The Climbing Boys

This historical novel sheds light on the plight of child labourers in nineteenth-century Ireland.

Hugh O’Dare is known as ‘Scholar’ because of his love of learning, in particular maths. But when his father injures his arm, Hugh has to leave school early and go out to work with his older brothers. The family are chimney sweepers, and the job of ‘climbing boys’ like Hugh, is a dangerous one, as shown by the recent death of a young boy who was caught in a chimney fire.

The job brings Hugh into the home of the ‘Liberator’, Daniel O’Connell, the most famous man in Ireland. Hugh is in awe of this colossal figure whose political rallies he has heard so much about, and O’Connell takes a personal interest in the young chimney sweeper. When Hugh meets another climbing boy called Bert, who is in a much worse position than his own, with a cruel master who treats him badly, Hugh vows to help his new friend escape.

Hugh is a wonderful narrator – his struggle between following his dream and wanting to do his best for his family is well drawn, and his desperate desire to save face in front of his friend Izzy is something young readers will relate to. The Fagin-like Darby Madden makes for an excellent villain.

After a gentle start the story picks up pace towards the end, and the desperate flight of Hugh and his friends through the streets of Dublin, makes for captivating reading.


About the Author
Headshot of Ann Murtagh
Ann Murtagh spent her first seven years in the Bronx, New York. After a short time in Dublin, her family moved to Kells, Co. Meath. She qualified as a primary teacher and later received an MA in Local History from NUI Maynooth. A member of both Meath Archaeological and Historical Society and Kilkenny Archaeological Society, she has given lectures to both groups. Ann has designed and facilitated
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Book Cover - The Climbing Boys
Publication Date
September 2023