A Day at the Fair

On the 16th December 1756 George II granted to the Earl of Donegal the right to hold: ‘Two fairs yearly at the Town and Lands of Ballyclare’.

At first the fairs were markets for buying and selling animals and goods but soon they grew to four in a year. The May and November fairs became the most important as it was there that the farmers hired their labouring men and servant girls for the next six months. The May Fair was traditionally held on a Tuesday in late May but in the nineteenth century such was the demand for horses that the Monday was given over to the trade.

Local farmers needed horses to plough and transport their produce, while Belfast traders sought carriage horses and sturdy animals to pull carts. Any of the bakeries alone would need a hundred animals. The great days of the horse fair ended with the First World War and growing mechanisation.

May Fair 1907

Old photo thanks to Ballyclare Historical Society.

This photograph was taken in 1907 the Thatch pub on the left was replaced by an Ulster Bank branch. The small cottage on the extreme right is the oldest dwelling in Ballyclare where the Presbyterian minister hid some United Irishmen after the Battle of Antrim in 1798

In the nineteenth century the working day was from dawn to dusk the May Fair day was the only break in the year when young farm hands could be free to enjoy some simple fun.

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This year’s Fair began yesterday with the Main Street again echoing to the sound of horses being exercised and dealers shouting, while the area around the Town Hall saw the return of Cullen’s amusements, a Continental market and live music performances. The local football ground at Dixon Park played host to a Shetland pony show, a Teddy Bear’s Picnic and a display by the Police Service for Northern Ireland (PSNI) Dog Team.

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The Fair will reach its climax on Saturday 24th May with the Mayor’s Parade and a host of activities in the Sixmile Park, including a rodeo show by visitors from the borough’s sister city of Gilbert, Arizona, helicopter rides, Trialstars Motorbike Team, World of Owls, a climbing wall, laser clay pigeon shooting and a military vehicle show. The festivities conclude with a fireworks display at 10pm in the grounds of the Leisure Centre.

8 thoughts on “A Day at the Fair

  1. In this age of motor vehicles, it’s hard to imagine a time when everyone was so dependent on the horse. And instead of moaning about traffic congestion, they were all moaning about the heaps of stinking horse manure everywhere!

    Mmmm, all those displays of food are mouth-watering!

  2. Grannymar

    It wasn’t a horse you were looking for at all…

    I know you… you were chasing farmers again! 😀

    I went to the annual horse fair in Clifden (Connemara) last summer and it was quite an education. It felt like stepping back in time watching a tradition so steeped in history. You weren’t properly dressed unless you had a horse-box in tow!

  3. Nick ~ All that horse manure was great for the roses 😉

    Steph ~ Will you stop letting out my secrets or the Toyboys will be jealous! 😉

  4. Grannymar,

    You have brought back an issue I had with my Mother that I always thought would be disclosed ONLY on a psychiatrist’s couch!

    When I was a kid both the milkman and the breadman came on our street in a horse and wagon. The horses often relieved themselves in the street. Huge piles of horse manure were common.

    One day it dawned on my Mother that the manure would make a wonderful fertilizer for her rose garden, so she sent me into the street with a bucket and shovel to pick up the horse poop.

    Of course, all my pals saw me in the street shoveling manure into my bucket and stood around taunting and laughing at me. Their Moms didn’t make THEM pick up horse manure so they could say almost anything to me with impunity. This went on all Spring. As soon as the milkman appeared on the street the kids would gather around the pile and wait for me to show up with my shovel. How humiliating!

    I begged my Mother not to make me do that anymore but my pleas fell on deaf ears. The roses were stunning, bushy and bright, and she wasn’t about to give that up for my vanity.

    Her roses won blue ribbons at the flower show, but her daughter was a candidate for the couch!

    Now that I have told the whole World about it, I feel better.
    How much do you charge for psychiatric care? I owe you!

  5. Nancy,

    The things our Mothers made us do! 🙄

    That was a lot of sh*t you had to put up with, Nancy 😉

    A daily dose of Grannymar taken with a pinch of salt should cure most things!

    I’m in danger of overdosing at the moment 😆

  6. I remember standing at Dixon Park one bitter cold winter’s evening watching the Comrades playing Larne – it was awful football. Ballyclare in May look much more inviting.

  7. Steph ~ I suppose you will suggest that next ‘The things our Mothers made us do’! 🙄

    Ian ~ am not sure that the weather is any better, it was very blowy yesterday.

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