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Donegal Town hiring fair

The day I got there the Diamond was full of people and of carts and cars tilted on their end; I counted over fifty of these vehicles. It was the big hiring fair. Boys and girls engage themselves to employers from the ayth of May to the 2oth of November, and there is another hiring fair then for the winter season. A good stout workman will get up to £7 or £8 in addition to his board for either period: a girl from £5 to £4. There was a large crowd, many of them true peasants of the Gaelic type though I heard no Irish spoken wearing big black slouch hats, almost a certain sign in these parts of a Catholic and Nationalist the older men with grave close-shaven high cheek-boned faces wearing only a short side whisker close clipped. On the fringes of the crowd were booths in rows selling crockery and hardware and the invariable delicacy of Irish fairs
dilsk or dulse a sweet-tasting seaweed spreading all about it a strong whiff of the sea.

The dialogues that one overheard were curious. There would be a knot of men ten or a dozen pressing close round two who stood face to face the hirer and the hired. Most of the talking was done by the onlookers. They exhorted the boy. “Speak up now, don’t be dumb with him. Get the best price
you can : why wouldn’t you ? Say what’s the least you’ll take. But speak up !” Then there would be a colloquy. The hirer apparently had made conditions that work should be done even when his back was turned. The boy began after a long silence. “When I go to it, I know work as well as any man. And
the work will be done just as well as you would do it, let you be there or not. I know well Mr. that you do be away many days: I know you, though may be you don’t know me” and so on. Then a pause. Then a bystander suggests a compromise, “Say seven pounds ten now. Come now, Johnny, you won’t break my word.” And he slaps his hand in the hirer’s hand and tries to get the hired to do the same, but nothing comes of it. Then there is another notion for all the onlookers are feverishly anxious to see a bargain concluded and they take the pair by the shoulders “Come, now, go away the pair of you and talk it out by yourselves, we don’t want to hear what you’re saying; it’s none of our business.” Then the two go off a little way and there is immediate comment. “He’s asking eight pound” “He offered seven, and five shillings.” “Ay, but he’s wanting eight.” ” There was bigger boys in the fair took less nor eight. Och it’s not the size that’s the thing; it’s the spirit.” ” Them McGrortys was all decent fellows:” “Ay, and he’s a stout chap; no great size on him but he’s strong made.” And so on, discussing the boy’s points as if he were a horse for a
minute or two, but by the end of that time a crowd has again gathered round the pair and the talkers drift in to make part of it.

Extract from:
Highways and byways in Donegal and Antrim (1903)

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