By Geraldine Mills
The biggest day in Belmullet’s calendar is the fifteenth of August. For more years than we care to remember, this date sees the whole area come out to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption.
They combine this with Fair Day when people from the farthest reaches of the Erris Peninsula gather to trade their wares, whether it is livestock, vegetables or crafts. Deals are done, hands spat on, money exchanged. Relatives and friends meet up with those they haven’t seen since the year before. Shops and restaurants work around the clock to keep hungry visitors well fed.
It has been that way since my mother was a little girl. I loved nothing more than to sit with her by the range, especially in the last years of her life, and watch her eyes sparkle with the delight of a child as she journeyed back through memories to her first visit to that famous fair.
The night before while her sisters were fast asleep in the bed beside her, she told me that the excitement was too much for her to close her eyes. Her best dress hung from the hook on the back of the door, pink with embroidered daisies, that her father had brought from Scotland the year before when he was over there ‘tatie-picking’.
Hiding in one of the pockets was the ‘coss’ that her auntie Katie had given her. A shiny coin that she could spend anyway she wanted at the big fair, now that she was old enough to go. She was seven. It was the 1920s.
Her sister Bridgie had been brought the year before. She had spent many a night beforehand describing the town to my mother. ‘It was huge,’ Bridgie had told her, with ‘houses all along one side of the street and houses all along the other.’ Even the dogs barked differently there.
The evening before, the kitchen buzzed with industry with all the people who had travelled from other villages farther away and stopped off at their half-way house. They curled up around the fire talking, until sleep brought them to silence.