While driving along the Causeway Coast of Northern Ireland this summer we stopped at the tiny coastal village of Glenarm on an impulse because we could see there was a fair or festival happening on the main street, with bunting and Irish music.
I don’t know if I have any Irish blood in me (there is a rumour that some of my family came over to the Isle of Mann to escape the Potato Famine) but it always gets my blood going.
The event in Glenarm turned out to be the Dalraida Hiring Fair. Now the Dalriada Festival is apparently Northern Ireland’s biggest cultural and heritage festival of sport, music and food. It is famous for the Highland Games held at Glenarm Castle, as well as large outdoor concerts with 20,000-odd people in attendance.
This wasn’t any of those. This was a hiring fair. I had to go and google that. A hiring fair – also known as a statute or mop fair – dates from the 14th century when there was a labour shortage following the devastation of the Black Death plague.
Edward II legislated for a particular day when the Shire would proclaim the rates of pay for the year and on that day agricultural workers (men and women) would come to try to secure work with landowners. Over time the fairs also became days of feast and celebration, with much drunkenness and revelry that I’m sure was appreciated in such hard times.
Hiring fairs continued in some places right into the 20th century. Today’s version in Glenarm’s high street was lined with old fashioned stalls laying out tools of various trades, from blacksmith to dentist. There was a lovely old fashioned carousel, a tea room and a tiny bus giving people rides up and down the street. Disneyland it was not.
Walking up into the village I was almost run down by the above pair on an old bicycle. Getting into the spirit of revelry, they soon appeared reciting poetry for the onlookers and then introducing a wonderful traditional Irish music ensemble.
Out from the coast of Antrim here the green fields slope and fall down to the waters of Cushendun Bay. And the band performed a Brian Connors song:
“I’ve been down to Dingle and the west coast of Clare
No one denies that those places are fair
But the fairest of all. I’m right proud to say
Is that haven in Antrim called Cushendun Bay.”
Apologies for the quality of the video but I had Wandering Kiwi Jr hanging off my arm…
What a lovely tune and sentiment. And yes there was some dancing.
I was looking up the songwriter today and another lyric by him caught my eye:
“I’ve travelled Australia all over; I’ve seen the wild kangaroo run
And I’ve stood at the harbour of Sydney, but I’d rather have wee Cushendun.”
Which made me laugh as I’ve just come from two years travelling in Australia, and although I’m not Irish and sometimes I wonder where in the world is home anymore, I feel a wee pull on my heart in this part of the world. Especially when I hear the music.
By Natasha von Geldern
This article has been written to recognise the author’s contribution to travel and tourism by Avis Car Hire on the A-List Awards 2013.