Running a city on village lines

This photograph of a pig fair was taken about 100 years ago on a wet day at the top of Eyre Square. The corner we see on the right was occupied by Michael Walsh, family grocer, wine and spirit merchant, who claimed to have the most superior quality of goods always kept in stock... “A trial will convince”. In the foreground are a typical group of farmers who have travelled into town with their tall carts carrying their pigs. They have them on show with a rope tied around each animal’s leg to avoid them running all over the place. You can almost sense these farmers praying for a buyer to come along, because if they did not sell they would have to bring their pigs home again. Not all farmers had the luxury of carts, and those who walked their animals into town and did not sell, would have to walk them home again.

Galway was a busy place when it came to fairs and markets, and most of these were held in Eyre Square, though they often spilled on to adjoining streets. These were occasions when rural people came to town to sell their produce and convert it into cash, some of which would be spent on various necessities which were unavailable at home. The largest of these fairs were cattle fairs, but the Square also hosted horse fairs, sheep fairs, pig fairs, hay markets, sock markets, and turf markets. Elsewhere there were egg and butter markets, vegetable and fowl markets, fishmarkets, potato markets, and basket markets.

The most demeaning of these fairs was the hiring fair, which dealt in people. They were known as ‘spailpíns’ or ‘spailps’, and invariably came from poorer parts of the west where there was no work. They would line up against the railings, opposite the Skeffington Arms, and hope that they might be hired by big farmers from south or east Galway, or indeed by fishermen. These periods of employment never lasted for very long, but were necessary for the survival of these men and their families.

In 1948 there was a major debate in the Corporation about the proposal to move these fairs from the Square to the Fairgreen. Some members argued that it would be a very serious step to relegate the principal business of the city to a place where no organisation such as banks, etc, for the carrying on of that business existed. The three banks at Eyre Square were probably erected there because of the fairs. The county manager responded by saying that if they got a fair green, they would insist on the use of it, and not have the city run on village lines, filthy dirty on fair days. There was no point in having a fair green unless the Corporation were prepared to adopt the bye-laws compelling the people to use it.

The matter was adjourned.

We had a very large entry for our Christmas crossword, and obviously a lot of people enjoyed doing it, while for others it was a mild form of torture. The answers to the clues were:

ACROSS; 3, Cross; 6, Abbey; 9, Arts; 10, Glynns; 12, Cart; 13, Dillons; 16, Gold; 17, Yacht; 20, Pier; 23, Joe Young; 25, ffrench; 28, Oyster; 30, Toys; 31, Canal; 32, Flood; 35, Donnellans; 37, Horse; 39, Aras; 40, Darcy; 42, Parkavera; 46, Marian; 47, Pilot; 48, Bus; 49, Lane; 51, Noone; 53, Gate; 57, Ó Máille; 58, Wagon; 61, Mate; 62, ffont; 63, Eyre; 64, Dilly; 65, Race; 67, GBC; 68, Paddle; 69, Mon; 70, Oslo; 72, Yard; 74, Trams; 76, Corbetts; 77, Shoots; 78, Hidden; 79 Sausages.

DOWN; 1, Rugby; 2, Smyth; 4, Suckeen; 5, Ferry; 7, Bish; 8, Victoria; 9, Augie; 11, Nurses; 14, Lydon; 15, Lemonade; 18, Cafe; 19, Athy; 21, Ireton; 22, Hotel; 23, Joyce; 24, Golf; 26, College; 27, Armada; 29, Stella; 33, Ocean; 34, Nora; 36, Sally; 38, Spain; 41, Casbah; 43, Kirwan; 44, Volvo; 45, Ring; 48, Books; 50, Eanna; 51, Newells; 52, Of; 54, Empire; 55, Deane; 56, Geraghtys; 58, Woolworths; 59, GTM; 60, Nimmo; 62, Fairgreen; 63, Erasmus; 66, Crane; 69, Morris; 71, Moons; 73, Delia; 75, Long.

The photographs were 1, The Nurse’s Home, Regional Hospital; 2, Árus na nGael, Dominick Street; 3, Parkavera; 4, Offices of the Medical Officer, in front of the County Buildings; 5, The site of the Garda Station, Mill Street; 6, O’Flynn’s Pub and Grocery, where McSwiggans is today.

The responses were all jumbled up, and the first all correct answer out of the hat came from Feena Cunnane of Monument Road in Menlo. Congratulations, Feena, your prize is on the way. Our thanks to Dick Byrne for his imaginative input and wisdom.


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