Posts Tagged With: horse

The Puck Fair, Co Kerry. A 400-year old tradition.

Some institutions in Ireland die hard.  One is the Puck Fair.  Held annually in Killorglin in Co Kerry in August, it is surely one of the country’s longest running public events.  As with many of these things though, the written record is scant and it is not clear exactly how old it is.  There is a reference in 1613 to a local landlord, Jenkins Conway, collecting a tax from every animal sold at the ‘August Fair’ and even earlier there is a record from 1603 of King James I granting a charter to the existing fair in Killorglin.  So let’s just say it is well over 400 years old.


The main street of Killorglin is choked for the Puck Fair

Puck derives from the Irish Phoic, meaning He-goat.  Again, when the fair became associated with the goat is also shrouded in mystery.  The story I like tells how in 1808 the British Parliament made it unlawful in Ireland to levy tolls on cattle, horse or sheep fairs.  The landlord of the time lost his income and on the advice of then budding lawyer Daniel O’Connell (yes, that Daniel O’Connor), proclaimed it a ‘goat fair’ and charged his tolls as usual believing it was not covered.  To prove it was indeed a goat fair a Phoic was hoisted on a stage and proclaimed King Puck.

Whatever the truth, a male wild goat is still today crowned King and hoisted in a cage up a tower where he remains for three days before being released back into the wild.  The crowning of the goat though, I have to say, was a disappointment. Conducted on a stage under the tower, with its steel barrier that restricted vision, the goat was held by two burly yellow-coats and surrounded by photographers.  A young schoolgirl, the ‘Queen of the Fair’, placed the crown on its head.  Well, I think that’s what happened.  It was really just set up for the publicity shots, as the audience could see nothing.  Placed in the cage the goat was then hoisted up for all to see, its crown a little shakily slipping below its horns.


Behind that phalanx there is a goat getting crowned


The King of the Fair is hoisted up the tower


King Puck

The fair brings out the crowds for a great day out.  There is a horse fair in a nearby field, with all the usual horse-trading that happens.  I happily spent an hour wandering here clicking away.  There was plenty to keep me enthused and bemused.


The horse fair is held in a field adjacent to a ruined church and graveyard


Now that’s style



Like father like son


You have been warned.


The cheapest pee in town.  Just a half a cent!

There are rides, a parade and plenty of characters to fill the pubs and the streets. Every vantage point was taken.  The bright sunshine, when I visited in 2015, provided an opportunity for the colleens  to strut the summer fashions. I love the way traditional music is never far away from an Irish event, with entertainment on stage and in teh nearby pubs, dancing in the street or a brush dance in a pub.


The long and the short of it.


A great vantage point


Even manequins are keen to strut their stuff


Dancing in the streets


Well known piper, Brendan McCreanor, from Co Louth entertains the crowd



Swept away by a brush dance


A chance to dress up


A chance to dress up II


Defying gravity

The Puck Fair is always held on 10, 11 and 12th August so mark it in your calendar.

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Spancil Hill is……

I’ve been going to Spancil Hill Fair in Co Clare for five years now.

The Fair has been going for 300 years.  I’ve blogged on two previous occasions (2014.   2015)     So I thought I would do something a little different this time.


Spancil Hill is a spectacle. A melange.
Folk from Ireland and beyond
Travellers and settled; families and bachelors
Horses and donkeys, ironmongery and saddles
Buggies and carts, burgers and fries

Spancil Hill is sticks.
Of blackthorn, hazel, fibreglass or ash
Sticks in earnest conversation
or just to lean on
or to sit on.

There’s a man selling sticks. I bought one.

Spancil Hill is a toddler eye to eye with a pony

Spancil Hill is a runaway pony,
Horses rearing.
Until it is cornered and held safely and lovingly in a boys arms.

Spancil Hill is the Irish Cob
How do they see?
Full-maned and feathered, by buyers prodded and stroked.
Mouth pulled open and poked (I’m sure there’s a reason).
Or another pulling a buggy,
or cantering imperiously.

Spancil Hill is John Sheridan sealing the deal on a pied cob.
Slapping hands with the seller.
His family posing proudly for the camera.

Spancil Hill is Sean O’Leary standing with his pony.
Waiting all day for a buyer.
Is it the smallest in Ireland?
For this tiny equine there are many who are keen.
But will they meet his price?

Spancil Hill is a man in a beige suit,
Another without a shirt.

Spancil Hill is lorries loaded with horses.
Headed for Europe.

Spancil Hill is a giant spade.

Spancil Hill is ice creams.

Spancil Hill is John Dooley, a Feakle man sitting in his chair
Since 1946 he’s been there.
It’s his 72nd Fair
The stories he could tell.

Spancil Hill is Aisling and Paddy leading home the newest member of their family

Spancil Hill is Albert and his family selling buggy wheels.

Spancil Hill is Ireland then and Ireland now.

An apposite anachronism.

I love it. 


Spancil Hill is Sticks.  In earnest conversation


Or to lean on


Or to sit on


Spancil Hill is a giant spade


Mouth pulled open and poked.  I’m sure there’s a reason


Spancil Hill is a toddler, eye to eye with a pony.


How do they see?


There’s a man selling sticks.  I bought one.


Spancil Hill is ice creams


Or cantering imperiously I


Or cantering imperiously II


Spancil Hill is John Dooley.


Since 1946 he’s been there.  The stories he could tell.


Spancil Hill is a runaway pony


Until held safely and lovingly in a boy’s arms


Spancil Hill is a beige suit


But will they meet his price


Spancil Hill is Sean O’Leary.  Is it the smallest in Ireland?


Spancil Hill is Albert and his family selling buggy wheels


Spancil Hill is John Sheridan. Slapping hands….

Aisling and Paddy and the pony they bought

Spancil Hill is Aisling and Paddy.



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Backyard archaeology. Right under our feet. Caherush, Co Clare.

I have spent a lot of my time traipsing around the country exploring archaeological treasures. Ring forts, portal tombs, standing stones, castles, sile-na-gigs, you name it.   I have photographed them and blogged about them. In all that time though I completely forgot to document the archaeology of my own back yard. And I mean literally my own backyard.

In January 2014 Clare, along with much of the west coast of Ireland, was struck with a number of ferocious storm that destroyed beaches and did massive damage to seaside communities. This happened four months before I arrived but the effects can still be seen today.   Hardest hit were places like Lahinch, White Strand, Spanish Point, Quilty, Seafield Pier, Doonbeg, Kilkeee, Kilbaha and Carrigaholt.

In fact the house at Caherush, that was to become mine, was hit hard and inundated, with the then occupants having to be evacuated.

The massive high tides and waves, while doing such obvious damage also uncovered some really interesting things that were previously unknown. For example near Spiddal a ‘petrified’ forest of ancient bog oak was laid bare and, closer to home, a peat layer now covered again was exposed in the bay at Caherush.

This blog is about what was found in the backyard of my cottage after the gravel was stripped away by the waves.  Evidence of long since gone farm buildings was uncovered. A number of different types of paving in close proximity were revealed and these appear to represent the floors of old farm buildings. The site covers 10m x 4m.


Paving of old farm buildings in the backyard of the cottage at Caherush.

There are cobblestones, setts and flagging, each belonging to a building with a different function.  The original buildings would have been aligned north south. At the southern end an area of cobblestone paving was revealed.


Cobblestone floor of an old stable.

Cobblestones are one of the earliest forms of paving, the term first being used for roadways in the 15th century in England. The use of cobbles though actually started with the Romans around 250AD. True cobblestones, are small, natural stones with edges smoothed by water, either by the ocean or rivers.  These undressed stones, or cobbles, are often of a flattened egg-shape and were used in their natural state without being worked in any way.  The stones are carefully selected and laid in sand pointy end down and were packed tightly together to provide a relatively smooth and durable surface. This construction has excellent drainage and so they were much longer lasting than the alternative of the time which was dirt. They would also have been used frequently in stables which it is believed was the case here.  A lot of thought went into selecting stones of similar size and shape and in aligning them. It is amazing that it has survived.


Detail view of the cobblestone paving


Typical cobblestones selected to be of similar shape and dimensions

Cobblestones went out of favour in the early 1700s and were replaced with setts which are worked into rectangular shapes but still laid the same way. These are actually what people would be most likely to refer to as cobblestone paving now.

So, there is no way of knowing how old this floor is as the tradition of using cobbles may have continued on farms much longer than their use in roadways, especially near the sea. But it could conceivably be pre 18th century,

Next to the cobbles is an area of large irregular slate flagging probably much more recent and representing an access way between the stable and the building to the north. Adjacent to this slate is a beautifully preserved shallow drainage trough made from sandstone setts aligned east west in the direction of drainage. Immediately north of this is a level area of setts in the same rock type and apparently of the same vintage, aligned north south. This area is believed to have housed cattle who would have stood on the level area facing north, which would have enabled the trough to catch their effluent and drain it away. Clever really.


Cattle shed floor looking from the west.  The drainage trough is in the centre and the area where the cattle stood on the left


View of cattle shed site from the east.

And then north of this is an area of large flags of Liscannor stone. Mikey Talty who was born in the cottage 80-odd years ago remembers this as a piggery, though he had no recollection of other structures where the cobbles and setts are. The north wall of the piggery had a doorway and this can be seen now filled in in the same style as the surrounding stone wall beneath a lovely stone lintel.


Piggery floor.  Infilled doorway can be seen.


Close up of infilled doorway

So there was continued usage of this site to house animals with evidence suggesting the possibility that it may go back over three hundred years.

I think that’s cool. And in my back yard too.

Disclaimer: These conclusions are my own and based on my own observations as well as the recollections of the Talty family. I am not an archaeologist but if anyone out there has specific knowledge of the use of cobbles in farm buildings and their age I would love to hear from you.

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Spancil Hill Again.

It’s the 23rd of June again. That means Spancil Hill Fair.

The day didn’t start too well. Sometime during the night I stubbed my foot into a chair and dislocated my little toe. Pain! It had a 90 degree bend in it and I didn’t sleep that night. I figured I would limp through the day and seek treatment later.  The Show must go on.

But I didn’t count on the magic of the Fair. As I stepped onto the hallowed ground, dodging the horse pats, I was miraculously cured. The toe clicked back into place and the pain just disappeared instantly.

Should Spancil Hill become the new Knock? Conversion on the Road to Tulla?

Can’t believe it’s a year since I was here. I blogged on it then so I won’t repeat those thoughts here as they are still entirely apposite.

Yet last time it was such a novelty. Now I feel more part of it. I was with Miriam and Linda, woofers from Germany, staying with Pakie and Irene, who have a farm near Mullagh, and they are both horsey people so they gave me more of an insight into what was going on.

And what was going on was, literally, horse-trading. This is so much a part of so many lives still here in Ireland. There was much to take in. Traveller girls dressed to the nines, men with sticks, so many sticks (and when a horse bolted in my direction I understood why), horses of all types, ponies, donkeys, carts, puppies, traders selling pretty much everything, the three-card-trick, drinking, hamsters and chickens, and more horses. I watched deals done and the apparently haphazard system results in buyers and sellers coming away happy. People, young and old, just stand there in the field with their pony or horse and potential buyers look them over and, if they like it, agree a price and take their purchase away.  No spruiking or pressure.  Horse traders from Britain in particular arrive in droves, buy them up cheap and take them back to sell to riding schools or wherever.  It’s been thus for hundreds of years.

As the crowd thinned people gravitated to the Spancil Hill Inn where I was persuaded to sing. I sang half a dozen songs. That was a real buzz. Afterwards wind down sessions at the recently reopened Brogans and then Ennistymon on the way home. A day that started at 9am and finished at 1 am.

The Sunday before the Fair was a family fun day at Duggan’s Pub, with a donkey derby (bookmaker and all), tractor balancing, wellington boot throwing and musical chairs with donkeys and with bikes for the kids. You had to be there.

I decided to use black and white on many of these photos. Just thought it gives a more timeless aspect to the images.


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Spancil Hill – “It being the 23rd of June”

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”.

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