Tuam Fairs

The following is an extract from the Topographical Dictionary of Ireland published in 1846 by S. Lewis & Co.13 Finsbury Place, South London: "In 1252, when Henry III confirmed to Florene Mac Flin, the Pope's bull for annexing he bishopric of Enaghdune to the See of Tuam, it was on condition he should have a portion of land within the town for the erection of a castle, in exchange for other land of equal value. The same King by letters patent granted to the Archbishop of Tuam a fair on the 28th December and the seven following days". A Charter granted in 1614 by James 1, to the Sovereign free burghesses and commonalty of Tuam, authorised, inter alia, the holding of a market each Thursday and one fair each Feast of St. John the Baptist and "to continue for the morrow of that day, together with a Court of Pie Powder". At the request of the Sovereign and burghesses, a further Charter was granted in 1776 by George III, authorising the holding of additional fairs on the 28th May, 20th October and 15th December, together with a Court of Pie Powder, during such fairs. In consideration of this Charter the Corporation became liable for payment of an annuity of Ten Shillings to the King. The Court of pie powder (or pye powder, as it is spelt in the later Charter) was popularly referred to as 'The Dusty Foot Court', and this term is said to have had its origin in the fact that the Court dealt with disputes whilst the dust of the market of fair was still on the disputant's boots. In addition to the fairs established by Charter as aforesaid the Town Commissioners in January, 1851 resolved to establish further fairs on the 10th March, 10th September and 20th November. The Minutes of the Town Commissioners from 1852 onwards, include statistics on the stock sold and unsold at the October Fairs and an analysis of these returns gives one a picture of the agrarian policy popular in the post-famine period. In a previous chapter, I have referred to the fact that the lack of security of tenure, the system of rack-renting and the liability for payment of tithes, were gradually driving the native Irish from the land during the early part of the century. The Famine of 1847 and the subsequent exodus to America accelerated the operation. Whole villages were wiped out and in most parts, the farming population was reduced by more than fifty per cent. This left the privileged minority not only owning the land, but in actual possession of most of it. The problem then was to know what to do with it. Grazing was the obvious solution and the aforesaid returns show that the system of grazing adopted was that requiring the minimum of exertion and farming acumen. The returns for the October Fair in 1852 show that 15,906 sheep and 5,663 black cattle were offered for sale. At the same fair in 1856 the returns for sheep had grown to 21,006 whilst the figures for cattle increased only to 5,790. And each subsequent return shows a steady increase in the number of sheep offered for sale until the October Fair of 1870, when the record figure of 36,424 sheep were offered. The following are the returns for the October Fairs of 1856 and 1870, respectively, and the reader with a knowledge of farming will appreciate the significance of the preponderance of wethers over hoggaths and of heifers over bullocks. It should also be noted that all cattle offered for sale were black and in fact, the fair was known as 'The Black Cattle Fair'.

In October, 1838, for the first time, the sheep and cattle fairs were held on separate days. The new arrangement proved a success and The Tuam Herald subsequently congratulated Mr. Patrick Kirwan of Carnane who had suggested the innovation. In 1872, the October Fairs were further augmented by the addition of an extra day for the sale of poor people's stock and for stock remaining unsold after the previous two days. The advent of the railroad had a disastrous effect upon many of the industries, which flourished in the town in the first half of the century. Hitherto, local industry had supplied practically all the wants of the town and neighbourhood and the difficulties of transport prevented competition from outside. Now however the big city firms were able to distribute there wares cheaply and quickly throughout the country and gradually the local tradesmen were compelled to abandon the hopeless task of trying to compete with them.

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