Labour MP Pat McFadden was born in Scotland in 1965 and grew up in Glasgow as the youngest of seven children. His parents, both native Gaelic speakers, grew up in the townland of Dunmore in Falcarragh, Donegal. Following their marriage in 1951 they moved to Scotland for work. Settling in Glasgow, his father worked as a labourer on building sites and his mother in a local authority children’s home in Castlemilk on the south side of the city.
Pat fondly associates Donegal with childhood holidays. Usually visiting Falcarragh in the summer months, he recollects how he and his brother and sisters worked on the farm, putting up haystacks and footing turf on the bog. However, he states that it was a case of work and play as they also had many visits to the beach and hired bicycles to go on trips: ‘As a city kid it was just a great adventure…there was no running water in my uncle’s house at that time, we would have to go and fetch it in buckets from the well. For us as children it was a great adventure, but for the people living there all year round it was a real hardship’.
Pat notes the huge Irish community in Glasgow, and in particular the link that the city had with Donegal: ‘When I was at school almost every kid in the class had parents or grandparents from Donegal’. Pat and his six brothers and sisters were all educated at Holyrood Secondary School in the south side of Glasgow. He went on to study politics at Edinburgh University, worked as a researcher for Donald Dewar MP, a speechwriter for John Smith MP and an adviser to Tony Blair, both in opposition and later in 10 Downing St. In 2005 he was elected as MP for Wolverhampton South East, pledging in his maiden speech to fight for education and opportunity for all regardless of their background.
He argues that his views on the importance of education were strongly influenced by his parents: ‘My mum and dad left school at around 14 or 15 with no chance of continuing their education. Having come to Britain to start a new life they wanted their children to have chances that they didn’t have and encouraged us to study’.
While his mother and some of his siblings still take regular visits back to Falcarragh, Pat’s busy work schedule means that his visits have become less frequent. However, he does attempt to get back every year or two at the beginning of August for the annual graveyard mass at St Fionan’s church where his father and grandparents are buried. He argues that Donegal is a county which manages to advertise itself with its history, scenery, and the openness and friendliness of its people: ‘There’s a great warmth about Donegal. The scenery is breathtaking and as a family we have very warm and strong memories of our holidays there. It’s a place we always like to visit’.