Markets and fairs are an index of economic activity. They bring people from town and country together. They are also a meeting place for all classes of people. Oughterard was a market town. The market was held every Thursday.
There were two fairs, each held four times a year. The oldest was at Clareville, which predates the founding of the town. It was called the Fair of Claremore and goes back to 1616. The other fair was held in the town of Oughterard.
The fair in the town took place on 1st January, 25th March, 24th June and 26th September. The fair at Clareville was held on 26th May, 9th August, 13th October and 20th December.
The Clareville fair is listed in the early almanacs. It was first listed in the Dublin Almanac (Gentleman’s and Citizen’s) in 1761 and in all subsequent editions, and in Thom’s Almanac from 1844 onwards.
The fair in the town is not listed in the records until 1843. Clare, alias Claremount, is recorded in 1824 as a fair granted by letters patent.
A constabulary report of 1843 stated that no disturbances took place at Oughterard in the collection of tolls or customs, at the market or fair, between 1840 and 1843. Four fairs were held during the year in the town and a market every Thursday. The report added that four fairs were held during the year at Clareville. Here a toll board was put up in the morning and taken down in the evening. Thomas B. Martin, the owner of the place, set the tolls for £10 per annum. This report was signed by Martin Clune, Sub-Inspector of the district, 27th July, 1843.
A report of 1846 states that fairs were held four times a year at Maam and Moycullen, as well as two fairs in Oughterard.
A report of the Commissioners of Fairs and Markets in Ireland (1853) stated that a market is held in Oughterard each Thursday (as returned by the constabulary) but no patent had been granted for the market to any named person. This report states that the patent for the fair of Claremore or Clareville was granted to Richard Martin on 5th July, 1616. In the patent, the fair days were given as the 14th and 15th September. This report goes on to state that in 1853 fairs were held in Connemara at Clifden, Clonbur, Maambridge, Renvyle, Moycullen and the town of Galway (four fairs).
In 1698, King William III had issued letters patent to ‘Nimble Dick’ Martin to erect all the lands west of Galway into the manor of Clare or Claremount. This led to the founding of the town of Oughterard. He was allowed to hold two weekly markets and two extra fairs at Claremount. Richard Martin proposed to build a town at the place where a fair was already held.
Final Report of the Royal Commissioners of Market Rights and Tolls (28th February, 1889)
A final inquiry was held on the markets and fairs in the several towns of Ireland in 1889. It was conducted by Assistant Commissioner J. J. O’Meara. He visited the towns where the markets and fairs were held.
Report on Oughterard
The report stated that the market day was Thursday and gives the dates and months on which the two fairs were held (four times per annum). No customs are levied at the market, the only charge being for weighing the different commodities brought to the market for sale.
The tolls for the fair held in the town of Oughterard are the property of Rev. T. P. O’Flaherty, Lemonfield. The tolls for the fair of Clareville are said to be the property of the representatives of Mr. Berridge (deceased). The latter four fairs were originally called the fairs of Claremore and are sublet to Mr. Martin Walsh at £8 per annum. The Rev. Mr. O’Flaherty is in the immediate receipt of the tolls levied at the fair held in the town.
There does not seem to have been any express authority granted for the holding of the markets and fairs in the town of Oughterard, although Mr. J. F. O’Flaherty J.P. stated in his evidence that he thought a grant was made in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, in 1588, for the fairs belonging to his father. However, the public records do not disclose any such charter.
The markets are held at the crossroads in the centre of the town. Beside the gable of one of the houses, a small piece of ground is used for weighing purposes, as on it is placed a beam and scales, by a private individual in the town, and which is considered sufficient to meet the required needs of the district. The charges levied for weighing the different commodities are retained by the owner of the scales for his own use. No market buildings, shelter or other accommodation is provided.
The fairs belonging to T. P. O’Flaherty are held in the enclosed fairgreen, which is about two acres in extent. There is no other accommodation provided, with the exception of a weighing machine for weighing cattle. A toll board is also erected on fair days. About twenty-two years ago, it is said, these fairs were held in the public streets and no tolls levied at them, but that on removal of the fairs to the fairgreen, the present scale of charges was established. The weighing machine is let out by its owner to the owner of the market beam and scales at a yearly rent of £3.
The fairs, belonging to the representatives of Mr. Berridge (deceased), are held at another end of the town, on a small commonage at either side of the public road. These fairs are practically held on the public thoroughfare, as what is called the fairgreen is too circumscribed to accommodate a large number of animals. It is not enclosed except by the roadside fence. At the time of inspection, it was strewn with stones and was rather unsuitable-looking for fair purposes.
A toll board is erected and the rates are the same as are levied at the other fair. There is no shelter accommodation provided – neither has a weighbridge been erected.
At the time of inspection, the weather was most inclement, with a tempestuous storm blowing. It was also the day on which the general market was held and the necessity of providing shelter accommodation was afforded by the sad spectacle of men and women, with their animals and market commodities, to huddle together under the gable of the house, beside which the weighing is carried on, in order to obtain such scant protection as that gave from the wind and the rain. On inquiry, it was ascertained that after a day thus exposed, with their garments drenched, these people would have to travel home through many miles of the bleak country surrounding Oughterard; and for the winter, at all events, such a lamentable state of events should be alleviated by providing shelter accommodation in the market.
By 1851, other fairs in Connemara were at Moycullen, Maambridge, Roundstone, Renvyle, Clifden, Barna, Headford and Galway. Thom’s Directory lists the two fairs in Oughterard in the 20th century and up to recent years.
The Schools Folklore Collection (1937-38) gives some short notes on the fairs in the district. The accounts state that An t-Aonach in Oughterard was held at Claremount and Corribdale.
The landlords got the tolls and customs for the fairs. The customs money for Páirc An Aonaigh, Corribdale, went to Mr. O’Flaherty but now the fairs are held in the town.
There were also fairs held in Eiscir (Rosscahill) and Moycullen long ago. They broke up the fairs when the road from Galway to Clifden was being made, because Sliabh an Aonaigh was in the way. Then the fairs were begun in Moycullen village.
The fairs of the town of Oughterard in the olden times were sometimes held in the public streets, and at other times in the fairgreen, Corribdale. The two fairs in Oughterard included cattle, sheep, pigs and sometimes horses. A drawing from the 1880s and a photograph from before 1900 show pig fairs in the town of Oughterard. The large mountain farms, many of which were held in common in the barony of Moycullen, were used for rearing cattle and most families reared a pig.
Examples from the Press
The following are some examples, mainly from the Galway Express, of fairs and markets in Oughterard between 1862 and 1919. They describe some fairs and markets and provide quotations and prices of stock and goods.
Oughterard Fair – 22 May, 1862
The fair held on Monday last was not as well attended as usual, owing to the unfavourable state of the weather. Milch cows were in great demand, at prices ranging from £6 to £9, store cattle from £4-15s to £6. Few sheep exchanged owners owing to the stiff demand of the holders – the little business in the fleecy department was from £1 to £1-15s. No demand for horses but for Connemara ponies a brisk lookout.
The report added that the people retired peaceably and soberly.
Galway Express – 29 June, 1894
The fair was largely attended, held at Oughterard on 24th inst. There was a brisk business done in the sale of stock, at prices which seemed to satisfy the large majority of sellers.
Oughterard Fairs: Galway Express – November 18, 1899
The District Council passed a resolution to hold new fairs in the town of Oughterard on the following five dates from November to April, 1899-90. It was short-sighted, as not enough notice to the public was given. Many local people brought stock to the fair on the 15th November but no buyer put in an appearance, as it had not been duly placarded as should have been done. It’s a pity public bodies should act so in an affair of such importance to the country – that is, due notice of fairs not given.
Oughterard Market Prices – March 15, 1900
Pigs (live) – about 35s per cwt
Oats – 9d to 10d per stone
Potatoes – 3.5d to 4d per stone
Turnips (Swedes) – 10d per cwt
Hay – £2-5s per ton
Straw – 1s-8d per cwt
Banbhs – 10s to 14s each
Oughterard Market Prices – May 8, 1909
Potatoes – 6d per stone
Oats – 9.5d per stone
Turnips – 1s per stone
Banbhs – 16s to £1 each
Fat Pigs – £2-2s per cwt
Cabbage Plants – 3d per cwt
Mangolds – 1s per cwt
Wheat Straw – 2s per cwt
Oat Straw – 10d per cwt
Oughterard Fair : Galway Express – 3 July, 1909
At the fair held on 24th June, there was a good attendance of buyers and the supply of stock exhibits was large – the demand was brisk for cattle in condition but inferior cattle were more or less neglected. There was no business in the sheep department. Three year-old bullocks and heifers fetched from £10 to £14; two year-olds £8-10s to £10; yearlings £4-10s to £7-10s; calves £2 to £2-10s; milch cows £9 to £14-10s.
Oughterard Fair – October 16, 1909
Held last Monday at Clareville – always looked upon as the principal fair of the year and did not fall behind the general expectation, though the demand for sheep was somewhat slack and half went home again. The supply of stock exhibited was large and the attendance of buyers from Galway, Westport and the Midland counties was above the average. The demand was brisk except for sheep, but the Westport buyers made up in some measure for this as they confined themselves almost entirely in the sheep department.
Mr. Máirtín Mór McDonagh, CDC Galway, who always patronizes the Oughterard fairs, bought up a good deal of cattle, separately and in lots, wherever he could get them. There are only light fairs held here in the year and a motion will be made on 9th October at the District Council to increase the number to twelve, and if so it is hoped they will be properly advertised, unlike at Clifden recently.
Three year-old bullocks and heifers – £9 to £10. A few ran up to £14 and one beast went to £15-10s. Two year-olds – £7 to £8. Yearlings – £5 to £5-10s. Springers – £9-10s to £12.
The supply of horses was small. Two year-old horses went from £8 to £10.
Sheep (Weathers) – 15s to 25s
Ewes – 10s to 22s
Lambs – 10s to 15s
Fair – 20 November, 1909
The fair held on Monday at Clareville was the worst in every respect for years and quotations are out of the question. The extremely severe weather, the cropping up of new fairs in the district and the sale of local sheep at the weekly market reduced this fair to a low-water mark. You might get a three year-old bullock or heifer in good condition for £11 or £12 and a sheep for 15s or so.
District Council – Oughterard – 25 December, 1909
It proposed new fairs. Mr. Robinson, patentee of the Oughterard fairs, in reply to a communication from the Clerk of the Council, asking if he would have any objection to the holding of four new fairs in the town of Oughterard, wrote to say that he would not object to the fairs if they were held in Clareville. At the same time, he did not consider the establishment of new fairs would be of any service.
At that time, Mr. Robinson was land agent for the Berridges, the landlords who owned most of the parish of Oughterard. Mr. Robinson owned the tolls for the fair in Clareville, on behalf of Richard Berridge Jr.
The Monthly Fair – 13 August, 1910
The fair held here at Claremount on Tuesday was almost as good in every respect as the fair of St. Johns, the best that was ever in the locality. The attendance of buyers was not so large, nor the quotes so high, all round, and the demand was brisk all day.
Three year-old bullocks and heifers – £11 to £12
Cattle from £12 to £15
Fat Sheep – £2 to £2-15s
Mr. Shaw Taylor bought 95 cattle at £10-10s per head and Mr. O’Flahertie of Lemonfield sold 14 bullocks at £10-10s each, and four to Mr. Mortimer at £14 per head. Amongst the buyers, besides those mentioned, were Lyons (Dublin); Shaw (Galway); Mansfield (Clifden); and Mr. Chandler of the Congested Districts Board.
Blight and Markets – Oughterard – 13 August, 1910
Blight made its appearance about a month ago but only in a modified form and in many places no traces of it appeared at all, chiefly owing to the spraying process, although some unsprayed potatoes escaped the ravages of the blight. The potato in the Oughterard district is a healthy crop this year and of a good size, about average. The late variety of potato raised entirely is the ‘Champion’ and those sold last market day at 4d per stone. The islands of Lough Corrib are the present feeders of the Oughterard potato market and give a tone almost exclusively to the price.
The Fair – Galway Express – 8 January, 1910
The fair held here at Corribdale on New Year’s Day was as bad in every way as the fair held before Christmas. The attendance of people, stock and buyers was very small and there was hardly any business done except milch cows, which could be bought for £9 to £12. Two classes of sheep always appear at the Oughterard fairs, one reared west of the town, the mountain breed, the mutton of which is much prized, and the other between Oughterard and Galway principally. The first named thus fetches from 12s to 15s and the other about 30s to 32s-6d.
Oughterard Fair – 27 March, 1915
Splendid prices were realised at the fair on Thursday and all classes of cattle were snapped up the moment they were driven into the fair. Three year-old bullocks fetched £12 to £13 and stall-fed animals went to £18; two year-olds £11 and yearlings £7; milch cows £9 to £13. Sheep went well, £2-16s to £3-5s.
Oughterard Fair – 13 October, 1919
The Oughterard fair was held on Monday 13th inst. Good prices were obtained and there was almost a complete clearance of stock. Pigs sold well at the Oughterard market on Thursday, Mr. E. A. Sweeney getting £22-10s for a seven months pig.
Prices of livestock and goods at the fairs and market of Oughterard naturally increased between 1862 and 1919 and sometimes doubled or more. Store cattle, £4-15s to £6 in
1862, could reach £18 in 1915. Milch cows, £6 to £9 in 1862, were £9 to £14 in 1909. Cattle averaging £6 in 1862 were £12 to £15 in 1909.
The greater demand and prices was for milch cows, cattle in good condition and pigs. The demand for sheep and horses was light, apart from Connemara ponies.
Potatoes were still the main part of the diet of the people and could quickly increase in price, from 3.5d to 4d per stone in 1900 to 6d per stone in 1909 at the Oughterard market. The average price of potatoes was 2d per stone in 1835-36 (Poor Inquiry) in Oughterard. They were still 2d per stone at the start of the Famine in 1845 but they increased to 8d or 10d per stone in the Galway market in 1846-47, due to scarcity.
The main variety of potato in use during the Famine was the ‘Lumper’. In 1910, it was the ‘Champion’ at Oughterard market. Blight was still a danger in the early 1900s but spraying was introduced in the district.
Jobbers, or buyers, came to the Oughterard fairs from Galway, Westport, Clifden, the Midland counties and even Dublin.
Thom’s Directory 1844-1900
Dublin Almanacs – Various
Watson, J., The Gentleman’s and Citizen’s Almanac 1761 and 1781
Lynam, S., Humanity Dick: A Biography of Richard Martin MP 1754-1834, London, 1975
Schools Folklore Collection (Parish of Kilcummin), 1937-38
British Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons, 1849; 1852-53; 1890-91 Final Report – various volumes
The Galway Vindicator, 19th May, 1879
The Galway Express, 1894 to 1919, various dates and numbers