Presidential candidate Gavin Duffy and his wife Orlaith Carmody greet members of the public (pics 2 to 6) while President Michael D Higgins, who’s running for a second term as the president, also mixes with the crowds before officially opening the event (pic 7 to 11).
2016 was just the second year I had been to the Ballinasloe Horse Fair. I only travel down for Saturday’s activities. The photographic draw of both characters and animals is magnetic.
Last year a couple of online papers slated the photographs and some even accused me of supporting animal cruelty. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Whether it’s a horse fair or a dilapidated building, I find both photographically fascinating and exciting. I record the event and allow the viewer to make up their own mind. I’m a commercial photographer but shoot such personal projects like this for my own pleasure and for no financial reward.
I also enjoy speaking to those who attend and listening to how they manage their daily lives within a culture so far removed from mine. I don’t necessarily agree with some of their traits but I respect them. One also has to remember that the traveller community only represent a part of this huge community. Most punters are genuine equine lovers both buying and selling.
One farmer from Roscommon (who I also met last year) stood in the green for 5 days with 3 horses and sold nothing. He said that sales were way down this year and blamed it on Brexit and the “pound sterling”. It’s a hard old life but they’ll all be back again next year.
On a sombre October morning as our small island was waking to the tragic news that 10 members of the same extended family perished in a blazing inferno, I was already on the road to Ballinasloe and the annual horse fair. Many of the people I went on to meet that day bore more than just a connection by name to the Connors family.
Understandably the mood was a little subdued and reflective. But anyone who spends time around high spirited mares and their playful foals, miniature falabellas, working shires, ginnetts, mules and donkeys is bound to be lifted by their quirky personalities and mythical beauty. As symbols of passion, personal drive and freedom, their longstanding connection to the traveller community is a tradition worthy of preservation.
Lots of standing around is the order of the day as owners socialize, buy, sell and trade livestock. It is all fairly serene apart from the odd equine scuffle that breaks out, whinnies resounding across the bowl shaped village green. At one point a skittish mare frantically breaks loose and it’s all hands on deck as 50 men give chase, mothers and onlookers concerned about the wellbeing of the children and the horses. Luckily things are restored to order within minutes and the day returns to it’s slow dander, stretching it’s neck out with slackened reins to the slow rhythmic beat of hoof fall on dried earth.
Among the crowds are as many different characters as there are breed of horse. For some it’s following a tradition, for others it’s a business opportunity and for many “it is just a hobby” jokes Patrick Cusack. “If you gave me clubs and membership to Westport Golf club sure I wouldn’t know what to do with it.” The one thing they do have in common is their pride and their love of the horses, demonstrated by the welcoming bronze man and his 16 hand high horse standing pride of place in the village square.
Sure, it’s not perfect in every aspect but nor is any sports or social event that I have attended over the years. But as Officials for the fair are keen to point out, the standards have improved substantially year on year and the appointment of a committee across the community has certainly helped in it’s smooth running. Fair play to ya Ballinasloe for keeping the spirit of the tradition alive.