Fair days in Callan

Jackie Ryan Dick Fennnelly and Paddy O Brien on Fair Day

By John Fitzgerald


Jack Gardiner (Callan War of Independence hero and later publican) vividly remembered some of the drovers who brought livestock to the fair, and why wouldn’t he, when they met in his pub from 1933 onwards, along with the multitude of wheelers and dealers that converged on Callan for decades on fair days; men like Paddy Dreelan, Danny Murphy, and Tommy “the Bundle” Ryan. Tommy was so-called because he was forever carrying a sack of something-or –other on his back.

Jack spoke of a Mackey from Fethard and a Hanrahan of Ballingarry, well known drovers who never missed a fair in Callan. He had recollections too of the chancers and rogues (who can’t be named!) who made bargains with buyers, only to sell them a different batch of cattle or piglets from the beefy bovines or plump little squealers pointed out earlier and “reserved.”

“Switching of animals was common”, Jack explained, “and it was hard to prove that the pig you enquired about in the morning was the one the dealer gave you a few hours later. Quite a few people-even whole families- fell out over disputes of that kind.”

It was common for livestock en route to the green to nudge their way into a pub along the way, and the customers would have to shoo them out. The large front window of Shelly’s (now Simon O’ Brien’s) in Green Street, was broken almost every month: Bullocks stampeded when they saw their reflections in the glass.

And animals occasionally escaped from the green and caused minor breaches of the peace: Philip O’ Keeffe (Bridge Street) told me that he’d never forget a day in the 40s when Sergeant Kilroy, armed with a Lee Enfield rifle, chased a bullock that had broken from the green. He followed the animal on his bike, with one hand on the handlebar and the other grasping his gun, firing shots in the air.

People had to jump aside as the lone bovine sprinted through the town with their dedicated Sergeant in hot pursuit. He cornered the bullock in Keogh’s yard in Bridge Street. When it refused to give itself up, he took careful aim and dispatched the animal on the spot. “Shot while attempting to escape” was the unofficial unanimous verdict on the affair arrived at by drinkers in Callan’s 27 pubs. There was no “Beef Tribunal” in those days.

A “Town Crier” walked the streets of Callan in the thirties, forties, and fifties to herald the advent of fairs and fowl markets. Soldier Walsh was the best-known crier. He also had the job of announcing film starting times at the local Gaiety cinema. “Hear ye, hear ye”, he roared, jingling a bell to attract attention, before giving notice of the big upcoming events in the town.

Fairs involved more than exchanges of livestock. Stalls abounded. Vendors of all sorts plied their wares. Cheapjacks sold everything from a needle to an anchor. And entertainers juggled, crooned ballads, spat fire, swallowed swords, and lay on beds of nails or glass. Callan played host to “the funniest clowns in Ireland”, Jack said.

Bamboozlem, a travelling magician, performed tricks for the crowd…

To be continued…

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