I managed not to get arrested at the Outlaw Horse Fair in the Wild West of Offaly… however it was a close call. I got my tuppence worth against John Leahy in support of the Fair on Radio 3, the fair went ahead was a success to spite interventions that could have inflamed things by a Superintendent of all ranks of officer to cause trouble, and while all this was going down, border went up all over Europe, as there are just too many children drowning for the papers to care, and too many refugees getting through for the good mood of late not to turn ugly again. So the papers turned their headlines back to scaremongering as the news always sells.
As the mood changed in Europe – Germany’s famous claim to take in one million froze at the 100,000 mark, Ireland was suddenly up in arms about “why not look after our own homeless first”, from folk who heretofor would spit on a drunk or drug addict sooner than help them.
Its a cynical ploy of the flight of addicts and homeless to hide the racism against the refugees, about which I wrote one of my latest verses “Outcasts In from the Cold?”
Its the same sort of dressed up racism that causes opposition to events like the Banagher Horse Fair – some not liking it as its seen as a part of Romany culture, and more as its part of Anglo Irish culture.
A firm believer in the principle of parity of esteem, and a lover of culture anyway Sinn Feins Carol Nolan has been a great help in publicizing the fair and promoting it.
The current voice on it, is to keep the fair at all costs, just move it to a field, and it needs a committee to fit in with recent legislation. That’s the official line from Offaly County Council, and Birr Municipal Council the council within the council that replaced the old Birr UDC.
I debated it out after a night shift on Midlands Radio 3, where I was interviewed by Will O’ Callaghan, and drove home the point of the Horse Fair being going since circa 1608 – Leahy thought it was “a hundred years or so” – and it was a crucial part of the towns culture and one of the better traditions left to us from our time under the UK. He was given the last word on the show though, as tends to happen, but I drove the point home that the fair would not die, and will be held, barriers or no barriers.
Showdown in the Wild West of Offaly
The barriers went up around 4pm, but even by that time a few lorries had got in. Checking for fuel, the Customs and Excise was there which no-one has a problem with, if it was not only done for the Horse Fair. More lorries came in during the evening and the mood was grand up until around 9pm, when cruising up and down the town, the Guardai decided to stop and say hello.
All the traders beside their lorries were in jovial form, and the guards went up and down taking registrations. At which, all vehicles being taxed, insured, and in good order, the owners asked as to why.
They were told they could not stay there, and they were breaking the law! “Its my job to tell you that” a young sergeant said, “and your in breach of the law”. On being asked what law was being broke by parking overnight our boys were told “You have no hay or water for the animals, you cant stay there”… not asked “Do you, and can we see it”, but accused of not having any.
Invited to look and see the hay and water the guards and inspectors walked away to another vehicle.
They then queried a jeep parked across Shortt’s gateway, which turned out belonged to one of the residents in what I call Shepherds Garden, the estate built in behind Shortt’s. In a very accusative manner, the guards queried who owned it and it had to be moved. As it wasn’t any of our crowd we could not oblige nor did anyone care who did own it.
With full access to the PULSE system from every squad, one would think they could have found out, but that was not the angle. It was to get all hands to move at all costs, as if the town was cleared that night there would be no fair.
There was an incident with an official and traders I cant go into for legal reasons. I backed up the traders against the official.
He then turned his focus on me, stepped right up to me, within striking distance. I held my arms at half length and said he was invading my personal space and to stand back. He refused. I then got the hand on the arm from the Superintendent – no normal guard for our Carty! – who accused me of causing an obstruction.
I calmly explained he was in my personal space, did not say excuse me or ask me to move out of the way, and could go left or right.
The superintendent repeated his warning, but extended it to all, stating there was “legislation there, you will be arrested, and you will be charged”
We took his colleagues shoulder number and on asking his he said he had none. On first time of asking he let the question fly by about identifying himself, then said he was Superintendent Cashen of Birr Barracks, but refused point blank to give his first name.
This went back and forth for a while and then the stand off calmed down.
We stayed with our trailers for a couple of hours or so, and the nominated folk taking stations to keep the animals watered, fed and exercised where needs be the rest of us retired down to the pub.
All hands ended up in Houghs where as usual there was a great session of music and chat about all things in life, not just horses.
Pistols at Dawn
At 8am, Carty was on the Main Street, and found I was one of the last ones up. There was easily thirty horses out of the boxes, eating hay and standing around, and I got the breakfast in – the obligatory coffee, apple square and chocolate on what was a lovely cool morning for the fair.
I was talking to a trader who came down from Cavan, who could not understand the issues behind the fair, and why it was being blocked. I was getting messages from traders afraid to come to Banagher thinking they would be turned away. I advised one to head on to Kerry as he had travelled a long distance. Others said they were told the fair was cancelled, so I said Id head on up to the barriers, and see the story for myself.
So I went to St. Pauls on top of the hill.
A standoff developed between traders who were already scanned and had their passports checked. I was told that anyone whose papers were in order was let through, and anyone with trailers had to park outside the barriers and walk stock in. The permitted parking area was a good half mile to mile from the barriers, and many drove off sooner than do that. Which was the intended idea.
No one was turned away as such while I was there, but the standoff developed in to a row where the traders lost the head with all concerned and rode on through, Wild West style. Stories came of a 13 year old girl out riding her horse as she does every day being reduced to tears as she was threatened with seizure as the had no passport with her.
All this led to a very bad atmosphere between traders and visitors on one hand, and the officials and guards on the other. But for every set of Kit Kat cops there is about… there are the good ones too!
Good Cops – ARU / POU keep all safe and settle dispute on Birr road
As happens on events like this, a dispute arose out the Birr road, beyond the barriers, and it was attended to swift by the ERU/POU of the guards. Low key and unseen until needed, these real cops were appreciated by all, including members of the Travelling community who had nothing to do with the dispute.
Apart from that, and a row the night before in the Railway bar that was caused by too much alcohol the event was quiet.
Having stood up to the mark and criticized the Traffic corps and Superintendent Cashen for their behavior at barriers and on the streets, it is especially important to comment the police who acted as policemen should. The ERU / POU were splendid, and being tough, did not have to intimidate anyone or be a bother. Show up when needed, and then step back. Well done lads, YE are a pride to your force.
All fair at the Fair!
As more traders arrived the fair got in full swing from 10 to 2 and we were blessed with good weather, but a few showers came, and I set out to finalise plans we were gathering for the clean up afterwards.
Birr Community Growery had agreed to take the dung, and we were unsure would the council be out straight away to clean up, this being an unathorised fair. So supporters of the fair, with the help of Sean Maher and Carol Nolan of Sinn Fein, had arranged for a clean up – all that was needed was transport.
I got that sorted – thanks to the Andrews family, and just needed someone to open the gate in Birr, and a few extra hands as we expected the fair to finish in an hour or so. On walking down the town, I saw the council were present and doing an excellent job, it was like there was no fair.
A few quick phone calls aborted our plans, and men on the road from the Birr Community Growery who were on their way to help out with the clean up along with Sinn Fein members turned back, they not being needed.
I met up with a few other supporters and found that Id missed Carol Nolan who had been out to visit, as had Derek Fanning, among others.
Conclusion, and an incident with some Copper Wire
Banagher Fair is alive and well, and will be on next year on September 18th.
There was, and is, no need for a committee, as too many chefs spoil the broth. Spontaneous it happens, and when all hands taking responsibility for their section of the fair and its consequences, there is no need for micro management. A few sarky comments from one of the neighbours “Will you be cleaning this all up then?” who opposed the fair was let fly by, but she should have been told loud and clear we had our folk on the way, and had the council not shown up, we would have cleaned it ourselves.
It is, after all, only horseshit.
While Garda resources were diverted to Fair Prevention, some real Crime Prevention was neglected as on sites from Ferbane to Kilcormac a serious amount of copper cable was stolen. No word on the campaigning to have Garda resources wasted on the Fair – the guards on the barriers was not needed, public order was kept by the ERU / POU boys, and accompanying the inspectors the superintendent and his sidekick caused more trouble then they solved, and achieved nothing.
People power won the day. We will see you all next year in Banagher!