Huge crowds attended the opening of Europe's oldest horse fair in Ballinasloe on Sunday last. An estimated 60,000 people including presidential candidates Mary Davis and Senator David Norris attended the opening weekend of the 300-year-old Fair which is worth a massive €6.5 million to the local economy.
Almost outnumbering the large attendance was the amount of bloodstock on offer as Ballinasloe Fair Green was swamped by sea of horses of all shapes and sizes, accompanied by buyers and sellers from Ireland and overseas.
The Fair was officially opened by former international footballer and Qsat MD, Niall Quinn who was driven through the streets of Ballinasloe in a horse-drawn open carriage accompanied by the Carlton Shearwater Hotel Queen of Ballinasloe Fair, Cathriona Farrell.
Speaking at opening ceremony, Tim Broderick, Chairperson of the Ballinasloe October Horse Fair committee said: "The Ballinasloe October Horse Fair owes a debt of gratitude to all our sponsors and in particular to our local sponsors, without whose help this 300 year old Fair would not survive.
"Support from our sponsors now accounts for up to 50% of the monies needed to run this historic fair and as the Fair and Festival has no direct source of income from tickets or gate receipts, we are heavily dependent on this sponsorship to meet our costs which have been increasing steadily in recent years."
"Once again our main sponsor is our local hotel the Carlton Shearwater Hotel and we are grateful to them for their support of the Fair particularly in these times of economic difficulty. With their support and the support of all our other sponsors, we have been able to plan a jam packed nine day programme of horse and pony competitions, street entertainment, and family events," he said.
Claiming the top prize in the Ballinasloe Credit Union Horse of the Fair competition was Neil Henry of Ballymote, Co. Sligo. with his chestnut gelding Mr. Collins. Runner up was Desmond O'Brien from Ennis, Co. Clare, while third prize went to Cornelius O'Connor of Charleville, Co. Cork, with Freemount Jewel, a skewbald gelding.
The nine-day festival continues with the popular Domac National Tarmac Tug-O-War competition and the Singing Pub talent competition running until Friday night.
Following the finals of the Domac National Tarmac Tug O'War competition on Friday. October 7, the Supermac's Monster Fireworks display at nearby marina will light up the night sky with a kaleidoscope of colour.
Saturday October 8 is AIB Country Fair Day, with mare and foal competitions including the AIB Foal of the Ballinasloe International Fair 2011 taking place in the Showgrounds.
The second weekend of the Fair focuses on cultural activities in addition to horse competitions.
The Gullanes Hotel Cultural Weekend begins with a Lá Gaelach on Saturday, October 8. featuring traditional country fair stalls in the morning and a Seisún Mór on the Soundstage in the afternoon. There's an international influence on Sunday with the International Artisan and Craft Market in St Michael's Square featuring mouth-watering cuisine, fantastic handcrafts and much more.
Staying in St. Michael's Square, canines rule supreme as they arrive groomed, schooled and set to take part in the very popular Premier Proteins Open Dog Show
Traditionally one of the largest dog shows in Ireland, the Premier Proteins Dog Show is open to all dogs and not just pedigrees with 15 classes to suit every dog category. Entry fee is €4 per dog with entries accepted from 12 noon.
Winners in each of the classes with receive a special rosette while the overall winner or 'Dog of the Show' will receive the Premier Proteins Perpetual Trophy, a dog kennel sponsored by Hugh and Evelyn O'Brien Mountbellew and a portrait sponsored by Liam Jordan Photography.
The Fair concludes with a Spectacular Country Life Parade through the streets of the East Galway town in association with Ballinasloe and District Vintage Club featuring Horse & Pony-drawn Cavalcade, Donkeys, Old-time Re-enactments & Vintage Vehicles.