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The Ballinasloe October Fair of 1829

Ballinasloe History Online
 Damian Mac Con Uladh

170 years ago Ballinasloe had a population of about 9,500 people. There was some industry in the town consisting of a brewery and some mills. Moclair's Meat Stove, a bacon curing business burnt down in October leaving the family destitute. "Fletches" which had been left out to dry fell into a fire, "blazed up" and engulfed the building. Other businesses would disappear in the following decade as they were unable to compete with cheaper goods now arriving in ever larger numbers on the Grand Canal. James Tyrell was operating a passenger service to Dublin on the waterway, which he started the previous year, with "craft leaving every second day". Demand must have been less than anticipated as only one year earlier a vessel left six days a week. A competitor, the Inland Steam Navigation Company, operated on the same route as well as providing a service to Limerick, which stopped off at Shannon Harbour, Portumna, Dromineer, and Killaloe. A first class fare to Dublin cost 14s 6d, with second class costing 8s.

The Fair and Prices:

The columns of the Western Argus reveal little excitement in the immediate run-up to the fair. Possibly the editor sensed that 1829 fair would be disastrous. His fears were justified and the editorial of 7 October exclaimed: "We regret to state that this fair [Monday and Tuesday's Sheep Fair] has been most destructive to the stock holders, there being a reduction from last year's prices on an average of from 4s to 5s each on ewes, and from 8s to 10s on wethers." One week later his view had not changed: "In the memory of the oldest farmers a more destructive session to the grazing interests than the present, has not occurred." 1816 had been up to then the worst fair in living memory (demand hit rock-bottom after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815), but the Western Argus continued "in '16, low as the prices were for stock, the farmers had their wool in store [...] and they had both a demand and price for the article".













Wednesday's Horse Fair was the only relief in a bad week of low prices. Lords Ormond and Bingham purchased "whatever was worth taking". A Mr. McDonnell of Duo Castle got the best price that year - 450 guineas for a pair of hunters. No figure was published for the total of horses presented for sale.

The Cattle Fair was similar in pattern to the Sheep Fair. Prices were down and one sorry individual who bought a lot of bullocks for �10 the previous year only got �7 16s after 12 months feeding. On average cattle sold for �2 5s per head.

The Argus offered three causes for the mediocre fair. High rents due to an "overweening appetite after grounds, overbreeding and the resulting difficulty in transporting [animals] across the water" and new measures to control the circulation of paper money all contributed to the collapse of prices and markets.

Notwithstanding the sorry state of agriculture prices, shop merchants and entertainers advertised in the hope of attracting the punters to sample their goods and wares during the week. 'At Farming Society Street' (the original name for Society Street) one could view what must have been the most fantastic and incredible exhibits ever to have crossed the Suck: "That beautiful race mare PINCUSSION commonly called Creeping Jenny, with seven legs shod and stands on six feet, the seventh far advanced and eighth growing, fifteen hands high." This horse won the City Plate at Canterbury in 1823, and 25 Guinea Stakes at Newmarket the following year. If this was not enough amazement for one night, spectators were also invited to inspect the 22 year old "small Lilliputian or Whistling Man of the Wood, weighing in at one pound and 8 ounces". Genetic defects may cause an extra leg to grow, a human weighing so little is beyond belief!

Those seeking accommodation were invited to stay at the "Old Established Black Horse Hotel and Tavern", which provided "a number of well-aired beds and commodious bedrooms". Stabling for 60 horses was also on offer and the proprietor, J O'Grady, was also putting "a number of cast and reduced horses of the constabulary up for sale".

  • Note: This is an edited and revised edition of an article that appeared in the October Fair and Festival booklet of 1999. All information and quotations are from the the The Western Argus, September and October 1829.

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