Yesterday I found myself at the Cross of Spancil Hill. I wasn’t dreaming and I wasn’t in California. Look all you like and you won’t see a Cross, which I always imagined in my mind’s eye as I sung the song that made the place famous. In Ireland, as I soon discovered, ‘crossroads’ are simply called a ‘cross’ and it just refers to this.
The Fair at the Cross of Spancil Hill was one of the most important in Ireland during the 1800s and was of course made famous by Michael Considine’s wonderful song which referred to above. It still is one of Ireland’s largest horse fairs. Have a listen to the full version sung by Robbie McMahon.
Differs considerably to that made popular by the Dubliners.
It is like stepping back to an older Ireland way before the Celtic Tiger pounced and even before the motor car. A world of horses, donkeys and chickens, of blackthorn sticks and buggys. There are obvious changes of course with everyone seemingly on the end of a mobile phone and burgers and curry chips the standard fare at the Fair.
I had been warned by numerous people to watch out because of the travelling people but I didn’t have any problems. Not that I would recognise one from us ‘stationary’ people.
The original song has the following verse.
“It being on the twenty third of June, the day before the fair,
Sure Erin’s sons and daughters, they all assembled there.
The young, the old, the stout and the bold, they came to sport and kill,
What a curious combination, at the Fair of Spancilhill. “
There seems some confusion as to the date but the fair is always on the 23rd unless it is a Sunday in which case it is the next day. Hence the “day before the fair” as the song relates event that occurred on the sabbath.
I’ve attached some photos which I hope capture a bit of the “curious combination at the Fair of Spancilhill”.