On this day in 1705, the Scottish Parliament granted an “Act for four fairs and a weekly mercat in favors of Archbald Mackalester of Tarbet”. This act established four yearly fairs (as well as a weekly market) in the town of East Tarbert in Argyll. It was felt that such events, held “in convenient places”, were of significant benefit to the areas involved. The Tarbert Fairs were to begin on 10th May, 16th July, 19th August, and the 16th of October, and they were to continue for two days. Macalister and his heirs were granted the right to hold these events, to collect tolls and customs and to enjoy other privileges connected with the events.1
The Tarbert Fair did benefit the area – so much so that it outlasted both the original Scottish Parliament (which voted itself out of existence in 1707) and the Macalisters of Tarbert. In 1886, Dugald Mitchell called it “a great institution of the village”, and noted that although livestock and goods were still sold there, Tarbert Fair for most people had become a social event, a chance to meet up with friends and family from other parts of Kintyre and the Isles. By Mitchell’s time, the fair was being held only once a year, on the last Thursday in July, and lasted for three days.2
Today, Tarbert Fair remains one of Tarbert’s most important annual events. It now begins the last Wednesday of July and runs for four days; livestock have disappeared entirely, and instead the fair features music, carnival rides, and other entertainments.3 Instead of drawing visitors from only Kintyre and the south Isles, Tarbert Fair now draws people from all over the world. Archibald Macalister might not recognise the modern incarnation of the Tarbert Fair, but it is his legacy to the town nonetheless.
Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013