A particularly noisy or heated argument, brawl or fracas.

A scene of uproar and disorder; a riotous or uproarious meeting.



In 1204, King John granted Donnybrook, a district of Dublin (today in Ireland), the right to hold a public fair. Usually held from 26 August for about 15 days, the fair became quite famous over time and drew increasing numbers of people, until, in the 17th century, there were reports of up to 50,000 people attending.

The fair also came to be synonymous with drunken, rowdy behaviour. Reportedly, visitors to the fair would drink a lot of whisky and violent brawls were common. By the 19th century, the word ‘donnybrook’ began to appear in common usage when referring to a disturbance, scene of uproar or fracas. Although the fair was eventually banned, the word lingers on.


From Walter Bagehot’s The English Constitution of 1867:

‘The only principle recognised … was akin to that recommended to the traditionary Irishman on his visit to Donnybrook Fair, “Wherever you see a head, hit it.”‘

The weapon most often used in this context was a ‘shillelagh’, a baton or stick made from oak or blackthorn.