Research exploring cultural links between fishing traditions of communities in Ireland and Scotland
Colmcille’ a partnership programme which promotes the shared linguistic and cultural heritage of Ireland and Scotland’ is supporting new research which looks at connections between the fishing traditions of island communities in the two countries.
Colmcille’s funding will enable Iain MacKinnon from the Isle of Skye to explore aspects of the fishing heritages of Arranmore in County Donegal and Barra in the Western Isles. He will be supported by Liam Campbell from Donegal. Both men have been working at the University of Ulster. They have been researching some of the distinctive beliefs and customs towards the land and nature that are an integral part of Gaelic culture, and at connections between these attitudes and traditional working practices.
The research was prompted when Iain, who was living in Ireland at the time, became aware that there was resistance on both Arranmore and Barra to government environmental legislation which the communities feared would affect fishing interests.
Iain said: “Although the particular issues are quite distinct’ a ban on drift-net fishing for salmon in Donegal and a proposed environmental designation in the waters off Barra’ the islanders share concerns about the threat to fishing jobs, about potential population loss, and the possible effects on the viability of island life.’
The Colmcille sponsored research will seek to establish and affirm connections between, on the one hand, customs and practices relating to the sea that have been recorded in the past and, on the other hand, fishing as it is practiced now. The researchers will ask island fishermen about how fisheries were managed in the past, about the changes they have seen in their own lifetimes and about why they feel so strongly about the importance of the sea as part their way of life that they are prepared to stand against their governments’ decision making processes.
Iain added:’The research that Liam and I have been doing suggests that the Gaelic speaking peoples have always regarded the natural world in a distinctive way. From this way of thinking about the world we have created customs for how people were expected to live on the land, and to work and make use of the resources of land and sea. It’s from these indigenous beliefs, for example, that the crofting system in Scotland is descended’.
‘We are very grateful to Colmcille for giving us the opportunity to carry out this work which will explore how the fishing traditions of Gaelic speaking communities might fit into this way of thinking about the world.’
Liam Campbell, who was brought up at Burt in Donegal, said:’What both of us have found in our research is that a sense of belonging to and responsibility for the home place’ what has traditionally been called dùthchas in Gaelic’ has been an important motivating factor in campaigns to support aspects of the culture.
‘Dùthchas is a hard word to translate but it carries a sense of belonging that someone feels for a place’ a belonging that comes alive through a person’s connection to their place in story, song, working on the land and in their memories of the people who have lived there.’
Iain MacKinnon added:’Internationally there is now growing recognition of the importance of humanity’s diverse cultural heritages, and of the languages that express that diversity. Safeguards are being put in place to protect and support them.
‘At the same time fisheries policies are moving towards giving more responsibility to fishermen themselves, offering the potential for more local say in how fishing is carried out in Irish and Scottish waters.
‘It would be a win-win situation if the Gaelic speaking peoples’ important ways of talking about and understanding the world can be upheld and supported at the same time as we protect the natural environment that is part of our dùthchas.’