most unique racing venue
in the heart of the midlands is one of the true success
stories of Irish racing. Kilbeggan Racecourse, just outside
the town at Loughnagore, is part of Westmeath heritage and
something the county can be justifiably proud of, but itıs
also testament to what can be achieved with vision, planning
and sheer hard work.
It hasnt exactly been all plain sailing for Kilbeggan
since horse racing was first staged in the locality over
160 years ago, but the modern history of one of the most
unique racing venues in the country has been marked by extraordinary
progress, ensuring that the track is one of the most popular
anywhere in Ireland and a thoroughly pleasant place to spend
a summers evening viewing the Sport of Kings.
So where and when did it all start? A long time ago, on
March 9, 1840, to be precise when a group of men came up
with the idea to organise a race meeting in Kilbeggan where
the main feature was a race for a Challenge Cup, valued
at 40 guineas, with 10 pounds added for good measure by
Between then and 1855 race meetings were staged at several
locations around the town, including the present site at
Loughnagore, but they then lapsed due to a combination of
land agitation and emigration.
However, the races were revived in 1879 and the first official
meeting was staged over a course at Ballard on April 17
of that year in a field provided by the Locke family, owners
of the renowned distillery which is still in operation in
Kilbeggan. Racing continued there until 1885, before the
meetings lapsed again.
But persistence was obviously the order of the day and another
revival followed in 1901 when the races were staged again
on September 2 that year, with a meeting at Loughnagore.
And with the exception of the troubled period between 1941
and 45, during the Second World War, race meetings have
been organised there every year, including 53 when Prince
Any Khan scored a famous victory on a horse with an unpronounceable
name, Ynys. The sympathies of the entire country must have
gone out to the unfortunate course commentator!
The voluntary committee survived serious difficulties during
the 1950s and 60 when the Racing Board withdrew financial
assistance, but during the 70s there were highly significant
developments which gave Kilbeggan Racecourse a massive boost
and helped pave the way for the tremendous success the venue
has enjoyed over more recent years.
The biggest move, and the one that makes Kilbeggan unique
among Irish racecourses, was made in 1971 when it was decided
to switch to all-National Hunt racing and stage no further
flat events. It was a big and bold step and one that many
thought would sound the death knell for the track, but it
was also one that worked out brilliantly and has helped
to make Kilbeggan what it is today - the envy of many other
Two years later, in 1973, the first sponsored races were
held at Loughnagore and it is highly significant that valuable
sponsorship is now so vitally important to the great success
story that is Kilbeggan Racecourse.
Fast-forward to 1990 and the progress at the track had advanced
to a stage where the magnificent new complex was opened.
Kilbeggan also won the Irish Racecourse of the Year Award,
which was fitting recognition of the huge amount of planning
and work that went into making it such an outstanding venue.
Another highly significant development was to follow in
92 when the course, consisting of 88 acres, was purchased.
Up to that stage Kilbeggan had the track on a lease basis,
which meant they were very much restricted.
There have been huge further improvements in recent years
which have helped make Kilbeggan a pleasure to attend.
These include the provision of superb restaurants and bars
and the magnificent Balcony suite on the first floor of
the pavilion which boasts top-class facilities to cater
for up to 200 people and offering a panoramic view of the
But such developments (amounting to a capital investment
of E2.1 million over the past 10 years) only account for
a small portion of the massive work that has gone into Kilbeggan.
There have been improvements to the track itself, including
its widening to cater for larger fields of runners, surfacing
of the concourse area, extension of the enclosure and development
of a new site for a tented village. And in May, 1999, the
fabulous new pavilion was opened.
Since 1992 the number of race meetings has increased from
three to the eight that will be staged this year and attendances
more than doubled from 24,000 in 1995 to 50,000 per year
at the start of the new millennium. With eight meetings
now, that figure will surely rocket and when all is said
and done, that is the acid test for any sports venue - the
number of people entering through the turnstiles. Kilbeggan
is certainly passing that particular test with flying colours.
An accurate indication of the impact Kilbeggan has made
is clear in the fact that course manager/secretary Paddy
Dunican has won the Irish Racecourse Manager of the Year
Award no fewer than three times, in 1996, 97 and 98.
There have also been major sponsorship developments which
have done so much to enhance Kilbeggan s reputation - with
the input of the business community vital to its growth
- none more so than the Elan sponsorship which commenced
in July, 1997 with the first staging of the Elan Midlands
National, a race won in its inaugural year by a horse called
Cristy s Picnic which was owned, among others, by film director
Neil Jordan and actor Stephen Rea.
An indication of just how important the Midlands National
is to Kilbeggan can be gauged from the fact that that particular
day has become Ireland s biggest race day outside the Budweiser
Irish Derby at The Curragh and the famed Galway Festival
The earlier years may not have been so progressive for racing
in Kilbeggan, but the venue has certainly moved on at a
frantic pace in recent times and answered the needs of a
modern day racing public who want their comforts after paying
their cash at the turnstiles. They also like big fields
of runners, which is a feature of Kilbeggan s all-National
Hunt menu, and the strong betting which such large fields
Yet, despite all its progress, Kilbeggan has, thankfully,
managed to hold onto its genuine rural charm and atmosphere.
Its setting, which affords superb views of the action, and
the fact that it caters purely for National Hunt racing
has a great deal to do with its appeal and undoubtedly account
for the huge number of people who simply wouldnt miss
an evening at Loughnagore. In essence, Kilbeggan Races are
more than a race meeting, they are a special social occasion.
Visitors are assured of that friendly atmosphere whilst,
at the same time, enjoying the action in modern, comfortable
Its all a far cry from that day over a century and
a half ago in March, 1840 when man and horse first participated
in the Sport of Kings around the green fields of Kilbeggan.
Taken from Maroon & White 2003