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Birr game fair will celebrate rural tradition

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Birr game fair will celebrate rural tradition thumbnailThe jousting is a major attraction at Birr Game Fair each year which takes places this weekend August 26 and 27 in the magnificent surrounds of the Castle Demesne.

MANY thousands of people will converge on Birr Castle Demesne this weekend for the annual Irish Game & Country Fair, an event which celebrates rural tradition and highlights its importance.

The Fair highlights the skills and the heritage of country pursuits, hosting many enjoyable displays for people's entertainment.

One of these enjoyable displays will be when Living History Ireland recreates the dramatic scene during the Siege of Birr Castle, when Sarsfield's forces attacked the Castle with cannon and muskets.

"As well as the celebrated Knights of the North's thrilling jousting and combat displays in the Main Arena," commented Fair Director Albert Titterington, "the latest great news to come from Birr Castle Game Fair is that the historical pizazz will 'go off the scale' with a recreation of  the attack on the Castle itself." 

Describing what the Game Fair public will see, the Fair Director said this will be a "tense moment from the history of the Ancient East of Ireland, brought to life, right in front of our eyes!

"In the Main Arena, Scotland's Knights of the North will be displaying astounding skills, galloping into battle in full armour. Action packed with jousting, hand to hand combat with sword and dagger, it's full of amazing stunts, tricks, combat skills and authentic costumes.

"The excitement quotient will rise even further when an attack on the Castle is staged on Sunday afternoon as part of our enjoyable historical entertainment. The historical action is an important part of the Fair each year and now it will have a great extra ingredient - a violent, dramatic moment during the Williamite War of 1689 to 1691."

In September 1690 Birr Castle was besieged by Patrick Sarsfield and the Duke of Berwick fresh from their success at the siege of Limerick. Although they had a large force of several thousand camped at Banagher, they thought that the Castle would offer little resistance and the attack was carried out by 160 infantry and, depending on accounts, three or four field pieces - one of which blew up and one which remains outside Birr Castle today. Sarsfield, who may even have previously been a guest in the castle had hoped it would be surrendered and did not wish to attack it but the Duke, the 20 year old illegitimate son of James II, launched the attack.

According to the Castle archives: "The infantry marched towards the castle.... colours flying , trumpets sounding , drums beating and bagpipes playing.... the besieged hoisted a bloody flag on top of the castle, being determined to hold out until relief arrived." 

The Castle inhabitants held out valiantly even melting down the lead cistern to make bullets for their muskets which proved quite successful against the attackers whereas the light cannon of the attackers were largely ineffectual against the castle's thick walls. Some lodged in the east flanker and are now displayed in the hall of the castle. The siege lasted for nearly three days and was eventually called off at sunset when news of a relief column caused Sarsfield to withdraw. 

Other living history action at the Game Fair will include the moment when the Vikings attacked Birr Monastery in 841AD. "The Viking theme is not only carried through in the Living History Village," commented Albert, "where families can interact with costumed re-enactors from Living History Ireland, but also in the 'Have A Go' archery stands in the walled garden. Here families can 'have a go' with weapons of the period under the supervision of Cavan Instinctive Archery; oncluding being invited to slay the dragon!"

Game Fair visitors will be able to wander around the amazing encampment of re-enactors dressed in period costume, showing life as it was hundreds of years ago. This will be in addition to portrayals of 'moments in history' all around the Game Fair site and in the Main Arena. 

Another tie in for the Castle attack is that Grunal Moneta, facsimile coin maker to the British Museum, will be there allowing visitors to strike a memento of their visit, either a copy the first Irish coin or, relevant to the Sarsfield period, a William III coin.

"When you add in flying falconry," concluded the Fair Director, "clay pigeon shooting, gundog and dog training displays, the Victorian poacher and long netting displays; muzzleloaders, horse & hounds and carriage driving and dancing horses from the Cochise Stud, there really is no better day out in the country for the family."

The Annual Game and Country Fair takes place on the 26th & 27th of August.  Access to the demesne for that weekend will be through the main gates of the castle, and Game Fair admission rates will apply. Please note that Friends of Birr Castle can avail of reduced rates for the Game Fair. See also: Birr Castle Fair website www.irishgameandcountryfair.com

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