Festivals and Fairs have, over many centuries, been celebrated as economic, social and political gatherings of the local community. Since the practical purpose of such gatherings has been eroded over time many areas no longer draw the community together for a fair. Markethill however, is one town, which has not lost sight of this heritage and instead celebrated the Fair Day on an annual basis.
The oldest local fair was held at the ancient site of Emain Macha and convened to remember the life of Queen Macha who died about 360 B.C. At this time such a gathering was known as an 'aonach', loosely translated as 'fair'. These meetings could last for a few days or a few weeks. At these fairs, the legal and political business of the community was attended to. Over time, commercial markets also became a feature of the fair, providing both an economic and social character.
These essentially pagan functions eventually received ecclesiastical sanction, as did the law of the day. The Normans allowed fairs to be convened on specific dates usually in line with traditional pagan or Christian festivals. In 1750 an Act of Parliament separated fairs from festivals allowing the fair day to become an annual feature in the life of a community. In line with this ruling, country fairs often relocated to nearby villages and towns, adopting the commercial market as its central feature.
By the 1880's the fair day had developed another feature as they evolved into a centre for the hiring of labour. Since fairs were usually held in May and November, these fairs would provide much needed labour for the two heaviest seasons in the farming calendar. This practice continued into the 1930's.
Markethill continues to convene a fair on the third Saturday each August. Though the fair no longer serves a commercial function, it is well supported by the community and attracts many visitors to the area, including significant numbers of foreign tourists.
Organised annually by the Markethill Horse and Pony Driving Club, the Fair Day includes parades of traditional horse drawn carriages and of local people dressed in period costume. For children, it is a day of fun and games with the provision of amusements, face painting and puppet shows. Each year prizes are distributed to the "Best Dressed Person" and, of course, to "Markethill's Most Glamorous Females"! All monies raised for the Fair Day are distributed to local charitable organisations.