A fair day in Castlebar on September 24, 1956, at Linenhall Street. The photograph was taken by Fr. Mattie Mac Neely. Full photo below.

Bygone fair days in Mayo county town recalled

By Tom Gillespie

THE era of the fair day is long gone. But up to the 1960s they were an important commercial and social occasion across Ireland.

In Mayo, county-wide, livestock was bought and sold, commodities purchased, and local grocery stores and public houses did a thriving business.

In Castlebar, market day was held every Saturday when produce was displayed in Market Square.

Fair days were held annually on May 11, July 9, September 16 and November 18.

This is a fascinating look back at a fair day in Castlebar, on Monday, September 24,1956, at Linenhall Street. The photograph was taken by Fr. Mattie Mac Neely, who resided in M.J. Mac Neely’s on the left of the photo.

I am old enough to remember the excitement, colour and mayhem the fair days visited on Castlebar.

The majority of the activity took part in the Fairgreen - where Scoil Raifteiri now stands. Farmers walked their animals to the town in search of the most prominent location in the Fairgeen to display their stock.

It was a messy affair, particularly if the day was inclement, as ground conditions became soggy, with a mixture of rain and animal deposits. Wellies were the order of the day and deals were cemented over a bottle of stout from the makeshift shed from which Kenny’s of Main Street had the franchise to sell liquor on these occasions.

The nearby river, unfortunately, became the dumping ground for the empties, as well as the flow-off from the Fairgreen grounds.

Likewise, the river was used by the nearby Bacon Factory to discharge offal and blood, which was piped from McHale Road downhill to Springfield.

However, if there was a heavy downpour of rain, manholes in the pipe on the main road, above the houses, would overflow into the five cottages at Springfield - beside where the entrance to the Castlebar to Turlough greenway now commences. Unfortunately, the cottages were below the level of road and the discharge just flowed under their front doors.

Distressed householders were compensated and had the smelly lino on the floor replaced - very few had carpets then - and this could happen four or five times a year. While heavier livestock were bought and sold in the Fairgreen, nearby Rush Street became a commercial hub and would be completely blocked off with stalls, ass and carts, trailers, and smaller animals, calves, pigs and poultry, bales of straw and churns of milk.

The most prominent ‘salesman’ on Rush Street was Cyril Chapman, who could sell sand to the Arabs. He was a one-man show and sold everything from a needle to an anchor.

Each fair day he would have special offers - buy one, get one free - pen knives, bicycle lamps and pumps, wrenches, hammers, hatches and every piece of ‘modern’ hardware.

He had a distinctive, loud voice and could be heard well above all the other traders.

Mr. Killeen, from McHale Road, sold clothes from the back of a covered trailer and he specialised in farm ware, overcoats and the latest style in men’s suits.

Bonhams could be heard squealing from ass carts and they became even more highly vocal when being lifted up by the back legs, by potential buyers, checking out their pedigree.

The pubs on Rush Street - Paddy Moran’s, The Brown Cow (McNulty’s), Malachy Touhy’s, Mrs. Doyle’s, and Breege O’Connor’s around the corner on Linenhall Street did a thriving business. Paddy Moran’s, in particular, had a licence which allowed him to open early in the morning to serve alcohol.

In springtime, both in Market Square and Rush Street, Savoy cabbage plants, in bundles of 50, were sold to farmers and local gardeners. But many is the bundle that was waylaid after a visit to one of the pubs.

After the bargaining and bartering the farmers, with their pockets full of cash, and the jobbers, with several new animals, toasted their success in many of the pubs on Linenhall Street. As most of the premises on the town hall side had large back yards, the newly purchased animals were housed there while their owners supped inside. Local youngsters were given a few pennies to mind them.

As the town river flowed directly behind the premises on the opposite side of the road, they could not accommodate the cattle.

The downside of the fair day was the state of the streets, with cow muck and straw from carts scattered all about on Sunday mornings. The publicans, their staff and other householders did their best to clean up the mess. But the ultimate task fell to the outdoor staff of Castlebar Urban Council, who had to hose down the walls and the streets prior to the commencement of first Mass.

In earlier days, instead of straw, rushes were used to absorb the run-off - thereby the name of the street.

Prior to Christmas, the last fair day of the year took on a special aura. Live turkeys, geese and bonhams packed Rush Street. It was the one fair that attracted the largest crowd as the rural community prepared, and stocked up, for the festive season.

Garavan’s, the first ‘supermarket’ in Castlebar - later the Kingsbridge Lounge and now the headquarters of the Mayo, Sligo & Leitrim Education and Training Board - was always packed and their small pub, facing onto Lucan Street, was an ideal location to escape the hustle and bustle of the fair day.

As children we loved going through the throngs on Rush Street at Christmas time. There was a special atmosphere and if you were lucky a few Christmas presents could be purchased from Mr. Chapman - items, I might say, that would not be acceptable under health and safety regulations today.

The demise of the fairs came about with the banning of animals from the public streets and, particularly, the opening of marts around the country.