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'Everyone was scurrying like bees' after gunfire rang out

IT was billed as the largest horse fair of 2011 but within minutes the colourful event at Dublin's Smithfield market had descended into "sheer madness".

Hundreds of horse buyers and traders, children, local residents and onlookers were strolling around the Queen Street end of the plaza around 11.30am yesterday when gunshots suddenly erupted.

It sparked mayhem in the crowded market square as dozens of traders with horses in tow, young children riding ponies bareback and terrified onlookers sprinted in all directions away from the scene.

Untethered horses bolted and reared up and several people -- including children -- were knocked down as hundreds of people scrambled away from the sound of the shooting at Haymarket Corner.

An amateur photographer who was taking pictures in the middle of square said he heard a loud bang. "I thought it was just a banger that went off," he told the Irish Independent.

"The next thing I knew, there was a stampede. I thought it was horses that had broken loose but then I saw everyone running into doorways and running away," he said.

A local resident, who lives in one of the apartments overlooking the market, said he heard a loud shot, followed by several horses falling over as people panicked and ran to get away from the shooting.

"Everyone was scurrying like bees," he said.

Horse trader Jake Byrne, (31), who lives on nearby Queen Street, said he has been coming to the Smithfield horse fair -- on the first Sunday of every month -- since he was four years old. Yet he has never seen anything like the mayhem he saw yesterday.

"It's sheer madness with so many people and kids around," he said. "Life's too cheap for some people."

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Mr Byrne said it was a miracle that no one else was shot or trampled to death in the ensuing melee.

"My two sons would normally come here with me with their ponies. I was just after leaving them before I heard the shooting," he said.

There was a large garda presence at the fair following the shooting, with a Dublin Fire Brigade ambulance unit on standby.

An observer who was at the fair since early morning said there was a definite air of tension at the market before and after the shooting.

Some of the traders had reportedly stayed overnight on Saturday and had been drinking heavily.

The fair was billed as the largest of the year, attracting up to 4,500 people from across Ireland and the UK.

However, although many people left the square following the shooting, some traders carried on as normal.

But according to one person at the scene, there was an uneasy atmosphere.

"There was a very strange atmosphere with people huddled together in small groups, whispering," he said.

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