Faction Fights, Fairs and Hurling


"At wedding or wake I would twist my shillelagh" During the early part of the nineteenth century, a serious problem in parishes in all parts of Ireland was the existence of factions who engaged in fights at almost every fair or gathering. The favourite weapon was a stick or cudgel and the exploits of local heroes have passed into the folklore of many parishes... The faction fights often resulted in the death of some of the combatants.

...Drinking and quarrelling, no doubt, were features of these gatherings, and this, as well as elements of superstition which had corrupted the traditional religious practices, forced the ecclesiastical authorities to abolish the patterns... For example, a pattern held at Saint Munna's Well in Teach Munna (Taghmon) on the 21st of October was discontinued from 1800 for "weighty reasons".

The abolishing of the patterns, however, separated the disturbances from only the religious occasion. Faction-fighting continued to be a feature of the fair day. One of the oldest fairs in the north of County Wexford was that of Cloch Amainn which dated from 1615 when Sir Richard Masterson was granted the right of holding a market there every Thursday and a fair every year on the Feast of Saint Burnaby, the 11th of June. This fair gradually died out during the nineteenth century, although, within living memory, a few old men used to meet in the village on the 11th of June, thus keeping the tradition alive.

The fair of Cloch Amainn used to be notorious for its faction fights... In volume 11 of the Hore manuscripts, compiled by Herbert Hore about 1841, there is an article dealing with "The county of Wexford and its Peasantry". the writer gives an account of the faction-fighting at Cloch Amainn:

It is only at a gatherin' ", "when the drop gets into his head" that the organ of combativeness, so prominent on the Irish cranium, assumes its irresistible influence over the Wexford peasant, and he is seen "up to fun an' a pinch above it", and then, "oh then", give me a score of "bouncin' yellow bellies with a shillelagh in each hand "to clear a fair". Let any one who doubts the truth of this attend at the green of "Sweet Clahaman" on the 11th of June an' it's there where he'll see the fightin' that'll do his heart good...

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