The Ould Lammas Fair, Ballycastle, Northern Ireland
The Ould Lammas Fair is the oldest traditional fair in Northern Ireland, taking place on the last Monday and Tuesday of every August. It has taken place uninterrupted for nearly four centuries. It is the main event of the cultural calendar of the small town of Ballycastle, situated near the Giant’s Causeway on the Antrim coast. Ballycastle was founded in 1609 when the Earl of Antrim built a castle there.
The Ould Lammas fair is thought to have its origins in the Feast of Lughnasadh, a pagan festival celebrating the God Lugh. Lughnasadh was the traditional celebration to open the harvest season, and in Ireland was a favoured time for handfastening, a pagan wedding ceremony. When Christianity took root in Ireland, the feast was adapted to the teachings of the Church. Lugh became the “loaf mass” a holy tradition of placing loaves of bread at the altar.
Today the town is filled with people during the fair. If the weather is good you should expect many miles of tailbacks. There is lots of entertainment including traditional Irish music, face-painting, street entertainment and pony rides. The big crowds, however, can be found around the stalls selling dulse and Yellow Man, the two traditional foods eaten at the Ould Lammas Fair. Dulse is a red seaweed – palmaria palmate – that has been dried out until it’s crispy. Yellow Man is very similar to honeycomb although slightly more dense. Both have been eaten in the region for hundreds of years.
To get to Ballycastle there are buses running from Belfast and Coleraine. If you want to book accommodation book it early as the fair is popular with the international community.