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Moylan's Fair

Map of Clonroad Fair Green by John Irvine Whitty, Civil Engineer, 1852

Map of Clonroad Fair Green by John Irvine Whitty, Civil Engineer, 1852. The map was commissioned by the Encumbered Estates Court to facilitate the sale of Clonroad Fairs. Note that the fair green consisted of three separate pieces of ground (marked Lot 7 on the map). When the Ennis Urban District Council purchased the fair green in 1931, the land was quickly resold for house sites to defray the cost of the purchase, so that today only the piece of ground by Clonroad Bridge, that provided access for the cattle to water, is open ground.

The Gores, now in possession of all four fairs, leased out the running of them to various individuals. Such was the depressed state of agriculture that the Gores, it appears, were taking a loss in the leasing of the fairs. On 1 May 1838 the tolls and customs of the fairs of Clonroad, and the fair greens on which the same were held, were leased to Thomas Moylan for a period of 21 years at an annual rent of £50. [31] This was £10 less than the £60 rent Gore had contracted to pay Stacpoole annually in 1815. In any event the 1838 lease is significant because it is the first mention of the Moylan family, a family who still retain commercial interests in Ennis, and who were to be associated with the Clonroad fairs for almost a century.

On the mornings of the fair large toll boards, setting out the charges on livestock, were hung up at the entrances to the fair. Toll was levied on livestock sold as the farmers left the fair. The boards were taken down in the evening when the fair ended. Despite toll charges being high, it was stated in a return made to government that for the years 1840-43 no disturbances had taken place at either of the fairs of Ennis or Clonroad over the collection of tolls. [32]

The Great Famine was a disaster of unprecedented proportions, which precipitated the collapse of Irish agriculture. Many landlords resorted to the wholesale eviction of their tenants in a bid to stave off financial ruin. A newspaper correspondent, who visited Ennis in 1846, reported that there had been ‘more exterminations [evictions] in County Clare than in any other county in Ireland’. [33] The people, turned out of their homes, came to Ennis in the hope of finding support and employment but there encountered only pauperism and destitution.

I come now to an important but very impoverished place, namely Ennis, in whose suburbs and vicinity more poor people are to be met with than in any town of its extent in Munster… On the green of Clonroad, adjoining the borough, is to be found hundreds of creatures huddled together, like so many pigs in huts, scarcely deserving the name of human inhabitants. [34]

The appalling suffering of the famine victims clearly made a deep impression on this visitor to the Clare capital. The green of Clonroad was regarded as common ground where in emergencies destitute people erected temporary dwellings. The Gores, whose financial position had been precarious for many years, were finally driven into bankruptcy by the Great Famine. The Encumbered Estate Court put up the lands of Francis Gore, including the fairs of Clonroad, for sale in November 1852. [35] In the sale catalogue the fairs were advertised as the ‘best attended in the south of Ireland’ and it was pointed out that the lessee made a considerable profit under his lease. The lease of Thomas Moylan had another seven years to run. Such, however, was the depressed state of the economy that no one was prepared to purchase the free-hold of Clonroad fairs and matters continued much as before.

The outbreak of the Crimean war in 1853 created a great demand for horses. Buyers from the British army attended the fairs to vet and purchase suitable mounts. Thomas Moylan, the man who leased the fair, resided at Quin. He bred and bought horses extensively for the British army. Horses were sent to Limerick where they were transported by ship to Liverpool. However, one of Moylan’s shipments was stolen in Limerick resulting in a complete loss of animals. The theft of the horses led to Moylan’s bankruptcy. He was compelled to sell up his farm in Quin and move to Ballycorick about eight miles south west of Ennis. [36] Moylan was not apparently in a position to renew his lease when it expired in 1859. However, he still managed to hold onto the fair, because a new lease was eventually signed in 1868 when Moylan was again granted the fairs of Clonroad on this occasion for 31 years at the old rent of £50 a year. [37]

This was an extremely favourable lease particularly in view of the fact that the railway by then had opened in Ennis. The coming of the railway to Ennis in 1859 transformed the fairs of Clonroad. The station was built just on the boundary of the fair green, so that after fairs, cattle could be transported by rail to any part of the country. Cattle buyers favoured towns with rail links. The attendance of large numbers of buyers attracted many sellers to Clonroad and competition inevitably resulted in higher prices. A report in the local newspaper for 1865 shows the kind of fair that was being held at this time:

Clonroad fair, which is generally one of the best fairs, was held on Saturday last. The stock exhibited was by no means extensive, but was of fair quality and in good condition. A large number of buyers were in attendance, who bought up at an early hour nearly every head that was on the green. In consequence of the large number of buyers present, cattle ranged at higher prices than at any of the preceding fairs. Good beef sold as high as £3 per cwt., middling quality averaged 50s. Three year old bullocks sold from £13 to £16 some as high as £18 but they were of prime description. Heifers sold from £11 to £15… Altogether this has been one of the best fairs for sellers that has been held in the county for many months. [38]

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