|Location||Spancilhill, Ennis, Co Clare|
|Categories||Social practices, rituals and festive events|
|Keywords||Horse Fair, Spancilhill, social event, animal dealing, Traveller Community|
|Contact organisation||Spancilhill Fair Association|
The Spancilhill International Horse Fair, now over 400 years old, is a public open fair in the Fair Green at Spancilhill, ordinarily a quiet hamlet beside a crossroads. The area springs to life for three days, from the 21st to the 23rd June each year, culminating on the 23rd with the main event. Buyers from all over Europe and further afield attend the fair and horses are traded.
The horse fair in Spancilhill is over 400 years old. The first charter for this historic fair was granted by King Charles in 1621. In the past the fair lasted for a week or more with people travelling from locations around Europe. Horse fairs were common in many villages in these times.
In recent times, the Spancilhill Horse Fair has evolved into a three day show and fair where many of the leading horses in the country are presented. Horse dealers such as the Cash’s of Kildare and the Derwin’s of Athlone support the fair. Many of the horses purchased go onto make their name internationally in show jumping and pony circles.
Practice and practitioners
The horse fair is the practice of horse dealing whereby vendors come to show their horses/ponies/donkeys to prospective buyers from all over Ireland and mainland Europe. More recently, a show ring has been added to display the form and appearance of the animal to potential purchasers.
Old style rituals remain popular including the traditional way of animal dealing such as slapping of hands, exchange of cash, luck penny and including a third party in the bargain making and sale.
While the horse population has declined and horses no longer feature in agricultural life in the same as in the past and the practice of using working horses is now obsolete on farms, anyone with an interest in horses will be in Spancilhill. At the same time, others attend to witness the spectacle and meet neighbours and friends who have attended the fair for generations. It is one of the most important dates in the calendar for farmers in County Clare. It is always a good talking point from the east of the country in Killaloe to the west of the county in Kilkee “see you at Spancilhill”!
The fair marks mid-summer and is a landmark in the farming year, with farmers setting out their work programme according to the date of the fair and ensuring farm work is done in advance.
The Spancilhill Horse Fair Association is a local voluntary group with 20 people on the committee. The committee work on matters such as liaising with the local community and the Gardaí on traffic management issues, organising the fair-grounds, parking, people and animal management.
There is a huge commitment to maintaining the momentum and the continuity of this historic fair. Sponsorship for the event comes from local sources such as farm suppliers and animal feed companies.
The internationally known Fair of Sapncilhill epitomises fairs throughout Ireland and is amongst the top three fairs nationally and internationally recognised. The Fair of Spancilhill sets the scene for other fairs in Clare at Kilrush, Ennistymon and Kildysart.
Spancilhill is also an important date in the Traveller Community Calendar. The traveller community attend the fair in large numbers and influence the trading and atmosphere at the fair. In previous time, members from the Community arrived in barrel top wagons, camped out in the area for weeks and participated by carrying out tin smithing and selling wares.
Participation at the fair is not only to engage in economic transactions but also in social conversation. As a social event, Spancilhill allows the Traveller Community engage in social circles beyond their own family and seek out opportunities for networking, including matchmaking.
Spancilhill Horse Fairs allows people with similar interests to come together and share experiences, and in so doing breaks down barriers between communities, including between Traveller and settled communities, allowing the fostering of greater understanding and solidarity among people.
Development, transmission and safeguarding
The local community at Spancilhill are anxious to maintain this horse fair for the next generation. The group are active on social media and in engaging with press and broadcast media. The Fair is self-sustaining and linked to other fairs in Counties Clare and Galway. The fair not only provides an opportunity to buy and sell horses but also farm equipment and hardware.
A free family fun day is organised as part of the fair day. Activities include face painting, children’s long puck competition, donkey derby, guess the weight, tug’o’war, musical bicycles and more.
Showing classes have been introduced to encourage young people to develop an interest in sports associated with the Fair. Horse showing classes and competitions are now part of the programme to boost attendance.
The Fair is also celebrated in traditional folk music. The Fair of Spancilhill is a traditional Irish folk ballad composed by Michael Considine, who was born in Spancilhill and migrated to the US. It highlights the plight of Irish emigrants who longed for home from their new lives in the US. The song is sung by a man who longs for his horse in Spancilhill, County Clare, his family, friends and the love he left behind. It is a popular emigrant song among the Irish in Ireland and the Diaspora.
Spancilhill Fair Association