Are ye going to the fair at all?
The leaves are turning and the winter is nigh as I type this column on days gone by. As it gets colder and the time changes I am prompted to use the term mart weather for some reason this was the time of year when we went to the mart in Ballina, this mart was first established in 1959 and took over from the former fairs of olden times.
The trip to the mart coincided with the mid-term break from St. Muredach’s and this meant that there would be all hands on deck to help load the cattle onto the trailer in the early October morning. Then there ensued a long day waiting for the sale and the viewing of the docket at the end with the price of the cattle on it.
The fair in former times was an equally exciting and momentous time but then you walked the cattle to the fair and the farmer and his drovers would set out early in the morning say 4 o clock and like the Padraic Colum poem they would set out to” Meath of the pastures from wet hills by the sea through Leitrim and Longford go my cattle and me”.
The market and fair has been with us for centuries. It formed a link and interdependence between town and country since the eighteenth century, the Quay, Bunree and Ardnaree are some of the oldest parts of Ballina along with Belleek and there was been a fair I b Ardnaree since 1612 when Sir Thomas Burke got the patent for the fair and the market was held there too. O’ Hara, Lord Baron of Tyrawley obtained a patent for fairs and markets in Ballina which increased trade in the town around the 1730’s.
The market is described as one of the best in the county for corn and horses inter alia and the is held on Monday whilst the fairs were held four times a year on the 12 May, 3 June, 12 August and 13 December. Tolls and customs were collected at the fairs and markets. The Ardnaree fairs were held on the 21 June, 11 October and 13 December. My mother recalls these fairs being held still in the early 1960’s when she used to be cycling to school and they were sight to behold. Up to the 1980’d I’d say from memory there was a calf market held in the square in Ballina near Tesco in the place of the old market square now occupied by the car park for Tesco and the town in general. They are changed times indeed.
Out the country in the surrounding districts there were markets and fairs too, Bonncionlon had a pig market from 1910 to about 1939 and this was a busy place with farmers coming from Foxford and other towns and the surrounding villages to sell their pigs and the dealers would be there McGarry and Sweeny and they would have the slaughter house open in order to kill the pigs and the Hazlitt would be sold in the street for a few pence, it was a major boost for the village each Tuesday.
In the nineteenth century a market was held in Bonniconlon and there were fairs held there in May, June Augusta and November. Foxford held a market each Thursday and there were cattle fairs there on 15 May, 25 June, 3 October and 10 December. The mart was always central to the farmer as was the fair and the market; and one man recalled for me in 1993 how in the early part of the twentieth century a long line of carts would be heading through the village of Bofield for the market in Ballina with their produce.
Written by James Reddiough (Copyright 2015)