Castlederg Apple Fair will be trip down memory lane

A replica of an old railway tram will be among the attractions at one of Northern Ireland’s oldest apple fairs taking place on Friday, October 28th, as part of Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Hallowe’en celebrations which also coincide with Harvest month during Northern Ireland Year of Food & Drink 2016.

Castlederg Apple Fair has been running on the last Friday of October for the past 100 years and the historic event is at the core of a packed programme of festivities taking place in the Co Tyrone town on Friday, October 28th and Saturday, October 29th.

Mayor of Derry and Strabane district, Alderman Hilary McClintock, said the unveiling of a replica of the original tram which was used to transport apples from Co Armagh to Castlederg in bygone days would be an added highlight during this year’s celebrations.

Mayor McClintock said: “There is great excitement about the building of a replica of one of the original trams which was part of the Great Northern Railway which ran from Victoria Bridge to Castlederg and brought produce to the town from 1883-1933.

“Castlederg Apple Fair is a long-running tradition in the town with apple sellers travelling from Co Armagh in the lead-up to Hallowe’en for the past 100 years. And, with a host of family-friendly activities programmed by the Council to mark the occasion, we are expecting a big influx of visitors to join the local community for the event.”
The replica tram measuring 13ft long by 6ft wide and painted oxide red, has been built by local craftsmen for display in the town’s Diamond area, and it will sit on 30ft of original track which was salvaged by local businesspeople last year.

Gordon Speer, manager of Border Arts in Castlederg, one of the main organisers, revealed that two lengths of track were discovered during the removal of an old mobile shop from the back of business premises in the town centre.
While the replica tram will be the main centrepiece when it is temporarily installed in John Street, all eyes will also be on the visiting apple sellers plying their trade with scrumptious varieties of the popular fruit from the ‘Orchard County’ on Friday, October 28th from 12.30pm until 5pm.

The replica tram will not be the only four-wheeled vehicle making a special appearance in Castlederg on October 28th as Roland Duke, one of the traditional apple sellers making the annual trip from Portadown, will also be bringing his prized vintage Bedford truck.

He explained: “My father, John Alexander Duke, went to Castlederg with the same type of old truck back in the 1950s. I’ll be bringing two varieties of apple, the Bramley cooking apple and Katy red dessert apple which originally came from England and was planted in Co. Armagh, and they will be displayed in original 1950s-style boxes”.

Roland Duke said that he only brings the distinctive 1948 Bedford truck out seven times a year including the Castlederg Apple Fair and both he and his nephew will be dressed for the occasion as “old time apple sellers” wearing a flat cap, brown coat and boots.

James Wright from Derrylee in Dungannon which borders Co Armagh, has been coming to the Apple Fair for more than 20 years like his father and grandfather before him and, his own son, Alan (22) has also been accompanying him since he was just four years old.

Although James has seen big changes over the years in the way people buy their apples and use them for baking, he doesn’t think the traditional street fair will ever die out completely.

“The Castlederg Apple Fair is probably the last of its kind in Ireland and although a lot of the old bakery skills are lost, it’s the people you meet who make it. I’ll be bringing the famous Armagh Bramley and a few Armagh ‘eaters’’; the Bramley is the queen!”

Castlederg resident and retired councillor Jim Emery also has fond memories of the local Apple Fair being a big attraction for locals, going right back to his school days.
“They brought the apples from Armagh by GNR train down the length of Victoria Bridge and then went on to Castlederg by tram until the railways closed in 1933. There was always a great tradition of buying a box or bag of cooking apples and eating apples as well.

“We always looked forward to going down to the Apple Fair; some of the sellers would have allowed us to sample the apples and people didn’t buy too quick as the apples usually tended to come down in price as the day went on. I’m not a cook myself but I love apple tarts going back to when my mother made them and they used to put a ring in them.”

Susan Doherty, Economic Development Manager with Derry City and Strabane District Council, said preparations were well underway for Friday’s Apple Fair with live music, walkabout street characters and cookery demonstrations in the marquee at the Diamond all adding to the festivities.

She continued: “The apple sellers will be in the town centre from early morning with their delicious varieties of popular cooking and eating apples. There will also be musical entertainment by local school children and local bands from 1pm-2pm and cookery demonstrations in the marquee from 2pm-4pm with chefs Sean Harrigan from the Sooty Olive in Derry and Colm McMenamin, from The Red Pepper in Castlederg showcasing their culinary skills in the Food NI kitchen.”

Castlederg Women’s Institute will also have a home baking display and the popular local Scarecrow Trail involving local schools will be showcased in shop windows during the celebrations.
A ‘Hoolie on the Hill’ and Fireworks Display will also take place in Castlederg on Friday evening while the festivities continue the following day when Border Arts presents ‘Castlederg Piping Hot’ featuring pipe bands and Uilleann pipers in the marquee on Saturday, October 29th from 1pm-5pm.
For full details of Derry City and Strabane District Council’s 30th anniversary ‘Out Of This World’ Hallowe’en celebrations, visit