John O'Hanlon, the acting manager of Ballymahon mart, otherwise known as Longford/Westmeath Farmers' Mart Ltd, which was first established in 1960 PICTURE: MICHELLE GHEE
First established back in April 1960, Ballymahon mart quickly became the focal point of the south Longford town.
Founded by a group of local stakeholders, such as Paddy Donnelly, James Delaney, Christy Roche, John Sammon, George Mears, Michael Kenny and Eunice Kenny, who decided it was time the town moved away from the traditional fair day, which previously took place on the streets of Ballymahon once every month.
Manager John O’Hanlon told the Leader, “They got together in the late 50’s and it was eventually established in 1960.
“At the time, there was a lot of buyers coming over from the UK and Scotland. A modern method of sourcing and trading cattle was needed and these lads saw the opportunity and jumped in and set up a limited company. It has been trading ever since.”
The first-ever sale took place on 13 April 1961 and although originally having faced slight resistance from fair-going locals, the mart quickly became a fundamental part of life in the Longford town.
John explained, “At the time it was a seismic shift from the traditional way of doing business.
“Traders in the town would have welcomed the move really, as it was taking all of the cattle and sheep away from out in front of their doors and they still had the custom because people still went into town after the mart.”
John says the mart helped promote the regeneration of Ballymahon and helped transform the economy of the area, something it continues to this day.
“It would have brought a lot of business to the town over many, many decades. It certainly consolidated Ballymahon as a trading town.
As marts around them began to fold due to increased competition, namely Moate and Edgeworthstown, Ballymahon only developed further.
In command of the ship nowadays and holding the position of acting manager on behalf of the board of directors is Barry native and Ballymahon resident, John O’Hanlon. The company itself is run by five directors on behalf of the 51+ shareholders, while Lily Trautt holds the role of both secretary and assistant mart manager. Lily has retained an involvement in the mart since her days in school, a career lasting almost as long as the mart itself.
“She would be more suited to running a big Multinational Corporation.
“We have staff here for many decades who have always remained incredibly loyal to the company.” said John before highlighting the work of their two “top class” resident auctioneers Denis O’Rourke and Larry Gilligan.
Such is the passion of those involved to keep improving in any way, the mart was actually one of the first in the country to live stream their sales through Farmers Forum. They now trade on average 14,000 head of cattle each and every year, a figure John hopes they can improve upon.
To John and all involved in Ballymahon, the mart is much more than just a way of purchasing stock, but also a social outlet.
“It is of huge social benefit. There is a great buzz to it. When you have good auctioneers and a good trade, there is a great energy around the ring,” John explains.
Although facing increasing costs, stricter regulations, a lack of young farmers and competition from online sales platorms, the team at Ballymahon will keep doing what they do best and have no plans on closing their doors at any stage.
“The main aim of the board and the stakeholders is to keep the place running, even with very onerous conditions from the PRSA. There are so many entities coming down on top of us, but we are determined to keep the place open, and will be ready to adjust to whatever the market needs us to do.”