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Introduction

The old fairs of Clonroad are just a vague memory today, but for many centuries the largest and best-attended livestock fairs in county Clare were held on the green of Clonroad. Clonroad, on the eastern suburbs of Ennis, had many advantages as the site of the county’s largest fairs. It lay at the centre of the county’s road network, on one of the principal fording points of the river Fergus. Roads from all over Clare converged on Clonroad and so facilitated the conveyance of livestock to and from fairs. The river served an important purpose, as access to water was essential for cattle that had travelled long distances. In the nineteenth century four fairs a year were held: two in the summer months of May and July, when cattle for fattening were purchased; and one each in the months of October and December, when finished cattle were sold for slaughter. Clonroad fairs were concerned not only with the sale of cattle, but also with the sale of horses, sheep and pigs. On fair mornings farmers and their sons lined up on the green before their livestock to await the inspection of buyers and the commencement of dealing. For the farmer the fair was almost his only source of monetary income, the occasion of realising the labour of a year’s agricultural work. Consequently it was an occasion of intense bargaining where the keenest prices were sought. Having sold his livestock, the farmer settled his debts, making payments to shopkeepers and stocking up with the necessaries for the coming year. In the twentieth century the development of the auction mart and motor transport has meant that much of the ritual and excitement of the old cattle fairs has disappeared. It is opportune therefore, to recall the great assemblies of men and animals that once congregated at Clonroad and to investigate how the livestock trade of previous centuries was conducted.

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