By Niamh Brown
Castlewellan (or Caislean an Mhuillin as it’s known as Gaeilge) lies just five miles outside from Newcastle. The small, sweepy town is bathed in the shadow of the Mourne Mountains. They tower over everything that moves in the town, effectively dwarfing all that is in sight. As much as I have always loved the Mournes, they are not the focus of this article. That would be the Castlewellan Agricultural Show.
When I was about six, I remember going to the Castlewellan Show. This wasn’t anything unusual; my family and I always seemed to gravitate back every summer. That one year stands out though. Every memory I have of it is sun drenched – the marquees stretched from the shadow of Annesley Castle and rested in the shade of Slievenaslat. Castlewellan Forest Park was filled from pillar to post with tractor, cars, jeeps, caravans and tents. The town was grid-locked. We went through the Dolly’s Brae entrance to cut the traffic. I will always remember the chatter of my brothers, the hollers of my mother and the windows rolled the whole way down as I tried to catch the wind between the palms of my 6 year old hands.
The Castlewellan Agricultural Show is a staple of childhood in South Down. It was established in 1928 and has persevered to the present day. It has occurred almost every year since 1928 (save for 2020 and 2021 due to Covid-19). My grandmother Kathleen used to talk about her memories of the show and then my mother would speak about getting lost among the vintage tractors almost every year. Memories of this place are passed from one generation to the next like we are running a relay; a long, drawn out intergenerational relay where these memories exist solely around a 50 year old kitchen table. We have all grown up in the scratchy, hay-scented air of the cattle marquee.
I remember the tourists as well. They came from all over – I have distinct memories of hearing the accents from all over the North right there in Castlewellan. They would be with you at the cattle pens, follow you through the bird displays and be ordering chips alongside you in Zebedees when the lights went out at the Show.
I suppose my attachment to the Show is through childhood memories but it was always a lovely, lovely time. I really do encourage any and all to go if given the opportunity.
‘We have all grown up in the scratchy, hay-scented air of the cattle marquee”
By Niamh Brown