The Fair of Donnybrook

Richard  Warburton, 1818;

Donnybrook Fair – Erskine Nicol 1859

Richard Warburton, 1818; ‘It is however at the fair of Donnybrook, that the natural humour and peculiar character of the lower classes of the metropolis are best seen. Donnybrook is a pleasant village contiguous to the south suburbs of the city.

It has a green or common, on which the fair is held, in the month of August. It is regularly proclaimed, and is attended by police officers, whose interposition is indispensable to preserve the peace. The fair, which is held for the sale of horses and black cattle, lasts a week, during which time every mode of amusement and gymnastic exercise peculiar to the Irish is practised, each day concluding with a pitched battle, in which much blood is spilled, and many heads broken, but rarely and life lost.

The Green is covered with tents, and filled with pipers, fiddlers, and dancers; and of late years has been introduced mimes, mountebanks, shows of wild beasts, and all these spectacles, but on a much more limited scale, which are to be found at Bartholomew fair.

During the continuance of this fair, Harcourt-street, and the other avenues leading to it, present extraordinary spectacles, particularly in the evenings. Almost all the carriages, which plied at other ends of the town now assemble here, and while they go to and from the fair they are crowded at all hours with company. The din and tumult of the roads on these occasions is inconceivable, particularly during the stillness of night; form the vociferation, laughter and fighting of these turbulent cargoes, a noise ascends which is heard for several miles in all directions.

The attachment of the populace to this amusement is so great, that the Lord Mayor finds it necessary to proceed there in person at the expiration of the limited time, and, striking the tents, compel the people to go home.’

History of Dublin

Donnybrook Fair traditionally ran for a week, from the 26 August each year, however the fair could, and often did, run for a fortnight.  The  fair was held annually on that date for seven hundred years, from the middle of the thirteenth century and continuing until the 1850’s. Various attempts, which eventually found success, were made by the Dublin authorities to put an end to the drunken debauched riots that invariably accompanied, and often overshadowed the intended trade of black cattle and horses at Donnybrook Fair.

Although the Fair at Donnybrook has not being held in over a century and half the fair’s reputation has been kept alive up till today through songs, poems and stories; the Dublin poet Austin Clarke recorded the following verse poem in his second autobiography, A Penny in the Clouds, in 1962;

‘Tis there are dogs dancing and wild beasts a-prancing.

With neat bits of painting in red, yellow and gold,

Toss-players and scramblers, and showmen and gamblers,

Pickpockets in plenty, both young and old.

There are brewers, and bakers, and jolly shoemakers,

with butchers and porters, and men that cut hair;

There are mountebanks grining, while others are singing

To keep the honours of Donnybrook Fair.’


Clarke, Austin. A Penny in the Clouds: More Memories of Ireland and England. 1968.

Evans, E. Estyn. Irish Folk Ways. London, 1957.

Hall, S.C. (Mr & Mrs). Hall’s Ireland, London,1840.

Warburton, Richard. History of Dublin. Dublin, 1818.