Festival Fit: Getting our kicks at the Ballinasloe Horse Fair

 

As you make your way down to the fair green at Ballinasloe, a sign reads: “People entering the green do so at their own risk”. To underline the foreboding warning, a fella with multiple gashes to his head and blood covering his face limped by to catch an early afternoon ambulance.

There’ll probably be a fracas or two over the course of the week-long horse fair in Co Galway. You’ll definitely get horse shite on your boots and perhaps a friendly tap of a riding crop on the arse. You’ll see some outrageous fashion statements. There’ll be young fellas riding bareback and roughshod through the crowds with the disdain of cantankerous cowpokes. All in all, you’re likely to be as close to your comfort zone as Sinéad O’Connor is to licking a hammer, but you’ll be lucky enough to immerse yourself in Europe’s oldest horse fair, an event that is our equivalent of the markets of Marrakech and the Camel Fair of Rajasthan.

The Discover Ireland Dublin Horse Show, run by the Royal Dublin Society, boasts the Blossom Hill Ladies Day, the Land Rover Puissannce and more than €940K in prize money. The Ballinasloe Horse Fair has three-card-trick men, Jimmy Buckley banging out the country’n’Irish hits, and pig racing with little knitted jockeys bobbing up and down on the backs of snorting steeds as they streak down Dunlo Street. When I’m a tourist in foreign parts, I seek out something unique that offers unairbrushed insights into the heritage of the place, along with some edge and adventure. Ballinasloe would be the horse for my course.

Longines Swiss Watch Makers have been dropping diamonds into their mechanisms since 1832 and they’ll be throwing a few bob into the Dublin Horse Show next summer. Not to be outdone, the Galway crew apparently got Dr Dre on board; there were boxes of his Beats headphones being sold at incredibly low prices out of the back of a transit van down in St Michael’s Square. No surprise that Dre would be involved with a west coast crew.


HOITY-TOITY OLD NAGS
It could be some kind of cultural kink that sees me more inclined to go over and get a buzz from the pigs in Co Galway than knock around Ballsbridge on the Puissance. (Granted, finding out what a Puissance might be is an obstacle I should clear in order to make an informed decision on this.)

Discover Ireland’s enthusiasm for the Dublin Horse Show is understandable; it’s a wonderful marketing opportunity and is worlds apart from what happens down on the fair green in B’sloe. It could cause a diplomatic dilemma if a tourist got involved in some of the rough and tumble at the horse fair. Cossetted visitors on whirlwind tours of the country might not react well to being kicked by a horse. They certainly wouldn’t respond as nonchalantly as one Traveller I spotted: when the young fella got caught by a stray back leg, he kicked the horse back.

No matter how livelyl it gets on the green, at the core of the fair is an interest and love of horses. The helmeted gymkhana types mix with the bareback boyos, united on this common ground. Horses possibly cross the boundaries between Traveller and settled communities more successfully than anything else in our culture. Visiting Ballinasloe at fair time always challenges my own preconceptions about Traveller culture and never fails to awkwardly poke my own beliefs.

I can’t recommend a visit highly enough, but rather than just tell you to go, I’ll make a deal with you: if you hit up the Horse Fair, I’ll head to the Discover Ireland Dublin Horse Show. We’ll likely feel similar levels of alienation.

Safe travels, don’t die.


ayearoffestivalsinireland.com

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.