independent

Saturday 20 September 2014

Wheelers, dealers, cultural praise and controversy

HARRY PHIPPS

Published 19/07/2014 | 12:00

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Tony O’Neill’s pub and grocery.

CAHIRMEE Horse Fair, Buttevant's famous annual attraction for wheelers, dealers and visitors, has always possessed a colourful history, from its 6th century gathering as a place of trade, it's the subject of both cultural praise and controversy.

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Reputedly receiving its name from a ringfort built by Brian Buru's high druid, Mee, the fair attracts a huge gathering each year and is the prime of business for buyers, sellers and a great deal in between.

Delayed this year, due to its falling on the weekend, overcast skies and drizzly rain greeted many visitors to the event on Monday.

Sellers on the day included not only Irish Travellers but also Romanian, Indian and Buttevant townspeople, who offered their goods to the public who were not shy supporting their small businesses. Many of the stalls along the main street included clothes sellers, to mechanical stalls selling whatever parts available to their wide range of customers.

But it was the humid but breezy weather, coupled with the clopping sounds of the many horses passing through pulling their sulky traps that assured all those attending that this, in fact, was the famed horse fair.

Deeper into the crowded main street was the main event many of those visiting had come to see, the trading of horses, great and small. And many other animals, too.

One young seller, David Kelly who was selling Sussex and Bluebell hens in the midst of the main event, said "business had been better".

"I've sold here for a few years, it might get a bit better, but it's been a lot quieter this year," he said.

David wasn't the only one holding this opinion of business at the fair. The recession has hit here, too and, David said, most sellers have noted that over the past three years there has only been what has been described as a 'minimum improvement'.

Horse seller Darragh Kiely was trying to stay positive in the face of a slack day. "Business is bust," he declared. "The business was well better in the last few years - a few years on the recessions still affects people, most just don't have any money.

"Just have to keep selling; it'll get better. You have to be optimistic; it's how you keep going," he added.

But there are also other concerns, as ISPCA officer Lisa O'Donovan made known her concern for the treatment of some of the animals, particularly that of Jack Russell terrier pups which were sold for the first time this year.

"There's a really different atmosphere this year, it worrying to see some of these pups for sale, it's really not a safe place for young dogs," said O'Donovan.

"A lot of illegal tail docking goes on and I don't think a lot of people realise that."

However, concerns about trade or animal welfare have not stopped many visitors coming en masse to take part in the gathering, even if simply to see acquaintances again this year who also attend the fair for the same reason of keeping in touch.

On an overcast day, the atmosphere changed mood with the weather when the clouds temporarily dispersed and allowed tremendous amount of sunlight to shine through on the scene, bringing out the life and spirit of those attending the event; the presence of all the food sellers making the road akin to that of a large music festival.

Hundreds scoured the streets constantly, admiring the scenery and cultural air, many of whom were young women out to make an impression with their unique dresses that stood out in the bright weather; delightfully and graciously posing for photographs throughout the day to anyone who admired their dressing for the occasion.

However, later in the day there was a rude awakening to social problems sorrounding the event when a local store owner had to have Gardaí called in after he had caught a young boy attempting to shoplift from his store - and was shot twice in the hand with a pellet gun, drawing blood, when he asked the young boy to stop.

This incident attracted some attention from passers by as the authorities kept an eye out for the errant child.

Aside from all this unpleasantness, however, a huge wealth of knowledge was shared by John O'Connell, former butcher and passionate local historian in Buttevant.

John revealed that Cahirmee horse fair was once celebrated on June 22 to symbolise the beginning of the shortening days, but this date was brought forward when Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar that eventually shifted the date of the horse fair to July 12.

The history of the fair since the 1980s has been a subject of debate and controversy, due to a time when the travelling community and the then-Garda superintendant had come into conflict.

During 1985 some traveller families had arrived to Cahirmee and afterwards moved into a plot of land intending to stay for a number of months, resulting in complaints by many residents that caused Garda intervention where they locked the gates to the land where the families had stayed; this subsequently prompted many angered travelling community members to overturn and destroy the vehicle driven by the superintendant.

The escalating social unrest eventually culminated in legal action that forced the families to make payments for the damage caused, causing them to leave the land and stirring, what John believes, a long lasting divide between non-traveller visitors to the event and many travelling families.

Despite all past transgressions that have taken place, John O'Connell firmly believes that Cahirmee Horse Fair is still a great event that maintains the importance of Buttevant.

"Everything leads up to Cahirmee and warms down from it, no matter what time of the year," John asserted. "It's the most important event and is also what makes the town famous.

"When Cahirmee is over, everyone clears up and gets ready for the next year. It's a huge cultural gathering and brings out some of the best that Buttevant offers!"

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