Larne Hirin' Fair

The corn is stacked, the prittas dug,
The cattle housed a' neat an' snug.
November's breath is in the air
And brings once more Lame's Hirin' Fair.

Frae ivery farm for miles aroon,
The lads an' lasses mak' the toon
Wi' shiny boots an' shiny faces
They seek mair wages an' fresh places.

The past six months, they've worked like mad
For maisters middlin', guid or bad;
Some weel fed, happy an' respected
But ither craiturs starved; neglected.

Yet, on this happy day o' cheer
They soon forget the past half year,
And flock in droves, for guid or ill,
Tae Cross Street, near the Larne fair-hill.

An' hopefu' there they tak their stan'
Each servant lass an' servant man
Tae seek a job an' better pay
For six lang months, frae noo till May.

There's servant men frae Killyglen,
That hasn'y shaved since dear knows when;
Lang, lanky, raw-baned Mounthill toughs,
An' gangs o' big Kilwaughter roughs.

They come frae Ballynure an' Straid,
Frae 'doon the shore,' aye an' the Braid,
Glenoe, Raloo and Islandmagee,
Frae Feystoon, Magheraban, Rashee.

A' dressed up in their Sunday suits,
They've 'creeshed' their hair an' blacked their boots
Intent for once tae cut a dash
An' buy some fun wi' hard-earned cash.

There's watches goin' for three an' six,
There's corkscrew knives an' walkin' sticks.
Drinks, apples, nuts an' yellow-man
An' spae-wives there tae read yer han'.

That's where you'll find the servant girls
Before they go in search o' 'erls',
For, maybe, printed on their han'
Is some 'rich, han'some dark young man.'

This is their day, their faces show it,
They're brave weel-like, an' man they know it,
An' mony a match that's made this day,
Is clinched in kirk afore next May.

These sonsy, dacent weel-wrought lasses,
Tho' a wee bit blate, are no sich asses'
But show ambition, pride an' zeal,
An' dae their best tae mairry weel.

Wi' some mysterious seventh sense,
The fairmer knows wi' half a glance
That this young lass, dres't up tae kill
Has niver wrought in toon or mill.

But knows the way tae milk a 'coo',
Tae feed a calf or stroke a 'soo',
At threshin' time, could gie' a han',
Fork hay or corn wi ony man.

He sidles up, "A s'pose", says he,
''Ye'r hirin", - "Aye, a am", says she.
They bargin, argue, 'chap,' divide,
'Till lang, at last, the 'erls' is paid.

Good plough men are in big deman'
Tae coup Cairncastle's heavy Ian',
They'll get their keep, an' ten poun' clear,
An' that's no' bad, for yin half year.

An' then there's usefu' handy chaps
Sae guid at 'biggin' dykes an' 'slaps',
Can milk a 'coo' or feed a pig'
Can swing a scythe or set a rig,

They'll clean the horses, plait their manes
An' gi'e a han' at mindin' weans,
Such chaps as this at this Larne Fair
Can get six guineas - less or mair.

Of coarse, there's ither thaveless bein's,
Saft hairmless feckless droits, the lea'ins.
They're happy hokin' in a sheugh
Or dungin' byres or somethin' rough.

They get a bed, a bite tae eat,
A dud o' claes, clogs tae their feet.
An odd half croon frae time tae time
An' this arrangement works oot fine.

You'd nearly think some unwrit' law
Provided places for them a'
The way they fitted in sae weel
Like cogs in some great nick-ed wheel.

An' as the aifternoon descends,
The fun begins, the hirin' ends.
They're a' fixed up for six months mair,
But still ha'e time an' cash tae spare.

Their youthfu' happy appetites
Go oot in search o' toon delights.
For tay an' buns an' pigs-feet broth'
An pints o' porter, tapped wi' froth.

The farmers slowly trickle hame,
An' lea' the boys an' girls alane
Tae spen' an hour or twa the-gither
Makin' trysts wi' yin anither.

These golden hours, how soon they flee,
Yet what great happiness they gi'e
Convovin' some young lass an' then
A cuddle at a loan in' end.

How better end a perfect day,
I've only yin mair thing tae say,
"It's this, a'm no' ashamed tae tell,
I've sipped these simple joys mysel'."

John Clifford (1954)

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John Clifford

Larne Hirin' Fair was where landowners hired workers and took place at the Fair Hill. John Clifford reads extracts from this poem in a BBC video aided by Matt Meharg.