Fuerty is a picturesque village; a quiet and relaxing place in the central plains of Ireland, having a world-renowned porter house ‘Daltons’ of the ‘talking dog fame.’ This quaint old pub is in the shadow of centuries-old oak and beech trees, where upon elevated ground stands ruins of an ancient Abbey with its lofty tower from which radiates a mystique of our ancient past. This is the ancient site of the Fair of Fuerty.
Fuerty Fair was established in the early 1600’s when Charles Coote was granted a 4,000 acre estate, and also obtained a patent to hold fairs in Fuerty – which was an extravagant affair held twice a year on St. James’s Day (July 25th) and St. Martin’s Day (November 11th).
Over the centuries, the fair contributed immensely to the daily life of this rural parish in its continuous relenting battle to keep farm and family afloat, keeping the dreaded rents paid and starvation from their door. In those days, farming life was a tough existence, but through determination and perseverance farming families managed to keep the show on the road.
The fair was the highlight of the year, the old, thatched cottages in the vicinity gleaming in their new coat of whitewash; the streets were swept; the potholes filled; truly no effort was spared to impress.
As dawn broke, the entire population of the parish were on the move; men, women and children – all destined to experience this momentous occasion. The Fair Green and the entire village would be thronged.
From the early hours all roads leading and passing through Fuerty village would be entirely blockaded by rickety carts, gigs, side-cars, horses, colts, mules and asses, all followed in rapid succession by screaming children, heckling women all carrying something, hens, ducks and others perhaps struggling with a stubborn pig as they led it along with a straw rope. Along with them too was the farmer – oblivious to the cavalcade in his almost impossible task to keep his livestock from separation and getting lost among the throng.
Stalls would be pitched on every available spot; the hawkers and peddlers would be selling everything from a needle to an anchor. And at every corner, a cheap-jack selling second-hand clothing, who was never without customers. The cobbler and blacksmiths had a runaway trade.
The women all covered in black shawls, bare-footed, ranting in the old Gaelic tongue, sold homemade butter by the lump, eggs by the dozen, piglets by the litter and baby lambs, which inevitably brought many a tear from the children in parting with their loving pet and dear friend.
The astute gentleman selling crockery caused many a gasp when he tossed the delph cups high in the air, and without fail, caught it on a saucer as it tumbled towards the ground.
Fairs were renowned as an important meeting place in the rural countryside – it brought together people from all parts and from very different rural backgrounds.
The fair has long been the meeting place for the travelling community. They were always open to embrace the newly-evicted families and give them shelter within their primitive tents of animal hides stitched together and supported by flexible poles stuck in the roadside mud. This ramshackle home became the sales pitch for the travelling tin-smith, while his children sold sweeping brushes created from birch and mountain heather.
The travelling families down through the years were largely accepted as an integral part of the Fuerty experience; the women whistling and singing Gaelic laments of the past, all echoing a passion and a heart filled desire for old Ireland’s freedom. The lone piper and blind beggar all added to the charm.
The local schools closed down for the fair days, the children of all ages would become transfixed by the multitude of amusements on offer. The ‘Trick-o-the-Loop’ and the ‘Three-card-Trick’ proved very amusing, and men had a field day, making the fair day a very memorable occasion and a welcome break from their daily drudgery.
When the wheeling and dealing was over, friends and relatives usually adjourned to the nearby pub to drink to each other’s health.
As the day led to night, and despite the hustle and bustle, any farmer that found himself a bit under the weather, would never forget his purchase wrapped up in brown paper. Horse carts, side cars, traps were all yoked up for the long journey home under the watchful eye of the old peeler, while another waiting in the bushes to ambush those without lights on their carts.
Despite the encroachment of modernity, and the ever-evolving attempt to replace communal family participation with new technology and virtual communication devices, the fair continues despite this technological onslaught where apples became tablets and bird’s twitter becomes tweets. Our keeping with heritage and tradition ensures our FAIR continues and will survive for the next 400 years. As the fair celebrates its 400th anniversary, it promises to be a wonderful event for young and old alike.