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The Hiring Fairs of Ulster

Ulster Songs and Ballads, of the Town and the Country
collected and set down by H. Richard Hayward 1923
Transcribed Teena

Good people, all, attention pay, unto these lines that I relate
Concerning Ulster Hireing Fairs, where people are so jovial;
The servants are out of place about the merry month of May,
They all approach the Hireing Fairs to seek for better wages.
The boys and girls they dress so neat,
With heart and courage light and gay,
And well-inclined to work sincere in every situation.

The plough-boy with a steady hand, he will engage to plough the land,
The dairy maid is well prepared to mind her milk and dairy;
The cowboy with his staff all gay with will mind his cows on hill or bray,
The shoe boy too is wanted there to polish boots for ladies.

The labouring boy he will engage to till the soil or sow the grain,
Great Nature's course for to maintain in every rank and station;
The King, the Queen, the Lord, the Mayor, the jolly crew that ploughs the main,
The gentlfolk, the clown, the rake, are kept up by his labour.

The kitchen-maid can work or play at certain times when not engaged,
Sometimes she puts the hens to lay and sometimes rocks the cradle;
Sometimes she puts the geese to hatch, sometimes she will be scutching flax,
She'll dress the beds so soft and flat and sleep till day is breaking.

The farmer like a noble squire, will come these servants for to hire,
And ask them what they do require with board and entertainment;
They'll feed you well with bread and tea if you agree to work quickly,
Your dinner will have no delay of butter, spuds, and bacon.

The servants wages now should rise as beef and butter go so high,
There's hen eggs sold at pence apiece, and turkey eggs three ha'pence,
The paper states the London price of wheat and oats and bacon dry,
And Gladstone's creed of tenant-rights is now in contemplation.

Hiring fairs were most commonly found in England where they had been used since the 14th century, and seem to have been introduced to Ulster soon after the Plantation. The Hiring Fairs at Letterkenny and Strabane were among the largest. In the 19th century and even through to the early 20th, children as young as 6 or 7 would be hired out to farmers, providing a cheap source of labour to them, but reducing the economic and domestic burden on the families of the children.