80,000 saddle up for horse fair
THEY came in their thousands yesterday to buy, sell, haggle or simply take in the unique atmosphere at Europe's oldest horse fair.
The Great October Fair in Ballinasloe runs until next weekend as the east Galway town celebrates a tradition stretching back almost 300 years.
Crowds of up to 80,000 are expected over the nine days of the festival and yesterday the Fairgreen -- scene of the deadly serious business of horse trading -- was a sea of human and equine flesh.
Among the arrivals was the O'Reilly family in their covered horse-drawn wagon. The old-style conveyance is now home to Toni and Christopher and their sons, Sean (18) and Thomas (14).
The family had been living in England for many years before moving to Spain about five years ago. But Christopher wanted to return to Ireland and at the weekend they followed the crowd to Ballinasloe.
They have been struggling to get by on an income of just £100 a week -- rental income from their home in England -- and were upset when they discovered they would have to pay €120 to park their wagon at the Fairgreen for the week.
"It was too dear for us and we just didn't have the money," said Toni.
But a group of Travellers heard of their plight and gathered together €65 to help out; the family came up with the rest.
Also joining in the fun were representatives of the Oul Lammas Fair in Ballycastle and Puck Fair in Killorglin. Both fairs have strong ties with Ballinasloe.
Despite a shortfall in funding due to the recession, organisers have managed to produce a packed programme throughout the week. Local sponsors have provided the bulk of the estimated €160,000 cost of staging the nine days of activities.
"With no direct source of income from tickets or gate receipts, the fair is heavily dependent on sponsorship to meet its costs which have been increasing steadily in recent years," chairman Brendan Bradley said.
Ten people were arrested for public order offences in Ballinasloe over the weekend. Gardai were also probing the burning of 10 portable toilets at the Fairgreen in the early hours of yesterday morning.
A garda spokesman has also advised traders in the town to be on the lookout for forged banknotes.