Life in the West of Ireland, especially in Mayo and Donegal in the beginning of the last century, was very difficult and demanding. This was especially true where there were large families.
Tatie picking in Scotland was one of the outlets which gave them a break, and gave the younger people the employment they needed to survive. In those years there was no free education and when one left primary school one had to earn a living as there was no Social Welfare to tide them over their early teenage years. It was then that most of the teenagers had to take the ship to Scotland to survive.
There were potato merchants who hired a steam ship to pick up the squads, as they were known and this ship sailed up along the Mayo coast and then to Donegal and picked up all the people and brought them to Glasgow. The 'Gaffers' or the men in charge of the squads got all the people on board free of charge and from Glasgow they spread out to the farms in Ayrshire to take charge of the early crops. When they had finished on one farm, they moved on to the next. In the early twenties when the trains came into use they travelled by bus and train to Dublin and took the ship to Glasgow.
The living quarters were large cow sheds, which were cleaned out by the farmers, and there were two sections. One was the men, and one was for the females. The young people loved this life and they had 'bothy dances' at the weekends. There they gathered and enjoyed life. They generally went shopping for clothing at cheap sales and they also got clothing for the people back home. The weekly wage was sent home to the family and this helped to tide them over the winter. They came home in November and started off again the following June.
The Following is a poem written by a Tatie Hooker (Peter Joyce, Achill).
(1) When I was just a youngster, Scarcely sixteen years of age, I became a tatie hooker to earn my first wage, Sleeping on the bothy straw bed, I wasn't very keen, But then I didn't mind I was just a young greeseen.
(2) Leaving home that June morning, There was quite a gang of us, On the first stage of our journey, At Achill Sound we got the bus, When we got to Westport on the steam train we did go, We stopped at every station until we got to Westland Row.
(3) Before our long sea journey, O'Connell St we did explore, Amazed at the city life we had never seen before, Then down to the River Liffey, Where the cattle ship was tied, We made our way and went aboard, And headed for the Clyde.
(4) Sailing up the famous river, Large ship-yards we did spy, Tall cranes and massive works shops, Stood out against the sky, With the twittering of the reviters, And the welders blinding sparks, After more than thirteen hours at sea, We prepared to disembark
(5). Then to Ayrshire and the bothy, Which was a big cowshed, We laid our straw mattresses on seed boxes for a bed, Then so tired and weary, Into the straw bed I did creep, I tucked in beneath the clothes, For that well earned sleep.