Written by John Henry MacAuley
'At more than three centuries old, the Lammas Fair at Ballycastle, Co. Antrim is perhaps Ireland’s longest running fair. It is held annually on the last Monday and Tuesday in August.
In ancient mythology, the Sun God Lugh ordered a festival of games and feasting to commemorate his foster-mother Tailtiu. ‘Tailtiu Games’ were celebrated extensively at the time of Christianity’s arrival in Ireland. The word Lammas, meaning ‘loaf mass’ was intoduced to reflected in the custom of placing loaves of bread baked from the first harvest grains on the church altar.
The Lammas Fair at Ballycastle originated at Dunanyie Head, (now Castle Point). Some say that it started out as a sheep market; others that it originated when Sorley Boy MacDonnell ordered a celebration for his nephew. Either way it grew and migrated to Ballycastle where it now hosts more than 400 stalls, live music, livestock sales and offerings of traditional Lammas treats of Yellow Man and Dulse'
More About Origins
The name of Lammas originated from the 'Feast of Lughnasadh' or Lugh. In Irish legend, Lugh was a Sun God who had a mortal foster-mother named Tailtiu. She was a queen or princess of the Firbolgs - Men of Bags. These early inhabitants of Ireland are said to have come from Greece or Spain where they were put into servitude and forced to carry soil from the fertile plains to the higher ground. To do this, they devised leather bags which they later used to build boats and escape from their enslavement.
The Firbolg lived in Ireland until they were conquered and ruled by the people of Dana (Tuatha de Danna). According to legend, the Dana forced Tailtiu to clear a large area of woodland for the planting of grain and she died of exhaustion. She was buried under a great mound which was called the ‘Hill of Tailtiu’ and Lugh instructed that each year a festival should be held to commemorate his foster-mother’s death and that there should be games and feasting on the first fruits of the harvest.
Throughout ancient Irish history, one will find references to the ‘Tailthiu Games’ and the ‘Games of Lugh’. However, with the arrival of Christianity, the old pagan festival was modified and adapted to suit the teachings of the church. The name was changed to Lammas which means ‘loaf mass’ and this was reflected in the custom of placing loaves of bread baked from the first harvest grains on the church altar.
In the middle ages there are frequent historical references to Lammastide when craft fairs and pageants would be held. It is also thought to have been around this time when the feast of St. Catherine was celebrated, which gave rise to the term 'Catherine Wheel.' This originated in pagan worship when a wagon wheel would be tarred, taken to the top of a hill, set on fire and then rolled down, symbolizing the decline of the Sun God at the Autumn Equinox.
The Ould Lammas Fair
by John Henry MacAuley
At the Ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle long ago
I met a pretty colleen who set me heart a-glow
She was smiling at her daddy buying lambs from Paddy Roe
At the Ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle-O!
Sure I seen her home that night
When the moon was shining bright
From the ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle-O!
At the Ould Lammas Fair boys were you ever there
Were you ever at the Fair In Ballycastle-O?
Did you treat your Mary Ann
To some Dulse and Yellow Man
At the Ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle-O!
In Flander's fields afar while resting from the War
We drank Bon Sante to the Flemish lassies O!
But the scene that haunts my memory is kissing Mary Ann
Her pouting lips all sticky from eating Yellow Man
As we passed the silver Margy and we strolled along the strand
From the Ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle-O!
There's a neat little cabin on the slopes of fair Knocklayde
It's lit by love and sunshine where the heather honey's made
With the bees ever humming and the children's joyous call
Resounds across the valley as the shadows fall
Sure I take my fiddle down and my Mary smiling there
Brings back a happy mem'ry of the Lammas Fair
*This well-known ballad was composed by John Henry "The Carver" MacAuley, the proprietor of the Bog Oak Shop in Ann Street, Ballycastle (now Dan McLister's News agency & Toy Shop). MacAuley was a bog-oak carver and from his skilled hands came all sorts of small objects such as round towers, pipe stands, ash trays, pen and ink stands, ornamental picture frames, farm animals and various designs. Born on a farm in Glenshesk, he was expected to follow in the farming tradition but when he was a child, he met with an accident which left him crippled. MacAuley was a gifted and a well known fiddle player. He also wrote a number of songs but the only one to be published was 'The Ould Lammas Fair'. He died in 1937, long before the song became popular.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO SEE NEAR BALLYCASTLE?
The Marconi memorial
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