You’ll be okay, just don’t look down
The Times We Lived In: Published, December 18th, 1987. Photograph by Eddie Kelly
One-year-old Sean Dunne from Ashford at the first turkey auction at Ashbourne, Co Meath. Photograph: Eddie Kelly
Chicken – who, moi?” This shot from the first ever turkey auction at Ashbourne, Co Meath, shows one-year-old Sean Dunne, from Ashford, Co Wicklow, looking as though his feathers have been ruffled – to say the least – as he perches among a chorus line of trussed-up turkeys.
Young Sean is being held safely in place by a strong pair of hands, presumably his dad’s. And he’s dressed so snugly that even a day of cold turkey won’t chill him to the bone.
Still, it must have been pretty scary for the youngster, getting a bird’s-eye view of all that poultry. According to the report which accompanied the picture, between 2,500 and 2,700 turkeys were sold on the opening day of the auction at Ashbourne, with a whopping 20,000 birds expected to change hands by the end of the week.
All this avian economic activity, however, couldn’t disguise the fact that some fowl play was going on. Turkey auctions, which had been a regular feature of the run-up to Christmas in Ireland since the 1960s, were technically illegal: under the 1966 Act which governed the control of livestock sales, turkeys were not defined as livestock by the Department of Agriculture.
Fears around food safety and E Coli also meant that sales areas had to be specially cleaned and prepared – which, as time went on and controls got ever more stringent, eventually led to the closing of the bigger auctions. This one, at Ashbourne, held out for more than a decade but was sold to a car auction firm in 1998.
As for our intrepid flying toddler, let’s hope Santa was especially good to young Sean Dunne that year. Let’s face it, if you can face down a flock of turkeys, not only have you been a very good boy – but you won’t be fazed by a bearded man emerging from your fireplace with a sack slung over his shoulder.
These and other Irish Times images can be purchased from: irishtimes.com/photosales. A book, The Times We Lived In, with more than 100 photographs and commentary by Arminta Wallace, published by Irish Times Books, is available from irishtimes.com and from bookshops, priced at €19.99.