Fair day was an integral part of every Irish rural community for hundreds of years. We look back at the excitement of the fair in the 19th century.
In many parts of Ireland, the tradition of fair or market day has slowly died out but for centuries before this, they were massive events in the calendar and an integral part of every Irish rural community.
Farms depended on being able to sell their crop and stock seasonally and so a bad fair day could mean a tough time with little cash until fair day rolled around the next season. While some fairs were just for livestock and animals, others sold essentials such as hay and turf and food items such as jams, breads, and potatoes.
Fair dates in each town and village were known off by heart as families prepared to buy or sell what they could.
These images from the National Library of Ireland were taken at fair days across Ireland in the 1880s.
Throughout all the photos you can see the crowds turning out with their carts and their livestock flooding their local streets.
Also pictured is perhaps the most famous Irish fair of all; a Puck Fair taking place in Killorglin, County Kerry. As part of Ireland’s oldest festival, a wild goat is crowned and worshipped for the two-day festival as “King Puck.”
All of the images are part of the Lawrence Photographic Collection in the National Library of Ireland. At just 24 years of age, William Mervin Lawrence opened a photographic studio opposite the G.P.O. at Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) in Dublin on March 20, 1865, a studio that would go on to successfully photograph the length and breadth of Ireland from Howth Head in the East to Achill Head in the West and from Malin Head in the North to Skibbereen the South.
The collection consists of 40,000 glass plates mainly from the period 1880-1914, but some plates go back to 1870.
These pictures of the fair day, in particular, were taken by photographer Robert Frost, who was employed as the studio’s chief photographer. Having joined the studio as a printer, he worked his way up through the ranks to become an artist, assistant photographer and then the principal photographer. The collection began to wind down its activity once he retired, while in his 70s, in 1914. Lawrence himself also retired in 1916.
Have you ever been to a Fair Day in Ireland? Let us know about your experience in the comments section, below.