Donegal Scottish diaspora connections

Lorraine Mc Intosh pictured with members of Deacon Blue
Lorraine Mc Iontosh, Deacon Blue

Our Donegal diaspora project is about celebrating the links between our people, wherever they are in the world. One of our closest neighbours, Scotland has a very active and engaging Donegal diaspora working group and today we talk to one of its members, Lorraine McIntosh, singer with the renowned Scottish band Deacon Blue.

Hello Lorraine, thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. Tell us a bit about your connection to Donegal, and why it is so important to you?

The draw to Donegal for me has always been a lived experience. My mother was from there, so I've been visiting since I can remember and spent lots of summers there as a child. Those early experiences in Donegal formed a lot of my fondest memories, and it holds a connection to my mother and my mother's family, who were from Dore in Gweedore. For me, the best parts of my childhood were always spent in Donegal.

I also have fond memories of the music. When we would go down to the hotels or the pubs in Gweedore at night, there was always music playing, and my brother, my dad and I would sing – those were probably my first ever real performances.

Where you grew up in Scotland was there a large Donegal community?

The nature of my dad's job meant we moved from Glasgow – where there was a huge Irish and Donegal connection – to a place in Ayrshire where there was no Irish community whatsoever. That made our trips home to Donegal for two weeks in the summer even more special; being at home was also the happiest we ever saw our mother, who loved being among her people and her family. Travel was a big deal back then; we didn't have the money, (very few people did) to nip back and forth between Donegal and Scotland all the time. I knew no-one that went abroad in those days. The people we knew holidayed in caravan sites in Scotland, but where I grew up, I didn't know anyone who went to Ireland, so going back to Donegal was like going through a doorway to another world. And it was a world that was so different from the one we were living in, full of  beautiful landscapes, beaches, fun, great people, nights in the pub having the craic – there wasn't much not to love about it.

How did your mother maintain her Donegal connection while in Scotland?

I think it was mainly through regular letters and phone calls home and to all her siblings all around the country and in America. My mum and her whole family were all native speakers; while we were home, they would spend the whole time talking to each other in Irish because that was their first language. I learned a few phrases and can still understand a bit. Unfortunately, my mum died when I was only 11, which I think made Donegal even more special for me, as I was determined not to let the connection fade. My mum’s lovely sisters became very important in my life; my grandparents were still alive after my mum died, so I continued to visit them as often as I could. The family connection was very strong and they were so supportive of each other. That generation grew up in circumstances of real hardship, but how they lived and the way they did everything they could to support each other as neighbours and friends was remarkable. That kinship was incredible and really beautiful, and while I know it’s not necessarily unique to Donegal, I have yet to feel its presence as strongly anywhere else.

Any other childhood memories of Donegal?

I have such distinct memories around food, particularly my granny baking her soda bread. She would make two loaves every day, without any equipment or weighing scales, mixing it with her hands in a big bowl. We grew our own potatoes and they were the best potatoes I've ever eaten and I remember the 5 o'clock tea with soda bread and Galtee cheese.

One of my happiest memories in Donegal, by far, was when we would all be working the turf or the hay together. We would go over the bog and bring in the turf and help our neighbours or anyone that needed an extra hand. Then we would all be fed together and it was a wonderful way of life. It still amazes me to this day when I see someone from Donegal, particularly from Gweedore, because you feel an instant connection with them, which is bizarre. Sadly, all my mum's brothers and sisters are now dead, but I still have cousins there and can’t wait to get back. Naturally, things have changed over the years; time moves on and I understand that Donegal can't stay in the time capsule as I remember it, but it is still feels like my spiritual home.

What motivated you to join the group?

I joined the Donegal Diaspora Scottish group after a phone call from Packie Bonner; that in itself was a huge thrill for my family who are all longstanding fans! The group is about raising awareness of the links between our two places, and looking at creative, innovative and mutually beneficial ways that we can work together to maintain the connection and indeed reconnect the Donegal diaspora in Scotland back to Donegal. People all over Scotland still feel that strong connection with Donegal, so our group is about reminding people that the connection is still there, it's still accessible, and it's even better now. Donegal has and continues to develop and thrive and we want to remind people that there’s huge potential to build on the connections of the past into the future and our group is about celebrating and remembering these connections and establishing new ones that the Scottish and Irish community can benefit from.  

What do you hope to achieve from being part of the group?

I am very proud to be Scottish, but I’m also incredibly proud of my Irish roots and realise that it’s okay to have a huge amount of love for both places, because both places make me who I am. My childhood experiences of summers in Ireland shaped so much of who I am today, and I know from chatting to other families, who are part of the diaspora experience, that duality is always with you. Today I feel we can be that with which we identify with, and that no one has the right to tell anyone they're not something. We all have complicated backgrounds, but what we need to do is celebrate our roots and our backgrounds and our togetherness.

Donegal and Scottish peoples’ lives have been intertwined for centuries and we have a rich and shared history of sports, literature, poetry and song. There’s also the strong economic link, particularly in terms of the historic seasonal migration of labourers between the two regions. Our group will build on those historical bonds by harnessing the potential benefits that might flow from strengthening relationships between our two communities.

What do you miss most about Donegal?

The people; the place; I just miss Donegal. I’ve discovered that to fall in love with Donegal, you don't even have to have roots there, you just need to experience the place! My husband Ricky has been coming to Donegal for 13 years and loves it. Before we were in the band, he was an English teacher in a school in Glasgow, teaching lots of kids from Irish families. When the children came back from summer holidays, they would talk about what great summers they had in Donegal, and it seemed like such a mythical place to him. And when he visited it for himself, it didn’t disappoint. Our kids also love Donegal, but now they’re at the stage where they want to come with their friends or boyfriends and leave me behind, but hopefully I'll get back this year all things permitting.

For more information on the Donegal Scottish connections keep an eye on the Donegal Diaspora social media platforms or email