Once a year, the Birr Castle Demesne is (almost) totally given over to one of Ireland's leading country life events, namely the Irish Game and Country Fair. While this massive event is not organised by the Earl of Rosse, but by a commercial company that hires the demesne for the duration, it certainly fits very well into the general atmosphere of the place. One could say the location and the event were almost tailor-made for each other.
Recommended? Yes, but with a minor caveat for those on strict meat-free diets and very passionate about animal rights.
The Irish Game and Country Fair in a Nutshell
The first thing you might notice at the Irish Game and Country Fair, right after you parked your car amongst many a 4x4 in a freshly mown field, is that the fashion statements of the crowds (and that includes both sexes and all ages) seems to run to variations on tweed, wax jackets, hunting gear, stout boots, and wellies. With the odd gun or (more often) dog as accessory. At the same time it is not all “What ho?" and posh dialects ...
The Irish Game and Country Fair is, to try a summing up, a celebration of all things country – not as a music style, but as in living in the country, and off the country as well. Albeit not in a farming sense.
What the Irish Game and Country Fair highlights are the pursuits away from the tractor and plough. Like hunting, fishing, riding, shooting, working dogs, with a fair bit of food and drink, plus some historical aspects thrown in for good measure. And here comes the caveat already announced above – strict vegetarians and vegans might find the food stalls off-putting, and passionate animal rights activists will not enjoy the whole spectacle. Not that animals are mistreated here, but they are definitely there to serve mankind, for instance as gun dogs. And most visitors will agree that there is a place for all creatures ... preferably next to the potatoes and vegetables on your plate.
What to Do at the Irish Game and Country Fair
The actual set-up of the Irish Game and Country Fair changes every year, programme items are adjusted or dropped, others added. So these notes should be compared with the actually planned programme on the website, to avoid disappointment.
Generally speaking, much of the grounds of the Birr Castle Demesne around the “Leviathan" telescope would be given over to exhibition areas, either open-air or (most of them) in tents. The actual exhibits are commercial as well as non-commercial, with no strict diversion between them, and can range from bee-keeping to new Italian hunting rifles, from county and outdoor clothing specialists to stick carving, from Cumbrian game pies (highly recommended) to Viking weaponry (not recommended if you are at the receiving end). Animals on show would typically include horses, ferrets, birds of prey, and a whole multitude of dogs.
Dogs will also feature large in the activity areas surrounding the exhibitions – every year gun dog trials are held, and the agility and abilities of some of these dogs simply is amazing. Another activity which you will not be able to escape, if just for the persistent background noise level, are the shooting competitions (they are a bit of a distance from the main event, but the bang-bangs still carry).
Especially popular with most visitors are the arena displays, which take place in view of Birr Castle, which might then be a fitting (if slightly anachronistic) background to a jousting tournament. Or displays of Western riding. Or a falconry show. Or a Victorian gamekeeper and poacher trying to outwit each other. Or some Vikings settling a minor dispute by sword and lance. Or some dog training by experts. As I said before – the programme changes over time, but you certainly will find some live action that will tickle your particular fancy.
And I have to mention the food – while the Irish Game and Country Fair is not a food event as such, you will find a high number of stalls offering food to eat on the spot, or to take home and enjoy at your leisure. These include mainly Irish and UK producers, but often with a slightly more exotic twist. Having said that, not a lot beats a fresh spit roast with apple sauce and potatoes ...
Taking all the stalls and exhibitions in would keep you occupied for a few hours, add the arena displays and you are in for a full day. I'd recommend allocating at least four hours if you want to really enjoy the Irish Game and Country Fair, the more the better.
Is the Irish Game and Country Fair for All?
I mentioned this before – no, it isn't. But apart from the demographic mentioned above, who would definitely not be happy at the Irish Game and Country Fair, I'd say it is a family-friendly event and anybody interested in country life generally would find loads to do and see.
Having said that, an interest needs to be there ... I simply cannot envision a die-hard city slicker and hipster being all that happy here. Unless shopping for a tweed cap as a post-modern statement on, well, whatever. Then again I might be wrong. So let me put it this way: look at the website, look at my images from the 2015 Irish Game and Country Fair here, then decide for yourself whether it is for you.
Irish Game and Country Fair – the Essentials
Location - Birr Castle Demesne, Birr, County Offaly.
Organisers - Great Game Fairs of Ireland.
Schedule - usually a full weekend in late August, with a similar show at Shane's Castle, Country Antrim, ealier in the year.
Entry - 15 €.
Website - Irish Game and Country Fair.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary entry for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.