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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Fergusson's Hallow Fair

Robert Fergusson’s Hallow Fair is another poem set in the season around Halloween. It was written in 1772. The Hallowmas fair was generally held on 1 November each year, though sometimes it was held the second Monday of November, and lasted for a week. In Edinburgh it was held at the Grassmarket – the district below Edinburgh castle – and well known as the home for people from many places – the Highlands, other parts of Scotland, and Ireland too.

In writing this poem, Fergusson is again using a theme to make comment about something in his society. He begins by describing the various kinds of people attracted to the fair, the sellers, the fraudsters, and the naive country people taken in by the wheeling and dealing. But his central concern is to describe the disorder, the threat of violence. Whenever the fair came it brought a multitude of people who were there to drink, gamble and enjoy themselves. This often led to fighting and chaos in the streets.

Along with the drunken disorder came the city constabulary, whom Fergusson describes in fearful terms. They were usually ex-Highland soldiers who had served in the regiments and who met violence with violence in the course of their duty. Fergusson describes them felling a drunk with a Lochaber axe, and the drunk wishing they had used a sword or something less fearsome. Fergusson also describes the guard speaking in a Highland-accented version of Scots.

For the text of the poem and notes please download the PDF file below which also contains guidance notes.