John McCullagh January 29, 2004

I know nothing at all about the book I’m about to ‘review’ except that it was entitled ‘Voices and the Sound of Drums’ and it was written by Patrick Shea and published in 1981 by Blackstaff. 

I came across this short excerpt and was mightily impressed.  I’ll really have to make an effort to locate it (Amazon, again!) and buy a copy.  I hope you conclude likewise.

During our lunch period I walked along North Street, a tumbledown part of old Newry, to the Butter Market and found myself in the midst of a hiring fair; a fair in which the merchandise was human beings.  Those doing business were standing about in small groups, talking quietly; a sturdy man holding out for what he thought he was worth as a ploughman, a rosy-cheeked servant girl listening and nodding as details of the offered engagement were explained to her by a farmer and his wife, a mother handing over her fourteen-year-old son on the understanding that in return for his apprentice labour on a farm he would be kept and given three meals a day and after six months she would be paid perhaps five or six pounds. 

Hiring fairs were peculiar to the northern part of Ireland.

Do any of you know this book?  Was Patrick Shea a relative of Jack, our Laughing Policeman of Derrybeg Lane?  And of Dorothy (Dodo to us rude and uncouth schoolboys, although I remember this dear and unassuming teacher taking us for amateur drama practice in the living room of her own home in Derrybeg Lane on Saturday afternoons, for no reward!).  Gone now to her eternal reward, it’s too late to tell her how much I appreciated her.

[Yes I know the latter two were brother and sister, and were O’Shea – but that doesn’t exclude the possibility of some familial relationship with the author!]

P.S. I’ve just received an e-mail from Peter, the son of the author of this book.  He lives now in Australia but is visiting us in May.  And YES, Jack and Dorothy were brother and sister to Patrick. 

I’d love to meet him then.  Perhaps he will loan me a copy of the book, so I can do a proper review!)

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