Ardara Fairs and Markets

Up to the mid C20th, the "Fair Day" was central to the commercial and social life of Irish towns and villages. In 1760 landowner George Nesbitt inaugurated the fair and market of Ardara where woollen goods, farm produce, livestock and seafood were sold:

"Whereby by Letters Patent issued on the 16th May in the 33rd year of the reign of His late and most gracious Majesty, George 2nd, there was granted unto one George Nesbitt, his heirs and assigns, power and authority to hold four yearly fairs and a weekly market in or at the town of Ardara, Barony of Boylagh and Banagh in the County of Donegal…. one fair to be held on every 15th day of May, one other fair on the 22nd of December, and a weekly market every Tuesday…The main attraction of the fair was the horse-market at Hillhead.

Local author Patrick J McGill remembers the presence of horsemen with a local reputation, ostensibly putting their animals through their paces, but more often demonstrating their own horsemanship. One of these was a tall bearded countryman in a long-tailed coat, which expanded like the wings of a bird as he galloped along. His special "turn" was to race up to a horse, place his hands on its back, and vault over it.

Transcript of above letter from Paddy MacGill to Fr P Gallagher of the Donegal Historical Society

Wood House

Ardara, Co. Donegal

30th Nov '77

A Athair Phadraig a chara

I hope you are very well as we are. Age is still sitting lightly enough on myself. My main drawback is night driving since my eye operation a few years ago; oncoming car lights blind me. But in daylight I find myself as good as ever.

I compiled the little article enclosed some years ago and then proceeded to forget all about it and where I got it (except the first paragraph concerning Ardara). I found it amongst excerpts from a "Relation by Sir Audely Mervin", but I have no evidence that it was his work, seeing that Fairs are now about [over?] and I thought it might be timely.

We had a big gathering for my paper on "the O'Boyles of Boylagh" and I had a number of congratulatory messages since, many asking when and where it would be published. I hasten to admit that a number of paragraphs had been "lifted" from your own writings.

Father McCaul PP was very helpful by showing a number of projections of historical sites and scenes in the area. I wasn't pleased with the penmanship so I'm getting it typed. I'm afraid you'll think it very long, but I felt I couldn't curtail it; I'll send it on as soon as it is ready.Kay and I were very pleased at the honour conferred on you by having you present at the elevation of most Rev. Dr. Fiach to the Archbishopric, is brea an teanga Gaeilge ata aige. Go mairidh se I bhfad.

Le gach dea-ghui

Padraic S Mac a' Ghoill


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