A Fairday in Taghmon -a Social Comment


Bill Layne

Taghmon can boast of having had one of the largest and best fairs in the county. The cattle were renowned for their quality and came from all areas of county Wexford as well as neighbouring counties.

Twenty two fairs were held in the village during the year. Many of the cattle were driven to the fair 'on the hoof' and sellers who resided long distances from Taghmon were forced to stop somewhere overnight due to the lack of regular transport. The cattle buyers travelled from all over the country. The Tuohy brothers and the Lyons came from Dublin. Cartons travelled down from Cavan. McClellands made the journey from Northern Ireland. John Connolly was a well-known Carlow buyer and the Meath dealers were well represented. Among the native Wexford buyers were Watt Codd of Mayglass, Dick Richards of Artramont, Nicky Furlong of Rosslare, Paddy Redmond of Gorey, Tanners of Greenfield, Kirwans of Ballinagee, Jack Berry of Scar, Tom Morris of Bannow, Jem Hanlon of New Ross, Tom Crosbie of Ardinagh, Edward Mernagh of Bridgetown, James Wheelock of Enniscorthy, Tommy Fardy of Haresmead, Peter Hughes of Galbally, the Suttons of Ballinaboola and New Ross and the Wexford butchers. The local dealers were also there in force, including Lar, Watt and Joe Roche and John, Paddy, Lar and Matt Banville. Some specialised in certain stocks. In the 'springer' line were Lar Roche, Eddie O'Rourke of Glenville, the Furlongs, Bratten of Kilmacow and many others. In the suck calf section were John and Aidan O'Sullivan of Coolraheen, the Whelans of New Ross, John Morrissey of Camross and Dick Sinnott of Blackmoor, Cleariestown.

The Kellys of Meehan

Among the many remembered characters who displayed stock at the Fair of Taghmon were The Kellys of Meehan, Newbawn. They usually had big ten-year-old bullocks with horns extending about three feet. They seldom sold as they claimed that they did not like to part with the animals. The Kellys also had pigs at the fair. The hair on the pigs would be at least four inches long and they were reared on grass. A Taghmon customer once bought a couple of these pigs to fatten and about ten months later he met one of the Kellys. When asked how the pigs were doing the Taghmon customer replied that they were doing very badly. The Kellys replied that their pigs only thrived after the first year was over. This despite the fact that a pig should normally be fat in six to eight months.

The Drovers

The fairs were held on the street. Many of the residents of the houses would come out armed with a sweeping brush and attempt to run cattle away from their doors. It was hard to blame them as their neat white-washed walls were being liberally fouled by the animals.

The buyers from outside county Wexford usually booked into a hotel the night before the fair. Shortly after 6.00 a.m. on the morning of the fair these buyers would be out on the road in order to meet the sellers coming into the market. Much of the trading was done on the road in this way. The buyers then employed drovers to bring the cattle to the various railway stations to transport them to their final destination. The drovers were well-known and skilled at their particular job. From Taghmon there were Josie Landy and John Condon. These drovers employed a few younger boys as helpers. Paddy Foley, a Wexford town drover, brought stock for the Wexford butchers and an O'Connor of New Ross did much of the droving for his area.

In later years the bigger buyers purchased their own lorries for transporting the animals. When a seller saw seven or eight lorries parked in the village, he knew that this was going to be a good fair and that he had a great chance of getting a fair price for his beasts.

'Eating & Drinking Houses'

The biggest and best fairs were held on the 28th May and the 20th June. The village business people became caterers for the fairday and the front rooms were turned into restaurants to cater for the large and hungry crowds. A good 'feed' could be had for two shillings (10p) or two and sixpence (12.5p). Most of the catering was done by Mrs. O'Reilly (later Quigleys), Mrs. Annie Williams of the bakery, Polly Martin, Alice Ryan, Mrs. Sweeney, Keatings pub, Nan Murphy, Alice Brady and Mag Walshe.

On completion of a transaction, the seller usually brought the buyer to a pub to treat him to a drink. On these occasions, the 'followers' would be much in evidence. They would ask the seller, 'Did you get a good price?' When the answer was in the affirmative, the 'follower' would say, 'And more of that to you'. Usually they succeeded in getting a free drink. The beer was very cheap in the 1940s and 1950s - 7 old pence (3p in today's money) for a half pint.

There were two blacksmiths in the village, Peter Carton and Jack Kelly, both of whose businesses thrived during the fairdays.

Many a deal was made in the pubs at a late hour. Tommy Horan from Tipperary would have a lorry load of stock. He might not sell them all at the fair. The remainder would be sold in the pub. When a calf was purchased the legs were usually tied and the animal put into a bag, leaving only the head exposed. At this time, the white heads were a very popular breed. The new owner of the calf would often offer the calf in the bag for sale in the pub at a late hour. It was sold as a genuine white head, but when the farmer opened the bag at home, sometimes he found a snow white calf.

Fairday Characters

Mossy Rowe of Clongeen was well-known for his sire ponies which he paraded through the fair. Many other farmers led stallions through the street including the Crowleys and the Calls of Growtown. These animals would stand in Polly Martin's yard where farmers would bring their mares to be covered.

Tommy Mallon of St. Anne's was a famous drover who worked for the Roche brothers. A small man of very quick wit, he was once approached by a nun who was collecting monies from the assembled throngs. She introduced herself to Tommy as one of The Little Sisters of The Poor from Waterford. Tommy held out his hand and said, 'meet your long lost brother'.

Another character at the fairs was a man who had no legs and transported himself around in a four wheeled box guided by two sticks. He wove in and out through big herds of cattle but was never kicked. People at the fair would throw money into the box and carry out bottles of porter to him from the pubs. By evening he was incapable of being in charge of even a non-motorised vehicle.

Bill Keane was a well-known trader at the fairs who specialised in selling ash plants. He charged one shilling for each and they were quality products. Peculiarly, he refused to sell after midday. Many times he was approached by drovers who were looking for a good stick for a long drive to New Ross or Clonmel. No matter what money was offered he refused to break his condition of not selling after twelve o'clock.

Traders

The fair also had traders selling clothes. They would erect a tent around their van to display the wares and a suit could be bought in the hungry 1950s for about 2. One day a local man purchased a nice blue suit from a dealer who put the suit in a parcel for him. When he got home, he opened the parcel and to his dismay found a very poor grey suit. Two weeks later there was another fair in Taghmon and the local went looking for the dealer who had swindled him. He spotted the dealer, but this time he was sporting a moustache. The local man confronted the dealer but was informed that it was his (the dealer's) first time in Taghmon. The unfortunate man had no further redress.

Farming utilities such as gates, ladders, cattle troughs and pig troughs were also sold. Among the traders in this area were James White of Tottenham Green and Terry Evoy of Ballymitty. One could buy a good 9 foot gate for about seven shillings (35p in today's currency). In later years lorries came to the village fairs with gates made from the green forestry timber. These were of very poor quality.

In a small vegetable section the chief seller was cabbage plants which could be had at 6 pence per hundred.

Pigs & Sheep

The section of the fair devoted to pigs was held in the square. Buyers came from the midlands and mostly store pigs were on offer. Many of the local dealers made their living trading from fair to fair. Among these were Mr. Reville, Clongeen; James Brady of Youngstown; Martin and Jack Sinnott of Heavenstown and Garda Keevans of Taghmon who travelled to most of the local fairs with a load of pigs on his pony and cart. A smaller section of the fair was devoted to sheep.

Local Characters

Among the local characters from Taghmon who were known to all the visitors to Taghmon during the fairs were Rob Brerton, Jack Fitzgerald, George Hurn and Paddy Cooper. Pat Pender was a local tailor who marked up his clients' measurements on a slate with white chalk. He lived in a house which always had a badly smoking chimney and he took his measurements with the aid of candle light. Behind his back some of the local 'boys' would change the measurements - adding or subtracting two or three inches. Needless to say there was many a disappointed customer.

Elections and Organised fights

When an election was approaching, the politicians were out in force at the fairs. Paddy Kehoe of Enniscorthy (father of Padge Kehoe, the hurling legend) was making a speech one day when a heckler shouted 'Well what will you do if you get in?' Paddy quickly replied 'What will I do if I don't get in'. Paddy Condon from Camross was a speaker for Labour.

Organised fights took place at the fairs. Anyone who fancied his chances found that there was many a good man to take him on. The fighting men came from Adamstown, Clonerane and Caroreigh. The Garda Sergeant in Taghmon at the time, was an expert at the boxing game. On one occasion there was a disagreement in a pub between this Garda and another contender from Adamstown. A contest was arranged to take place in the vicinity of the fountain. The Garda knocked down his opponent who quickly arose again. The fight continued for about five minutes and ended with the Garda on the flat of his back in three feet of water in the fountain.

Alas, the fairs are no more but the older folks look back with fondness on those days. The farmer may not always have got the going rate for his animals but the local community always benefited from the fair. Drovers and 'tanglers', proprietors of eating houses, the publicans, the shops, the bank and the Post Office all had a day to remember, even though it took some time to clean the streets again. Nevertheless, the 'Marts' have never generated the same excitement or the same sense of adventure which many participants felt at the fair of Taghmon.

Oh many men have come and gone and many things have changed,
And the old style way of doing things has all been disarranged,
The Mart, they say is better, but still I miss the fun,
That we had down in Fay Keating's - on a Fairday in Taghmon.
(T.W.)

A Fairday in Taghmon - probably in the early 1950s

Aidan O'Sullivan

Johnny O'Sullivan

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Tom Williams for his help and encouragement