Off to the Fair on Friday
The monthly fair days in Oldcastle, which ended in the 1960s were important events in the life of Ballinacree farmers.
Here Johnny Gibney remembered them well.
You’d be there on the Green on a frosty morning with the fog of the cattle’s breath all around you. There was a lot of hardship attached to the fair of course; there were no cattle pens on the Green. The hard part was to get your cattle settled down in the middle of this melee of animals; after that they’d quieten down in their own little patch. Provided you were smart enough you could do all right on a fair day.
A thing you had to be wary of was what the people used call the blocker. He’d meet you out the road and make you an offer for the animals. The offer would be hopeless but when you got into the fair the dealer who had sent the blocker out would come around and he’d prod your animals and make you an offer. This would be a much better price than the one offered on the road by the blocker but it would still be well below the real value of the bullock. But still you had been softened up a bit by the blocker and if you were innocent you might have lowered your expectations and think that the dealer was giving a fairly good price. Generally what you’d do as a seller was to get the buyer as high as he was prepared to go. If you wanted ten pounds for a beast you’d look for twelve and he’d offer you six. You’d keep insisting that you wouldn’t sell for a penny less than twelve and he might come up to eight. At some stage you’d generally allow someone else to come in, to help split the difference; but it was important not to call him in too early.
Between haggling one way and another, a price would be arrived at if it was a good fair. Cattle dealers were smart – they were always that bit ahead of everybody else; they could make money even in bad times. They knew how people worked and were psychologists long before that word became fashionable. They could read the mind of farmers. If they had gone in for higher education they’d probably have ended up as barristers and lawyers.
As a young lad I remember seeing another man – I won’t mention his name – fitting a tail on to a bullock. Tail eaters were a problem in those days and it was nearly impossible to sell them. Anyway this man had one so he went in to the slaughter house and got a selection of tails.
He selected one that matched the colour and then removed the bone from it and put the tail on to the bullock’s stump of a tail the way you’d lace a shoe. I knew the buyer too and I was told he wasn’t too pleased when he was out admiring his purchase a few days later and the bullock swished his tail at the flies and it flew over the hedge. You had to keep an eye out for things like that too.