"Twas on the 23rd of June the day before the fair,

When Ireland's sons and daughters in crowds assembled there

The young, the old, the brave and the bold, their duty to fulfill

At the parish church in Clooney, a mile from Spancilhill"

Celebrated in song and in lore, the horse fair in Spancilhill is under way in its traditional fairgreen location at the famous crossroads, a few miles from Ennis, Co Clare.

This year marks the 400th year of the event, and in all that time there are only a few known occasions when it was cancelled. In 1921, because of the War of Independence, 2001 because of Foot and Mouth disease and in 2020 and 2021 because of Covid-19.

Fair organisers are delighted to be back again, celebrating four centuries of history.

Spokesman Paddy Hassett is expecting a good day.

"We might see 4,000 or 5,000 people here for all the different classes and competitions. We will have horses, ponies, donkeys and competitions get under way about 10.30am," he said.

"Then we have the Champion of the Fair, the Pride of Spancillhill, that will be judged later on."

This year, holding the event was touch and go according to Mr Hassett, not for Covid-19 reasons, but because of insurance cover.

"We couldn't get a quote. The insurers wouldn't quote for an equestrian fair, the people who used to insure us have left the Irish market," Mr Hassett added.

The problem was solved however, when Clare County Council agreed to extend its public liability cover to the event.

"The council came to our aid," Mr Hassett added.

From midmorning, there will be competition classes for coloured colts, geldings and mares, best hunter and heavy cobs, best ponies and best male and female donkey.

Fair organisers are delighted to be back again, celebrating four centuries of history

The stock is fairly typical for this small but ancient country fair, and many buyers here might be in the market for a pony or two for domestic use.

In times past however, military agents from around Europe used attend to buy horses.

"They used to come from France, Belgium, England and Austria, these military buyers, looking for good horses for their wars," said historian and playwright Kieran Sheedy, who has carried out detailed research on the history of Spancilhill.

"The fair was set up by royal charter in 1622. You can see the charter in the Irish Patent Rolls, dating from the 19th year of the reign of King James I," Mr Sheedy said.

"James succeeded Queen Elizabeth I in 1603. The charter was given to a Valentine Blake of Muckinish. He was a member of the gentry and was granted a castle and lands and a licence to hold the fair forever."

Today is, as the song says, "the day before the fair". The event date has moved over the years, beginning firstly in September and then moving to August in 1736 and later to 13 June.

In 1772, when the Gregorian calendar was introduced, 11 days were added into the year and the fair was moved to 24 June, where it stayed until more recently, when it changed to 23 June.