Hiring fairs were common in rural Ireland in the nineteenth century. They were generally held twice a year, in May and November. At these fairs, children as young as twelve would stand in line and farmers would hire those they thought suitable, usually for a period of six months. In some cases, the fairs involved humiliating practices, such as the checking of potential employees' teeth before hiring them. The children often endured long hours of work for little pay, and in certain cases physical abuse.

This image shows the bronze sculpture 'The Hiring Fair', by internationally renowned artist, Maurice Harron. This evocative piece was installed in Market Square, Letterkenny as a piece of public artwork in 1994, and serves to remind the local community of an important part of its history. The novel Rotha Mór an tSaol by Mici Mac Gabhann from Cloughaneely, Co. Donegal includes a beautiful but sad account of Mici walking through the night to the hiring fair in Letterkenny, which was part of the artist’s inspiration for this piece.

In the late nineteenth century, hiring fairs were most common in Ulster. The use of these fairs as way of organising labour declined rapidly from the beginning of the twentieth century onwards. However, hiring fairs survived in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal and Strabane, Co. Tyrone until the 1940s.