Fair Day in Bantry

Where there’s muck, there’s money

By Justin McCarthy, Butcher, Main Street, Bantry

“Fair day was the first Friday of the month. You see, you had the pig fair on
Thursday, then you had the cattle and sheep fair on Friday. Then you had a
big sheep fair in September, the first Friday, and then again in October.
Depending on the time of year you could have anything up to a thousand
cattle there, and maybe five or six hundred sheep. But on the Thursday the
farmers brought in the pigs in horses and crates. This would be the young
pigs, now - I’d say generally you’d have 50 or 60 crates of pigs.

On Thursday evening a lot of cattle would come in, because people had to
swim cattle in from Whiddy, and they had to walk cattle as far away as the
top of Borlin, from Kilcrohane, from Durrus, and out Colomane area. The
only person with a truck would be a buyer.

The farmers had a long road to walk. I walked cattle myself from Goleen
and from the Glengarriff fairs. It was a tough job because in those days the
fences weren’t all that great, and cattle would be breaking in as you came
along the road, and you had to gather them out of the field and get them on
the road again. ‘Twas no fun.

‘Twas a big day for the town. I suppose there’d be, on a big day now, on
a September sheep fair, you could have the bones of a couple of thousand
people there. And they all ate a bite. You see they were out all night, it
could be terrible bad weather, wet to their skin and just let the clothes dry
on them. Go in and have a bite to eat.
In the fall of the year when cattle would come out in numbers the cattle fairs
would be busier than the spring of the year when there wouldn’t be much
there. In actual fact a big day was May Day - all the farmers would come
to town on May Day. There’d be quite a lot of cattle showing on May Day.
That would be the first of the cattle coming out. Well then of course the
September fair was a very big day, because in those days you could have
thousands of sheep on the Square. And buyers would come from as far
away as Dundalk, Mayo, Galway... they’d buy the lambs here, they’d take
them and put them on after grass above, where they’d be after cutting corn,
and they’d fatten them up.

Bantry House owned the Square, and my grandfather had the Square
leased from Bantry house for Fair Days. And he would charge every farmer
coming in a toll on his cattle. And he’d employ men around the town... in
the “Customs Gap”, where the Boston Bar is now above, the road going up
to Scart Road. The men used to stand there taking “customs”, they used to
call it. Because they’d catch the farmers coming down there, coming down
Chapel Street. And there’d be another one out the top of Chapel Street, one
on Glengarriff Road, there’d be another one at the top of Church Street, and
there’d be one down on the Quay, and there’d would be one down by the
railway (near the old pier). And all the cattle going to the railway having
been sold on the Square, they’d be charged a tariff also. It was usually
sixpence (six old pence); I suppose sixpence was a lot of money in those

The usual saying when a buyer had cattle bought from the farmer was: “Sold
again, take him down to the Mallow Man”. This man was from Mallow; he
was an employee of CIE. He was the man who would board the cattle on the
train. A very good man at his job. You had to give him a little backhander
also-we won’t call them backhanders, we’ll call them tips-otherwise, you
wouldn’t get the attention that you should get. He used to make a lot of
money in tips

No, the people of the town didn’t mind the mess left after the Fair, because
the Council always swept up the place afterwards. You know what they say,
where there’s muck there’s money. That’s putting it very mildly. But now
you see you can’t have any fairs with all the new regulations governing
cattle. You couldn’t stand any cattle below in Bantry Square, but you can
stand sheep there.
And yes, the marts finished the fairs. But I’ll tell you something, I’d say a
lot of farmers regret the down fall of the fairs. There’s another thing in it
you see - when you’re selling in the marts the tax man has an account of all
your movements, whereas when they sold in Bantry fair it was a different
ball game altogether. Nobody knew what was happening - the tax man
couldn’t keep going around after all the farmers.”

Boxing The Cattle

By Jack Sheehan, Farmer & Local Historian, Ardahill, Kilcrohane
“They left on a Thursday driving the cattle to Bantry fair, I did it myself.
Drive the cattle in, and they were put up into a field back of the railway that
was belonged to Crowley, the fellow of the Square, Crowley’s field. They
were left there until next morning, fair morning, when they’d go up to the
field and the cattle were collected and brought down to the Square for sale.
Some started about 11 o’clock at night and gave the night on the road,
driving. That was a common thing.

After the sale the cattle were marked on the back with scissors, they cut
the mark on the back. They were all taken by train at that time, and there’s
where you met the fellows you had to pay “customs” to. There had to be
someone there to mind the cattle, and if you gave him a bribe he’d put your
cattle in before the others. Putting the cattle into the train, “boxing the
cattle”, they called it. You had a ticket, and you’d take a ticket to him and
he’d mark it. The buyer wouldn’t pay unless your ticket was marked.
Out by the Abbey, if you were taking home the cattle that you took and
didn’t sell you didn’t have to pay. But if you came in and bought, that
animal was marked, they were looking for the marks, you had to pay another
sixpence. For ease, anyway, you paid and that was that. Sixpence an
animal, and cows then were making about seven or eight pounds.”
Wolfe Tone Square is named after the United Irishman, Theobald Wolfe Tone,
who in 1796 brought an armada of 50 French warships and 15,000 soldiers
to Bantry Bay to invade Ireland and overthrow English rule. Due to very bad
weather and bad communications the Armada was unable to land. The story
of that expedition is well told in the Bantry French Armada Heritage Centre
which is on the grounds of Bantry house, and is open to the public.
Bantry House is the ancestral home of the Earls of Bantry, who received
their honours when one Richard White, a local landowner, reported to the
authorities the presence of the French fleet in Bantry Bay in 1796. Bantry
house is famous for its tapestries and numerous collections of the second
Earl of Bantry; this fine Georgian house and beautiful gardens is open to
the public.

The Westlodge Hotel is so named because it stands where the West
Gate Lodge of Bantry house once stood. Standing on 27 acres, this 100
bedroomed hotel, leisure centre and cottages was purchased from Bantry
house in 1968; the Walk follows the path of the original entrance to the gate
lodge. There are smaller walks within the grounds themselves, and as you
come from Bantry house to the hotel there is a fine waterfall on your left.
The Walk then crosses the main N 71 road at the Westlodge hotel and goes
to Beach and Lady’s Well, a holy well and site of penal altar. Mass was
secretly celebrated here during Penal Times (late 17th to 18 centuries) when
Catholicism and its priests were outlawed. Writing of another Penal Mass
site the poet John Montague has it:

Crisp as a pistol-shot, the winter air
Recalls poor Tagues, folding the nap of their frieze
Under one knee, long, suffering as beasts,
But parched for that surviving sign of grace,
The bog-Latin murmur of their priest.