A holiday atmosphere prevailed as a €4m bonanza got under way with the opening of the July Festival Races, in Killarney, Co Kerry, last evening.
In overcast, dry conditions local punters and visitors began their annual joust with the bookmakers at the scenically-located lakeside track.
Around 18,000 people are expected to attend the four-day meeting, marking a high point in the tourist season and a welcome boost for hotels, guesthouses, bars and restaurants.
Now a sprightly 88, Donie Sheahan, a well-known GAA and racing personality, was among the oldest people studying the form in the enclosure.
“The first races I was at here was in 1951 and I haven’t missed a meeting since then. It’s a very important event for the town. I’ve always loved the races,’’ he said.
The pharmacist and former winning owner was kept busy shaking hands with and greeting the many racing friends he has made over the years.
Also relaxing was Fine Gael whip in the Seanad, Senator Paul Coghlan, who was hoping for inspired information about winners during the evening.
“I tend to meet the same people here every July — a lot of them take their holidays for the races year after year.
The races are great for Killarney,’’ said the senator, a founder member of the local racegoers’ club more than 20 years ago.
Special family attractions were put on, with children clambering on to bouncy castles and a rodeo bull, having their faces painted and attending a racing club.
This evening’s card features flat and national hunt racing, while tomorrow evening the racecourse will welcome some of the 2014 Rose of Tralee contestants.
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