The Fighting Fair

Faction fighting was a recognised pastime at Irish fairs. 1830 is remembered as the date of a serious scrimmage between Orangeman and Ribbonmen. The following account of the Fighting Fair of Muff is taken from an account written by James Traynor in the Anglo-Celt of 17th December, 1898:

“Resistance to tithes and evictions lighted the fires of religious bigotry in many districts, especially in East Cavan, and the bitterest feeling of hatred existed between the Orangeman and Catholics who had formed themselves into vast organisations for their own protection.”

imagesIn the year 1830, the Orange Lodge of Kingscourt, convenient to the Rock of Muff, was in possession of a man called Glasford. The big Pattern commenced on Sunday August 8th, and a pre-arranged order was attended by vast contingents of tithe opponents, who marched to the spot from all directions with a decided appearance of military discipline. They took their part in the amusements of the day and left again in the evening in processional order.

The Orangemen heard that their lodge was to be attacked on fair day, the result of the rumour was that they left in a stock of arms and ammunition with the object of defending the place. The carrying of the arms and ammunition to the house created a sensational story on the opposite side; nothing less that a massacre on the day was feared.

As the late P.J. Gaynor’s father was from that area I am giving his dramatic account of what actually happened, for there are different versions. “There was no disturbance till evening. The Orangemen were holding a meeting beside the fair in Glasford’s house. A man from Bailieborough with a ‘stanner’ packed up his wares and fired a pistol shot in the air. The Orangement thought they were being attacked and fired a volley in reply. The crowd then rushed for the house where the Orangemen were holding their meeting, evidently to burn it. Rev. Tom Burke, the Catholic curate in Kingscourt, entered the lodge and remained there to prevent the place being burned, knowing that so doing the Catholics would not attack the house. In the commotion, when the crowd was out side and this is the strange reason, they were mistaken for Protestants on account of the ‘Broadcloth’ suits they were wearing. It seems that in the days only well-to-do Protestants wore factory-made tweed, and Catholics usually wore ‘frieze’ manufactured at home.

The affair caused the greatest excitement for miles around on the same night, and the news spread like wildfire. The worse construction was put on the affair, and a massacre was reported as going on. Many people did not go to bed for a week. Immense funerals attended the bodies of Fitzsimons and O’Reilly, the cortege carrying long white rods in their hands.

The report of the riot at the fair was conveyed to every anti-tithe man within a radius of twenty miles and the evening of the 13th found 10,000 armed men in the neighbourhood of Muff. There they heard that nothing further had happened after the attack on the house was abandoned, and also that large forces of military were proceeding to the district from Dundalk, Dublin and Cavan and that a large force of cavalry was not more that six miles distant. After a hurried consultation the leaders decided on leaving for their homes again. For months afterwards the district was very excited and a force of military was kept in the neighbourhood towns prepared for emergencies but fortunately antagonism calmed down. There was turmoil for seven years in Ireland after the Riot of Muff, till in the first year of the reign of Victoria, 1837, the Commutation Act abolished forever the collection of Tithes.