The Ould’ Lammas Fair at Ballycastle is held on the last Monday and Tuesday of August each year. It is Ireland’s oldest traditional market fair, involving horse trading, street entertainment, and market stalls. It is traditionally associated with the local delicacies dulse, which is dried seaweed and apparently very nutritious, and yellow man, a sweet that tastes of honeycomb. The fair has been in existence for at least three hundred years, and perhaps even earlier.
There are references to the Tailthiu Games, or the Games of Lugh in medieval Ireland, and it is recorded that , in the fourteenth century, Gillaspach, or Gallaspick, son of Colla MacDonnell of Kenbane Castle, was killed fighting a bull in Ballycastle in what could have been the original Lammas Fair. Lammas, which means loaf mass, was an attempt by the church to take over pre-existing pagan festivals which celebrated the Feast of Lughnasa, or Lugh. This was the traditional harvest festival usually held at the beginning of August, rather than the end. The fair has been immortalised in a ballad by John Henry Macauley, a local fiddler and bog-oak carver, who died in 1937.
The Ballyclare May Fair dates back to the eighteenth century, permission being granted by King George II, who permitted two fairs a year to be held, on payment to the Crown of thirteen shillings and four pence” to be paid forever”. It was originally a hiring fair, where farmers hired their workers for the summer months. It was also a horse fair, of such a high reputation that representatives of cavalry regiments from all over Europe would be present. Horses continue to be sold at the Fair, which has now taken on the character of a civic festival.
The Feis na nGleann is a festival of Gaelic culture which dates back to 1904. The first Secretary of the Gaelic League was a Glenarm man, Eoin MacNeill, later to be leader of the Irish Volunteers, and subsequently Minister for Education in the Irish Free State. He was also a Professor of Early Irish History at University College, Dublin and one of Ireland’s greatest historians. He was one of the inspirers of the first Feis, which was held in Glenariff on 30 June 1904. Sir Horace Plunkett presented prizes, and Roger Casement umpired a hurling match. The Feis has always included a wide range of cultural and sporting activity, including literary and historical competitions, dancing contests, and arts and crafts.
The North West 200, first held in 1929, is one of the great events of the motorcycling calendar. In road racing, it ranks second only to the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy Races. It is certainly the biggest sporting event held in Ireland, with up to 150,000 spectators. It is held in May on the Triangle Course, the public roads connecting Coleraine with Portrush and Portstewart.
Motorcycling has a vast following in this area, and the most famous local biker was Joey Dunlop, from Ballymoney. He won 26 Isle of Man T. T. races, more than any other rider, and his record of 13 wins in the North West 200 was beaten only by his brother, Robert. He was also five times World Champion Formula One rider. His death came unexpectedly in 2002, in a crash on the Kalevi circuit in Talinn, Estonia. He is commemorated in his home town by a memorial garden, which contains a bronze statue of Joey Dunlop astride one of his T.T. winning bikes.
Four oared gig racing has been extremely popular in Carnlough, where there is an annual Regatta in May, where boats compete in the Round The Rock Challenge. A gig is a light, fast, narrow boat, originally a ship’s boat, though nowadays gigs are specially designed for racing. The sport has greatly increased in popularity in recent years, under the auspices of the Irish Coastal Racing Federation. The All-Ireland Regatta was held at Carnlough in 2002, when the new, standardised one design boat made its first appearance. There are also clubs at Cushendall, Glenarm, Cairndhu, and Portrush.
The Milk Cup, an annual festival of youth football, is held every year in Coleraine, though matches are played in Ballymena, Ballymoney, Limavady and other venues. The Elite Cup, for under nineteens, is competed for by international teams, past winners including Paraguay and the United States. Some of the leading club teams, including Chelsea and Manchester United, send teams for the Premier Cup, for under seventeens. The Junior Cup, for under fourteens, has this year attracted teams from Russia and Quatar. David Beckham and Wayne Rooney are the most famous players to have competed in this event, which was inaugurated in 1983.