The Lammas Fair in Ballycastle

The Lammas Fair in Ballycastle

Date: 30/08/2021 07:00

‘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 Yellowman

At the ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle-O’

The end of summer is coming but with the advent of autumn and the harvest season, there are always still plenty of things to celebrate in rural Northern Ireland. One of the best-known events is the Lammas Fair in Ballycastle, held on the last Monday and Tuesday of August every year and this month's staff pick takes a look at how it used to be.

John Henry McAuley wrote the song celebrating the Lammas Fair in the 1930s but the fair itself dates back to the 17th century, getting its charter in 1606. Its origins lie deep in Irish folklore and mythology. ‘Lammas’ itself comes originally from the name of Lughnasa, the god of the harvest festival, and the Irish name for August and came to mean “loaf” in Christian times. There is still a traditional farm animal element – horses especially – to the days but the hiring fair for servants is long gone. The streets are crammed with traders and stalls of all kinds as this wonderful film from 1965 shows. but If you can’t buy it at the Lammas, you probably can’t buy it anywhere. Everywhere in the town you will find musicians and entertainers. This is more than a market – it’s a chance for people from all over the county to catch up with old friends and have a bit of crack.

As so often in Ireland, specialised traditional foods are for sale at the Lammas Fair and as the song says, these are dulse and yellowman. Dulse is a dried red seaweed, very salty and extremely chewy. Yellowman is toffee-like honeycomb, broken up to be sold in huge chunks. Both will give your mouth plenty of work! The films here show traditions not long changed from the time McAuley worked at the fair, starting with The Aul Lammas Fair, 1965.

Music is an integral part of the Lammas Fair and in 1964, the town staged a Hootenanny with some wonderful folk musicians. Watch below as Charlie Witherspoon talks to performers and audience.

The beautiful colour film from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board gives us a glimpse into the wonderful spread of produce available and the fun to be had. 

Check below for links to other films of the Lammas Fair throughout the years.