THE on-off saga surrounding horse trading at the Lammas Fair in Ballycastle at the end of August has taken another twist, writes Nevin Farrell.

It is understood a recommendation from a sub-committee, which met last Thursday night, is that horses will stay at their tradtional Fair venue at Fairhill Street.

And it is believed a majority of councillors are set to ratify that recommendation when it comes before the full Council on August 13.

Earlier this year Moyle Council controversially voted to ban horse dealing and the associated ‘running’ of horses along Fairhill Street.

That was based on health and safety concerns regarding the inter-action of the public and horses and there were also concerns about the condition of some horses.

Instead of the horse dealing being at Fairhill Street, the Council put in motion plans for a family-orientated pony show with no buying and selling.

But a strong lobby for the retention of horses at the Fairhill, and the associated buying and selling of the animals, has been building and horse traders have attended Council meetings in large groups to press home their points.

At one stage the possibility of moving the horse trading to Ramoan Road was looked at but that has now been ruled out and the Times has been told the recommendation from the Lammas Fair working group is that the horses should stay at Fairhill Street but with strict controls on how they are run along the street with barriers in place to keep the public at a distance. And there will also be and also close monitoring of the health of the horses.

It is understood that under street trading legislation the buying and selling of horses is not permitted on actual Fairhill Street but it is understood deals will be able to be sealed in areas off the actual street.

However, how any ‘policing’ of when and where a horse trading deal is precisely struck could be difficult.

The spectacle that surrounds the buying and selling of horses is one of the most enduring images of the centuries-old Lammas Fair.

Well-known horseman Vincent Traynor has been pushing for the horses to be kept at the Fair in their traditional manner. He was part of a group which gave a presentation to the sub-committee last week which also heard from Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary which has been monitoring the health of horses at the Lammas Fair for several years.

Vincent Traynor said he was delighted at the developments at the Lammas Fair sub-group.

He told the Times: “I know this has to be ratified at the full Council meeting but we believe we have found middle ground and the horse people will help to manage and monitor the horses. We will have stewards in place and it is great that the horses are staying at the Fair as trading has been a tradition for hundreds of years.

“We agreed that Ramoan Road was unsuitable as it was too close to a substantially built up area but it is great that the horses will stay at Fairhill. It is the star attraction of the Fair.

“I want the people coming with horses to the Fair to work with us on this and want them to know we have worked hard to retain horses at Fairhill and it is is vitally important that they stay within the

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new guidelines about the safety and condition of horses and that animals will be sufficiently fed and watered and be properly presented and have ‘passports’,” said Mr Traynor.

Independent councillor Seamus Blaney welcomed the suggestion to keep the horses at the Fairhill.

“I am over the moon and am glad a lot of sense has been talked,” he said.

And SDLP representative, Donal Cunningham, said it appears as if a majority of councillors will vote on August 13 to allow horses to stay at Fairhill Street.

He said: “There will be stricter controls and greater organisation to see if we can manage the risks. I can report that it will not happen at Ramoan Road and the horses will be run at the flat part of Fairhill Street and not at the gradient. There will be an evaluation and review and there will be recommendations for the future.

“I think we have a lot of work in front of us but the emphasis is in getting it right and eliminating the worst aspects,” said Cllr Cunningham.

A Council spokesperson said: “All we can say at the moment is that the Working Group met with Crosskennan and representatives of the traders and a report on the outcome will be given at the next council meeting (13th August). The ban on horse trading remains in place until this is reviewed by the full Council. We will be putting options to the Council at the full meeting.”

The Times asked Crosskennan for a comment but at the time of going to press had no response.