At The Fair of Taghmon

Seamus and Brendan Keevans

Boss, it's time to get up if you're going to the fair!' Minutes later Sean joined his father and sister at the gate. They had two bullocks and one heifer for sale. Maybe, the excitement and joy in the twins' hearts added brightness to the morn as they waited to team up with Dinny O' Connor their neighbour. Mary shook holy water on the cattle just as Dinny arrived with his drove of bullocks.
'Good morning, Paddy,' greeted his neighbour. 'I see you've some help today.' Katie was in like a flash.
'This is our very first fair, Mr. O' Connor and we're thrilled to be going. Do you know "Beidh aonach amárach i gcontae an Chláir"'?

'A Mháithrín, A' ligfidh tú chun aonaigh mé?
A Mháithrín, A' ligfidh tú chun aonaigh mé?
A Mháithrín, A' ligfidh tú chun aonaigh mé?
AMhúirín ógh, ná héiligh é.'

'Now, don't mind your singing, but let the pair of you run on down to the crossroads in case they head for Scar.'
At the cross a flock of sheep from the south was ahead of them and a herd of cattle from the west came after them.
'Daddy, was the Taghmon fair always there or when did it start?' enquired Katie.
Daddy looked across at Dinny and he was delighted to oblige.
'A curious thing like. In 1748 Wexford, Taghmon and Castlebridge were without a fair. But by 1777, Taghmon had its cattle market. Then there were 69 fairs in the county held in 28 places.'
'Boys O' boys O' man,' piped in Paddy, 'and to think there are 21 fairs every year now in Taghmon alone.'
The calm and peace of the morning was broken by the commotion ahead. Some of the long-horned sheep had scurried through a gap in the fence. Without warning the cattle followed in thunderous pursuit.
'Go east of them, Sean,' roared his father as the two teenagers took up the chase. Sean was knocked by a ram and landed in a heap of cow dung.
'Oh, mammy will kill you when she sees you,' exclaimed Katie in horror.
'And I'll kill you if you don't get those animals out here soon!' shouted his father.

The stampede was soon over and there was no more running wild. Approaching the cross at Foulksmills Sean forget his shame and embarrassment. His friend, Sonny O' Dowd, joined them with a big fat pig. They were in avid conversation until the swine made for his brothers and sisters in a nearby farmyard. Sonny and Sean didn't spare the ashplant on him but it took Dinny's intervention to get him back in line again.
'Do you know something!' exclaimed Dinny, 'it would nearly be easier hold the Kilkenny forwards at bay. The pig is the most contrary animal of the whole lot, that way like.' Outside Slevoy, a car came against them. With the honking of the horn some of the animals grew frisky again and Sonny's sow made a run for the vehicle.
'Oh, it's the doctor,' said Katie, 'somebody must be dying.'
'The devil mend him,' said Dinny with passion. 'Some people think the road is theirs. He'll make a killing if he doesn't slow down.'
Near Raheen, a friendly farmer had given Paddy a field beside the road for the night to split the journey. Now Sean was put in charge of the two sheep and was he proud!
'Keep your fuzzy sheep away from my "rashers" ', warned Sonny with a smile.
The church clock chimed seven as they hit Market Square. No doubt, the village came to life with the sound of the creaking of the carts, the lowing and trample of the herds, the bleating of the sheep and the 'hup, hup' of the farmers. In a sense the town was being invaded.


Paddy stood the cattle beside Johnny Quigley's shop in the middle of the main street. Sean was given instructions by his father to bring the sheep to a spot near the Protestant church. Not to worry as he'd be down to him shortly. Katie whispered to her brother not to sell 'Sabrina' -'he's my pet'.
Within the half-hour, he raced up the street and gave a great crow of delight.
'Daddy, Daddy! I've sold the sheep!'
''How much did you get?'
'Ten quid.'
'More.... How much are you looking for the oul' soap boxes?' said he.
'They're the cream of the fair' said I, 'and twelve quid is the price'
'I'll give you ten pounds - - a fiver each, and that's generous.'
'I'd be killed if I sell Sabrina for less than seven, and in the end he said "O.K."'
'What was he like?'
'He had a mop of black hair, bushy eyebrows and dandy red boots, and he said you're to buy him a drink.'

Paddy was delighted and embracing his son told him he had done a better 'dale' than he would have himself. Then he made for the pub to celebrate and noticing Katie's tears and distress, he took her with him. He'd buy her an even better sheep than Sabrina.


Meanwhile, Sean noticed barrels outside the house to his right and planks on top of them to prevent the animals going near the windows.

The woman of the house stood in the door and shook her fist as she pointed at the newly white- washed walls.
'It's okay, they scuttered on the way in', said the youngster with a disarming smile. She smiled and closed the door.
Sean's attention was now taken up with the action to his left. A tangler was prodding and poking the fleshy cow, and examining the teeth when he exclaimed:
'God, sure, I'm givin' you twice too much, sure she have only one eye!'
The farmer drew himself up to his full height and, stomping the ground with his black hobnailed boots, replied:
'Ah, surely, me boy, sure you won't be running her in harness!'

The tangler left in disgust but a short time later, a tall energetic man, sporting a striped suit, a collar and tie and a pair of red boots, bought the cow for a price that pleased the farmer.


On his return from the pub, Paddy congratulated Tadhgie on selling the one-eyed cow. Katie informed her brother that there was lemonade and biscuits for him in O'Donnells. With that the ground seemed to tremble and Katie and Sean were pulled into Quigley's just in time to escape being trampled to death by a mighty herd of long-horned bullocks that were being driven by a few drovers with ash plants at an awesome speed right down the centre of the crowd- jammed street. In an attempt to escape, people tumbled over one another, overthrowing not only angry men, but also stands and barrels.
'Be the hockey fiddle!' exclaimed Tadhgie, 'I hope me cow hasn't lost the good eye!'

He recovered the beast among the bullocks opposite the barracks, and he called the drovers 'cowboys who should be locked up'.


Sean had wandered over to Piggot's Corner (now Tom Furlong's Super Value) where Josie Landy was tending the cattle. A big tall man with flashy clothes was giving guidelines to a small wiry farmer with a hired sack over his shoulders.
'From £48 to £54 for the heifers and between £58 and £64 for the bullocks, and not a penny more John.'
The gasoon hurried back with this information to his father. Hot on his heels was the man with the sack.
'How much for those two puny white-heads?'
'Sixty eight pounds each for those well-conditioned Herefords', replied Paddy calmly.
'Oh, you're mad!'
Just as he was going away, Tadhgie called after him, 'Come back here!' 'Sure, I can't go back, he's wanting sixty eighty pounds. I'll give him fifty eight.'
'Give me your hand,' said Tadhgie, and slapping it with his own, he said, 'Split the difference'.
'Fifty nine is my final offer', and the tangler walked away.

Some ten minutes later, Ireland's most successful cattle dealer, Seamus Purcell arrived on the scene. Tadhgie got him to 'split the difference' and the bullocks made £64 each, with very little haggling. Seamus spat on the palm of his hand and slapped it on Paddy's palm, the docket was signed and the bullocks branded with a tidy little scissors mark on the rump of each animal.


Paddy was paid at the bank and then joined the buyer and Tadhgie in Keating's pub. They congratulated each other. Seamus bought the three glasses of whiskey and Paddy gave him a half-crown a head as luck money.
'Men', said Seamus as he nursed his drink, 'This must be the biggest fair I've ever seen here. Sure they're a mile out the Ross Road. Taghmon is definitely the leading fair in the county if not the country itself!
'True for you', agreed Tadhgie, with pride and passion.
'By the way, Paddy,' advised Seamus from the doorway, 'If you want to sell that little furry Aberdeen Angus of yours, Paddy Noone from the West of Ireland is your man and he's coming this way now.'
Paddy was out like a bullet and the animal was sold and raddled in record time. The fifty pounds payment was made on the spot too.
'He has a quare lot of money,' remarked Katie, as the buyer replaced the band on the notes and just shoved the money down in the pocket of his overcoat.


'Ding a ling! Ding a ling'
Coming down from the Market Square was a small sturdy man ringing a hand bell. Stopping at the fountain, he bellowed:
'Hear ye, hear ye!'
Silenced reigned as people appeared at the pub doors anxious to hear the news.
'Don't forget!' he announced at the top of his voice.
'Hereford bulls for sale....Mrs. Fallon, Wellingtonbridge'.
Slowly, he paraded down the centre of the main street and Katie noticed the placard on his back and another on his chest. After a few more peals of his bell he gave the second message.
'Don't forget the dance tomorrow night in Camross Hall. Admission three shillings.'
'Oh, wouldn't that be lovely!' enthused Katie as she eyed the three shillings her father had given her.
'What about the Bull's eyes?'enquired Sean.
The bellman had another 'fogra' which brought claps, cheers and whistles of approval.
'Hello! Hello! Do you know? County Football Final next Sunday in Enniscorthy...Support your team.'
More applause and shouts of 'Up Taghmon!' as he continued on towards Mahony's Row and back up Stream St. Sean went wild with excitement.
'Our teacher is playing, I'd love to go. We'll ask Daddy.'
As it was, Daddy was looking for them. He was so full of joy and good cheer he'd have volunteered to bring them to the moon! No problem.


On the way down the Main St. to Annie Williams of the bakery, Paddy stopped for a chat with a friend. Right beside him a farmer from Trinity was exhilarated with the sale of his big strawberry cow. The feel of the money in his hand seemed to lighten his tongue and he revealed to Tom Banville:
'She's only the one fault. You couldn't milk her the way she swishes her tail!'
'Oh sure,' says Tom, 'that's easy. No problem. There's a cure for that. Did you never hear that?'
'Pass me back the money now over her back and I'll pass it back under her belly to you, and she'll never swish her tail again!'
The farmer was foolish enough to do as he was bid and Tom put the money in his pocket and departed saying:
'You're not going to cod me!'
The man from Trinity was shell-shocked and even a lick from 'Strawberry' failed to lift his depression.


While Sean and Katie enjoyed a hearty meal of ham and tea, it was the fluffy buns that made it a satisfying feed for them. Paddy was chatting with Nicky Byrne of Scar (reputed to be the best man that ever took cattle on the road')
'I've to bring 75 cattle to Wexford for the train to the North Wall. I'll walk around two and a half miles an hour at me ease....'

He was working for Jack Tuohy and he was getting a shilling (5p) a piece. Young Sean thought this was 'mighty money' and he'd like to be a drover!


Outside on the street a ballad singer's melodious voice was gathering an eagerly attentive crowd. Acting out the words had his audience even more enthralled.
He fired point blank at Kelly
And it brought him to the ground.
And as her turned to Davis,
He received a mortal wound,
A bullet pierced his brave young heart
From the pistol of Fitzroy,
And that was how they captured him
The Wild Colonial Boy.


As the church bells chimed the midday Angelus, Paddy and Katie hurried off up to High St. or Chapel St. to buy the 'super Sabrina'. On his stroll up the town Sean became aware that the patter of the street traders was replacing the lowing of cattle and shouting of drovers. One of the 'cantmen' was shouting:
'Roll Up! Roll up!' and in two ticks he had a crowd round him.
'Here ladies and gentlemen, is the bargain of the century. This fine trousers sells for ten pounds in Wexford.... but I'm offering it to the first person who gives me five pounds!'
Sensing a dragging of feet he encouraged them:
'Come on, what would you get for a fiver!'
'A damn fine lamb!' shouted a voice in the crowd.
'And isn't this all lamb's wool mixed with ram's wool.... come on, who will give me four pounds.... three pounds?'
Still no stir from his audience until he spotted Jack, the bellman.
'Here, fit this on you Jack. It will do you when you are getting married and you can have it for only two pounds.'
The crowd laughed but Jack seemed pleased. Could he leave it for collection until he was ready to go home?
Jack wondered would it be necessary to write his name on the package. 'Not at all.' quipped the Cheap Jack, 'I'd know you in Croke Park amongst 80,000 Corkonians!'
The crowd laughed and cheered and shouted, 'Ring the bell,' and 'Hear ye' and 'Up Wexford'.


While Sean and his pal, Sonny O' Dowd were more interested in the craic than in the goods displayed, Mary was buying a rosary beads from the mission stand of Mrs. Francis. When she saw the pair of them, she smiled and waved and treated them to refreshments in a nearby stall.
Dinny O'Connor told them that in his youth there were May-Boys at the Fair of Taghmon. Sean and Sonny listened as Dinny described it all.
'As suddenly, as silently and as skilfully as the Kilkenny forwards slip their markers, throngs of "Spailpini" invaded the village. A picturesque sight they were, surely, in their "bainin's" with their bundles on their shoulders and hooks in their hands.'
'Who were they?', Sean inquired.
'Ah they were the May-Boys,' Dinny explained, 'and that was the day for them to be hired for the spring or harvest work. The young, able- bodied men formed up in lines from Mahony's Row to the top of Stream St. The farmers viewed the harvesters like Napoleon inspecting the troops. Finally, one of them saw a likely lad.'
'What can you do?'
'I can cut turnips, turf and corn, milk cows and snare rabbits ere morn, clean the stables and hen houses, carry water and feed the calves...'
The farmer cut in: 'Can you mow?'
'I've no equal with hook or scythe - - I can mow an acre a day.'
'If your mowing can match your crowing, you'll do, said the farmer with a laugh. Terms and conditions were agreed… £2 a month and a bonus if they won the match on Sunday! Work would commence at six in the morning and continue until seven in the evening. He once saw John Roche of Levitstown hiring about forty harvesters.'

Peter Deasy, from the outskirts of Newmarket in North Cork, seemed happy as he left Paddy to begin his week's holiday. With the balance of his payment (£20) now in his pocket, he would call on Tom Leonard or Paddy Prendergast, the local tailors for the year's clothing. Nor would he forget to order a pair of hand-made boots from either Joe Kendrick (Joseph St.) or John Walsh. Five pounds would suffice. But first, he would meet his sister, Mary, who was then being measured by the Larkin sisters (dressmakers). Or maybe he would join the Corks and Kerrys in one of the seven pubs, and soon he'd be in merry mood.


Across the street from Piggott's Corner, Brendan Corish T.D. was asking for a 'Vote Labour' in the election. A reported fight in Washpile had drawn the crowd and Katie and Mary felt pity for the lonesome politician.


Lacker Daly was halfway east to Wexford town with his 80 cattle. A farmer and his son were working beside the road and when they saw him coming they had a mug of tea and a few slices of bread and jam on the pier for him.
'I'm sure you'd love that, Lacker'.
'You could sing that,' said Lacker, 'and God bless ye.'
They walked a few hundred yards up the road with him as he told them who was at the fair, and all about the prices and happenings of the day. It was a different story west of the village. Another farmer and his son were weeding potato drills near the road. While they were slaking their thirst they noticed Dinny O'Connor approaching, and he singing:
The first time I ever saw your face...

'A curious thing like', said Dinny with that familiar hitch of shoulder, 'I didn't fare as well as last year but then I didn't expect that I would, that way like!'
And away he went singing:
I thought the sun rose in your eyes.


Sean and Katie were filing out of Fossett's Circus as the cargo train from Wexford pulled into Dublin. Georgie Kavanagh left the station with 50 cattle but ended up down in the North Wall with 49. But he was after robbing the missing cow. He hid her in the front bedroom in Sheriff St.

Next morning, a well-known garda knocked on the door. When Georgie opened it, there was this almighty 'Moo-oo' from within.
'What's that noise?'

Georgie replied quick as a flash, 'That's me bull dog!'

From that day on, Georgie was called 'The Rustler'. Later that day, Willie and Mickser Maher escorted Tadhgie's cow to the boat for Liverpool.


Meanwhile, back on the ranch west of Taghmon, Katie was showing Sean the beautiful Welsh pony. She was a dainty wild animal - unused to handling but not giddy, just shy. It had taken the horse an hour to accept her company, and for that time he chased her round the field. Now, they were friends and Katie was very proud of 'Cherry Bomb'... and ecstatic and proud and grateful for her first day at the fair of Taghmon.


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Department of Irish Folklore.
The Echo.
Fair Day by Patrick Logan. p.8.
The Free Press.
Irish Country People
by Kevin Danaher. p.91.
Kilgarvan Observer 1998. p.10. Fair Days in Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry.
Ireland's Own.
Lewis's Wexford 'County Wexford prior to 1837'
by Elizabeth Browne & Tom Wickham 1983.
Memoirs 1911--'86 Mons. James Horan
Memories of a Garda Superintendent by Tim Leahy.
Theophilus Moore's Almanack 1843-45; 1880-81.
The National Library, Dublin.
Old Moore's Almanac 1940, 1950, 1960/66.
The People.
Sheriff St.-Down by the Dockside
South East Radio ... Michael Doyle
The Wexford Journal 1776.
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Thom's Directory 1849,1905,1940.
Westport - - The Tear & the Smile
by Joe McNally.
Wexford Chronicle 1777.

A very special 'go raibh maith agat' to the following gallant people who welcomed, informed and entertained me:
Paddy Banville.
Dan Carroll, Arnestown, New Ross.
Jim Cullen, Brownescastle
Kitty Cullen Egan, Yoletown.
Bill Layne, Harperstown, Taghmon.
Willie & Mickser Maher.
Hilary Murphy, Wexford.
Pat Roche, Slevoy, Foulksmills.
Richard Roche, Clontarf, Dublin
Seamus Seery, who inspired, supplied and supported this venture.
May Casey Wall, Ballinamona, Newbawn.
Mrs. R. Walsh, Woodgraigue, Duncormick.
Mike Waters, Mulmintra, Taghmon.
Kevin Whelan
Kevin & Maureen Whelan, Loughnageer, Foulksmills.
Jim Whitty, Modubeg.
Tom Williams