Belfast Telegraph

All the fun of the fair at Ballycastle’s Auld Lammas

By Lesley-Anne Henry

It's noisy, smelly and more than a little bit tacky. But still, and perhaps because of it, the Auld Lammas Fair attracts around 100,000 people a day.

The annual event in Ballycastle on the north coast is Ireland’s oldest two-day fair, dating back to the 17th century.

This year around 400 stalls selling everything from fishing tackle to candyfloss lined the streets, while country singers belted out their greatest hits from virtually every shop entry.

But it was the traditional dulse (red seaweed) and ‘Yellow Man’ (honeycombed sticky toffee) that visitors were snapping up in their droves.

It began as a horse-trading market in 1612 and at Fairhill Street this tradition continues with flat capped, wiley old men and young bucks playing out the theatrics of haggling. There was much spitting on hands, walking away in disgust and racing bareback up and down the street. It is a fascinating spectacle and one of the few elements that gives the Lammas Fair its authenticity.

Jim Martin (64) from Cullbackey was among the hundreds of people leaning against the barriers eyeing the fillies at Fairhill Street. “I come down to the fair most years just for a bit of a nosey, really. I like looking at the horses, but I wouldn’t buy one from here,” the plasterer said.

Newry woman Rose McAteer (50) said: “I drove three hours to get here. I used to come all the time but this is the first time I’ve been in about five or six years. There aren’t as many stalls as there used to be, I can see a big change. We used to make a weekend of it and stay up but we’re just here for the bank holiday this year.”

At the Quay Road the playing fields were transformed into a fairground with dozens of rides for thrill-seekers.

Father of two David Price (35), who was holding a giant pink dolphin balloon, said: “There’s nothing quite like the Lammas Fair if you are a local. It’s like a high school reunion. I always enjoy it every year, even when I lived across the water I’d come home for the fair.”

Margaret Windsor (72), who is originally from Ballycastle but now lives in Devon, said she travels to the fair almost every year.

“I left Ballycastle in 1957 but I always come back for the Lammas Fair and Black Saturday parades,” she said.

“I enjoy meeting up with old friends and people that I don’t see from one fair to the next.”

Special car parks were laid on for the thousands of vehicles that converged on Ballycastle with some motorists who flouted the parking laws on Rathlin Road hit with ticket fines.

The celebrations have been overshadowed after trouble flared in the Diamond area of the town during the early hours of yesterday morning.

Nineteen people were arrested and two police officers slightly injured after a large crowd hurled bottles and other missiles at about 2am. Extra officers were called in to deal with the riot which lasted for about an hour.

Councillor Price McConaghy, chairman of Moyle District Council, said: “It disturbs me a lot, in fact I am angry that when we go to the effort and everything else goes off so well, that a few people ruin it by creating trouble. And when the police have to arrest 19 people, it must have been quite bad.

“The Lammas Fair is important for Ballycastle as it brings business to the town and an influx of visitors,” he added.

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