The Spancilhill Horse Fair
A Video Essay by Siobhán Cahill and Robert Fairfield
Spancilhill is a small settlement in East County Clare that hosts an annual horse fair on the 23rd of June. The Spancilhill Horse Fair is Ireland’s oldest having been chartered in 1641 by Charles II.
It derives its name from the Irish, Cnoc Fhuar Choille or Cold Wood Hill. The name was misinterpreted as Cnoc Urchaill or Spancel Hill. A spancel is a type hobble and its association with a horse fair perpetuated this misinterpretation.
The 1913 fair saw four thousand horses for sale. The British, Belgian, and French armies sought cavalry mounts. The British army purchased 1,175 horses and lead them tied head to tail to Ennis for rail transport.
Horse Fairs gained a reputation for wild behavior and animal cruelty. The Friends of the Spancilhill Horse Fair formed in the 1980s with the aim of restructuring the event as an agricultural show.
Michael Considine, who emigrated from the area in 1870, composed the popular Irish folk ballad, Spancil Hill.
Buyers across Europe attend with hopes to find international showjumping prospects. Photographers find the event irresistible and nearly outnumber the horses in recent times.