Teacher makes appeal for information on Derry

Academic Mary Massey.
Academic Mary Massey.

A young Donegal born teacher now based in England is making an appeal to the Derry public for information to complete her studies.

Mary Massey is compiling an overview of migration from Donegal to Derry, particularly those from Donegal who were farm workers and were bought as servants at the many hiring fairs in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

A hiring fair or the 'Rabbles' as they were called at the Diamond in Derry around 1924.

A hiring fair or the 'Rabbles' as they were called at the Diamond in Derry around 1924.

Mary told the Journal: “I’m originally from the Ballindrait area, outside Lifford, Co. Donegal, and completed my undergraduate studies in Sociology at Queen’s University, Belfast in 2002. After three years working for Northern Bank in east Belfast and Omagh, I moved to England to complete a PGCE in Secondary Geography, and I have been working as a teacher in England ever since.

“In September 2013, I embarked on a part-time MA in Irish Studies at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham, London. I chose the course because it matches my interests, focusing as it does on literature, drama, history and culture, and it fits in with my work commitments. Now in my second and final year of the course, I am required to complete a dissertation, and this is where I hope your readers can help me!

I have always been interested in migration, and my studies in Sociology and Geography have fuelled this further. A number of years ago, I found out that my great-grandmother, who hailed from the Donegal island of Inishbofin, moved to the Irish mainland around the age of 14, and found employment the same way thousands of others did – through the hiring fair.

“She would never return to the island, and this fact has often made me wonder about the experiences of all those who were hired out, living away from home, usually with complete strangers. It is the characteristics of these domestic and farm ‘servants’ – as they were registered in the census – that will be the basis of my dissertation.

In order to show the element of migration, my focus will be on those domestic and farm servants working in Co. Derry who were originally from Co. Donegal. This information, as well as the age, religion, literacy of the servants, and the characteristics of the family the servants worked for, can all be found in the census, and in order to make use of the archives, my focus has to be on the Census of Ireland 1901 and 1911 as these are the most comprehensive archives available.”

“In order for this research to be more manageable, I will have to narrow my focus to two areas of Co. Derry – the city itself, and the area known as Liberties. This should ensure a mixture of domestic and farm servants, and will give me a sample size of 1,109 servants overall. My overall aim is to examine the characteristics of these servants – we may imagine that they are largely teenagers from Catholic backgrounds working for Protestant families, but a glance at the census data shows that this is not always the case, with servants ranging from six to 81 years of age.

“The census data will be wonderful for getting an overview – the bigger picture – but so many families, my own included, have a family member who was hired out. These oral histories are invaluable as real experiences paint a much more interesting picture than census data alone.

“If any of your readers have a relative born in Co. Donegal but who went to work as a domestic, farm or servant of another kind in Co. Derry, particularly in the city or Liberties areas, and know about their experience, please get in touch with me. If their relative could actually be found in the 1901 or 1911 census, that would be even better, although I realise that may be something of a long shot! BBC Radio Foyle were kind enough to invite me on to the Mark Patterson Show in July where I spoke about this, and I am sure that by appealing to your readers, I will have a good response. I have also set up a Facebook page called ‘Donegal Servants Working in Derry 1901-1911’ so I can be reached there, but your readers can get in touch with me by post, email or telephone. I look forward to being inundated!”

Contact details: Mary Massey, Shanley 1st Floor Flat, Marden Park, Woldingham, CR3 7YA

E: marymassey1981@hotmail.co.uk

M: 07788969697