Donegal ‘Tunnel Tigers’ memorial unveiled

Monument to Tunnel Tigers in Donegal.

The Tunnel Tigers were among 12,000 workers employed in the hydro development in the north of Scotland. Picture by MARY RODGERS

By Democrat reporter

A memorial has been unveiled in Dungloe in honour of the Donegal emigrant workers who died digging tunnels in Scotland.

The workers, known as the Tunnel Tigers, travelled from Donegal for seasonal work digging tunnels for decades.

Many of the tigers died while working in the tunnels, others suffered life changing injuries.

They also suffered illnesses related to unhealthy working conditions.

Former Tunnel Tiger Hugh Rodgers, who helped organise the memorial, said it was “important” to recognise their work.

“Many of the workers were killed and some of their remains were never brought home,” Mr Rodgers said.

“Now they’ll never be forgotten and their families have somewhere to visit to remember their loved ones.”

Mr Rodgers explained the emigrant workers from west Donegal earned the nickname Tunnel Tigers because of their dedication to the job.

“They were so aggressive in their work, especially digging their way through tunnels in the hydro scheme in northern Scotland, which is how the name came about.”

The monument includes the name of 77 people from the area who died while working in tunnels.

It is also dedicated to the workers who suffered injuries and diseases related to their time working in unhealthy conditions.

The tigers worked in big tunnel projects across the UK including the Channel Tunnel, the London Underground and the Clyde Tunnel.

In 1955, they made history, breaking a world record, by breaking through 557ft (170m) of rock in seven days while building the St Fillans section of the Breadalbane hydro scheme in Perthshire.

The SSE (Scottish and Southern Energy) announced plans in 2015 for a commemorative plaque to recognise the feat.

Gillian O’Reilly, SSE head of heritage, said the tigers came to Scotland because of chronic unemployment in rural Ireland.

“In 1943, legislation to allow the north of Scotland hydro electric scheme to come in to action. We needed machinery, materials and men.

“We had to look further afield and there was unemployment in Ireland at the time,” she added.

“The work was dangerous and the environment they worked in was dangerous, they looked out for each other.

“A huge difference from today’s culture of safety. There was no protective clothing, many men were given a pair of wellington boots and told to get on with it.”

Denis McAuley travelled from Gortahork in County Donegal to Glasgow to be a concreter on the Clyde Tunnel in the 1950s.

“It’s all different, what we did then with our hands is now done by machine,” Mr McAuley said.

“They were all good men for the job and they did all their work, sadly many gone now.”

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