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Women's Music in the Herring Industry

Women's Music in the Herring Industry

Learn more about Meg Hyland's research into the role of music and dance in the lives of herring gutters and packers in the British and Irish fishing industries.

Upcoming Research in the Isle of Man

Hello everyone! I am preparing for the second fieldwork trip of my PhD research. Last summer I went to Shetland, and this summer I am going to the Isle of Man.

The Isle of Man was a very important stop in the herring industry of the 19th and 20th centuries. Fishermen from Scotland, England, and Ireland would come to the island in the summer when the herring were plentiful. Women travelled to the island too, ready to work as gutters and packers. In the Isle of Man, kippering was also another very important part of the industry. Many of the people working in the kippering industry were young women. Manx kippers were famous for the high quality of their production and were even eaten weekly by the Royal Family in the summertime. They remain an important part of the island today!

My trip to the Isle of Man has been a long time in the works. In December 2020 I received funding from the McCaig Trust to do research there. However, I was not able to go in 2021 as planned. Being disabled and chronically ill makes it difficult to schedule fieldwork trips. With fibromyalgia and chronic daily migraine disease, long travel days can take awhile to recover from. It can take a few weeks to fully recover from an extended trip like the one I took to Shetland. When I realised that I could not physically manage going to Shetland and the Isle of Man in the same summer, I had to postpone the trip to this year. Thankfully, the funders were very understanding of the situation!

In the end it has worked out well, since I have been invited this year to give the annual Ian O’Leary lecture as part of the Yn Chruinnaght Festival. On 28 July at 5pm in the Centenary Centre in Peel, I will be delivering a talk called “Little Rhymes in the Manx: Music and Herring Workers in the Isle of Man.” The talk is free to attend. I am not sure whether there will be any digital delivery of the talk, but if it is recorded, I will post a link on this blog when it’s available.

I will be on the island from 27 July to 4 August. After giving my talk, I am hoping to do some ethnographic interviews on the Isle of Man like I did in Shetland last year. I’ve put out a call for participants through Culture Vannin, and there should be an advertisement this week in some Manx newspapers. I am looking for people who would be interested in being interviewed as part of my PhD research. I am really keen to speak to anyone who has memories of the herring gutters and traditional kippering in the Island. I’d be happy to speak with people who gutted/packed/kippered herring themselves, worked as coopers, or simply who have memories of the women coming into the Isle of Man in the summer for the herring work. I will be based in Douglas but will be happy to travel around the island wherever it is possible to do so by public transport.

While my Shetland interviews were donated to the School of Scottish Studies Archives, any interviews I do in the Isle of Man will be donated to the Scottish Fisheries Museum. The museum is located in Anstruther in Fife. There are a lot of connections between the fishing industries of Fife and the Isle of Man. Cellardyke, the village adjoining Anstruther, has an ongoing project about restoring the Manx Beauty, a boat which was made in Cellardyke for the Manx fishing industry. While in the Isle of Man, I’m hoping to learn more about the personal relationships between Scottish and Manx people who worked in the industry. Culture Vannin has already done some amazing interviews with local people on this subject, like this interview with Albert Frost and this interview with Sylvia Murray.

If you know anyone who would be interested in getting in touch about a potential interview, please encourage them to contact me. I can be reached by email at and by telephone on the number 07425 749648. If you do call but can’t get through, please leave a voicemail – the reception in Anstruther is not always very good!

Even though the Scottish and Manx governments have not reintroduced COVID protective measures, I am very concerned about the current surge of the BA.5 variant. If anyone is interested in getting in participating in my research but is worried about COVID, I completely understand. I will be wearing FFP2 masks indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces. I will be taking a lateral flow test once a day while in the island, and I have been fully vaccinated with the two booster shots. I can also record interviews over the phone in cases where it is still not safe to meet in person. I am self-isolating as much as possible in the lead-up to my trip.

I am really looking forward to visiting the island and learning firsthand about the history of the herring industry there. To everyone in the Isle of Man who has been helping prepare for my trip, gura mie eu!

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