BYGONE DAYS: Welcome for decision to restart county fair
The meeting, attended by farmers from the surrounding districts, local businessmen and other residents, was presided over by Captain James Lenox-Conyngham Chichester-Clark, DSO, DL, MP for South Londonderry, who said that they met that evening “for a laudable object – the revival of a fair in Magherafelt for the sale of cattle, sheep and pigs”.
Capt Chichester-Clark was the father of the future Northern Ireland prime minister Captain James Dawson Chichester-Clark (1 May 1969 – 23 March 1971).
Capt Chichester-Clark remarked: “There had been a fair many years ago, but it had ceased to exist. The idea of re-starting the fair is a good one, as it affects the interests of almost the entire community.”
He continued: “The farming prospects are at a low ebb, and the depression prices for agricultural products has discouraged the farmers, though livestock is selling very well at the present time.
“History, however, shows that there is always lean years and years of plenty. This was most notable in the years of depression which followed the war period. However, I hope that a change for the better is coming before long.
“In order that this project, for which we are together assembled, can be made feasible, there are two conditions to be fulfilled, we must have sellers and buyers. The former will require to send out their stock, and in as good a condition as possible, so as to attract buyers.
Excellent railway station
“Magherafelt is well situated for the holding of a fair, being on the main line to Belfast, and we have excellent loading stages at the railway station for the transit of cattle. We also have good train services, a wide bus traffic; the railway station is also the nearest in South Derry to Belfast. This will be a consideration in making the project a success.”
Capt Chichester-Clark went on to note that he had been alerted to the belief that there would soon be a world shortage of beef, something that the fair, buyers and traders could exploit.
Elimination of ‘scrub bull’
He remarked: “I have attended many meetings of the Shorthorn Breeders’ Association in London and recently, it was believed that there would soon be a world shortage of beef. It looked as if the population of cattle was running short, and the supply soon would not equal the demand.
“It is up to the farmer to produce more cattle, and good quality cattle, to attract the English buyers of store cattle. Within the last few years there has been a great improvement in the breeding in cattle. In my opinion the Angus and Shorthorn cross gives the best results. This improvement in cattle, I believe, was due to the elimination of the scrub bull, through the operations of the livestock regulations in Northern Ireland.”
He concluded: “This improvement was all to the good for the local farmers, and will help them to get as good a price as possible for their cattle. With some little more attention cattle rearing should be made a paying proposition. As you well know the success of the fair will depend on it getting as much support as possible.”
Flax market success
A number of “noted agriculturalists” in the community were invited to give their opinions on restarting the fair in Magherafelt.
One, a man named Fleming, said he could not understand why Magherafelt, “with so many facilities”, could not have a monthly fair.
He remarked: “The nearest fairs are held in Bellaghy and Tobermore. I can not see why any difficulty should arise to prevent Magherafelt having as good a fair as any in the county. However, I would suggest that prizes or premiums should be awarded for the best price obtained for animals offered for sale. Prizes thus given have helped to make our flax market a success. I remember the time when all the good flax went to Cookstown. The offering of a prize in the cattle fair would be an incentive to farmers to bring good stock.”
Mr S G Davison, JP, said that he was in agreement with the object of the meeting and endorsed the re-establishment of the fair.
He remarked: “I cannot see why it should not be re-established.
“I cannot see why it should not be one of the best; all the conveniences are present, a good spacious, fair hill. By railway we are in direct communication with Belfast, Kilrea, and other large towns.
“The station is a junction for many of the centres from which cattle dealers attend.
“The town has every accommodation, houses where hospitality of meat and drink can be extended, and yards for the livestock.
“I am sure, if the Market Trustees were approached, they will assist.
“ In days gone they had erected pens, but when the fair became extinct these had become derelict from disuse.”
Mr Davison continued: “It would be very convenient for farmers in Grange, Ballyronan, Drumenagh or Loop who, since the closing of the local fair, have to travel long distances when selling their animals.
“It would better suit springing cows to be offered for sale in Magherafelt, and without the toil and loss of time to their owners, driving them six or seven miles to Bellaghy or Tobermore.
“The date of the fair could be a convenient time between Moneymore Fair and Bellaghy.”
Mr Davison concluded: “I have no doubt farmers will be glad to avail themselves of a near and ready centre for sale of such cattle, and they will be in favour of having the fair re-organised.”