The Hiring Fair

Hiring fair & Oral History talk

Mr. Roy Hamilton (seated), John Marquess and Joseph McCoy Photo: © Denver Boyd (2015)

The Hiring fair and Oral history talk

On Friday the 26th October 2015, Mr. Roy Hamilton gave a riveting talk on two different subjects. He commenced to explain how local history is both augmented and enriched by the oral narratives that each generation pass down to the next. These stories can be anything from eye witness accounts of historical events to recollections of bygone days and explanations of how things used to be or how things worked. Roy, explained how our earliest history (e.g. the annals of Ulster, the Red branch cycle, Finn McCool, etc) were all passed down as oral stories before monks recorded them on parchment in the 12th and 13th centuries. He regaled the audience with tales from his own experience and of the many varied and interesting people, ordinary people, that he had the pleasure to talk to during his life and how their ‘ordinary’ stories showed extraordinary passion or aforethought that had the audience in awe.

Roy then, as the second part of his talk, discussed the Irish tradition of hiring fairs, where young people from 11 to 17, would go to various market towns every May or November (and sometimes other months too) to seek employment, mostly with farmers, to whom they would go to work for 6 months. In return for their long hard hours of labour, they would receive a small pittance of money, some food and lodgings. Of course, when they went to some of the farms, they found a different situation than they may have been expecting. Work could begin as early at 4am or 4.30am, milking cows by hand and would continue until well after dark. The work was often dirty and hard, and health and safelty was not a consideration in those days. If the young people were lucky then they got enough food to eat (although some barely got enough) and their beds might well be in the rafters of the roof of the farmer’s thatched cottage. Roy played a BBC radio programme recorded in 1979, where people who had experienced the reality of the hiring fairs discussed this in their later lives which proved most interesting and informative.

After the talk, Joseph McCoy thanked Roy on behalf of the Society and Committee of Maghera Historical Society and expressed our gratitude for the quality and informative nature of his talk.

Light refreshments were provided and the audience continued to discuss the talk with Roy.

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