Village Fairs in Ireland



Nearly every village in Ireland has a fair, held for the most part once a month.

The fair is generally held on the street, a fair green being an exceptional accommodation.

Irish villages, as is well known, have no form of local government; their streets are in the position of county roads, and dealt with as such. County roads are proverbial for the “order ” which they are kept, and it can be guessed what the order is, in the case of villages in which large fairs are held.

irish village fair
Village Fair in Waterford, early 1900s


In a village with which I am acquainted a large monthly fair is held, which leaves an indescribable state of filth. The dealers prefer the footpaths as stands for their cattle, and the passenger who would dare to use the path during the fair would be sure to be meet with gross abuse and insult.

After the fair a few of the inhabitants sweep the path in front of their houses, but the majority are not so particular. When the path is swept a few times it becomes uneven, and puddles collect after every shower.

The roadman comes next, and lays down a coat of coarse gravel, or road metal, over which it is painful to walk. Sweeping then becomes impossible, and the path remains in an abominable state under the filth of successive fairs.


From year’s end to year’s end the village, in consequence, is unwholesome and offensive, its porous roadways saturated with decomposing manure, its water supply contaminated, and its people in continual ill-health, visited every now and then with epidemics of fever, scarlatina, and diarrhea.

What is true of this one place is true of scores of Irish villages. Under ordinary circumstances there is no provision for keeping them clean, and their fairs make them exceptionally and dangerously unclean. Their aspect bears witness to this; they are mean and dirty to repulsiveness.

For many persons, village life has attractions; in the pretty and cleanly villages of England we find private families, of means, often residing through choice. A man who would make ordinary Irish village his residence this way would be liable to have his sanity called into question.

No one dreams of living in them unless forced to do so by business. In fact, the repulsive characteristics of our villages have the same effect on them as dirt and dilapidation would have on a street in town. They ruin business, and depreciate all kinds of property in them.

As a set-off, the fair brings profit to no one, save a few publicans; the parties it serves — dealers, farmers, railroads — having no immediate interest in the unfortunate village. The first step towards remedying this state of things is to provide fair greens wherever fairs are held.


Without a fair green the village cannot be kept clean, the way in which its roads and paths are metalled, making sweeping inefficient. The counties ought to provide these fair greens. Of the county cess raised on villages, only a mere fraction is spent on them, and in reality the fair is for the convenience of large districts, being, as things are, a positive disadvantage to the locality in which it is held.

I earnestly appeal to the Press for its powerful help in getting rid of the barbarous practice which makes so many Irish villages disgustingly offensive and unwholesome, and which must be got rid of before any opening for their improvement becomes possible.

Of late years, the Government has shown a praiseworthy perception of the importance of sanitary matters, but cannot far outrun public opinion, and public opinion on the subject is sadly in need of education and direction.

Northern Whig
Tuesday 16th January 1883


"I have spread my dreams beneath your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

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