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Mary McGillicuddy - The Role of Women in the Mackerel Fishing Industry in Southern Ireland, c. 1880s – 1920s

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Mary McGillicuddy - The Role of Women in the Mackerel Fishing Industry in Southern Ireland, c. 1880s – 1920s

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Slides used by Mary McGillicuddy during her presentation (The Role of Women in the Mackerel Fishing Industry in Southern Ireland, c. 1880s – 1920s) at the 'Women and the Sea' symposium. A podcast of Mary's talk is available at http://www.ucd.ie/humanities/events/podcasts/2015/women-and-the-sea/

Slides used by Mary McGillicuddy during her presentation (The Role of Women in the Mackerel Fishing Industry in Southern Ireland, c. 1880s – 1920s) at the 'Women and the Sea' symposium. A podcast of Mary's talk is available at http://www.ucd.ie/humanities/events/podcasts/2015/women-and-the-sea/

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Mary McGillicuddy - The Role of Women in the Mackerel Fishing Industry in Southern Ireland, c. 1880s – 1920s

  1. 1. Mackerel Fishing by Seine Boat in southern Ireland, c. 1880’s - 1920's, with particular reference to the role of women Local History MA, seine fishing and the role of women, Mary McGillicuddy, 2008
  2. 2. The Voices in the Archive • The ‘fundamental task of the historian is the retrieval of traces, the rescuing of voices, the expansion of the archive’ (Whelan).
  3. 3. Presentation 1. Acknowledgements & intro 2. Seine fishing 3. Women’s role 4. Conclusion
  4. 4. Focus • This study explored aspects of mackerel fishing in southwest Ireland during the 1880’s to 1920’s. • Salt-cured mackerel was a key export from the locality.
  5. 5. Females & Fishing • The research included a gender- specific focus on the role and function of females within the fish curing industry as it operated at the time.
  6. 6. Location • The geographic area studied includes coastal sites such as Valentia and Caherciveen in south Kerry and Castletownberehaven and Baltimore in west Cork.
  7. 7. Roles of Women • Historically, fishing is predominantly a male occupation, but on-shore work often involved women, e.g fish processing, fish sales, book-keeping, bait digging, net mending, agricultural labour and domestic and emotional support.
  8. 8. Methodology • Primary and secondary sources were located and examined to identify if and how they recorded the work of women within the context of the mackerel fishing activity of the region.
  9. 9. Overlooked? • Marginalisation of women within the historiographical consensus, they are ‘outside history’ (Whelan).
  10. 10. Traces • Scant documentation and thus virtual historical ‘invisibility’ of the female workers provided an opportunity to uncover further evidence of their presence during the period selected for study.
  11. 11. Sources • RIIF Annual Reports • Congested Districts Board (CDB) records • 1901 Census records • Contemporary newspapers • Folklore records • Oral interviews/questionnaires • hotographs
  12. 12. Research
  13. 13. Remote? • Region could be considered peripheral geographically, but its location conversely positioned it close to water based trade routes, foreign markets and other countries.
  14. 14. Portmagee, Kerry
  15. 15. ‘His’ story? • Historians of women are used to ‘reading against the grain’, interpreting silences and utilising ephemeral sources (Abrams et al).
  16. 16. Seafish Types 1. Shellfish, molluscs- oysters, scallops / crustaceans- shrimps, lobsters and crabs 2. Demersal fish- live on or near seabed, e.g. cod, haddock, whiting, plaice 3. Pelagic- (form shoals), i.e. plankton eating surface feeders, swim near to surface -‘oily’ fish e.g. pilchards, herring, mackerel
  17. 17. Innovation • Seine boats were introduced c. 17th century… Boats and supplies required initial capital outlay, as well as provision of the fishing ‘pallace’ or curing house, and employees to process the catch and then sell it on.
  18. 18. Purse seine/nets
  19. 19. Colonisation • First Earl of Cork set up curing stations or ‘pallaces’ in Baltimore, Cork, for pilchards in the early 1600’s.
  20. 20. Fishery Development • ‘…no shortage of energetic and greedy landowners and merchants who planned fisheries to enrich themselves and Anglicise the native Irish’ (Barnard).
  21. 21. Bantry, Cork • O’Carroll states that during the period 1625 to 1766 there were seven proto-industrial fish ‘curing houses’ around Bantry Harbour alone. He asserts that there was an average of ten women working to each man fishing.
  22. 22. Global Factors • The industry was part of the larger capitalistic economy and fishing now termed ‘traditional’ was actually adaptive response to that economy (www.everyculture.com).
  23. 23. Dependent Development • Reynolds : British didn’t provide adequate facilities for Irish to own/ compete in larger craft and 19th century Scottish artisanal fisheries were managed in the same manner- to protect capital investment by London companies and their more advanced fishing vessels.
  24. 24. Post-famine • 1874- the number of fishing boats was reduced overall to nearly a third of what they had been in 1846 and crews reduced to less than a quarter (Cusack).
  25. 25. Exception • An exception to the decline was that after 1862 came the offshore, deep sea mackerel fishery based initially on the Cork harbor of Kinsale and then Baltimore (Fitzgerald).
  26. 26. 2 Main Types of Fishing • ‘Offshore’ Summer- crew followed the fishing out of an area, regularly spending long periods away • ‘Inshore’ Autumn- fishermen did not travel far from their home ports.
  27. 27. Feeding the World’s ‘Workshops’ • Industrial production under capitalism transformed the industrialising areas, with equally powerful forces changing the lives of people in the ‘supply zones’ of the globe (Wolf).
  28. 28. A Seine Crew • 2 open, carvel-built wooden boats. The larger one:25-35 ft in length, maximum beam of 7 ft. Up to 12 oarsmen on double-banked oars sat in the larger boat, which carried a captain, or helmsman, and a ‘hewer’, or fish spotter, in the bow.
  29. 29. Seine & fuilear
  30. 30. Second Boat • The smaller fuilear / ‘follower’, would carry the bulk of the catch; it carried a maximum of 6 oarsmen and a helmsman.
  31. 31. ‘Indigenous’ Craft • Almost every village in coastal south Kerry and the Beara peninsula had a seine crew at the end of the 19th century (MacCarthaigh).
  32. 32. Oilean Baoi Crew
  33. 33. Rev. S. Green • ‘The first men who came across and started were Americans, … utilized intelligent local people they found already on the west coast in the fishing business…told these men how the thing should be done, and then… they cured the mackerel in that way.’ (CDB testimony)
  34. 34. Royal Commission • ‘Every man, woman, and child is employed when the fishing is regularly on... I have known the difficulty to be sometimes to get labour. The whole countryside is swept; you could not get help sometimes to get through the amount of fish landed by the boats- all row boats’ (Green).
  35. 35. Coonana, Caherciveen
  36. 36. Income from Fishing • Cullen states that change for the better was evident in the 1890’s; cash incomes rose appreciably, deposits in post office savings banks in counties (e.g.Kerry) rising between 1881 and 1912.
  37. 37. Local Social System • The social system and local economy on which mackerel fishing/curing was based formed the basis of the community and gave the inhabitants a sense of self and identity, a way of life.
  38. 38. ‘Pluriactivity' • i.e. diverse economic activities, on land and at sea, often supplemented by craft production, where women and men engaged in a variety of production tasks.
  39. 39. Women in Maritime Communities 1. women’s labour makes direct productive contribution (to the fishing industry), 2. they fulfil the function of reproducing the next generation, 3. they perform special responsibilities due to the absence of men away at sea (Thompson).
  40. 40. Cape Clear, Cork
  41. 41. Categorisation • Division: male=breadwinner / female = homemaker- little relevance • Interdependent • Some occupations male dominated, • Others carried out predominantly by women, giving females some economic authority and a degree of personal autonomy.
  42. 42. Fish curing, Valentia
  43. 43. 25/4/00 re: Valentia, Kerry • ‘… alive with the business and very good wages are paid to all employed in boxing and removing the fish to the railway station for conveyance to the English markets. 2 Norwegian barges have come with cargoes of ice. Valentia has established itself as a great fishing station.’ (Kerry Sentinel)
  44. 44. Valentia, Kerry
  45. 45. Westcove, Kerry
  46. 46. CDB: • ‘Progress could only be achieved by training menfolk in improved methods of land cultivation and in coastal areas, in fishing, and by assisting women in better standards of home-keeping’.
  47. 47. Joint Maritime Household • Gendered perceptions of power include consideration of women’s role as producers and women’s power within the household. • The period under study cannot be equated with current conditions.
  48. 48. Gender Analysis • History informed by gender analysis can question & reassess dominant narratives & challenge longstanding myths, i.e. discursive construction of women v.s. women’s actual lived experience (Abrams et al).
  49. 49. Recent Studies • Recently, great strides have been made to address this gap and to study work opportunities for women, particularly in 19th century Ireland.
  50. 50. to date • largely, a focus on paid labour market, the development of home based industries and unwaged domestic production of women, with few studies addressing seasonal employment.
  51. 51. Women’s Work Bourke divides women’s work into 3 categories: 1. in the labour market 2. at home producing goods for sale 3. housework.
  52. 52. However, • CDB did identify women as the ‘more economic gender’ and used pre-existing mechanisms to enhance the role of women as breadwinners and ensure they were paid fairly and directly for their labour (Breathnach).
  53. 53. Irish Census, 1871-1911 • Changing categorisations of ‘work’ resulted in numbers of women listed in ‘indefinite and non-productive’ class, e.g. daughters of farmers / married women, masking the real extent of their economic participation.
  54. 54. Seasonal Work **Census returns may not have recorded the seasonal role women played in locations where fishing did take place, though men were listed with the occupation of fishermen.
  55. 55. v.s. Newfoundland • Census of 1891, 1901, 1911,1921 did record all women as well as men involved as either harvesters or curers of fish. Women comprised on average 33% to 38 %+.
  56. 56. RIIF Reports 1889/90/91 • Yearly earnings of the shore based labour force of males and females were listed for these years (and the value of exports from south Kerry and west Cork locations). After this, categories changed, no gender breakdown.
  57. 57. Portmagee, Kerry
  58. 58. RIIF Kerry, 1889
  59. 59. RIIF Cork, 1889
  60. 60. Scotland • Whatley in Nadel-Klein: Many females made ‘hidden’ contributions to production in the context of the family economy, as carriers, sellers, organizers and dealers in occupations apparently male preserves, but in fact dependent on female contribution.
  61. 61. Seasonal Workers • Local women and migratory workers, women from outside the region, i.e. from other areas of Ireland and Scotland were employed in the seasonal fish curing business (‘Herring girls’).
  62. 62. Scottish migratory labour RIIF 1888: English buyer brought 9 women from Isle of Man to cure fish. Cork local O’Dalaigh: ‘herring girls’, employed by fish merchants, followed fleet along coast, gutting and salting the fish. E.g. in Baltimore special ‘chalets’ were built for their accommodation by the fish buyers.
  63. 63. Skilled Workers • Vivienne Pollock refers to the women who gutted and packed cured fish as ‘expert workers’. • Work could go late into the night • Conditions often basic to harsh
  64. 64. High Level of Dexterity • ‘Splitters’ on one of the table opened the fish and received a slightly higher wage, • ‘Gutters’ on the other side removed the innards of the catch.
  65. 65. Castletownbere, Cork, c. 1905
  66. 66. 1 per Second • ‘Gutters’ gloves to be worn on both hands… The only digit to be covered was the thumb; other part of a glove was to be ‘fingerless’. The work much quicker with gloves as hands do not get so slippery’ (Barclay, Southern Star).
  67. 67. Curing Process • Salt absorbs the internal moisture in the fish and then when the fish is placed in clean brine, it absorbs the liquid into its flesh and is preserved as ‘cured’.
  68. 68. Final Step • 2 weeks after being caught, the oily, slippery produce was repacked into final barrels and brine liquid then topped up twice weekly til the barrels were sealed when consignment shipped out.
  69. 69. Barrel stencil
  70. 70. U.S. Consul-General Fawsitt, 1920 • “…industrial classes throughout America, principally those of European origin, are the chief consumers of imported cured fish. Irish salt mackerel, especially the Autumn catch, is much favored, many restaurants featuring ‘Irish Mackerel’ on their menu cards”.
  71. 71. Autumn Catch • ‘There wasn’t a woman, a girl or a child in the island who couldn’t earn something in those days and there was often so much to do that the very fishermen themselves had to lend a helping hand….’ (O’Siochain).
  72. 72. Coonana, Kerry
  73. 73. Cultural Clash • Rural subsistence lifestyle offended many middleclass travelers, was indicative of ‘low state of civilisation’, unfeminine, unwomanly behavior, contrasting starkly with that of society elites (Abrams).
  74. 74. Ideology • The ideology of ‘domesticity’ and ‘separate spheres’ was of relevance to the middle classes and the landlord family cultures. • Did it impact negatively upon the smallholding family’s view of themselves?
  75. 75. Imposition of Judgement • Outsiders then and now could regard women’s physical labour as demeaning, when viewing it from a particular perspective or worldview. The dignity of such endeavours was and often still is discounted.
  76. 76. Winds of Change • Dependence on rowing, sail and wind power was ended by the introduction of motor power • Market crash (‘Black Thirties’).
  77. 77. CDB 1919 • ‘As the reaping hook cannot compete with a modern corncutting machine, it is obvious that the sailing-boat cannot remain as effective on the same fishing grounds when the steam or motor vessel appears’.
  78. 78. ...Utterly Gone • ‘It would sadden the person who had experience of that work if he were to visit the harbour today; all the bustle of the activity that was then… utterly gone, and nothing at all to be seen but the cold and empty quays’ (O’Siochain).
  79. 79. Vestiges The work of women in fish curing had contributed to survival of essentially a socially pre-modern community, but change from subsistence to an industrial economy was unavoidable.
  80. 80. Penetration of Cash Economy • The cash economy increasingly impinged upon the smallholding livelihood, and fishing and fish curing provided access to income to enable an increase in standards of living.
  81. 81. Rejection of Rural Society? • Bell observes that women such as Donegal migrant workers to Scotland and the U.K. left in greater numbers than the men and asserts that this indicated a rejection of rural society by many farm women.
  82. 82. Life Chances & Status • Bell highlights that while women’s role as workers contributing to the viability of a farm or ‘household economy’ was vital, their status was relatively low.
  83. 83. Androcentrism • ‘…reclaiming the past of Irish women and integrating that work into Irish history is a significant challenge that all historians face’ (Luddy).
  84. 84. An Inclusive Record • Contrasted with the work of men, women’s role as workers and income earners has not been given equal weight in official documents and subsequent accounts (to date).
  85. 85. for the record... • History can inform, empower and liberate, be inclusive to everyone and provide a recognisable and usable past for all, though this does not always occur.
  86. 86. Workers’ Memories • ‘Witnessing the past through workers’ memories, ...we learn to ask what roles family and gender relations played - questions that business and economic history have tended to neglect’ (Trettin).
  87. 87. A Memory • ‘Oh, they were wonderful workers. They could work from 8:00 in the morning ‘til 8:00 in the evening, often, if they caught a lot of fish to split, you know. …..They’d have a long, long day…. They were the main workers…they were wonderful. They could split fish, like…one strip of the knife and it was there.’ (Murphy)
  88. 88. Conclusion • Women’s work has been identified in this research. It was clearly an important role in the fish processing industry of the time, and enabled them to earn an income in the local economy.

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