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August 8th 2001

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A Day at the Races
Ballintra - 'A Mini Galway' says Bookie

By Margaret Gallagher

Horses thunder round the Murvagh Race Course. Photo: Conor Sinclair

The crowds streamed towards Murvagh yesterday (Monday) afternoon. The reason - Ballintra Races had been revived, and after an absence of nine years were running once again in all their glory. Only the venue was different - the usual field owned by Denton Johnston was deemed too soft after all this summer’s rain, but an excellent alternative was found - thanks to Raymond Scott and Michael Walls who volunteered their lands at Murvagh to host the occasion. And what an occasion it was. Though the weather proved unkind, the crowds came out in force to enjoy a great day’s racing.

Joe McGlone opened up proceeding with a speech welcoming everybody and, being a retired language teacher, he was able to greet visitors from France, Germany, Italy and Holland in their own languages.

The meeting got off to a great start with Collie O’Donnell, the Michael O’Hehir of Ballintra races, handling the commentary and calling home the winners with great authority. Indeed, at the end of the day, Jackie Carron, PRO, said a special thanks to Collie for handling his position so professionally.

Michael Devaney, President of Races said “it was one of the best meetings in the North West or anywhere in Ireland, the field was excellent, there was a jolly crowd, plenty of bookmakers and lots of money passing hands.” Michael went on “We are all looking forward to this being an annual event and indeed are promised the same venue next year. Having said that I would like to thank Denton Johnston for the use of his field for past races.” Michael continued “As a breeder of show jumping horses, I look forward to breeding a flapping horse to win here next year. I would like to thank the stewards, chairman and secretary who worked so hard to make this such a successful day and also a special thank you to Michael Walls and Raymond Scott for the field.”

When asked had his job as President been a difficult one, Michael replied “This is the hardest job I had to do – give an interview to Donegal Times”. He finished by saying he was very happy with the day and had four winners.

Joe McGlone, Martin Quinn, Robert Davis, Michael Devaney (President),
Keith Anderson (Chairman), Brian Britton.

Proceeding down the field I visited the ‘weigh-in’ caravan where things were really busy. Susan Walls was taking entries with Laura and a very important man from the North, Doogy Thompson, was checking the weights of all the jockeys.

The next man I talked with was Denton Johnston. He told me the races were held on his field at Phillard, Ballintra since 1942. However, it was decided at a meeting ten days ago to change the venue to the Murvagh field owned by Raymond Scott and Michael Walls because of weather conditions. “I am delighted with the new venue and hopefully this field will be available for future races as this track is much more level and dry” said Denton. “This year’s event is one of the best attended race meetings ever held in Ballintra and it is due to the hard working committee and sponsors.”

I wandered around and met Maureen Walls “A great turnout of people and also a very high entry of horses and ponies from all corners of the country, just a pity about the weather. Though in saying that the crowd is great despite all the rain. Nobody has left and gone home.” Maureen commented.

The best dressed lady was Lisa Robinson, Rossnowlagh. Lisa looked stunning in a beautiful cream outfit with hat. Speaking to her, she told me she had bought her outfit in Geraldine Ogs, Ballyshannon. Sean Travers, Dublin, formerly from Ballintra presented Lisa with a cheque for £100 and a bouquet of flowers.

Lisa Robinson, Rossnowlagh with Sean Travers

Speaking with some of the bookmakers who travelled from Navan, Roscommon, Derry and Sion Mills, they commented that it was a great meeting with a lot of plush punters and they were very happy with their takings. All hope to be back next year. One bookie in particular, Tommy McBride, went as far as to say it was ‘A Mini Galway.’

Veterinary surgeons on site were Nynke and Ulrike along with Gerry Gilligan. All reported a quiet day with just one minor injury.

Sean McEniff was in his element “it was a great race meeting and there is as big a crowd here as there will be on Wednesday next in Sligo.” Sean said that he would hope that next year it would be a two day event. He also said that if the committee organised a hospitality tent he would invite some of his clients. Sean went on to say that the course was in great shape, it didn’t cut up with conditions, and car parking was excellent. He paid special tribute to the committee and also the Gardai who did a very good job.

Developer Brendan Toland of Ballyshannon who sponsored the 4th Race, the William Toland Memorial Perpetual Cup, enjoyed the meeting and hopes to sponsor the same race next year.

Heading on over the field I spoke with Big Bernie from N.W.R. who was having a ball of a time talking to all the glamorous ladies, and then I visited the side shows which unfortunately the weather did not favour. Earlier, the bouncy castle was in full swing, being enjoyed by all the children but unfortunately it had to be closed down when it became dangerous because of the wet conditions. There was face painting, nail driving, palmist and a guessing game - number of balloons in car.

Speaking with John Barnett he said they had had a good day despite the weather and that half the proceeds of the tea, coffee, face painting and other side shows were going towards Roberstown and St. Ernans N.S., Ballintra building fund.

Derek, the ice-cream man from Strabane, had a good day “Children eat ice-cream whatever the weather” he said. Patricia, Keith and Kevin who travelled from Armagh with one of the burger vans had also a busy day. They said despite the weather they were happy with their takings as they were on their way back from the Ballyshannon festival.

The best jockey prize went to Tom Malone. This prize was sponsored by Donegal Times, and presented by Conor Sinclair.

Donegal Times sponsored the ‘Best Jockey’.
Pictured at the Presentation to Tom Malone is Joe McGlone,
Margaret Gallagher and Conor Sinclair.

In all a great day enjoyed by the huge crowd that attended. On behalf of Conor and myself I would like to express appreciation for the helpfulness and courtesy extended to us by everyone at the course.

The Donegal Times, The Diamond, Donegal Town, Ireland

Tel: +353-73-22860 Fax: +353-73-22937