The Great Game Fairs of Ireland

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Country Sports & Country Life



THE GREAT GAME FAIRS of IRELAND team are undoubtedly the most experienced and successful team in Ireland at organising successful outdoor events throughout Ireland. Their first major outdoor event was the Irish Game Fair at Clandeboye Estate County Down in 1979 but before that their principals had served 'an apprenticeship' in organising literally hundreds of smaller trade and public events throughout the UK and Ireland.

Since that first fair in 1979 the fair has organised 61 events with an all Ireland and increasingly international focus, and this year look forward to delivering what are planned to be three of the most spectacular countryside focused events ever seen in Ireland.


The work of the team has been recognised throughout the UK and Ireland and they have been awarded UK Tourism awards, an NITB Marketing Excellence award, have been recognised by the Irish President for the role both the Shanes Castle and Birr Castle fairs played in the Gathering initiative and in 2016 listed as being in the top FIVE events of all kinds in NI.

The Gathering

NITB Award


Of course as well as being recognised for the tourism and economic benefits that our events bring to the whole of Ireland and especially the host areas, the country sports community including the main representative organisations recognise that the GREAT GAME FAIRS of IRELAND are the premier events for the 'hunting, shooting and fishing fraternity'. The fairs have the support of all the major Irish country sports organisations i.e the NARGC (28,000 members); FISSTA (20,000 members) and CAI (10,000 members) together with a host of other committed groupings.

Kids love horses and hounds
Kids love horses and hounds

Improve your shooting at Shanes Castle with a consultation with Mike Yardley

The Great Game Fairs of Ireland have announced that Mike Yardley, one of really 'big guns' in the shooting world, would be present at Shanes Castle and Birr Castle Game Fairs.

Mike Yardley

Albert said: "A renowned broadcaster and writer, practical shooting coach and much more, Mike Yardley is one of the best known personalities in the shooting world. Along with gunsmith Chis Symonds, Mike will be fitting guns and testing eye dominance at the show, using the unique methods that have led him to write two books on the subject.

"Without doubt, a well fitted gun is essential to good shooting and may transform performance. Many struggle on for years with ill-fitting guns or eye-dominance issues not realising just how much they are impeding themselves. And now there is a unique opportunity to sort out your gunfit just as the season commences. Mike will also be available to discuss all matters related to guns, shooting and competition as well."

Mike Yardley has shot clays and game big and small all over the world. He writes on guns and shooting for The Field and has acted as a design consultant to some of the most famous gunmakers as well making films with various television companies. His documentaries on John F Kennedy and the Red Baron - where his vast technical knowledge of shooting is applied forensically - will have been seen by many. He has also been the voice of shooting many times when the sport is attacked in the media. See


Unlike other events which have a primarily NI focus our events have always led the way in terms of promoting and providing ALL IRELAND & INIERNATIONAL country sports competitions with prize funds unrivalled in Ireland. And this year our Diaspora initiative has already led to many from the UK and further afield booking holidays around the fair.


Apart from its country sports roots and focus the event has evolved to be of real appeal to the whole family and in fact anyone who lives works or plays in the NI countryside. In terms of our family attractions we joke that you see the attractions first at our events and later at other events!

Certainly our range of country sports competitions have the best prize funds equivalent to the best in the UK and very much unrivalled in Ireland.


Flavour Ireland Fine Food Festival

There are nearly 200 trade stands with a country living focus and each one has been asked to have at least one special offer. There are craft and food stands galore including a fantastic game & fish cookery demonstration by award winning chef Emmett McCourt in the Flogas Kitchen, great ranges of guns & tackle, everything for your dog from housing to training accessories; a huge range of country clothing to unique stands such as Ingrid Houwers Taxidermy; Sporting Art including a stand by John R Moore, and international book sellers Coch-y-Bonddu Books

Coch –y- Bonddu

FANTASTIC RANGE OF ACTIVITIES FOR CHILDREN - making memories that will last a lifetime!

There are lots of have a go events for children including at the 'Angling For Everyone' Angling show where working with APGAI Ireland and NSN, the Angling Show will provide a unique kids' experience where children can learn to tie a fly, to fly cast and then to take the fly and their newly acquired skill and try to catch a trout. If they get lucky, world famous celebrity chef Emmett Mc Court, a keen angler himself, will be on hand with a few ideas on how to cook their catch.

Add in archery; the chance to wander through a Living History Village in the evocative setting of the old ruined castle on Lough Neagh and interact with Battle of Antrim re-enactors; Knights and Vikings; a huge children's games area; animals galore to pet - from spiders and snakes to falcons and ferrets; and a chance to handle their dog in several competitions.

Two great new attractions this year

The Mini Pony World with pony and pony & trap rides for children of all ages under careful supervision.

Mini Pony World
Mini Pony World

AND Laser Clay Shooting for children and the whole family

This gives children and indeed members of the whole family a totally safe experience of 'clay shooting' and gun handling with de-activated shotguns shooting lasers at clays.

Laser Clays
Laser Clays

There are three actioned packed arenas with a host of attractions running from 10.00-6.00pm. The MAIN ARENA features exciting medieval jousting action from the Knights of the North; free flying falconry with John Carmichael; music from pipe bands to Country & Western and even Lambeg drums; Battle of Antrim; dog agility; gundog and dog training displays; the Victorian poacher and long netting displays; the muzzleloaders; horse & hounds; dancing horses from the Cochise Stud and carriage driving.

Medieval Jousting
The thrills and spills of medieval jousting

Many of these plus other attractions such as the ferret show and ferret racing are replicated in the COUNTRYSPORTS IN ACTION ARENA but in this arena the public can get up 'close and personal' with the performers and receive personal and practical advice on any of the activities.

Victorian Poacher
The Victorian Poacher


As part of our family entertainment for families we believe in bringing history to life in our Living History Village sited in the evocative setting of the old ruined castle on the shores of Lough Neagh.

This year's offering includes a focus on the Battle of Antrim which took place as part of the 1798 rebellion, medieval jousting and a living history arena to see various historical action.


In 2014 the Great Game Fairs of Ireland as part of their commitment to bringing 'history to life' mounted a Battle of Ballynahinch re-enactment in Ballynahinch town and at Montalto Estate where an encampment was created. The Battle of Ballynahinch was arguably the last military action in the Ulster rising as part of the 1798 rebellion. In 2016 the Battle of Ballynahinch will once again be staged in Ballynahinch town and Montalto and it is hoped to stage similar Battle of Antrim re-enactments in the grounds of Antrim Castle and at the Fair at Shanes Castle.

Battle of Antrim encampment & re-enactment
Battle of Antrim encampment & re-enactment

A summary of the Battle of Antrim

The outbreak of the 1798 rebellion in Leinster on the 23 May had prompted calls for the United Irishmen in the North to rise in support of their southern comrades. However, the leadership of the organisation in Ulster had been severely compromised through infiltration by British spies and the new leadership were very cautious about rising without the promised French support.

After a delay of about a fortnight while rebels in the South engaged British forces, the rank and file United Irish membership circumvented the leadership in Antrim and Henry Joy McCracken was elected as their leader. McCracken, together with James Hope, quickly formulated a plan to attack and seize all government outposts in county Antrim and then for the main attack to fall on Antrim town. Then using artillery seized at Antrim, the rebels were to march on Belfast in conjunction with the United Irish rebels in County Down.

McCracken had high hopes that many members of the militia would desert and join him as disaffection was believed to be widespread, evidenced by the execution of four of the largely Roman Catholic Monaghan militia for treason in Belfast in May

On 6 June McCracken issued a proclamation calling for the United army of Ulster to rise. The initial plan met with success, as the towns of Larne, Ballymena, Portaferry and Randalstown were taken and the bridge at Toome damaged to prevent the government rushing reinforcements into Antrim from west of the Bann. The rebels then assembled at Donegore Hill in preparation for the march and attack on Antrim town where an emergency meeting of the county's magistrates called by the county governor, Lord O'Neill, was due to take place. Initially over 10,000 rallied to the call but the ongoing tensions between the largely Presbyterian force and the Roman Catholic 'Defenders' meant that only c 4,000 probably took part on the attack but as the garrson only numbered about 200 yeomen, some cavalry under under Lt-Col William Lumley and armed volunteers they had a fairly massive advantage in terms of combatants. However the garrison also had four artillery pieces and the delay in the rebel attack had allowed them to send requests for assistance to Belfast and Lisburn from where reinforcements were already on the way. The garrison formed themselves in a strong defensive position at the base of the demesne wall of Antrim Castle, with artillery to the front and cavalry to the rear with their flanks anchored by the Market House and Presbyterian Meeting House.

The attack took place at about 3pm when the first rank of attackers was met by cannon fire which caused them to withdraw. This encouraged the defenders who thought it was a general retreat and loosed the cavalry to complete a rout. However the rebels had reformed and in turn routed the cavalry before attacking the garrison again so firecely that the troops began to withdraw and in the confusion, the county commander Lord O'Neill, was fatally wounded. A rebel attempt to seize the artillery was only narrowly beaten off.

At this critical juncture, British reinforcements from Belfast arrived outside the town and assuming it to be held by the rebels, began to shell it with their artillery. This prompted more desertions and the rebel army began to disintegrate but their withdrawal was protected by a small band of rebels under James Hope whose men fought a successful rearguard action from the church grounds along the main street, which allowed the bulk of the rebels to withdraw safely.

When the military entered the town they began a spree of looting, burning and murder of whom the most enthusiastic perpetrators were reported to be the Monaghan militia who were anxious to prove their loyalty and expunge the shame of the recent executions of their comrades for sedition. McCracken, Hope and their remaining supporters withdrew northwards establishing camps of ever dwindling size along the route of their retreat until news of the defeat at Ballynahinch caused their final dispersion. McCracken was arrested by yeomen on the 7th July and was hanged in Belfast on 17th July having refused an offer of clemency in return for informing on his comrades.


Apart from the Battle of Antrim encampment the Knights of the North will also have a medieval encampment and stage medieval jousts based on the 'Knights Tale' in the main arena and the Vikings will once again invade Shanes Castle.

Grunal Moneta, facsimile coin maker to the British Museum will be present to help children strike their own medieval coins including a very special Shanes Castle momento

Grunal Moneta coin maker
Grunal Moneta coin maker


It is our opinion that the best location for a game fair or countrysports event is a traditional country estate and in Shanes Castle Estate, the home of the O'Neill family and the birthplace of the 'Kings of Ulster' we have both a very practical and very beautiful venue. And we feel one which adds atmosphere, history, interest and tradition to Northern Ireland's premier country sports and lifestyle event - The Irish Game Fair!

Old style threshing at Shanes Castle.
Old style threshing at Shanes Castle.

THE IRISH GAME FAIR - the best day's outing for the whole family!

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