The town of Lifford in Co Donegal recently marked the centenary of its hiring fair.

On 22 November 1922, the first hiring fair was held in the Diamond Square in Lifford, an important border town which connects Donegal with Strabane in Co Tyrone.

The event was marked with a few paragraphs in the local paper Donegal News, which depicted the event as a day of “attractions and amusements”, gathering a “record crowd” to the town.


The history of hiring fairs in Ireland goes back to the 17th century and was a practice held throughout Ireland into the 19th century.

However, in Donegal and parts of Tyrone, the hiring fair survived from the time of the Ulster Plantation as far as the 1940s.

The main hiring fairs in the northwest region took place in Derry, Strabane and Letterkenny. Smaller fairs were held in towns such as Ballybofey, Omagh and Limavady.

The hiring fairs normally took place twice a year, in May and November. The market towns attracted crowds from all over the region, as farmers looked for part-time labourers and farmhands to help out with daily chores.

The fairs were usually held between areas of poor farming land, which would have labourers who were willing to work, and good farming land where labour was needed.

Fertile land

Towns along the border of Donegal, Tyrone and Derry were ideal locations for hiring fairs, as difficult mountain terrain in west Donegal met fertile land in the Lagan region to the east.

Girls and boys as young as 12 were sent to the fairs to be hired out to farmers, so they could help their families afford rent and food. Workers were hired out to farms for a term of six months.

The practice of hiring fairs declined in the northwest as social and economic changes in farming in the 1930s made the practice outdated.

However, a statue in the Market Square in Letterkenny of children at the hiring fair commemorates the practice, which was an important part of farming in the region for hundreds of years.

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