within walking distance of the racecourse. Hotels, such as the Lake Hotel, the Parkavon Hotel, the Killarney Earls Court and the Dromhall Hotel are all especially close, at most 15 minutes by foot.
You will find even more choices in the very heart of town, close to the train station. From here, the racecourse is only a 20 to 25 minutes stroll away and the route there is a very pleasant one.
Outskirts of Killarney
If you would prefer to be surrounded by countryside rather than tourists and shops during your stay, Killarney has plenty of places to stay outside the town centre. To the south of the town, just over the river, you have the likes of the Cahernane House, the Gleneagles Hotel and the Killarney Oaks Hotel. All of these have the benefit of still being within walking distance of the racecourse too.
Across to the north, heading towards Aghadoe there are options, such as the Innisfallen Hotel, the Castlerosse Park Resort and the Aghadoe Height Hotel. Simply put, Killarney and the surrounding areas can satisfy all needs and tastes so there is no need to look anywhere else. The only thing to mention is that this is not the cheapest area to stay with the vast majority of hotels charging comfortably over €100 a night for a double room.
About the Racecourse
There are so many reasons people visit Killarney and the picturesque racecourse certainly features high on the list for some. Without feeling exclusive or unwelcoming, this small racecourse is both charming and well-maintained. Visitors love coming here and it can be a particularly wonderful place to be as the sun sets, something which happens during the eight evening meetings held here. Whether afternoon or evening though, there is no bad time to take a trip to this racecourse.
Racing is held between the months of May and October across four separate festivals and there is a mixture of flat and National Hunt racing among them. As visitors come from far and wide to visit the area, it is worth covering all the possible ways of arriving. For those coming from abroad, Kerry Airport is only 15 minutes away by car while Cork and Shannon Airports are reachable in under 90 minutes.
If leaving from Cork, the number 40 bus service runs every hour while from Limerick the 300 service runs every two hours. You can even arrive at Killarney without too much faff from Dublin, on the other side of the country. The aforementioned 300 bus service joins the two areas while it is also possible to catch the train and simply change at Mallow. In both cases, the journey time is around three and a half to four hours. Most bus services will drop you off in the town centre and from here you just have a 15-minute walk to the racecourse.
Driving is, of course, the other option and the racecourse can easily accommodate a large number of cars. Conveniently located free parking is available both in the centre of the course and adjacent to it. There will be signposts on the approach roads to the racecourse directing you there if needed.
Horses run right-handed across Killarney’s course which has a shape that is something between an oval and a clothes hanger. There are a couple of tricky turns to navigate, particular the first one after the winning post, but there are some nice long straights involved too. The final home straight is slightly deceptive though as it bends very slightly to the left the entire way through. As such, you really want the runner you have backed to be close to the inner rail.
Both the jumps and flat course are considered to be very fair, lacking much in the way of draw or positional bias. Specifically focussing on the former and the fences at Killarney are very much on the welcoming side so the fallers rate here is not particularly high. While you can get away with not being a great jumper here, sometimes some degree of stamina can prove handy. Despite being a summer course, it does not take too much rain for the ground to become testing here.
A smart/casual dress policy is encouraged at Killarney but there is no strict policy in place dictating what visitors can and cannot wear. The general smart/casual recommendation is stressed even more for anyone spending time in a hospitality area.
Due to the ‘Best Dressed’ and ‘Ladies Day’ competitions that run during July and August, many visitors choose to make an extra effort for these fixtures. You will see an array of hats and fascinators being worn but while these are most welcome, there is no obligation to dress up fancily on these days.
Killarney has two main stands, the largest of which is located above the Carvery Restaurant and Jim Culloty Bar. This central stand is fully covered by an overhead roof and provides a significantly elevated position from which to watch the action. Further up the home straight you have, on the other side of the Tote, the Maurice O’Donoghue Stand, named after the Irish actor best known for playing Father Dick Byrne in Father Ted.
This stand is very basic, simply some concrete steps with a couple of handrails. There is only overhead cover across the top rows or if you head into the Coffee Dock which is the nearby indoor area. While most people watch the action from these two stands, it is not the only
place providing a good view of proceedings. Situated beside the parade ring is the snazzy Panoramic Restaurant which is equipped with an outdoor balcony.
To gain access to the restaurant you will need to purchase a hospitality ticket and this comes at a significant premium. You do get plenty for your money though as in addition to the private balcony you will have a reserved table, a three-course meal and a complimentary racecard. You do not need to fork out a lot of money for a fine day at the races though as a standard general admission ticket provides several excellent viewing areas and access to the parade ring. Such a ticket typically costs €15 to €20 for adults and €12 for students/OAPs (ID will be required).
Rather than spacing their 13 annual fixtures across the summer months and autumn, Killarney instead hosts four separate multi-day festivals. Things kick off with a three-day May Festival after which you have a five-day July celebration, a three-day August Festival and a newly added two-day affair in October. Out of these, although all popular meetings, it is the July Festival, which is Killarney’s real jewel in the crown.
Featuring both flat and National Hunt racing, this big celebration of racing begins with a series of evening race days. The schedule swaps to the afternoon for Friday’s grand finale though and this is also the day allocated as Ladies Day. It is, for this reason, the course consistently welcomes a huge crowd on the final day. All other days have a vibrant atmosphere but just not to the same extent.
Historical records tell us that racing first took place in Killarney back in 1822. Racing was ultimately made possible in the early years thanks to the support of Lord Clanmorris and the Earl of Kenmare. The pair were keen racing enthusiasts and in 1827, the former managed a sixth-place finish in the Kenmare Stakes, which was the most major event at the time.
1936: Killarney Racecourse Opens
For over a century, there was no fixed home for racing in Killarney as the action took place across multiple different courses. It was only in 1936 that the racecourse active today opened its doors to the public. Although Killarney has fared well since, the same cannot be said about Tralee Racecourse located just 30km north. Although it was a loss for Irish racing when the course was forced to shut in 2008, it has helped steer more racegoers towards Killarney.
The closure of Tralee Racecourse happened to coincidence with the completion of a five-year development plan at Killarney in which around €5m was spent on improvements. The project, which was partly funded by Horse Racing Ireland, included a brand-new corporate building with a 150-person capacity. Additionally, a new tote building was added along with a new weighing room, public toilets, a club bar and changing facilities.