Ballinasloe Horse Fair

Ballinasloe Horse Fair

Every year there is a huge horse fair in Ballinasloe. Midland balladeer Brendan Shine wrote a song about it about, oh, a million years ago. If you think that’s old, just think: this Irish festival is older.

As Brendan says, the king of the fair used to be chosen by fistfight. Now the king is voted into position and the candidates are sponsored into the running by local petition. This year there will be no king of the fair, as nobody seemed interested in sponsoring anyone. Sad, but true. The fair is also a huge convention for travelling people.

Now, if you live outside Ireland or have never been here you may not know anything about Travellers. They deserve their own blog post here, so without getting too far into it, the travellers are distinct ethnic group with their own language and culture who live a nomadic lifestyle here in Ireland, moving about the country in caravans, living in halting sites, fields and along roadsides.

According to local papers, more than a hundred Gardai, backed up by dog and mounted horse units, will be on duty for the course of the nine-day Ballinasloe Horse Fair and Festival. An estimated 85,000 visitors descend on the Ballinasloe town for the event.
The hundred or so officers have been be drafted in from many areas of the Roscommon/East Galway division and supported by the dog unit and mounted horse units. The Garda air support will also be on standby in case of emergencies. Even the ISPCA will have 6 officers present at the fair every day (which is, I think, about their entire staff).

Another unusual thing about this year’s fair is the prohibition (although the wording WAS a bit vague) of any animals other than horses, ponies and donkeys.

If you’re looking for a “real” slice of Irish culture, something non-commercial, this is it, folks.