hiring fair sculpture

‘Compromise’ by Rosaline Callaghan


Compromise is about a young boy taken to an Irish Hiring Fair to find work.

Hunger was still rampant in Ireland even after the Irish Famine.

And the Hiring Fairs still took place in some parts of Ireland up until the 1940s

West, west; down boreens and winding roads, past scattered cottages, across rivers, burns and bogs to a fragmented forest on a lonely, dark stretch.

To a clearing in the trees and a man with a gun who was guarding the forest for its landowner,

To the man stopping him in his tracks, and a voice asking what he was doing there, in this clearing, in the dead of night.

“Sure I was only for taking one rabbit, sir.

My children are hungry, sir. I’m sorry, sir.”

South, south now; to Derry Courthouse.

To Derry Gaol and a six month sentence for poaching.

To a family of six children, still hungry and now no father to try to feed them.

It might have been  seven children had one of the younger ones not dropped the infant on the blazing, open hearth.

To a burial and a wife crazed with grief.

To a young boy all of eleven summers taken to the hiring fair.

His brothers were hungry.

His sisters were hungry.

His mother was hungry.

His father was hungry.

He was hungry.

And so the young boy stood, scared but desperate among the throngs at the fair, until he was noticed by a Scottish farmer. 

” Ye look strong boy. Are ye strong?”.

“I am, sir.”

East, east then; to a cattle-boat from Derry Quay, and crossing waters, to a strange shore far away from his townland.

North, north now; to the tip of Scotland; along winding roads, past scattered cottages, clustered hamlets, past mountains, rivers, burns and lochs, to a farm, to a barn.

It was neither warm nor welcoming.

It was not sanctuary.

To bales of hay where he slept with five or six other strong boys.

And they worked the fields from dawn until dusk, planted potatoes by hand.

And harvested the crops with the same tired, cold, calloused, child- hands.

He earned his basic board and keep, this boy; the few pennies left over meticulously counted and sent to his hungry family back in Castlederg. 

My grandfather learned little of compromise.

Rather, he was schooled in the soul-searings of sacrifice.

Hunger is a pitiless teacher.

– Rosaline Callaghan –

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