The Times We Lived In: High horses at fair day in Muff

Published: August 14th, 1990 Photograph: Frank Miller

Having grown up in Monaghan I’d be inclined to say that you never know what you’d find lurking around the hedgerows of Co Cavan. Even for Cavan, though, a horse up a tree is pretty outlandish.

This glorious image was captured at the annual horse fair at Muff, near Kingscourt, in the summer of 1990. Which is a mere quarter of a century ago: such is the timeless feel of the photograph, however, that it might have been snapped any time in the preceding hundred years.

The two men in the foreground are so engrossed in conversation – are they making a deal, or debating the ups and downs of someone else’s deal? – that they appear oblivious to both the photographer and the large, hairy creature at their backs.

Their body language is a wonder to behold, the sceptical hands-on-hips stance of the smaller man contrasting with the intensity of the left-handed gesture offered by his companion.


“Look behind you: keeping a careful eye on the proceedings,” reads the original caption.

The horse is certainly keeping its cool in what might be a slippery situation. The casual way in which it has been tethered to a nearby signpost suggests that it is quite happy with its precarious perch; maybe it was a regular spot, either for this particular animal or for one particular owner.

Away to the rear at the left, beyond the hedge, a glimpse of drumlins is a reminder that though its fair has been famous since the 17th century, Muff itself is a modest sort of place. A townland with a crossroads, really. Its relative proximity to the Border has also played a role in keeping the fair alive, adding an international dimension and a second currency into the trading mix.

And you know what they say about equine exchange rates. A horse in the hand is worth – um – two in the bush?

These and other Irish Times images can be purchased from:

A new book, The Times We Lived In, with more than 100 photographs and commentary by Arminta Wallace, published by Irish Times Books, is in bookshops now, priced €19.99.