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Two Trains To Achill

We hear about the forgotten stories of migrant workers from Achill in Co Mayo, who would travel to Scotland to work picking potatoes in the 19th century. According to local folklore, some trains carried the bodies of those who had died. (2005)

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Two Trains To Achill

This programme tells the stories of migrant workers from North Mayo and their journeys to Scotland to pick potatoes in the 19th century. The programme began as a project undertaken with Anne O’Dowd of the Museum of Country Life in Castlebar. It incorporates tapes she recorded as part of her thesis, published as Spalpeens and Tattie Hokers in 1991 – these recordings were made in the late 70s and early 80s and all the voices heard are of people now deceased. In August of 2005 Producer Peter Woods and researcher Alan Torney travelled to Achill and Belmullet to look for some of the families of these men.    

This programme tells of the first and last trains to Achill where, according to local folklore, it had been prophesised that both trains would carry the bodies of dead people. The first train, in 1894 carried those of 32 tattie hokers who drowned in Clew Bay on their way to Scotland when the boat they were in capsized. In 1937 the railway, which had shut down, was reopened to carry the bodies of those burned in the Kirkintollach bothy fire, which focused attention on Peadar O’Donnell’s campaign on behalf of the migrant workers and led to a government inquiry at the time. On Achill we met 93 year old Anthony Kilbane, who went to Scotland when he was 13, for the first time. These stories are interwoven with Anne O’Dowd’s original interviews with the men who left North May and began work in the west coast of Scotland picking early potatoes. Often these men travelled on to England to pick beet. Sometimes their families travelled with them. In other cases their wives and children were left at home. The men returned for a month in the spring to sow what land they had. These journeys were unique to Mayo and the West of Donegal and were also a unique form of migration.

First broadcast:  November 13, 2005 on Radio 1

Produced by Peter Woods. 

Research was by Alan Torney.

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