Since 1615 the people of Dunmanway, West Cork, have been celebrating Ballabuidhe Horse Fair and Races and it’s no different this year. The races take place on Sunday 31st July and August 1st and 2nd , followed by the famous Ballabuidhe Horse Fair on the Tuesday evening and again on Wednesday 3rd August followed by a unique Horse Show which will be judged on the streets.
The races have a 2.30pm start on Sunday and we have a varied programme, with 11 races on Sunday consisting of six Harness/Sulky races and five flat races. Bank holiday Monday, which is Ballabuidhe Day and Ladies Day at the races, sees the big finals, The Murphys-Western Beverages Preferred Handicap High Grade Grand Prix Final and the Preferred Handicap Low Grade Paddy Connolly Memorial sulky race. There are nine races on Monday and there should be a fantastic atmosphere. Also on Monday there will be live music and for the children there will be free face painting, Bouncing Castles and other novelty events.
Tuesday, it’s an all trotting meeting with seven races on the card. The feature races are the heats and final of the Hurley & White Golden Mile, which is a handicap race open to all from grade zero upwards and is a very important race. After the races on Tuesday it’s off to the Ballabuidhe Horse Fair which will already have commenced in the town. On Wednesday, the fair continues from early morning and, last year, there was a huge clearance of animals at the horse fair so the organisers are hopeful that the same will occur this year.
The origins of the Ballabuidhe Horse Fair and Races are lost in antiquity, with written records only going back to 1615. To the present day, Ballabuidhe Fair carries on the ancient tradition of great fairs like Tara and Tailte, incorporating horse racing, selling and buying of wares, and the display of fine horses for sale. Ballabuidhe Races comprise over thirty races of which about half are trotting and sulky. The rest are flat races for ponies and horses, specially bred for speed and agility. These are not only exciting for the spectator, but have proved a valuable training ground for aspiring jockeys.
Trotting horses are not new to Ireland; they were introduced to England early in the eleventh century. It can be assumed that they came to Ireland with the Normans. As by the fifteenth century, Irish pacing horses or ‘hobbies’ were famous in England for their speed and success in races. In recent years, registration of trotters and pacers, drivers and jockeys have increased annually. After three days of racing, the famous old Ballabuidhe Horse Fair is held, and in conjunction with it, a Horse Show. Held on the streets, it is the only one of its kind in the country.
I had the honour of being a judge last night at the revived Belle of Ballabuidhe Pageant held in conjunction with the Ballabuidhe Horse Fair in Dunmanway, an event which has been taking place for over 400 years and is very much part of the fabric of West Cork. Revived after a 25 year gap by Dunmanway’s go ahead Chamber of Commerce this was a happy and well supported community event with over 400 people filling the ballroom at the Parkway Hotel and the guests of honour were the Norwegian Taule-Leikanger family who followed a magic balloon to Dunmanway.
I had the pleasure of meeting the 13 Belles and their escorts in Dunmanway’s historic Atkins Hall at a reception hosted by Carbery Foods before they were brought through the town in a cavalcade of vintage cars to the Parkway Hotel for the Ball. My fellow judges were Teresa O’Neill the last Belle of Ballabuidhe from 1991 and Rita O’Connell of the West Cork Times. The Belle of Ballabuidhe 2016 contest was ably hosted by Emmet Kennedy of Cork96 FM. Congratulations to Niamh Hayes the 2016 Belle and to all the Belles who took part in such a friendly manner. Once again a great community event helping the Rick Barrett Fund and demonstrating again that Dunmanway is the warm hearted centre of West Cork.
So come to Dunmanway, the warm hearted centre of West Cork, this August Bank holiday and support one of the great traditional events of Ireland, the unique and historic Ballabuidhe Horse Fair and Races.