My Own Town · The Southern Star

My Own Town: Ballabuidhe

UnknownBallabuidhe has come and gone for another year, the weather was quite good and the town was a buzz with people despite the lack of anticipation this year.

Three days of racing, free entertainment and the traditional horse fair brought with it the usual big attendances including some reunions and visitors from all over the world.

The origins of the Ballabuidhe Festival have been lost, with written records only going back to 1615 but to this day the festival carries with it ancient traditions seen in other great fairs like Tara and Tailte.

After three days of racing, the famous Ballabuidhe Horse Fair is held and in conjunction with it a horse show is held on the streets. This is the only show of its kind in the country.

The ‘Aonach Mor’ or the Big Fair was the centerpiece of the business, sporting and social life of Irish people for centuries. Ballabuidhe Horse Fair has withstood the test of time and has flourished to the present day.

According to records Ballabuidhe was started in 1615 when a charter was granted to Randal Og Hurley of Ballinacarriga Castle to hold a fair at Beal an Atha Buighe. However, it has been claimed that the festival is actually at least a thousand years old.

With this in mind Ballabuidhe is older than Dunmanway itself and the founding of the town only added to the festivals momentum. By the early 1800s the festival had reached the peak of its fame.

Trotting races organised by the locals often for no prizes and no wages rather for the prestige of having the best horse eventually gave way to the Ballabuidhe Races. Though not as old as the fair the races have and still play a major part in the festival.

The grand finale was the Ceili Mor which was held on the last night of the festival out in the open air. Concubhar Ó Buacalla was a blind piper who played at Ballabuidhe for over fifty years and was known as the prince of the pipers.

While Ballabuidhe is still going strong all these years later it did suffer a blow during the Famine as many events faded away with the people during this dark period. It suffered another setback when the Cork, Bandon and South Coast Railway was constructed through the Fair Field. With the railway established and centralisation taking hold the festival was moved from Fair Field in Nedineagh into Dunmanway Town giving it a new lease of life.

Special passenger and freight trains were laid on for the event and as August bank holiday coincided with the traditional date of the festival this became the new date for this annual event.

The 1940s and 50s saw it reach an all time high as it was the first time that ancient and modern times met. Travel was becoming much easier but there was still an abundance of horse drawn vehicles . The old cross road dances and ceilis gave way to ‘The Ballroom of Romance.

Another tradition framed with Ballabuidhe is that of the return of local exiles often from Britain and sometimes even as far as America.

While the event has changed drastically since the 17th century it still has a feeling of tradition and nostalgia about it to this day.

(Original text published online in the Southern Star on 9 August 2013)


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