Listowel races have been a feature of the town since 1858 and have proved to be a major draw for racing fans who flock to the course in June and especially in September for The harvest Festival.
County Kerry is the most westerly county in Ireland and is a place rich in culture and history. Famed for its literary contributions and the many festivals held each year, a major part of those festival celebrations is found in market town of Listowel with its Writers Week and of course The Races .
The racecourse is within easy walking distance of the town which itself is some 25km from Tralee and 80km from Limerick, both of which can be reached by frequent train services from Dublin and during the festival buses carry expectant race fans to Listowel races.
The facilities at the course are impressive and friendly atmosphere combined with the thrill of the Listowel races makes for a great day out. The town of Listowel has a great many historic and cultural attractions besides and has some excellent pubs and restaurants.
The track at the course is a left handed oval with a circumference of one mile and two furlongs. There are hurdles and national hunt fences and the hurdles can be moved after each event to provide for different race variations.
Regular upgrading and redevelopment of the enclosure has resulted in modern and well equipped facilities for race-goers. Race day options include the Hannon Stand which has a reserved seating section and the Reserved Stand which hosts Tote betting facilities and two bars.
Recent additions include the New Stand Complex with a superb restaurant and public bars and an upper level which may be reserved for dining and corporate hospitality for between 40 to 100 guests.
In addition to the stand facilities there are
further bars, food outlets, shops, an on-course betting outlet and CCTV race
coverage with a big screen erected for the September Festival. After the races,
music and entertainment is laid on to continue the celebrations.
Senior citizens and students get in for half price and accompanied children under 14 get free admission. Ideal then for a family day out Listowel races offers a value for money sporting, cultural and leisure experience in County Kerry.
The Harvest Festival in September at seven days in duration is an action-packed week of the highest quality Flat and National Hunt racing, matching that of Galway races and is second only to that most famous festival in appeal and attendances.
The highlight of the week is Wednesday’s Guinness Kerry National. Friday is Ladies Day and showcases both local and international fashion with the unique charm and craic that Listowel famously has to offer. It attracts the largest attendance, often in excess of 26,000.
The Listowel Supporters Club Lartigue Handicap Hurdle is another highlight of the week and the Listed Listowel Stakes is one of the bigger Flat races at the Festival. There is also a two-day meeting at Listowel on the June Bank Holiday weekend.
The September Festival is as much a celebration of the town as the Listowel races and there is always plenty going on throughout the festival week. Buskers and street entertainers are commonplace as is live music in the pubs providing a fantastic social scene.
Cultural attractions include the Kerry Literary and Culture Centre, which celebrates the town’s most notable literary output and for those who like to indulge in some golf during their stay, there is a golf club in the town and nearby is the famous Ballybunion Golf Course on which such golfing luminaries as Tiger Woods and Tom Watson have played.
Traditionally a time when farmers came to
bet their harvest proceeds the festival has grown to become a major cultural
attraction in the town and a warm welcome is extended to all visitors who wish
to enjoy the last racing festival before Christmas.
In addition to the autumn festival held in September the course also host a three day Summer Festival in June, providing the ideal leisure opportunity for families holidaying in beautiful County Kerry.
The origin of Listowel races can be traced back to an annual gathering at Ballyeigh, Ballybunion, about nine miles from Listowel. This event, which can be traced back to the early nineteenth century, consisted of a variety of games, horse-racing and a pre-arranged faction fight which concluded the event.
Due in no small part to the disturbances surrounding these faction fights, the meeting at Ballyeigh was suspended and racing transferred to Listowel, where the first meeting took place in 1858.
An extensive and comprehensive history of the Listowel Races is available in the excellent book "Listowel Races – 1858 – 1991 A History, by local author John O'Flaherty.
Highlights in the history of racing at Listowel include…
1858 – First race meeting October 5th & 6th.
1862 – Racing over three days.
1858 – Temporary bridges erected each year over river Feale.
1910 – Work commences on the first permanent bridge crossing the Feale.
1924 – First permanent stand and enclosure opened.
1949 – Listowel Race Company incorporates.
1957 – First concrete stand erected.
1958 – Centenary Year.
1959 – Arrival of Macardle Moore Breweries as sponsors (subsequently part of Guinness UDV Ireland – our principle sponsors)
1966 – Spring Meetings commence in Listowel. One day in March and Two days in April.
1967 – A second bridge erected over the Feale.
1970 – Festival meeting extends to four days.
1977 – Festival extends to five days.
1980 – Hannon stand opened.
1987 – Listowel Races Supporters Club formed.
1998 – The New Hugh Friel Stand is opened.
2002 – Festival Meeting extends to seven days.
2005 – First June Bank Holiday Meeting Run. This Meeting replaces the Spring dates.
2008 – Listowel Races celebrates its 150th Anniversary.
How To Get There
Listowel is 25 km north-east of Tralee, 110 km north-west of Cork and 80 km south-west of Limerick.
Regular train service from Dublin (Heuston Station) to Tralee and Limerick from where there are special bus services to Listowel during the festival.
There are bus services from Limerick and Tralee to the racecourse during the festival.
Cork Airport is 123km from Listowel.