The Fair of Frankford (Kilcormac): old times in the barony of Ballyboy. By Paddy Heaney

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.

Denis Guinan and Paddy Heaney at Letterluna, Cadamstown with to left Lord and Lady Rosse and to rear Liz FitzPatrick.

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.

Improvements at Rathlihen cemetery with Tommy McKeigue cutting the ribbon with a young helper.

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).

Tombstone reading in Ballyboy with Kilcormac Historical Society

Across  Knockhill

          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.

The Institute of Irish Studies (Kilcormac and Killoughy chapter) and Ballyboy School of Music

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.

The Catholic church at Mountbolus erected in 1837

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

Ballyboy barony in 1900