Muff Fair

Published Monday, 10 December 2012
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There's something slightly incongruous about mentioning Health and Safety and Food Hygiene inspections in connection with the Muff Fair.

Yet that's what Alacoque McMahon and her Muff stew ladies have had to contend with over the past few years.

Here's this relic of medieval times, - a horse fair at the crossroads outside of the town of Kingscourt in County Cavan, at which dealers and buyers and hucksters of all kinds gather to sell their wares and strike bargains and seal deals with spit and handshakes and meet up with old friends and have a few jars and, afterwards, a bit of a hooley at the barn dance nearby.

It does thrive a bit on the slightly disreputable, rascally reputation that all such fairs acquired over the centuries as occasions of sin and over-indulgence, but sure that's all part of its attraction.

For many of the participants, I've no doubt, it's a way of keeping in touch with an ancient way of life that has almost completely disappeared. They've been at it since the early 1600s and probably much earlier than that if the truth be told, and it's always been an organic thing with a life of its own.

Don't bother looking for a catalogue or a brochure, or even a listing in most tour guides. It has no formal structure or organisation, and no real official existence outside of the original charter granted by King James 1.

It's just people doing it for themselves, publicised by word of mouth and sustained by little more than tradition.

So when Alacoque and her volunteers took it upon themselves to provide food at this event, including the famous but mysterious Muff stew, whose ingredients are known only to the initiated few, they didn't really expect that they'd have to measure up to the exacting standards set by the food hygiene inspectors who arrived, frowning, with clipboards and forms and thermometers which they plunged into the bubbling pot.

I suppose we should be grateful, those of us who swallowed several helpings of the stuff, to discover that it's perfectly safe to eat Muff stew. All the same, there's something slightly incongruous about the idea.

Maybe if the inspectors spat on their hands and shook the cooks' hands once they'd certified the stew...

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Joe Mahon
Joe Mahon

Joe Mahon is the presenter of UTV's long-running series Lesser Spotted Ulster.

He is a man who has seen more of the nooks and crannies of the Ulster countryside than anyone else.

His travels for the show have seen him cross land and sea finding the hidden histories of the local landscape.

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