Though now predominantly a horse fair, the Ballinasloe Fair was once an agricultural show where cattle and sheep, as well as horses were sold between farmers from all over Ireland. Local tradition has it that the fair has ancient origins, though there is not sufficient documentary evidence to place an accurate date on the fair's origins. In the early 1800s, newspaper references from London describe the fair as being the largest of its kind in Europe, and the greatest one-day fair in Ireland.
The area of Ballinasloe was once the seat of the Trench family, who held the title, Earls of Clancarty. The Trench family made their home at Garbally House. In In 1757 Richard Trench applied for a permit to hold the fair on the 17th of May and the 13th of July. At the time, Ballinasloe had fairs throughout the summer months, with the famed horse fair taking place in October. It is most likely therefore that Richard Trench formalised the October fair in the same year. The Trench family embraced the Horse Fair, even going so far as to host it, or at least aspects of it, within the grounds of their home at Garbally.
The fair was of huge importance to the local farming community as the price of cattle and sheep at the fair could mean either a year of poverty or prosperity.
Though agricultural fairs have declined in importance in the past few decades, the Ballinasloe Horse Fair remains an important date in the calendar as people flock to this South East Galway town for one week in October.
The RTE archives have a video from the 1972 Ballinasloe Horse Fair which can be found here.