FINAL preparations are underway ahead of the return of the legendary Spancilhill Fair to the festival calendar on Thursday, June 23.
The event, which had to be cancelled for the last two years due to the pandemic, was almost mothballed permanently, due to insurance issues. In April, an eleventh hour intervention by Clare County Council secured its future and paved the way for celebrations this year to mark the 400th anniversary of the world renowned horse fair.
“It’s the 400th anniversary and we really hope that people will come along and enjoy the event,” said PRO and local vet Paddy Hassett.
“People tend to arrive the night before and, on the day of the fair, we’ll have the car parks open from around 6.30am. We have significant visitor parking in place, as well as a large parking facility for those transporting horses. We’re finalising the traffic management plan and would ask people to respect the stewards and the Gardaí.”
With the licence for the fair being granted in 1621, the event has been going strong for just over 400 years. “I wonder if Queen Elizabeth knew we were back in action this year?,” Paddy mused. “They played ‘Spancilhill’ for The Trooping of the Colour.”
A souvenir booklet detailing the four centuries of the fair will be made available to visitors arriving to this year’s event. “Michael Duggan has been working on this,” said Paddy. “We thought it would be a very fitting gesture.”
All of the usual classes will be back this year, equine enthusiasts will be glad to know. “We’ll be having The Champion of the Fair, which will be a very special award to win on the 400th anniversary. This is for the best horse or pony. The winners of each class go forward for it. We’ll have two rings, one for horses and the other for ponies, with two judges for each class as well as an independent referee.”
As always, hospitality and toilet facilities will be in place, as well as the Civil Defence. There are, unfortunately, no preparations that can guarantee fine weather. “The story goes that there was a heatwave in the 1940,” said Paddy. “This was in the era well before bottled water, and the locals decided to sell some water to those attending the fair. They were denounced from the altar and the priest said they’d never have a fully dry day again at the fair. That’s probably what’s happened every year since then.”
With thousands beating a path to Spancilhill every year in pre-pandemic times, Paddy is predicting a bumper year in terms of attendance.
“There is definitely pent-up demand for all of the events that have come back on stream this year,” he said.
“People have really missed the fairs and festivals. We are still mindful of the pandemic, of course. People do need to exercise personal responsibility in relation to Covid and also general safety. If someone isn’t used to horses, they need to be careful and not be walking behind them.”
With last-minute preparations being ticked off the ‘To Do’ list, last April’s insurance worries are now a distant memory, but the entire committee are very grateful for the intervention of the local authority.
“We were in dire trouble in terms of securing insurance cover, until the Council stepped in,” Paddy said. As well as the fair organisers, local politicians and the wider community expressed their relief in after that threat to the future of the world-famous event was lifted.
Despite having no claims for more than three decades running, the committee had been unable to secure insurance. At the April meeting of County Council CEO Pat Dowling announcing that cover had been secured.
The announcement followed a cross-party motion tabled by Councillors Clare Colleran Molloy, PJ Kelly, Pat Hayes, Pat Burke and Joe Cooney, calling on the authority to help address the issue.
Last August, Minister Catherine Martin announced that the renowned fair is to be among eight practices to be added to the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage, sponsored by UNESCO.
The other activities to receive this prestigious recognition are Beekeeping, Clones Crochet Lace Making, Headford Lace Making, Irish Traditional Travelling Circus and Funfair, Lá an Dreoilín/Wren Day, Native Irish Cattle Breeding, and Traditional Seine Boat Building, Fishing and Racing.