Sunshine draws huge crowds to Lammas Fair

Ballycastle welcomed thousands of visitors once again to the Co Antrim seaside town.
 Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
Ballycastle welcomed thousands of visitors once again to the Co Antrim seaside town. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

The oldest festival in Ireland, the Auld Lammas Fair in Ballycastle, attracted huge numbers of visitors yet again yesterday as huge crowds flocked to the end-of-summer event.

UUP Councillor Joan Baird, who is from Ballycastle and has been attending the festival since her childhood, said it might have been the best attended ever.

The First day of Auld Lammas Fair draws huge crowds  in Ballycastle.
  Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

The First day of Auld Lammas Fair draws huge crowds in Ballycastle. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

“The sun was shining and you might as well have been in the south of France,” she said.

“The markets were doing a roaring trade at those stalls. I spent about half an hour trying to walk up the street but eventually I gave up because there were simply so many people. I’ve never seen so many at it.”

The fair, which continues today, is famous for the traditional seaside delights of dulse - a salty snack made from dried seaweed - and yellowman - a type of hardened honeycomb.

Mayor of the Causeway Coast and Glens Council, Maura Hickey said the event is still as popular as ever, some 400 years after it started.

Seamus McGee from Dungannon pictured at Ireland's oldest market fair.
   Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

Seamus McGee from Dungannon pictured at Ireland's oldest market fair. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

She said: “The estimates are that we have around 250,000 people attending. We are lucky to be blessed with some of Northern Ireland’s greatest tourist attractions in this area and festivals such as the Auld Lammas Fair are a big part of that.”

Made famous in the folk song Henry John MacAuley, the festival dates back to the early 17th century. Theories about its origins are as diverse and colourful as the many attractions on offer, but most opinion seems to be agreed that it either started life as a sheep market or that it was instigated by one of the chieftains of the MacDonnell clan.

The name also suggests a link to the old Anglo-Saxon ‘Lammas’ or ‘Lammastide’ harvest festival.

Lammas festivals, which are still celebrated in various places throughout the English speaking world, involved the bringing of bread to church to mark the first wheat harvest of the year. Others say the fair is more closely related to the old pagan feast of Lughnasadh.