From fair green to three rings!
Stepping into an agricultural mart is like stepping through the looking glass for a Dub like me. My father used to tell me stories from his childhood of days moving livestock up to Smithfield and the craic they had with the ‘culchies’ who always looked after the ‘Jackeens’ with a few shillings.
Back to the present day, and last Thursday I stepped out of the rain and into Castlerea Co-operative Mart as it prepared to celebrate 40 years in business.
I was met by Manager, Brendan Egan and Chairperson, John McDermott outside ring 1 and they brought me upstairs to the spacious canteen for some breakfast. We were joined by Richard Finan, who was on the founding committee back in 1976.
Brendan was quick to tell me just how well the Mart had done in the previous year.
“There was a turnover of about €34 million last year with over 36,000 cattle passing through. That’s one of the highest years we’ve had,” said the manager.
Being a Thursday, the Mart was in full flow, as people hurried this way and that between the three rings. There was a lively sale taking place in ring one where cattle were being paraded for a good crowd and bids exchanged.
“When it first started nobody could say it would be so successful,” said secretary John McDermott, “Sure do you remember taking a mart programme as a souvenir just in case it didn’t last, Richard?”
Richard laughed and confirmed, before providing the first of many insights into the Mart’s humble beginnings.
“If you lived locally you’d walk the cattle in. The animals were a lot quieter back then!”
Castlerea Mart is a source of pride for the town and surrounding areas and that has always been the case. Richard explained how the community came together to build the facility.
“It was one of the first fully paid for marts in the country. £55,000 back in those days and when it opened it had one ring and a covered yard – it was one of the first with a covered yard too,” he said.
The Mart was opened for extremely practical reasons, according to Mr. Finan.
“We were at a farmers meeting one night and this fellow left at midnight so he could get to Roscommon in time for the next day’s sale. He was up all night. We knew we had to do something local at that stage.”
The current manager, Brendan, said it was a brave undertaking by local farmers and local people in general: “There were many other marts in the west at that time – Elphin, Roscommon, Tulsk and so on. It was a brave decision, others have gone by the wayside since.”
Almost forty years to the day and Castlerea Mart is still going strong, but Brendan knows more than most that it hasn’t always been plain sailing.
“Paddy Lane, the IFA Chairman at the time, opened the mart in 1976. The people of the town and surrounding areas had provided the capital – both farmers and local people. There have been fodder crises when the mart organised the import of hay from France in 1985/86. There has also been the foot and mouth crisis too, which closed the mart but also showed how important it is to the local community.”
The local community and traders from further afield were out in force last Thursday as the sale of livestock continued throughout the day as it has done for forty years in the mart.
John McDermott reminded me that even before the organised mart was founded, trading was ever-present in Castlerea. “Families, for generations, have traded livestock here on this site, since the fair green days. There was even a pig green in the area!”
As the mart celebrates forty years of lively trade, the men behind its inception and those running it today seem confident that it’ll be around for a long time yet.