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Donegal Emigrant Working Lives in Scotland


There are few families in County Donegal that have not been affected by emigration or participated in seasonal migration. In the twentieth century, Scotland was a familiar destination for people leaving County Donegal in search of work. In recent years, the stories of some of their experiences have been documented but, for a long time, they have been overlooked or considered too ‘ordinary’ to be recorded. With the passage of time, the opportunities to record first-hand accounts of the experiences of Donegal people working in Scotland are declining. The focus of this research will be on the contexts, working conditions and types of employment that Donegal people found in Scotland. The County Donegal Heritage Office in partnership with the Culture Division, Donegal County Council and the Mellon Centre for Migration Studies is seeking to document the work experiences of those Donegal people who worked on farms, building sites and hydroelectric schemes in Scotland; those people who became ‘tunnel tigers’, ‘McAlpine’s fusiliers’, ‘tattie hokers’, navvies and herring gutters; those people who worked as domestic servants and nurses, ‘on the buses’, in biscuit factories and in the religious life, and those people who undertook even more ordinary and less celebrated work. The study will blend some of the best-known stories of labour with personal experiences and culminate in a major exhibition in 2024.

To date, the focus has been on initial research to capture the first-hand accounts of Donegal people’s experiences of working in selected occupations in Scotland. An oral historian has been commissioned to undertake and record some of these accounts. Short accounts of, and information on, four occupations and industries in which Donegal people worked have been compiled already also (herring gutting, tunnelling, bus and tram conducting, and tattie hoking). This initial background research and access to the oral recordings will be made available to the successful researcher.

The successful researcher(s) for this commission will focus on research on the working conditions of Donegal people working in Scotland (especially between 1940 and 1990) and the professions and businesses they worked in. The Culture Division of Donegal County Council will conduct a publicity campaign to solicit accounts from Donegal people who worked or work in Scotland and to source photographs of Donegal people at work in Scotland. Some of the proposed research for this commission will need to be undertaken in Scotland. The Mellon Centre for Migration Studies, Omagh, County Tyrone are partners in this three-year initiative as are Donegal County Council colleagues in Donegal County Museum, County Archives, Central Library & Regional Cultural Centre.


You can download the Terms of Reference here - Donegal Emigrant Working Lives in Scotland (Terms of Reference April 2023)