Only two days to go, so it's time to get in the mood…..
Those of you who have the pleasure of knowing me – which I would guess is pretty much anyone that reads this website - may also know just what a special day the third Saturday in May is for me (and I'm sure for many other people as well).
Yes - you've guessed it folks - it's that time of year when my home town of Ballyclare (or “Billyclare” as we locals like to refer to it) goes a little bit crazy and lets its collective hair down… The Ballyclare Mayfair Festival.
Now, I wouldn’t assume that many of you out there will have even heard of this week-long event that brings my home-town to a standstill, so I will give you a brief run down on it, or rather – I will steal it from the website www*nireland*com*may*fair (replace the ‘*’ with ‘.’)
A hugely impressive website, I’m sure you’ll all agree. Apparently to watch it in all its intended technological glory your PC must have Macromedia Flash v ‘16.90’ to view. Apparently.
“On the 16th December 1756 George II granted to the Earl of Donegal the
right to hold 'two fairs yearly at the Town and Lands of Ballyclare', 'yielding
therefore yearly to us the sum of thirteen shillings and four pence for the said
fairs to be paid forever'
At first the fairs were markets for animals and goods but as they grew to four in a year it was the May and November fairs which became the most important as it was there that the farmers hired their labouring men and servant girls for the next six months. The May Fair was traditionally held on a Tuesday in late May but in the nineteenth
century such was the demand for horses that the Monday was given over to the
trade. One dealer alone brought a hundred horses each year while others came
into Ballyclare riding bareback and leading a string of horses. Representatives
of cavalry regiments from all over Europe came to buy as the reputation of the
Local farmers also needed horses to plough and transport their produce while the nearly city of Belfast sought carriage horses and sturdy animals to pull carts. Any of the bakeries alone would need a hundred animals. The great days of the horse fair ended with the First World War and growing mechanisation. However in recent years the Main Street again echoes with the sound of horse being exercised and dealers shouting. This is not just a colourful revival of part of the town's cultural heritage but a real market
where bidding is keen. It is now the centrepiece of the week of festivities
which is the May Fair Festival. Today's sales are for leisure purposes but in
many ways the sights and sounds are those of a past century.
It begins with the Mayor's Parade followed by sports, street events, concerts and
exhibitions. Local shops compete for the best dressed window. Children take part
in Fancy Dress Competitions and the Duck Race.
A May Fair Queen is chosen to represent the town over the next year. People come from far and wide to meet old friends and make new ones.”
Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?
Ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I have always looked forward to this time of year with - a time when all the year's troubles can be forgotten and a time when we all get to go a little bit crazy.
As a kid, the craziest thing I would probably wish for was a go on a “really scary ride” and it is amazing that as I grew older (and supposedly wiser), that my life had only subtly changed to wishing that I wouldn’t WAKEN UP NEXT to a “really scary ride”…
For the duration of the week-long festivities, all talk of shagging sheep, punishment beatings and fucking Fenians (not literally of course) is put on hold, while the people of Ballyclare have a bit of a laugh.
This year, marks a special landmark in the history of the town in that the Mayfair celebrates its 250th anniversary this year.
And to be honest – not a lot has changed in those intervening years.
For 250 years, the farmers of the surrounding countryside have been coming to our wee town, bringing with them the strong smell of stale whiskey on their breath and the even stronger stench of horse shite.
For 250 years, people have been ripped off on the many “Try Your Luck” stalls, with the false promise of riches being announced to all and sundry by the vocal stall holders.
For 250 years, the good people of Ballyclare have stuffed their faces on half-cooked, bacteria-ridden food, or gorged on sickly sweet sweets – the famous “Yella Man” having originated from the Ballyclare Mayfair (fuck off Ballycastle and yer Aul’ Lammas Fair - WE invented it – you stole it and took it as yer own.)
For 250 years, Ballyclarians indulge in the traditional past time of “Let’s get pissed, talk shite and fall over”.
And then we all go on the many amusement rides in the town square and get thrown about until we vomit.
And you know what, folks?
I absolutely love it.
No lesser man than Callum Best (son of Georgie) will be in town on the last night, no doubt to sign off the week-long proceedings in the traditional fashion of a blue-bag carryout of lethal snakebites of Thunderbird mixed with Steiger Lager, 20 Berkley cigarettes and a grope of some aul' Ballyclare slapper underneath the bridge at the Sixmilewater river park.
Unfortunately this year I am not able to make it to the “Centre Of The Universe” to join in the festivities but all is not lost, because this somewhat raucous time is also shared with a slightly better known event – that of the most famous club game of them all – the English FA Cup Final.
After a Friday night of indulging in all these wonderful activities, I would wake up early with the tingle of excitement and prepare for the big game with the traditional FA Cup fry up before heading into town to start it all over again.
I’d listen to the big match previews on the radio and watch the build up on BBC before striding through the town with my Da to jump in a taxi to his local - a small farmers' pub 3 miles outside of town that my he rather inexplicably chose to call his 'local'.
Strangely - or perhaps upon reflection, extremely wisely - ignoring the fact that there were around 20 drinking establishments a lot more local than his one.
We’d watch the game with some mates – a bunch of like-minded guys - each one seriously good fun to hang around with and more than fond of an afternoon drink or two.
After the match, just a few short hours later - we’d all head home in a drunken, dribbling mess, invariably making the Saturday night a non-event. God love our partners but fair play to them for giving us some “boys will be boys’ time”.
You can imagine the difference if my beloved Liverpool were actually playing in the game.
Well, this year may not see me running about Billyclare like a dog with two dicks at the Ballyclare Mayfair, giving Callum a run for his money in the drinking and womanising stakes but it does see me with the opportunity to watch my team compete in this year’s FA Cup final versus West Ham United.
And. I. Can’t. Bloody. Wait.
I’m fairly sure that by seven o’clock this Saturday evening, I’ll once again be the drunken, gibbering fool that seems to so easily go hand in hand with Cup Final Day but hopefully I’ll be celebrating yet another addition to the Anfield trophy cabinet to keep the European Champions Cup company.
Give her one for me Callum. You’ll Never Walk Alone.