To close out the summer I thought I’d share a story of horses at the beach. No I don’t have photos of horses in lounge chairs or inner tubes, enjoying the sun and surf. I’m referring to the Laytown Strand Races that take place this year on September 6th. Laytown is a small town in Co. Meath on the east coast of Ireland, and each year it hosts the only Turf Club sanctioned beach racing on the Irish and English racing calendar.
This year marks the 150 anniversary of the races. Originally the horses took second billing to the Boyne Regatta. The sailing was held during high tide, while the horses ran later in the day during low tide. In 1901 a local priest who was also a racing aficionado, got involved with the races and turned them into a well-organized event. Until 1994, competing horses charged down the beach to Bettystown, made a U turn and ran back to Laytown for the finish. More recently safety changes have removed the U turn, and the racing today takes place on a straight, level course along the Laytown stand. There are six races on the program, run over distances of between six furlongs and one mile.
For most of the year Laytown strand appears as any other along the coast of Ireland but as race day approaches, a race track gradually materializes.
An elevated three acre field with a good view of the strand begins to sprout temporary facilities for the big day including a parade ring, judge’s box, betting windows, weigh rooms, ambulance room, the bar, the secretary’s office and the grandstand.
In earlier days these facilities, as well as the crowd, were often down on the beach and the horses ran through a narrow gauntlet as can be seen in this video clip of the race in 1921 from British Pathe. For safety reasons the beach has been reserved for the horses in more recent years.
To commemorate 150 years of racing on the Laytown beach, the Race Committee has commissioned a book on the history of the races, Laytown Strand Races, celebrating 150 years.
Written by John Kirwan and edited by Fiona Ahern, the book features interviews, statistics, and historical facts about the Laytown Strand Races. The NSLM Library is working to obtain a copy to add to the collection. If you would like to take a look, please contact me to find out if we’ve received our copy.
Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail