To get a clear picture of what the struggle for existence was like for the working man we must keep in mind two things.
1. That employment was very often of a casual nature and
2. There were no doles.
The man in constant employment, although his wage was low, was considered very fortunate. He could adjust his style of living to even so low a wage as 12/- a week if he received it regularly, but too often the pattern was: employment for a few weeks alternating with spells of idleness.
It was quite a common sight in Skerries to see groups of men standing at street corners – at Walker’s Corner usually – any working day. Like the men in the parable of the Vineyard they were waiting to be hired. They constituted a labour pool and farmers and others in need of help, engaged men from these groups; it was a relic of the old days of the hiring fairs.
Another reminder of the hiring fair was the farmer’s boy. The lot of the farm workers was a hard one. Farming was in a depressed state and the farmer very often could not afford to pay workers a living wage. It was traditionally a family business and if the farmer was in need of outside help, he employed a farmer’s boy. This description suggests a teenager but usually he was a man of mature years – he could be, in fact any age from 17 or younger to 70. He lived in. His sleeping quarters were usually located in a loft – access to which was by means of a ladder. There he dossed, no doubt, on an O’Dearest mattress.
He assisted the farmer in all the various operations associated with farming, which before the advent of the machine meant hard, backbreaking toil. He worked for his daily bread and any wages he received was mere pocket money. He was, of course, condemned to celibacy like a monk. But it must not be forgotten that the farmer who employed him was himself impoverished, a slave to a few stony acres.
Paddy Halpin (SHS, 1973)