Story for the Day: Tailibhanach

The term Spailpín Fánach is used to describe Irish farmhands who were forced to wander in search of employment. Tailibhanach, or land labourer in Old Frewyn, holds the same meaning. There aren't as many Tailibhanach in the kingdom now as there used to be during less affluent times, but those who still hire themselves out as such don't live the best of lives.

Beryn Dunhuram, fellow farmer and friend of the Donnegal family, was an only child, the last leaf on a particular bough of one of Frewyn oldest rural families. The name of Dunhuram was widespread across the kingdom as a name that belonged to poulterers, dairy farmers, and husbandmen, and though few of their daughters went to join trees of higher rank by way of a few imprudent matches, their consequence as one of Frewyn’s oldest clans never rose beyond their born class. There were those bearing the Dunhuram name who, due to the imprudence of post kings and queen, had been forced to sink lower than their class of yeoman might suggest: those who worked on the land but could not afford to pay for or reclaim it became known as Tailibhanach, land labourers who wandered Frewyn’s countryside in quest of employment, sustenance, and situation. Frewyn had a longstanding tradition of hiring underage and inexperienced apprentices as temporary workers to make up for the want of labourers in the off-seasons. It was an accepted practice, though hardly a legal one, but for a kingdom so abundant in verdant lands and agricultural fervor, landlords and leaders alike were willing to turn a blind eye toward the practice, provided that all taxes for the land and the land’s produce were paid and the workers were compensated accordingly. Due to the indiscretion of the practice, however, Tailibhanach were at the mercy of their employers to keep them or rid of them as was requisite. The workers were kept, paid a decent wage, fed, and supplied with clothing and shelter as long as there was work to be done, but if a crop failed, if a plot was reclaimed by the crown, or if the king had discovered that Tailibhanach were being hired instead of apprentices, the labourers were turned out and sent away, left to wander Frewyn’s countryside in search of another farm that was desirous of their services for a time.
                The life of a Tailibhanach  was a desperate one: rife with the woes of uncertainty and ill-health, those who worked under the crown’s notice never lived long, and though Frewyns prided themselves in their hardiness and longevity, those who had been used to work out of doors in the worst of conditions surrendered the bloom of their youth to meet the unwelcome assurance of an early old age: skin burnt by the sun and cracked by the dry cold of the long Frewyn winters, backs bent and shoulders wilted from countless years of being made to carry unbearable loads, hands gnarled and sullied from a lifetime of ill-use, and features haggard and coarse from want of proper nourishment. This was not a fate granted to many in Frewyn, as there was usually room enough on the various Frewyn farms for many paid apprenticeships, but for Beryn’s father, whose parents and grandparents were Tailibhanach before him, theirs was a most grim sufferance.
                Being born on a farm that was not his father’s, being cared for by an older sister until deemed able to work, James Dunhuram had the good fortune to escape his family’s excruciating circumstance by finding favour with a poulterer between Farriage and Tyfferim. He had made himself out to be an apprentice in quest of a true position, and as no one else came in the poulterer’s way, the position was given him, with all the rights and privileges that an official apprenticeship could command: consistent compensation, shelter, the learning of a trade, and most importantly the right to inherit the land and position from the current master. Poor old Domhnaill, feeling his life at last failing him, was happy to make over his small farm and his only daughter to one bearing the Dunhuram name. James married and did well for himself being the master of his own land, and when it was then his own fate to succumb to all the infirmity and elderly frailty that had been his inheritance from a youth of difficult labour, he was most happy to make over the small farm to his son. The Tailibhanach charm over the Dunhuram bough had been broken: Beryn had grown up at liberty to remain a poulterer or to discover his own powers at craftsmanship as he would. 


  1. Is this the beginning of a longer story?

    1. It is. :D This is part of a huge story arc that begins in book 24 and ends in book 28. I try to give everyone a peek of things to come as much as my publisher allows.

  2. What a hard life, indeed! It reminds me of the migrant workers who come to work the orchards and fields around here. They have it better, but still not much permanence or savings.


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