Social Sciences Research Unit UCG

   Extract from “Memoir of an Irish Economist – Working Class Manchester to Irish Academia” by Labhrás Ó Nualláin

Social Sciences Research Unit UCG

During the winter of 1965–66, I had a visit to my home from Seán McEvoy who was a prominent member of the then recently formed ‘Save the West’ movement, which was concerned with the chronic underdevelopment in the West of Ireland, with its long standing unemployment and social problems, its consequent high emigration and breakdown of small communities.

Killasser Co.Mayo, old-time farming

Killasser Co.Mayo, old-time farming

He was principal of the small primary school in the town of Newport, in West Mayo.  I had given a Barrington Lecture in that school one long winter night, a short time previously, when I had devoted my talk to the need for a national policy of Regional Development to be brought into operation, throughout the State, but with heavy emphasis on the needs of the West of Ireland.
He approached me on behalf of the County Mayo Board of the Save the West Association and asked me would I carry out some basic research work on the problems of under development in the West.  He offered to pay me for my research and report.  I told him that I would gladly carry out such a project, and without any payment whatsoever, but that I would first have a talk on the subject with a few colleagues of mine at U.C.G., whom I knew to have a deep concern with the social and economic problems of the West.  I would get in touch with him and his movement very soon.

University College Galway Main Quad

University College Galway Main Quad

Agreement to set up a Social Sciences Research Unit, pilot study of Killasser Parish, Co Mayo
At a meeting of the Faculty of Arts, a motion was proposed by Father Ó Héideáin  recommending that a Social Science Research Unit should be established at U.C.G. and I was  one of the founder members  of the Research Unit.
At my suggestion, it was agreed that Dr Father Dougan should become a member of our Research Centre, and Dr Father Ó hÉideáin became the first Director. The parish of Killasser, a few miles outside the town of Swinford, was selected for this pilot study and with the assistance and information brought to us by members of the ‘Save the West’ organisation in Mayo, we prepared a detailed questionnaire.  Dr Fr Dougan and I brought some 450 copies of our eight page questionnaire to Swinford in February or March of 1966 where we outlined the requirements for a successful survey to the members of the ‘Save the West’ who had volunteered to carry out the foot slogging work of interviewing the 405 households in the parish at mid April, 1966. The interviewing work began soon afterwards and 400 questionnaires had been received by the Research Unit at U.C.G. by October 26 of that year. This survey was probably one of the earliest surveys of this nature carried out in Mayo or in other areas of the West, and without the resources of finance and manpower that were available to official bodies of the State.
In the work of sorting the 400 questionnaires received from the voluntary interviewers, I received considerable assistance from Dr Dougan and a number of the Franciscan novices in St. Anthony’s Residence, who were also students of the College.
It is not within the scope of my own story to deal here with the detailed results of the analysis as carried out by me, suffice to state that the report received favourable comment in the columns of the Farmers Journal, including letters in that publication from some of the interviewees in Killasser. RTE  produced a short account of the report’s findings, filmed by Cathal O Shannon, in a classroom at U.C.G. where I was shown in the process of addressing a small group of students whilst illustrating some of the findings of the report on the blackboard.
Several copies of the report were sent to ‘Save the West’ and I trust that it was of some assistance to them in their work of putting the case for development of the Western economy.
Unit became a Research Centre with its own office and research facilities on campus
 I am happy to relate here that over the years, the Research Unit has become a Research Centre and its Executive Committee has been strengthened by additional members from the Departments of Sociology and Politics, Economics and Education. Its funding by the College authorities has been increased and its administration has also increased.  It now had its own office and research facilities on campus. A steady flow of postgraduate students have been involved in research projects and a number of studies have been published.  It has established itself as a centre for regional research with its Director, Professor Michael J. Laver, of the Department of Sociology and Politics.
©  Labhrás Ó Nualláin

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