Saturday, 23 August 2014

Hebridean Fishergirls in Wartime

Letter to the editor of the Glasgow Herald, 24th August, 1914.


North Bay, Isle of Barra, August 21.
Sir.-—At a time when so many people are interested in the unemployed women of this country I wish to make an appeal to your readers for a fishing community in the Outer Hebrides.  The fishergirls of the Island of Barra at this time of the year and onward till Christmas earn their living, and in many cases that of a whole family, at the East Coast herring fishing.  At the best of times the struggle for life in these Hebridean islands is a severe one.  At present—their own home fishing this year being almost completely failed and their only other source of income being closed—distress is certain.  If a small fund could be raised to buy wool and to pay these women a small sum for what they knit for our sailors and soldiers this distress would be lessened.  If anyone interested in our Hebridean islands and in their very fine and industrious population feels inclined to help them through what is certain to be a very hard time I shall be most grateful to receive their subscriptions at the above address.—I am, etc.,

[This letter gives a specific example of women's unemployment caused by the war.  It seems that later in the war, some Scottish fishergirls found their traditional work elsewhere:  Alice Starmore, in her book on Aran Knitting, says that during the war the Aran fishing industry was far busier than before, and attracted Scottish fishergirls ("herring lassies") to gut, fillet and pack the fish.  She thinks that the women of Aran may have learnt to knit ganseys from these fishergirls.  This development of the fishing industry would have taken some time.   Presumably it arose because the seas around Aran and the sea route from the Hebrides were not as threatened by German U-boats as the North Sea.]     

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