We are publishing this essay of thirty-five years ago to honour all the people of the barony of Killoughy who have kept the Irish musical tradition vibrant and have a great love of their local history. It is also to mark the passing of Ashling Murphy and in support of her family and all her neighbours in the Blue Ball, Mountbolus and Kilcormac areas. Thanks to Paddy Heaney who did so much for local studies and wishing him well and a big shout out for all he and Paddy Lowry did for local studies. The barony of Ballyboy lost two-thirds of its population over the period 1841 to 1911.
If you ever stand on the summit of Knockhill on a frosty moonlight night, and if your hear voices, and the thunder of hooves coming from the direction of the mountain, don’t be afraid, it’s only the ghosts form the distant past on their way to the fair of Frankford.
We who live in the foothills of the Slieve Bloom Mountains looked forward every year, ‘to the great fair of Frankford’. In those far off days, we youngsters, had not much to look forward to, except ‘Garland Sunday’ [last Sunday in July] when we climbed Ard Éireann to pick the fraughans , or the odd hurling match, so we waited in anticipation for the event. There were many fairs during the year but the Christmas fair was by the far most popular. I can still remember the preparations leading up to it, for weeks before, every farmer in the Cadamstown area, selected his cattle and put them on the best after grass to fatten them off, and before and after mass each Sunday, the topic of conversation, would centre on the coming fair, the prices and quality of the cattle were discussed fiercely. The sheep farmer also prepared for the occasion, bringing his sheep down from the mountain to the fresh grass, near the farmhouses. This was hard work, as the sheep were the Kerry breed, and they tended to travel up the mountain sometimes across the border into Laois. Each day, as neighbours met, they planned for the coming event, around the firesides at night every detail was worked out, ‘who should go to the fair and who should stay, to look after the house’. Also help was needed to drive the wild cattle that morning, for wild they were. They were reared on the slopes of the Slieve Blooms, they saw no one but their owners, they were never on the road before. This is where we youngsters come into our own. We were needed because we were young and hardy and we could run like hares, and of course we had a day from school, and the ten shilling note, we could receive, in payment for the day, was most important still, especially coming up to Christmas.
The Big Day
The day before the fair preparations began in earnest. The cattle got extra hay, and attention, the ash plant was taken from behind the kitchen door and examined carefully, the horse and car got special attention, as some of the old people preferred to travel thus. Each household went to bed early, it was impossible to sleep thinking of the coming day. The clock was consulted many times during the night, and then at five o’clock the house was astir, breakfast was eaten. While this was in progress, the cattle were given a good supply of hay to sustain them through the day. The cattle were then brought into the yard, where the woman of the house was waiting with the bottle of Holy Water. This was sprinkled on the animals, as we all received a liberal dose, raising our caps as we drove the animals from the yard ‘the big drive was on’, and we felt great. Darkness still shrouded the earth, stars peeped and twinkled from a frosty sky, a Jack-Snipe fluttered from the sedgy grass. Other farmers were on the move as the distant shouts and barking of dogs came to us over the still frosty air. “The day will be fine’, said a voice in the darkness as we all looked up at the Plough, that great cluster of stars hanging straight above us, each star shining like a gem, through the darkness. The cattle were restless at first; after a while they settled down. We talked to them gently, they knew our voices, and responded to our orders. We were the first on the road. We were the advance party, we knew we were making good time, so we young fellows walked in front of the cattle, to slow them down. There is always a leader in every herd, ours was no exception, as we had a big short-horn bullock stepping out in advance, like a major-general. He was a three year old, brown-grey in colour, with a massive pair of horns, sticking straight out from his giant head. We called him Butson, when he was born. He was very small and fat, and so the name stuck. We were nearing the village of Cadamstown now. We could hear voices in the distance, as other farmers were approaching from various points. We were still the advance party as we herded our cattle down the Curragh road, in the direction of Kilcormac. The noise of the animals hooves on the frosty road behind us, as more and more cattle followed behind, and each batch of cattle separated by a drover, strange cattle are not allowed to mix as they tend to fight, and sharp horns can do a lot of damage (as caustic was not used in bygone days).
Daylight was slowly approaching, we could now see the outline of the animals behind us, and the smoke from the pipes as the scent of tobacco floated to us on the fresh morning air. We crossed the Curragh (togher) without incident, and began to climb the slopes of Knockhill. Donnellys, McRedmonds and Carrolls had their cattle waiting in the yards as we passed by with the usual salutations. ‘Great morning, thank God.’ There’s a great batch of heifers’. ‘The best of luck to ye’, and so to the summit of Knockhill, where we stood and looked towards the mountain. Daylight had now crept over the Baradoos’ as the distant hills took on a golden hew. A long line of cattle wended their way towards the summit of the hill where we stood. I could now make out their owners, from the hills and valleys of the Slieve Blooms, Dalys of Lackaroe, Donnellys of the Curragh and McRedmonds, Nolans, Dillons, O’Briens of the Deepark, Horans, Multanys of Coolacrease, Manifolds, Kinarneys Scully, Carrolls, Dempseys, Coughlans, Purcells and Grogans from the village of Cadamstown, Deigans, Horans, Multanys of Coolacrease, Manifolds, Kinarneys, Scullys , Carrolls, and bringing up the rear with a batch of wild black cattle were Martin Heaney and John Heaney. I often tried imagine what this sight was like, something from the pages of history, Hannibal crossing the Alps with an army of giant elephants, or was it more like O’Neills march to Kinsale, only O’Neill travelled across the mountain in the opposite direction. We young fellows felt very proud, as we stood on the summit of Knockhill, and reviewed the cavalcade, and I often thought, the cattle, walked with a proud gait, their sleek flanks glistening in the morning sun. ‘We would show the farmers around Kilcormac , that we had a good as cattle as they ‘, then on to Ballyboy, where jobbers were waiting, to buy and bargain, it was good sign, if there were buyers on the road, and many a deal was made on the road Kilcormac.
A Good Stand
Getting a good stand for our cattle in the fair green was a problem , but we were always early , and so we could choose a good position, from Molloy’s corner to the fair green was where the mountain cattle always stood and from. Once the cattle settled down there was no trouble so we could relax, and take notice, when there was a bargain in progress, we all stood round in a circle, listening attentively, and compared the price with our own animals, all round us bargains were made, as men stood groups, ashplants raised about their heads, talking loud voices. ‘Come back Here, ‘don’t break his word’, ‘will ye devide the last pound’, ‘let her be lucky’, and so cattle were bought and sold. There was always a great demand for the mountain cattle, and each man helped his neighbour to sell his stock. As each batch of cattle was sold, farmers and buyers departed to the nearest public house, where the money was exchanged. We young fellows were left to mind the remaining animals until eventually all animals were sold. As the evening began to close we all looked forward to going home, but the old people preferred to have a last drink, and so to Paddy Dooleys public house where we all sat around drinking lemonade and point of porter, it was great to listen to the stories, that were told on these occasions, as each man tried to get himself heard above the din. World affairs were settled, with a few words, ailments and sickness was discussed and advice on curse and medicine was given freely.
Time For Home
So we all left the pub in high spirits, and headed for home, leaving the town behind us with its twinkling light, it was almost dark, now, as we passed through Ballyboy making our way up Knockhill, to the summit where we could see the lights from the houses beckoning us home, and so we got down to our supper, after the long hard day, we recalled the happenings, and discussed the prices we received and then to bed for a well earned rest, to dream of fairs and cattle, until morning. In my young day cattle were a very important product, and all animals were treated with respect, the old people would stay up all night, when a cow was calving or when beast was sick, or young lambs taken from a snow drift, were placed with affection before the kitchen fire and on Xmas eve before twelve o’clock the old people would visit the stable to inspect the animals, and sprinkle them with Holy Water this an old custom in the mountain area, as the old people will tell you, on that night, ‘The animals are waiting for the birth of Christ’.
In these modern times every has changed, the fairs are gone to be replaced by the markets, the fairs of Ireland are but a memory . If you ever stand on the summit of Knockhill on a frosty moonlight night, and if your hear voices, and the thunder of hooves coming from the direction of the mountain, don’t be afraid, it’s only the ghosts form the distant past on their way to the fair of Frankford
From the Kilcormac Rambler Year Book for 1985, pp 14-15