Riding out the recession, Muff-style
THEY came from early morning, gathering in their thousands to barter, deal, criticise, praise, laugh and scowl at one of Ireland's oldest traditional annual fairs.
All breeds of horses and humans were at Muff crossroads in Co Cavan yesterday, with not one mention of the dreaded word 'recession' to be heard.
The fair of Muff has survived since the 17th century, when James I granted a licence.
Yesterday, they were bargaining between the sunshine and showers under the shadow of the Lough-an-Lea mountains near Kingscourt.
From early morning, the maze of roads around the crossroads were a hive of marketing. Buyers and sellers came from Offaly and Laois in the midlands, as far west as Galway and even from Derry and Antrim.
And buyers were prepared to pay top prices for the right animal.
All manner of animals were for sale: from huge Irish draught horses to miniature ponies; from chickens, geese, ducks and drakes to donkeys, goats and sheep.
Kilmainhamwood breeder John Russell said: "Despite the recession, the prices are as good as ever here at Muff."
He had just watched a deal where a four-year-old horse sold for €2,300 and a pony for €1,400.
Apart from the livestock trading, the fair attracted more than 200 roadside vendors, with stalls offering the proverbial needle-to-an-anchor on the various minor roads, stretching for over a kilometre from the crossroads.
Extra gardai were deployed to handle the huge crowds and Customs and Excise officers were there to detect the illegal selling of smuggled cigarettes or spirits that was reported in previous years, but there were no reports of any seizures.
The late publican Jim Gartland helped to preserve the event as a major tourist attraction by developing a huge barn near the crossroads into a pub and ballroom for use on the day of the fair.
Every year his son Paul keeps up the tradition by closing his pub in nearby Kingscourt and transferring the licence to the barn.
Mr Gartland said: "At one time all the publicans in Kingscourt used to set up little bars for the day but my father bought the rights to the fair some years ago and we are the only publican trading here now.
"It's always a great day and the horse-traders are saying that once again there is a good standard of animals on offer and lots of brisk trading."