Throwback Thursday: Horse fair memories, and a stolen bike tale

The annual Buttevant horse fair was a great occasion, hears JO KERRIGAN, who also recalls railway and cycling stories from the bygone days in Cork
Throwback Thursday: Horse fair memories, and a stolen bike tale

TRADING DAY: A bustling scene at the Cahirmee Horse Fair in Buttevent’s main street, on July 11, 1939.

WE got great feedback after our mention of the Cork-Rosslare boat train last week in Throwback Thursday.

However, when we mentioned the people who worked on the dining cars, we got the railway men mixed up!

Rick Davitt wrote: “I know it’s hard to keep track of the trains (no pun intended), but it wasn’t Pat Dennehy on the boat train, it was me!”

His email was closely followed by one from the said Pat.

“Again wonderful memories. But to set the record straight, the contribution on the dining cars to Rosslare Harbour was Rick’s and not mine. I think wires got crossed somewhere.

“But it was all great stuff. Summers working on the dining cars was a much sought-after job.

“Memories of that line are still fresh in my mind and I was actually working at Mallow Station when the last train departed. Now that’s an article for another day!”

That got Pat going on other memories.

“I was recently reminiscing about Cahirmee Horse Fair in Buttevant when I was growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s, and thought your readers might like to hear about it.

“It was a very special week on the local calendar. There were a myriad of events going on. The actual Fair Day is July 12, which of course corresponds to the Orange Marches in the North of Ireland.

“Horse dealers from all around Europe descended on Buttevant for the fair, and I always met a lot of Northern Catholics who came, not to buy horses, but to get away from the intimidation, etc. that went on in that neck of the woods back then.

“The travelling community came there in their droves with their beautifully-decorated horse-drawn caravans, and stayed for the duration. They parked on both sides of the Charleville Road out of the town, and, if memory serves me correctly, some local farmers let them use fields for their horses. Tolerance was alive and well then.”

A family on the steps of a horse-drawn caravan at Cahirmee Horse Fair in Buttevant on July 12, 1956. A reader recalls local farmers allowing the members of the travelling community to put their horses in their fields.
A family on the steps of a horse-drawn caravan at Cahirmee Horse Fair in Buttevant on July 12, 1956. A reader recalls local farmers allowing the members of the travelling community to put their horses in their fields.

The actual Fair Day, recalls Pat, was a sight to behold. 

“The main street and adjoining streets were awash with horses, donkeys, mules, jennets and an assortment of other farm animals, all for sale.

“Deals being struck, with the aid of a middle man, had to be seen to be believed. Horses being ‘trotted’ so that prospective buyers could assess them. Both sides of the main street were also lined with vendors stalls. You could buy anything ‘from a needle to an anchor’ at those stalls.

“The local hostelries, restaurants and tea shops, along with the other businesses, did a roaring trade of course, and the local economy in general benefited greatly from this event.”

As the local bars were packed wall-to-wall with thirsty customers, some would actually remove the front window and serve there, or set up a bar in the back yard for the purpose.

“My first ever job was selling De Paper and D’Echo on the street during the fair,” recalls Pat. “A local shop called Sadliers hired me for the occasion.

“Another aspect to the Fair was the amount of animals transported by rail to all corners of the land and further afield,” says Pat.

“It is generally accepted that both the Duke of Wellington’s and Napoleon’s horses were purchased at this fair. As we lived at the railway station, I remember the loading of hundreds of horses for transportation, and several trainloads of horses left that day for greener pastures.

“As Cahirmee Horse Fair was a week-long festival, two funfair companies set up for the week, one at the green on the Mallow side of the town, and one in a field on the Charleville side of the town,” remembers Pat.

“I used to love the Hurdy Gurdies or The Merries. My favourites were the Bumper Cars, The Chair-O-Planes and the Swinging Boats.

“I forget the names of the companies, but I think Perks may have been one of them.

“During this week, the town boasted two dance halls, one at each end of the town like the Merries, with dancing nearly every night. I, unfortunately, was too young to attend these.

SHAKE ON IT: Two men striking a deal at Cahirmee Horse Fair in Buttevant in July, 1957.
SHAKE ON IT: Two men striking a deal at Cahirmee Horse Fair in Buttevant in July, 1957.

“All the big bands of the time came there, The Clippers (Clipper Carlton), Mick Del (Mick Delahunty) and many more. One year, in the 1950s, Bridie Gallagher, The Girl From Donegal performed. She was huge at the time, and hundreds were locked out of the dance hall because there was no room.”

Other activities during Cahirmee Fair were hurling tournaments, clay pigeon shooting, and fancy dress parades.

“Some of the entries in the parade would not pass the PC (Political Correctness) guidelines of today, but we lived in a different era,” says Pat.

“The highlight of the week, though, was the Caravan Parade. The effort and talent put into this by the travelling community had to be seen to be believed. It was truly wondrous to behold.”


Michael Nolan was interested to read last Thursday’s article and its mention of bicycle parks.

“I once had my bicycle stolen while I was in class in Greenmount School. When I came out at lunch hour to go home, there was my bike up against the wall, gone!

“That evening I got on the back of my father’s motorbike and we drove around the city looking for it. We eventually found it up against the railings of Beamish & Crawford and I cycled home a happy boy.”

Michael was doing research in 2019 at the Project Centre at the back of the North Cathedral when he got talking to a fellow enthusiast who had been a messenger boy in the 1970s.

“He told me how every now and again they would meet at the top of Cathedral Road up by the hospital and would race down the hill to see who would be the first one to pass Patrick‘s Bridge!”

Again with reference to last week’s feature (isn’t it great how memories get stirred up by reading someone else’s stories?) Michael recalls that his father always bought his motorbikes from Jack Healy in MacCurtain Street and he himself would get parts for his racing cycle bike there as well.

“When I learnt to drive my father‘s motorbike, a Vespa, I went to Jack Healy’s for parts again, as he was the agent.”

And we have a valuable description of the shop, now alas long gone.

“It had a big, long public area, and there was a passage up the centre of the shop with bicycles standing on either side. The counter was at the back and in by the side was the big workshop where they did all their repairs.

“The mechanic that worked there transferred to the Barrack Street / Bandon Road junction when Jack Healy’s eventually closed down.”

Joe Healy, are you reading this out there? What can you remember of your dad’s shop?

Jack Healy Cycles, MacCurtain Street, Cork shopfront in July 1935.
Jack Healy Cycles, MacCurtain Street, Cork shopfront in July 1935.


“Hi, Jo,” says Kevin Long. “I want to say thanks for the Throwback Thursday articles in The Echo, they are a fantastic insight into the past.

“I’m mailing because, in the last year or so, I’ve become involved with the Cork Cycling Campaign and love to see all the references to cycling in these articles.”

A project the campaign is hoping to get done for Cork is a history of urban cycling over the past century.

“I’ve been in touch with the publishers of the Cycling Cities series ( and they have agreed to undertake a Cork book.

“This is a volunteer-led project so we are gathering as much information as possible now.

Hanover Cycle Store in 1952.
Hanover Cycle Store in 1952.

“Articles like those which include details on bike parking in Winthrop Street and Oliver Plunket Street are great and I’d love to find out more if I could.”

So, any of you out there who can share your stories of cycling in De City, let’s have them, and help Kevin on his way.


Noel Dillon, who recollected childhood years in Crosshaven for us a week or two ago, has now shared some more memories with us.

“One day, John O’ Driscoll – the farmer on the Graball Road in Crosshaven – asked me as a youngster if I would assist himself and a vet neutering a bull calf.

“John would hold the calf in a headlock and my instruction was to hold the tail while the vet was performing the surgery. Under no circumstances whatever was I to let the tail go, or the calf would lash the vet with it while he was performing the surgery.

“The operation was completed in a few minutes. When it was finished, John came over and gave me half a crown. This was big money to me then – for a few minutes’ work!

“Later, John asked me to help with thinning the turnips in a nearby field. The workers were paid by the drill, so the next morning I was up bright and early to continue my farming work.

“We were brought down to the farmhouse at midday for a fine dinner of bacon and cabbage (followed by home-made apple tart and fresh cream), and back to the field again after about an hour. I was ‘splashing the cash’ that week, and it was a memorable time in my life!”

A view of Roches Point at the entrance to Cork Harbour, 1973.
A view of Roches Point at the entrance to Cork Harbour, 1973.

Mentioning Crosshaven, here is a lovely anecdote from earlier times, included in my own new book, Stories From The Sea.

In the 19th century, when crowded emigrant boats were leaving Cork, families and friends would assemble on the hills above Roches Point and Crosshaven and light bonfires all along the cliffs to say a last farewell.

Incidentally, I will be sharing that, and other anecdotes at the Dublin Book Festival next Sunday afternoon, which will, I think, be televised.

And as a very pleasant finale, here is a nice message from Anne Watts in London:

“I came across these delightful Throwback Thursday articles by chance, while checking The Echo for my late dad’s memorial notice which I’d sent in. How many happy memories you have evoked for me!

“I’ve lived in London all my adult life , but spent a very happy childhood and youth in Cork. I love when you mention the old shops, the cinemas and ‘doing Pana’.

“I was one of those St Angela’s teenagers, though I’m certainly not one now!

“I am hoping to go ‘home’ next year – a postponed anniversary trip to my parents’ grave in St Oliver’s. Also hoping to walk around the city - all the old haunts. Doubt I’ll recognise the shops , just the streets.

“But keep up the good work with your articles; they’re a tonic for us older exiles!”

Thank you for that, Anne.

And the rest of you, keep those recollections coming!

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