They’re Off! Horse Racing in Skerries 1854-1925

By Dominic McQuillan – May 2021

What is Skerries famous for? The holiday camp on Red Island? Certainly. The wonderful stretch of beach that is South Strand? Without a doubt. The horse racing? Er, what? Horse racing? Yes, indeed. Once upon a time punters flocked to Skerries to put their money on sure-fire ‘racing certainties’ – and no doubt some of them lost their shirts.

The Skerries Historical Society May Zoom talk, ‘“They’re Off!” Horse Racing in Skerries 1854 – 1925’ by Dominic McQuillan covered twenty four days of racing spanning nearly three-quarters of a century although Dominic is sure there were many more racing events which he was unable to track down. 

It wasn’t just about the horses – though they were, of course, of paramount importance – but there were lots of other things going on too. Fireworks rounded off the Skerries Races in 1854. It was a real day out. One year the band of the 1st battalion of the South Wales Borderers provided a musical accompaniment to the proceedings, another year it was the band of the Metropolitan Police. I can’t picture military or police bands striding up and down the strand today!

The directors of the Dublin and Drogheda Railway were keen to have a finger in the pie. They offered prize money year after year for the Railway Plate and put on special race trains to bring thousands of race goers from the city out to Skerries. The prize money they offered must have been small potatoes to the revenue that the return tickets brought in. It wasn’t all plain sailing though. In 1903, all the horses running in the Railway Plate went the wrong way. To lose one horse might be said to be a misfortune, to lose them all looks like carelessness and one wonders what the jockeys had to say to the Clerk of the Course. At all events, they refused to run again and the race was declared void.

A couple of years later there was more controversy when King’s Council and Skerries resident, T S F Battersby, denounced the rowdyism and drunkenness which, he said, went hand in glove with the race meetings. Skerries had been desecrated, he complained, and hoped that the races would be banned henceforth. A stalwart of the Golf Club, newly opened in 1906, Mr Battersby was clearly not a follower of the turf.

Racing continued through some difficult years. The superstitious might have been very wary during the 1921 Skerries Races when Irish Republic was a faller in one race while Black and Tan romped home to win. Luckily life didn’t imitate art in this case!

Nothing lasts forever and eventually the ‘anti-racing element’ got the upper hand. The last meeting for which Dominic has found records being in 1925. Should we be thankful that Skerries is no longer thronged with rowdy race-goers? Or is it time to revive the Skerries Races? It sounds like a great fun day out to me.