Tuesday, August 31, 2021
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Back to a time when Warrenpoint lamb fairs were social affairs

The council workers put out the pens in Duke Street for the lamb fair in Warrenpoint. It was held on the last Friday in July. A huge event with pens three deep, half the width and the full length of the street.

Some distained the pens and tied their sheep to railings and the trees at the bottom of the Bridal Loanin. It was no mean trick to get each little flock of lambs (20 at most) just off the ewes into the pens.

Then there was the matter of pet lambs; on the drive to Warrenpoint they would breakaway from the flock and run to anyone in a skirt.

The fair left conditions underfoot not conducive to good football and I suppose that’s what brought the whole thing to an end.

It was a fair where I knew nearly everyone. That was because all hands who grazed Loughan More were there. Every Sunday I went to the mountain with my Uncle Pat. Talk about the Camino, this was the most social of walks. All of Drumreagh and Kilbroney, and half of Carcullion would be there.

In summer they would not only be ‘looking at’ their sheep, but horses and cattle as well. The Hilltown men seemed to be always looking for a ‘rough ewe’ – no, not a ewe given to aggressive swagger but one not clipped.

I always had a lamb in my Uncle Pat’s flock; did I get £3? I’m almost back to those sort of numbers now.

With a bit of good help we put the tags in their ears and took my four tup lambs to Hilltown sales. I could have stayed at home (truly I was surplus to requirements) but in the present dispensation it was a day out.

I did know not to mention wool. And more than that, I knew not to mention that I had a market for mine. Back in the spring, when I had my ewes and new lambs in the little garden along the Knockbarragh Road – convenient to the shelter of the old house – the young man from ‘The Hostel’ stopped and asked me could he have a fleece for his wife to spin. In a generous barter he volunteered she would knit me a hat. I was delighted because, believe it or not, knitting is something I know about.

When I went to school the first thing you were taught was to knit. On very thick needles I engineered a tie; a very loose knit one. So back there, at the end of June when my ewes were clipped, I left a couple of fleeces for him with the staff at his office up the road.

Next day, when going past, he stopped to thank me, adding they were lovely clean fleeces – which they were. I told him he was welcome; there were a couple more if he wanted them, and that they were worth nothing.

He was kind enough to paraphrase Einstein: ‘Not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that can be counted counts’. Not that that’s much good to anyone who has half a dozen or more bales of wool in their yard.

But I digress. Hilltown sales is a hub of efficiency – although it wouldn’t have been had I had to reverse the trailer in the yard. But I wasn’t driving so there was a smooth transfer to the pens. I was simply told the approximate time my lambs would be sold; so I turned up (spoke to a few neighbours) and sat on the cement steps circling the ring.

Sheep entered and left in an unflustered chain. Then my four lambs came in. Fresh; sprightly; well on their feet and as I stood close to the auctioneers rostrum/office I noted all the information on the television computer screens. Couldn’t make head nor tail of it; but I also noted the people politely self-distanced around the amphitheatre.

“These guys wouldn’t be the least alarmed if there was a short interval for a poetry reading,” I thought.

There were no raised voices; no spitting nor clapping of hands; no one said ‘If you bid a man half what he asks you haven’t insulted him’ and my lambs were sold. Sixty nine pounds a piece.

Pleased? I was ushered to the office downstairs and was immediately given my check. All in all, a very enjoyable morning out and on such a hot day – I was home in plenty of time to catch the one o’clock tide.

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