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by Tom Kenny

It is good to see funfair being set up at the moment along the Prom, a sure sign that the summer is on the way. There has been a history of summer funfairs in Galway for well over a hundred years, though they were always known here as ‘the Amusements’. In the early days, the Toft family used to organise them in Salthill Park. Occasionally, the neighbours used to object to the noise and the traffic and on at least one occasion, they were invited next door on to the site in front of Dr. O’Beirne’s house (where Leisureland is today).

Eventually, Toft’s Amusements moved into Eyre Square for much of the summer, the highlight of which was always Race Week. If the Square was not available, they moved elsewhere, one year to the grounds of St. Mary’s College, another to Fr. Burke Park. Our photograph was taken in 1963 by the late Helen Spellman and shows them set up in the Fairgreen. Wherever they were, there was always a special atmosphere and thrills, multi-coloured lights, screams of excitement, honkytonk music, shouts encouragement from the operators trying to attract punters to their stall.

The Amusements in Eyre Square evoke memories of muddied paths around various rides, multi-coloured archways announcing the particular excitements, chairoplanes and hobbyhorses, the tall circular wooden slide (seen to the right of our photograph), shooting galleries, large containers shaped like cups and saucers into which you sat and they spun around and around and made you dizzy, the Big Wheel (which was probably very small by today’s standards), the Ghost Train which was usually the least terrifying of all and seemed more designed for a quick ‘coort’ than to put the frighteners on. Then there were the bumpers from which, thanks to my wonderful driving skills one night, my father was very lucky to go home with all of his teeth intact.

There would be a big draw every night where the prize, in the shape of pound notes (it always seemed like a hundred) was clipped to a clothesline. Finally there was the late night event where a man dressed like Batman would dive from a big arch into a barrel of flaming water or some other such incredibly daring act.

The Tofts family always and generously set one night during Race Week aside where they donated the takings of the funfair to the Vincent de Paul Society. In recent years, the summer amusements have been held beside Leisureland and cause the same excitement for tourist and local alike. They are no longer so weather dependent as they annually make an appearance on the Square in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

McFaddens were a Fit-ups group who were also regular visitors to the Fairgreen. They would set up a marquee at the top of the green and put on their “Super Stage Show”, a cocktail of music, singing and comedy, drama and variety at its best. They also played for much of the summer in Salthill Park, behind the Hangar and are remembered with great affection and nostalgia.