Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

Ma, He Sold Me for a Few Cigarettes

A Memoir of Dublin in the 1950s

by Martha Long


With a foreword by Alice Walker

When Martha Long's feckless mother hooks up with the Jackser ("that bandy aul bastard"), and starts having more babies, the abuse and poverty in the house grow more acute. Martha is regularly sent out to beg and more often steal, and her wiles (as a child of 7, 8) are often the only thing keeping food on the table. Jackser is a master of paranoid anger and outburst, keeping the children in an unheated tenement, unable to go to school, at the ready for his unpredictable rages. Then Martha is sent by Jackser to a man he knows in exchange for the price of a few cigarettes. She is nine. She is filthy, lice-ridden, outcast. Martha and Ma escape to England, but for an itinerant Irishwoman finding work in late 1950s England is a near impossibility.

Martha treasures the time alone with her mother, but amazingly Ma pines for Jackser and they eventually return to Dublin and the other children. And yet there are prized cartoon magazines, the occasional hidden penny to buy the children sweets, the glimpse of loving family life in other houses, and Martha's hope that she will soon be old enough to make her own way.

Virtually uneducated, Martha Long is natural-born storyteller. In Ma, He Sold Me for a Few Cigarettes, one can't help but cheer on this mischievous, quick-witted, and persistent little girl who has captured hearts across Europe.

Read an excerpt on Issuu here.


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“This is a searing account of childhood survival. No more haunting memoir has been published this year.”

“Coming-of-age hardships skillfully recounted by way of the colloquial Irish tongue.”

“Long's story is a gritty, grueling, and heartbreaking testament to one girl's unbreakable spirit.”

“Reading this startling testament to one child’s valiant attempts to live until the age of sixteen is a worthy reminder that we can do better as adults if we turn to embrace the children who are suffering, anywhere on earth....”

“Beautifully written and packed with detail. Miraculously, Martha is attuned to the simple wonders of the world around her: a BBC radio music program, young nuns having a snowball fight. It's a world she is determined to become a part of just as soon as she is old enough to flee.”

“A tale of strength, bravery and sheer determination of not letting life beat you.”


MARTHA LONG was born in Dublin, Ireland, in the 1950s and still lives there today. She is the author of seven Ma books that together form a social history of Dublin and London as seen through the eyes of a child: Ma, It's a Cold Aul Night an I'm Lookin for a Bed; Ma, Now I'm Goin Up in the World; Ma, I'm Getting Meself a New Mammy; and Ma, He Sold Me for a Few Cigarettes. They have all been international bestsellers, each hitting #1 on the The Irish Times bestseller list. Long is also the author of a novel, Run, Lily, Run.