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It may be a horse of a different colour, but Maam's fair rides on

SO when is a fair day not a fair day?

When the skies blacken and the heavens open at a crossroads in the middle of Connemara on the last Tuesday of October.

The centuries-old tradition of trade at Maam Cross, the most famous crossroads in the West, was spat upon from on high yesterday as buyers and sellers huddled beneath the elements.

But they're a hardy lot, are fair folk, and an estimated 5,000 travelled from all parts to take in the atmosphere and do their bartering at the event that is unashamedly a throwback to days of yore.

Initially started as a small local fair to help the bogmen and smallholders of rocky land to supplement their meagre income, the fair grew over the years to become an established part of Irish rural life throughout the last century.

And while the locally bred Connemara pony is still the main draw, nowadays people are as likely to go home with ducks, hens, donkeys, puppies or geese. Or, if you are not into that kind of thing, you may settle for home baking, craftwork, paintings or even a badly needed all-weather suit.

And all purchased by the roadside, as thousands of deals were done in years past. The older traders and buyers, all of whom know the value of a euro, still insist on sealing the trade with a spit and a handshake.

But these days even the revered Connemara pony is affected by the recession. Yesterday a filly foal was fetching anything from €400-€1,200. A horse foal could be picked up for less -- €300-€700.

That's a far cry from the days when prices of up to €3,000 were achieved for a quality foal at Maam Cross.

There is little anyone can tell Mairtin Nee (70) from Cashel about the stock. A multiple All Ireland winner, he is a renowned breeder of the Connemara pony.

"I'm coming to this fair for the last 58 years. I first came with my father when I was 12 and I bought a foal for £7/10 shillings. I sold it two years later for £150," he remembers.

"But there's not much of that around any more. It's a pity the day is so bad, because if it was better, we'd have double the crowd here," he said.

Still, he was chuffed that so many of his family had kept up the tradition of travelling to the fair.

Grandchildren had come from Letterkenny, while his newest grandchild, Edel (18 months), had made the journey from the family base at Cashel.

And then, shortly after lunch, the sun appeared and the umbrellas and plastic sheeting were put away as just about everyone got a burst of renewed energy.

A fair day, after all, in Maam Cross.

Irish Independent