Farm workers

The owners of the larger farms employed workmen and labourers to help with the work. Some of these men specialised in particular tasks. Of particular importance was the horse-man. Robert Chesney remembers very well the horse-man who worked on his father’s farm.

Robert Chesney recalls the horse-man on his father’s farm:

A horse-man got more money than other people. … A good horse-man always fed his own horses. In our case we were ploughing ground with horses right up until 1945-46 because we happened to have a horse-man at that time who wouldn’t drive a tractor, would hardly sit on a tractor and he was an excellent horseman … my father kept him on and kept two horses. … He was in the stable every morning at the busy time at 6.30am.

Farm labouring, according to Robert McConnell, was ‘hard work, sore work, and nae money’. The Gribbin brothers commented that a farm labourer who was paid 12 shillings a week plus his food was counted as well off. Cahal Boyd remembered two labourers on a neighbouring farm who were paid only around 8 shillings a week. Roisin McLernon recalls one particular man named Ned McGuigan who worked for them on the farm as a seasonal labourer. He was, according to Roisin, a ‘very clever man’ who knew Latin and Greek. Gerry McCann also remembers Ned, whom he describes as a ‘very smart man’ and very good at drawing.

For a number of young men around Doagh, farm labouring alternated or was combined with working in the local mills. While Leith Burgess was waiting for a job to come up in Doagh Mill he worked for the Robsons and even after finding work in the factory he continued to work for them in the evenings and on Saturdays. Farm work was also carried out by women for, as Wilma McVittie points out, her mother worked in farmhouses and out in the fields, stooking corn, gathering potatoes, etc.

Robert McConnell remembered his father’s life as a farm labourer:

My father ran about for a couple of years and couldn’t get a job. Them was the bad times, the early thirties, really bad. [A neighbour] told my father about this boy looking for a man over at the Fourmileburn. So he went over to see him. He didn’t start him, he said ‘I’ll see you in Ballymena on Saturday’ – that was Ballymena hiring fair in November. So he had to go to Ballymena and he hired him. Well, he had 18 shillings in the week, that’s 90 pence … and you had the old house which wasn’t up to much, but was a roof. If you left the job, you left the house. … And you got a pint of milk or a taste of milk every day free … and we got spuds in with theirs in the field, but you had to work them yourself, what done you a year, and you got as many sticks as you wanted to keep the fire going.

South Antrim Living Memories Project wishes to acknowledge the assistance of: