Lifford woman’s hiring fair appeal

APPEAL: Student Mary Massey.
APPEAL: Student Mary Massey.

A student from Woldingham , who is a native of Ballindrait, near Lifford, has appealed for help to complete her studies.

Mary Massey, completed a sociology degree at Queen’s University, Belfast in 2002 and worked for three years for Northern Bank in Belfast and Omagh, before moving to England to complete a PGCE in secondary geography. She has been working as a teacher in England ever since, but in September 2013, she embarked on a part-time Masters degree in Irish Studies at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, London. And she now needs help to complete her research.

“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,” she said

“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. She found employment 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,” said Mary, continuing: “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 County Londonderry who were originally from County 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,” Mary said.

“In order for this research to be more manageable, I will have to narrow my focus to two areas Londonderry 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,” she said continuing: “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 Londonderry, 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,” she said.

If anyone can help Mary then log on to her Facebook page, ‘Donegal Servants Working in Derry 1901-1911’, or write to her at:

Mary Massey,

Shanley 1st Floor Flat,

Marden Park,

Woldingham, CR3 7YA

Email her at: marymassey1981@hotmail.co.uk, or telephone her at 07788969697.