I’m looking for memories of herring gutters

By Siobhan Fletcher   |   Reporter   |
Friday 22nd July 2022 2:00 pm
@siobhanfletcher
[email protected]
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Fish girls in Port St Mary harbour wash down their aprons and inset, PhD student Meg HylandMain photo: iMuseum

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A PhD student from the University of Edinburgh is seeking people with memories of the island’s herring industry for her research.

Meg Hyland, who is originally from Wisconsin, but moved to Scotland with her family nine years ago, is currently studying for her PhD in Celtic and Scottish Studies.

She is especially interested in the role music and dance played in the social lives of women who worked in the herring industry as gutters, packers and kipperers from the 1850s to the 1970s.

This could be singing at work, or attending dances in the evenings on their days off.

She is also interested in interactions between people from different cultures and people who spoke different languages yet worked together in the industry.

As she explained: ‘From the mid-19th century, to kind of the 1970s, the herring industry boomed in the UK, and it was led by companies from Lowland Scotland.

‘What happened was, the men would catch the fish, but the women would gut them when they were brought into land.

‘Herring would rot very easily, very quickly. And so you have to cure it right away, if you want to export it. So the women would be ready on a port when the fish was landed.

‘Women would travel all around. In the Isle of Man, there were a lot of Scottish women who would come and some Irish women. And then some Manx women would also leave the island and go working, usually for Scottish companies.’

She added: ‘What I’m really interested in is the social and cultural aspect of the lives of those women workers.

‘I’m personally really interested in the role that music and dance played in their lives.

‘So for example, a lot of people in Scotland were singing while they were gutting the fish, and sometimes they even came up with new songs, new compositions in Scottish Gaelic.

‘But then they would also be singing, you know, like music hall and popular songs and traditional songs.

‘I’m really interested in how with a multicultural and multilingual workforce, you could have this actually really important cultural exchange and expose people to different musical styles.’

Miss Hyland will be in the island from Wednesday, July 27 until Thursday, August 4.

On July 28, she will be giving a talk in Peel about her research as part of the Yn Crunnaight festival.

She will be based in Douglas, but is happy to travel to meet anyone who is interested in sharing their stories.

She would like to speak to not only those who gutted/packed/kippered herring themselves, but also those who worked as coopers, or simply those who have memories of the women coming to the Isle of Man in the summer for the herring work.

Any recorded interviews made will be donated to the Scottish Fisheries Museum – if the interviewee is happy for that to happen.

You can contact Meg via email – [email protected] – or call 07425 749 648. If you call and cannot get through, leave a message.

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