Farm Ireland

Monday 23 October 2017

Ringing changes has kept Mayo-Sligo Mart at heart of western life for more than half a century

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

In Focus: Mayo-Sligo Mart

With 40,000 sheep and 25,000 cattle moving through the sales rings at Mayo-Sligo Mart in Ballina, Co Mayo, every year it takes a dedicated team of staff to keep the show on the road.

Heading up that team are manager James Cleary and assistant manager Marion Byron, along with three regular auctioneers, Peter Foley, Adrian Tansey and Tommy McGovern.

The mart employs up to 30 people on a big sale day, between office, yard and sales-ring staff.

However, hundreds of locals have been employed by the mart since it first opened its gates in 1959, including former EU agriculture commissioner Ray McSharry.

McSharry, a native of Sligo, worked at the mart before he moved into the world of politics, going on to become Tánaiste, Minister for Finance and European Commissioner.

The mart opened on March 24, 1959 and among the early managers was Jack Lacken who helped steer the business for 18 years until he retired in 1977. He was succeeded by Mark Breslin, who stayed in this role until he retired in 2000 after 22 years of service.

In 1972, the mart committee decided to purchase the site of the current mart, known as 'Dunleavy's field' for the sum of £149,766.

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Four years later, the new mart was officially opened, with sales taking place in two rings.

In 1987, 'McCawleys' lands' were purchased by the mart, allowing for further expansion.

Upgrading and modernisation have been a constant feature in the mart, with a slurry complex added in 1980, new pens in 1989, a new computerised system installed in 1990 and electronic sheep scales added in 2005.

Diversification has also been a feature of Mayo-Sligo Mart, with pig sales taking place in 1979, car auctions starting in 1984 and the new NCT centre opening in 1999.


The current managerial team of James Cleary and Marion Byron took up their roles in 2001, a year that will go down in history as the only time the mart was closed.

The foot and mouth disease outbreak of that year forced the mart to close for a period of four months.

After 53 years in business, the mart is still running smoothly under the stewardship of its assistant manager, known to most of the mart's clients as simply "Marion in Ballina", and manager James, who overlooks the yard's operations and sales rings.

Marion and her team take bookings for cattle and sheep sales throughout Thursday and Friday, with sales taking place every Tuesday during the quieter months.

Once the weanling sales commence in September, the cattle sales are split into a two-day affair, with weanlings sold on Mondays and cows, bullocks and sheep sold on Tuesdays. On busy sales days during the back end of the year, up to 30 people work at the mart. They include up to five auctioneers, office staff and the yard staff.

The mart attracts buyers and sellers from throughout Mayo and Sligo, as well as further afield. Regular sellers come from within a 60-mile radius, while the weanling sales draw a large crowd of cattle buyers from the midlands.

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