By John Fitzgerald
From the town cross to the steps leading up to the Big Chapel, you could buy any piece of fruit or vegetable within season on Fair Day: Apples, oranges, gooseberries, black and red currents, or a head of cabbage for a penny. There were hanks of onions and stalls laden with fresh herrings. Cartloads of coal lined Mill Street on the Friary side under the high chestnut trees: The going rate was twenty-five shillings a ton.
The ubiquitous Moll Daly sold ballad sheets to earn a few pence. She also ran an occasional shooting gallery on the Fair Green. Brandishing an old pellet gun and pointing to a paper target pinned to a pole or a stick, she invited anyone who fancied himself as an amateur marksman to try his luck-for a small fee of course.
The prize might be to double his money, usually two pennies, or maybe, in exceptional cases, the price of a ball of malt in the pub. She did quite well out of this venture, and the would-be sharp shooters enjoyed it too.
Moll and her husband, the “Ducker Daly”, were household names in Callan. She was fondly remembered by Jack and other Callan folk, with her catchphrase still ringing in their ears “God save ya, me lovely man”.
Jack’s pub did a roaring trade, thanks partly to the fairs. He had a special licence that enabled him to open his premises at any hour of the day or night. This arrangement, needless to say, was a godsend to any publican but essential to the vast numbers of people who arrived in Callan for the fairs.
Sensitive deals were made in the secrecy and security of the Snug, a section of the pub also popular with the few women drinkers who called in. The ladies kept to themselves, wrapped in shawls and tending to cry a lot as they deliberated on past woes and present challenges. But they had to move over when the “fair men” wanted to engage in a bit of semi-confidential hand slapping.
Apart from those directly involved in the fairs, the entire population of Callan and its rural environs enjoyed the benefits of the monthly upsurge in economic activity generated by them. The pubs, groceries, and draperies thrived, as did the many householders who offered overnight lodgings to visitors. And of course the town’s eating-houses were a hive of activity: From morning to night, they reeked of steak and onions.
“I knew a lot of people who earned enough money on fair day to do them for the rest of the month”, said Jack.
When Fair was Fowl in Callan
The fowl fairs were held for many years at the Market House in Green Street-the building later served as the Town Hall. Carmel Kealy recalled that on Tuesday mornings the town awoke to the sound of horses and donkeys arriving for the fair.
Above the noise emanating from this archaic form of transport could be heard the quacking and clucking of birds: Hens, cocks, ducks, geese, and turkeys. Traders and buyers entered the town from every direction.
To be continued…