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Maria Edgeworth's impressions of Ballinasloe, 1833

 Damian Mac Con Uladh

Maria Edgeworth's impressions of Ballinasloe

March 8, 1834

(Letter from Maria Edgeworth to M. Pakenham Maria Edgeworth, Esq.)

"I travelled with Sir Culling and Lady Smith (Isabella Carr). Sir
Culling, of old family, large fortune and great philanthropy, extending
to poor little Ireland and her bogs, and her Connemara, and her
penultimate barony of Erris and her ultimate Giants' Causeway, and her
beautiful lake of Killarney. And all these things he determined to see. (...) Mr. Shaw and the Dean of Ardagh, who dined with him here, gave him directions as far as Ballinasloe and a letter to the clergyman there. The fair of Ballinasloe was just beginning (...).

Kind enough I was, for I could not help myself, if I had been ever so
unkindly disposed towards my unknown friend. Up came, breathless, a
well-known friend, Mr. Strickland. Introduced amidst the baaing of the
sheep to my travelling companions, and, as well as I could make myself
heard in the din, I made him understand where we were going next, and
found, to my great satisfaction, that he would overtake us next day at
Ballinasloe, if we could stay there next day; and we could and must, for
it was Sunday. I cannot tell you--and if I could you would think I
exaggerated--how many hours we were in getting through the next ten
miles; the road being continually covered with sheep, thick as wool
could pack, all  'coming from' the sheep-fair of Ballinasloe, which, to
Sir Culling's infinite mortification, we now found had taken place the
previous day. I am sure we could not have had a better opportunity and
more leisure to form a sublime and just notion of the thousands and tens
of thousands which must have been on the field of sale. This retreat of
the ten thousand never could have been effected without the generalship
of these wonderfully skilled shepherds, who, in case of any disorder
among their troops, know how dexterously to take the offender by the
left leg or the right leg with their crooks, pulling them back without
ever breaking a limb, and keeping them continually in their ranks on the
weary, long march.

We did not reach Ballinasloe till it was almost dark. There goes a
story, you know, that no woman must ever appear at Ballinasloe Fair;
that she would be in imminent peril of her life from the mob. The
daughters of Lord Clancarty, it was said, "had tried it once, and scarce
were saved by fate." Be this as it may, we were suffered to drive very
quietly through the town; and we went quite through it to the outskirts
of scattered houses, and stopped at the door of the Vicarage. And well
for us that we had a letter from the Dean of Ardagh to the Rev. Mr.
Pounden, else we might have spent the night in the streets, or have paid
guineas apiece for our beds, all five of us, for three nights. Mr. and
Mrs. Pounden were the most hospitable of people, and they were put to a
great trial--dinner just over, and that day had arrived unexpectedly one
family of relations, and expectedly another, with children without end.
And how they did stow them and us, to this hour I cannot conceive: they
had, to be sure, one bed-chamber in a house next door, which, luckily,
Lord and Lady Somebody had not arrived to occupy. Be it how it might,
here we stayed till Monday; and on Sunday there was to be a charity
sermon for the benefit of the schools, under the patronage of Lord and
Lady Clancarty, and the sermon was preached by Archdeacon Pakenham; and after the sermon--an excellent sermon on the appropriate text of the
good Samaritan--an immense crowd before the windows filled the fair
green, and we went out to see. The crowd of good, very good-natured
Irishmen, gentle and simple mixed, opened to let the ladies and English
stranger in to see: and fine horses and fine leaping we saw, over a
loose wall built up for the purpose in the middle of the fair green; and
such shouting, and such laughing, and such hurraing for those that
cleared and for those that missed. As for the rest of the cattle-fair,
we 'lift' on Monday morning before the thick of it came on.

Source: Augustus J. C. Hare, The Life and Letters of Maria Edgeworth, Vol. 2, 1894. The complete text is available on the Project Gutenberg.

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