Record numbers flock to Auld Lammas Fair in ‘Ballycastle-o’

Lyle and Mary McMullan from Armoy at the Auld Lammas Fair in Ballycastle on Bank Holiday Monday.
Lyle and Mary McMullan from Armoy at the Auld Lammas Fair in Ballycastle on Bank Holiday Monday.

The oldest festival in Ireland, the Auld Lammas Fair in Ballycastle, attracted huge numbers of visitors yet again this year as huge crowds flocked to the end-of-summer festival.

The fair, which continues into Tuesday, is famous for the traditional seaside delights of dulse - a salty snack made from dried seaweed - and yellowman - a type of hardened honeycomb.

Ronald Reid Raymond Harvey James McLean Mervyn Kennedy and Archie McFadyen from Campletown in Scotland trying out some of Kennedy s food at the Auld Lammas Fair in Ballycastle on Bank Holiday Monday.

Ronald Reid Raymond Harvey James McLean Mervyn Kennedy and Archie McFadyen from Campletown in Scotland trying out some of Kennedy s food at the Auld Lammas Fair in Ballycastle on Bank Holiday Monday.

Amongst the crowds making their way to Ballycastle for this year’s festival was Mayor of the Causeway Coast and Glens council, Maura Hickey, who said the annual event is as popular as ever, some 400 years after it started.

She said: “The estimates are that we have around 250,000 people attending this year.

“We are lucky to be blessed with some of Northern Ireland’s greatest tourist attractions in this area.

“Festivals such as the Auld Lammas Fair are a big part of that.

Stephen Douthart at the Auld Lammas Fair in Ballycastle on Bank Holiday Monday.

Stephen Douthart at the Auld Lammas Fair in Ballycastle on Bank Holiday Monday.

“I believe the Fair can really thrive in the coming years.”

Immortalised in the folk song by sculptor Henry John MacAuley, the end-of-summer festival dates back to the early 17th century.

Theories about its origins are almost as diverse and colourful as the many attractions on offer, but most opinion seems to be agreed that it either started life as a sheep market or that it was instigated by one of the chieftains of the MacDonnell clan.

Its name suggests a link to the old Anglo-Saxon ‘Lammas’ or ‘Lammastide’ harvest festival.

Lammas festivals, which are still celebrated in various places throughout the English speaking world to this day, involved the bringing of bread to Church to mark the first wheat harvest of the year.

Others say the fair is more closely related to the old pagan feast of Lughnasadh, named after the Celtic sun-God Lugh.

Whatever the origins of the Auld Lammas Fair in Ballycastle, the festival continues to thrive in 2016.

The Mayor of the Causeway Coast and Glens council is keen to see that success continue.

Alderman Hickey said: “I believe the Auld Lammas Fair is one of the jewels in the crown of the entire Causeway Coast and Glens area.

“We have developed a tourism strategy for the Borough and a big part of that is ensuring that we have festivals and events to attract people to every part of the area.”

This year’s attractions included the annual street fair in the town centre, traditional music and dance at the marina, the horse fair at Fairhill Street and children’s entertainment throughout the town.

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