In the year 1204 King John of England grants a licence to the corporation of Dublin to hold an annual eight-day fair in Donnybrook. In 1252 the duration is extended to fifteen days. Over the years the terms of holding the fair change slightly, until in the 18th century it is held on August 26 on Donnybrook Green for a fortnight.
By the beginning of the 19th century the fair has become more a site of public entertainment and drinking than a fair proper and many attempts are made to have it abolished. However, the licence-holder has by law the right to hold the fair, and refuses to bow to public pressure.
The licence is passed from Henry Ussher, who dies in 1756, to William Wolsey, who leases it in 1778 to John Madden and then sells it to him in 1812. A committee, The Committee for the Abolition of Donnybrook Fair, is established to acquire the licence in order to put an end to it, and it is finally bought from John and Peter Madden in 1855 for £3,000, under the auspices of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Joseph Boyce.
The Donnybrook Fair has given its name to a popular Irish double-jig known as “Donnybrook Fair,” the upscale supermarket chain, and a broadsheet ballad called “The Humours of Donnybrook Fair” whose author is unknown but is recorded by Tommy Makem. It is also a slang term for a brawl or riot.