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Origins and Site

There can be little doubt that the fairs had their origins in the thirteenth century when the O’Briens, the kings of Thomond (North Munster) established their principal stronghold at the ford of Clonroad. The O’Briens, in common with many Gaelic lords, held periodic assemblies of their followers on the greens beside their castles, usually on May day and All Hallows (the first of November) for the purpose of collecting tribute. These days marked the beginning and end of the transhumance period (the summer pasturing of cattle on the marginal lands) and for that reason were the days on which cattle were counted and taxes fell due. These gatherings of people and cattle, called oireachtais or aonaigh, had political as well as commercial overtones. Important communal decisions were made and disputes between kin-groups were settled. They were also festive occasions where games were played and men displayed their athletic and martial prowess. Minstrels and merchants, peddlers and beggars attended them along with the population of the countryside. [1] The castle of Clonroad provided the secure environment necessary for the operation of these assemblies.

The green of Clonroad was justly famous. Our earliest reference to it occurs in 1311 when during the civil war, which then convulsed Thomond, Diarmaid, grandson of Brian Rua O Brian, ‘burst in on the very floor of Clonroad, which residence with open smooth-grassed green (cluain reidfaithchech)…he delivered to the flames’. [2] In 1408 John Cam O’Shaughnessy was slain by the son of O’Loughlin while playing on the green of Clonroad (faithche cluana ramfhotta). [3] The context suggests the incident occurred while a game was in progress during one of the periodic assemblies at the site. The presence of an O’Loughlin from north Clare and an O’Shaughnessy from south Galway shows the distances people travelled on these occasions. Again in 1682 a commentator was so impressed with the green, he declared ‘there was one of the fairest greens in this kingdom at this Clounrawde’. [4] Unfortunately we cannot say with precision where the green was situated. It appears to have been on the southern bank of the Fergus where the causeway from Ennis (now Francis St.) joined with the road leading over the bridge of Clonroad. In the nineteenth century the triangular area of ground at this junction was one of the places where farmers gathered on fair days to display their animals. [5] Directly adjacent to Clonroad bridge was a small open space by the riverbank (today marked by a municipal park) where cattle had access to water. [6]

The fair green of modern times, however, was sited at the opposite end of Clonroad, between the present Clonroad Business Park and Ennis Railway Station. [7] Approximately five acres of ground were set aside here for the congregation of men and animals. That this green was in existence at least from the early eighteenth century is evident from the entries in the Corporation Book of Ennis. In 1732 the corporation issued an ordinance against several persons ‘for making holes in the fair place, on the road leading from the back of our town to Clare, whereof there is no safety for man or horse to travel and neither can any kind of cattle stand with safety there’. [8] When the borough boundary was being extended in 1752 it was decided that one of the limits of the town for the future would be ‘George Blackwell’s well on the road leading to the fair place of Clonroad called Bohernalicky’. [9] Bohernalicky is today called Station Road. It is likely, however, that when the largest fairs were being held, men and cattle spilled out of the fair green onto the road and that the fairs stretched along the length of Clonroad from the bridge to Ennis Railway Station.

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