Fair Day


Fair days in Ireland were very important and people walked for miles on the day to go and sell their livestock. The history of fair days goes back several hundred years. The fair days of the early years however were occasions where only the gentry were in a position to buy and sell and the ordinary people were there just to serve their masters.  Political movements used the fair day to gather support for their policies and this was particularly true of the ‘land leaguers’ during the fight against landlordism. When the land question was settled, the fair day took on a much more serious role for the small farmers, now masters of their own land.

To start with, there was never a fair in Doon but a Bonham  (piglet) market was held pretty regularly in the village.  Cappamore was the nearest village in which a fair was held and it took place four times a year.  Locally there were also fairs in Cappawhite, Newport and Kilcommon.  In Tipperary town the fair was held every third Tuesday of the month and Nenagh and Cashel would also have been very popular fairs for the people of Doon.  A fair was never held on a Saturday or a Sunday in Co. Limerick.  People left home at unearthly hours in the morning in order to walk their cattle to the particular village, town  or city.  One of the memorable fair days in Cappamore was on 12th December 1962 when it started to snow at 3pm and continued to snow on and off up to 8th February, 1963. That was the last time prior to 2010 that the Blackboy river was frozen over and people walked across it.

The local schools would be closed on fair days so those days were eagerly looked forward to by the schoolchildren.

Barriers would be erected outside shops and premises on the day to protect against the crush of the cattle. Cattle were never allowed to stand outside a Church.  They could stand across the road from the Church but not in front of it.

 People walked for miles with their cattle and if they weren’t sold they had walk them back home again. Farmers and jobbers (cattle buyers) appeared in abundance. It was a day for wheeling and dealing and at times it would seem that no animal would ever be sold but finally a great deal of haggling would be followed by the hand stroke which meant a deal was struck! This wasn’t the handshake as we know it but one man would put out his hand, palm upwards and the other man would blow into his own hand and would meet the outstretched palm in a downward chopping motion and a slapping sound could be heard. There was no written contract - none was needed at a time when a man’s word was his bond. Many a row also ensued and at times a deal could only be completed over a few pints in the pub.  A bit of matchmaking also took place on fair days.  Through shared knowledge and discussion a father would meet a particular man and after some negotiations money would be exchanged and the deal sealed to marry off his daughter.

 A lot of local shops and private houses in the villages and towns where the fairs were held would provide teas and food for the travelling farmers and jobbers on that day.  It was a long day for the men and a decent meal was necessary to see them through it.  A fair day was a ‘men only’ affair. There were no women to be seen. The exception to this was at the Bonham market where women were allowed to attend as they were usually the people who would feed and rear the bonhams.

One of the major fairs was held on the Fairgreen in Limerick on the last Friday of every month. Large amounts of people from Doon and from all the local villages and towns would set out at around 1am in the morning and head for Limerick with their cattle. It took well over 4 hours to walk cattle from Doon to Limerick. A lot of cattle sold at this fair were bound for England so special trains were laid on and the cattle were herded up the Jail Boreen to the railway station and put in carriages which took them to Dublin Docks.

Cattle at that time were of the Shorthorn and Black Polly breed and cows could live to 25 years of age whereas the lifespan of a cow nowadays is only about 12 years. The farming methods at that time were less intensive and the cows were treated with great care. The cows were overwintered indoors but the rest of the cattle would have spent the winter outside. The breeds of Shorthorn and Black Polly were quieter animals and so could be more easily herded for miles and more easily controlled while standing in the villages and towns where the fairs were held.

The hawkers which we got used to attending agricultural shows in later years didn’t exist then. Outside of the cattle, the only other items sold on fair day would be trees, shrubs, hedging and also clothes.  Hanafins car from Thurles always attended the local fairs from which they would sell clothes.

The local rate collector would attend on the day and the local bank would always be open. Sub banks and visiting banks would also be open for business.  Money was scarce at that time and the livestock the farmers sold at the fairs was for the most, their only source of income and the money made from the sale of the cattle would pay outstanding bills and also the farmers would stock up on food supplies for the months ahead.

The fairs fizzled out in the mid 1960’s. The marts took over then. In some towns for a period of time the fairs and marts carried on simultaneously until eventually the fairs ceased to be. The marts provided a fairer way of selling cattle and also the necessity to control or attempt to control animal disease gave cattle marts an advantage over the fairs.


Eileen Moloney

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