Waterford Harbour

Waterford Harbour
Cheekpoint village 1940's

Friday, 27 November 2015

On Cran, Joulters and Luggers

Over the last few weeks I've looked back on the Herring Driftnet Fishery of Waterford Harbour and this week I wanted to bring the practical side of it to a close with a look at the selling of fish.

That first year of fishing herring, we had a market in Dunmore East.  A family (I think named Kervick) bought the herring from out of the boats on our return, and although I was not aware of it until later, they basically governed if we went to fish or not.  Essentially unless they had a market, it was pointless going to fish.  Each evening, depending on the weather of course, they would let us know what we could catch, and if I remember it right, we divided the catch amongst the boats.
Basically, they set a quota by which the boats could fish.  It they required 200 cran, this was divided between the boats going out to fish.  If some boats had a little over their own share, they might take home some, or pass it on to people on the quay.  At times a “joulter” might arrive, someone who wanted to buy fish and sell it on themselves.  These men tended to be from inland, and next day they would be selling door to door in Tipperarry or Kilkenn

Selling to a joulter was considered to be good business, you might make a few more pound per box, but was totally bad form if you had an unfilled quota, and skippers would be expected to turn them down, in order to fulfil the order from the usual buyer.  I remember one skipper from Cheekpoint, who didn’t seem to mind who he put out, once he got to sell his fish, for a few pound more.  I remember one altercation, where Robert Ferguson and Dick Mason scandalised him to his face, out of concern that the regular buyer would hear of his dealing with the joulter and pull the market from all the boats.  The gentleman wasn’t to be deterred however.

Removing the fish in Dunmore was done by filling fish boxes and then hauling them up out of the boat and stacking them onto the quayside.  once stacked up they were removed by forklift.  The hauling out was all by hand, and depending on the size of catch, and the state of tide, could be a back breaking activity,

I think it was the next season and we had a market from the luggers of Eastern Europe.  Some were Russian, but the more common were boats from Poland, who anchored off Passage East and who bought the herrings from directly out of boats, which tied up alongside.  The luggers were nothing more than fishing boats themselves, and because they were from the "eastern bloc" they carried a large crew.  It was a time when communism was still the political and economic system of the Europe from East Germany to Alaska and herring played a large role in sustaining the proletariat. Unemployment was supposed to be unknown, hence the large crew.

Typical type of Polish lugger accessed from
http://photos.shetland-museum.org.uk/index.php?a=Collections&WINID=1447749686403
Depending on timing or our catch, we would sometimes tie up at the lugger to continue shaking the nets, or in other cases head back to Cheekpoint and once the nets were cleared, come back down to offload.  It usually had a lot to do with what boats got there first, and how long you were likely to wait before you could off load.
Off loading at the luggers was a relatively easy job.  Overhead the derrick would swing out from the lugger and a basket would be lowered into the boat.  Once in, we used shovels to fill the basket, as quick as we could.  Once filled it was hoisted onto the deck of the lugger and then the deckhands worked to salt and barrel the fish.  Each basket was the measure of a cran, and the skipper usually busied himself by counting the baskets, which on deck, or from the wheelhouse, an opposite, kept a tally for the lugger.  For each basket, a herring was put to one side, to be tallied at the end.  Pen and paper was considered a less accurate, if not totally impractical measure!

The filling was a hard, hot and relentless job, but at least once you started to see the deck, you could see yourself making progress.  Coming near the end, you had to get into the nooks and crannies of the boat, ensuring that you made every last one of the herrings count.  Each basket had to be filled right to the top.  When you thought you could get no more, you generally topped it up with another scoop, careful, mind you, to smoothen it off.  On deck you were being carefully watched, and at times there was a cat and mouse game played.  Shouts down, urging more fish per basket, reprimands from the wheelhouse, strange words being bandided about.  You had to be mindful, each basket was more money, but a dissatisfied Pole, might mean hard bargaining at the end.

Hauling a cran of herring ashore.  Accessed from
http://fishingnews.co.uk/2015/09/fishmarkets-of-yesteryear-herring/
As each basket was hoisted, it was carefully guided out of the boat by us crew.  Ever mindful that if it struck the ship it might topple, and with it some of our profit.  Up it went over the gunwale of the ship, and it was only then that we could relax, knowing it was their problem from then. 

It wasn’t often I got to go aboard and take the docket.  It tended to be the skippers job.  My first occasion was when fishing with Robert Ferguson and he asked me to hop aboard to lugger as he had to move the “Boy Alan” away and allow another boat alongside. I'll return to the event closer to Christmas.

Once emptied the return journey was one of cleaning down the decks, washing scales off every conceivable part of the boat and ourselves and more tall tales and banter.  It was never more satisfying than when you had landed a large catch and all the work had been worthwhile,  Of course there were many trips when I'm not sure if we even covered the cost of the diesel oil,  But even then, for me there was always the river to enjoy, the every changing, always alluring river.  The fishing you see, may have been an economic necessity, the work may have been tough, but it was all nothing compared to the sights, sounds, smells and ever changing character of the river and the people who worked it. 

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.

My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales

Friday, 20 November 2015

"Shaking" the Herring nets

Over the last few weeks I've occasionally covered my exploits fishing herring in Waterford harbor. The first week looked at getting prepared, and the second installment looked at the finding of the shoal and the catch.  This week I look at the really hard part of the work, what we termed "shaking the herring", the tried and trusted method traditionally used to clear the fish from the nets.

Every other fish I ever pursued was a joy to take from the nets.  Salmon may need to be extricated, sometimes at the cutting of a mesh, eels could be spilled from a pot, bait or bottom fish poured from the cod end of a weir net or trawl, but herring were a different matter entirely.

Although the phrase gill netting is used to describe how fish are caught with a drifting net, the truth is that many fish thus caught, very often don’t actually get meshed by the gills, or if they do, its relatively slight.  Salmon for example in Cheekpoint were usually trapped in the bag of the net, only the younger, smaller peal, as we called them tended to be meshed,  But herring, truly lived up to the description.

The nets were set on shoals of swimming fish, and the vast majority came into to the boat firmly meshed.  Therefore, they needed to be freed from the mesh in order to be sold.   Whereas a few salmon might make for easy handling, at least thousands, if not tens of thousands of herring was a totally different matter. 

Once the nets were aboard, we usually took a break, waiting to get either into port, if we were heading to Dunmore, or into calm water if we were heading back to Cheekpoint.  The nets had to be stretched between the head and the foot rope, the greater the spread the easier the job.  Some boats rigged a pole or an oar from gunwale to gunwale, but aboard the Reaper I would take both ropes up and over a beam running from the wheelhouse astern to the gantry.  Denis and myself would haul the nets over the beam and towards the stern, shaking the herring as we went along.  Once we were tied up, Jim would start be freeing the net from the pile on the deck, considerably lightning our workload. 

An old photo from UK, our method was no different
This was always an easier job with “full herring” but spents were a different matter. Spents were herring that had spawned already and spents tended to be narrow fish that when they met the wall of netting pushed through the mesh to their back fin.  Spent fish often had to be removed by hand, and in the worst of cases had to be twisted in half to be removed.  As we shook, you had to take care to have a good grip.  Shaking herrings was a difficult job with gloves, it was easy to loose your grip, but if you tried to do it with your bare hands, the meshes of the net cut into your fingers and your blood mixed with the herring scales, guts and blood of the herring made the stinging and throbbing unbearable.

Many was the night I would be practically crying with the pain, my father standing over me, plunging my hands into scalding hot water with a quarter bottle of dettol for disinfectant.  Each cut had to be cleaned, the hangnails thoroughly washed, and all the while the skinned hands redder than if they had been burned in a fire and roasting hot to the touch.


A modern image of Stephen and Tommy Perham, Devon
accessed from
http://www.bbc.co.uk/devon/content/articles/2008/11/04/clovelly_herring_feature.shtml
As bad as shaking herrings was on the night of the catch, it was twice as bad the following morning.  On occasions we would stop, whether it was too late, or the weather too bad, or maybe it was a Friday night and people had better places to be.  The following morning it was pure misery.

Everything was cold and wet, oilskins, boots and worst of all the gloves.  The gloves because they were damp with the previous nights sweat, going over the stingily painful fingers.  Some mornings the frost was thick on the ground, and those mornings seemed the ad an extra level of pain to those fingers, that is un-describable.   In time things warmed up and you'd be fine.  However in all the features of the herring fishing I think it was the scales of the herrings that were the worst. 
Typically enmeshed Herring, accessed via
http://www.ifish.net/board/showthread.php?t=343319
Herring scales are small in size, huge in quantity, and they got everywhere.  How many times I had pulled on the oilskins over my head only to feel the piercing dampness of scales going down my back I can’t say.  Scales got everywhere, the oilskins were covered, the gloves, your hat, or hair if you weren’t wearing one, the boat was covered, the deck, anything within 2 meter radius of the boat.  Worst I guess was when you got one in the eye.  Impossible to see and thus remove, you would endure the agony of it, until you could get to Ardkeen, and then wait in a queue to see a doctor who hadn’t an iota of an idea what you meant be shaking out herrings.  The patch over the eye was a common occurrence for me, never lasting more than to the time it was to go fishing again.

Once shook the herring laid on the deck of the boat and it was then time for them to be boxed and sold.  A topic I will return to soon.

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.

My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales

Friday, 13 November 2015

words and phrases my Grandmother used

I've mentioned before that I first came to live in the Russianside with my grandmother, Maura Moran, in my late teens.  "Nanny" as she was called was in the family had her own way of expressing herself. But of course, she was just a different generation, and from an old fishing family who had words and expressions that had not changed for many generations I presume.

To be honest I was oblivious to the way we spoke until Deena came into our home.  Deena and Nanny took an instant liking to each other and they would talk for hours at the fire, or in the kitchen. Afterwards Deena would often ask me for a translation, and as she herself became part of the home, would ask Nanny directly what she meant.

Nanny with the "Thursday Club" gang in the Reading Room several
years back now.  The club finished this past September. Another important
meeting point and sharing or stories and maintaing local connection.
Photo courtesy of Bridgid Power. 

So between us, we have put the following little dictionary together.  Most words are spelled phonetically as we are unsure of the spelling.  Of course you can also check out the Dictionary of Waterford Slang, and you don't even need the book, as they have an online version.

Streel.  A person would "streel in" to the house, meaning they looked the worse for wear, but probably more like they had done something wrong.  For some reason the phrase tended to be used to describe a female.  She might also remark - "did you see the streel of that wan", "she streeled in" or "thats some streel of a wan".  I particularly remember a chap visiting us one time with his wife and he was wearing a pair of jeans with rips in the knees - all the fashion at the time.  Nanny was apoplectic when they left "Did you see the streel of him, and his wife sitting there looking at em"

Scrawb.  Any cut or scrape of little or no consequence was considered a "Scrawb"  "How did you get that scrawb on your arm"  Always to be treated with warm water and dettol

pish óg. Any oul tall tale or incorrect story was considered "pish óg" this also went for sayings which she considered untrue or questionable.  I remember Deena asking once about fishermen meeting red haired women on the way to fish and turning back as it meant they would catch no fish.  "arrah that's only oul pish óg" she would say

As you would expect from a commercial fishing home, there were many phrases to describe the weather.  A sample:

Maugey.  Generally a dreary, grey overcast day, most likely with a chance of rain,  In discussing this with Vic Bible he wondered would it have meant muggy.  But generally a muggy day includes heat, and it was an expression I can remember being used winter or summer, but maybe that was the origin.

Black wind - any wind from the east was described as the black wind.  No idea why, but she was convinced it brought illness

Ang-ish.  Another expression to go with the weather.  An angish day.  An angish day was a day that looked like it was going to rain at any minute.  I now realise this is an Irish/Gaelic phrase - a work colleague one day who is a native Irish speaker asked me how the weather was in work.  I said it was Ang-ish.  And asked after her own situation.  "Go Aingish ar fad" and when I expressed surprise that she knew the term she told me it meant miserable altogether.

Moolick - When something was dirty.  When it was worse than that twas "Pure Moolick"  when used it was often combined with a facial expression of disapproval or even disgust.

There were also phrases she used that we always enjoyed.

When someone disagreed with you - "well, tis not the one way takes everybody"

When something inevitable happened, like someone fell off a bike, who was always careless - "long threatening comes at last"

Or when you had to do something even when it was against you will, but necessary none the less - "groan she may, but go she must"

The current generation probably get less opportunity to hear such words or phrases, with heads stuck in computers, on phones or other screens accessing information, entertainment or connecting with people across the globe.

When John Barry returned from Canada in the 1960's he was nicknamed "the Guy" because he used the Americanism so freely, and because it stood out as being so odd in the community.  No such oddity would exist now I'd imagine.  Different times indeed.  And yet when relations visited us from Prince George, BC in Canada recently they struggled with our accents and our words.  So perhaps much of the words and expressions of Nannys generation remain.  We just dont pause to consider them in our daily use.

Others, such as fishing expressions and local placenames however are much under threat,  The fishing ones because as the fishing activities the community grew up around have been removed, so those activities are no longer practised or discussed.  The placenames, because many of them related to the fishing also, or because as the older people die out, so do their use.

That's why activities such as the placenames project currently under way with the Cheekpoint Fishing Heritage Project is so relevant.  There will be several events over winter 2015/16 in the Reading Room Cheekpoint.  Please come along to share your local knowledge, or improve it!




I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.

My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales
















Friday, 6 November 2015

amongst the Herring shoals in Waterford harbour

As the Reaper and the other Cheekpoint boats proceeded downriver, we were joined by the Passage and Ballyhack men, forming a convoy of decked and half decked motor boats of varying size and power and a multitude of colours.  Depending on the tides, the Passage men might head down inside the Spit light along the west banks, with Creaden off their starboard bow.  The “Pointers” along with the “Hackers” favoured the channel waters around the spit, onto Duncannon and beyond to the lower harbour.
the Cheekpoint fleet from around this time
Photo courtesy of Anthony Rogers
It was only after Duncannon that you felt the change in the river and the deepening and less familiar seas of the lower harbour.  The sea around Broom Hill told you all you needed to know of what to expect below.  If the rocks were calm and free of waves, you could expect a reasonable sea, but if the seas were surging up and around, it was to be heavy going.  If seas were breaking, and the mists were rising up from it onto the grass banks above, then you knew the seas were turbulent, and most likely we would never have even “set sail”.  (Many was the afternoon the skippers would be up on the high road, looking down the harbour and discussing the weather) 

When we arrived in the lower harbour, boats began to disperse, hungrily searching the deeper waters for signs of herring shoals.  Some were close in to the shore, beneath Loftus Hall and further down towards the Hook. Others maybe stretched as far as Creaden Head.  Boats took various courses, and many zig zaged amongst each other, keen to “mark” a herring shoal on the fish finder and establish a pattern of where to “shoot” the nets.  Dunmore boats skippered by Paul Power, Napper Kelly and Mick Sheen would be sounding as they came across to met us, effectively covering the entire harbour.

As the gloom of the evening gathered and the sun set over the Commeraghs away to the west, the frenzy grew.  Some evenings the sunset was hidden but the evenings the sky was clear were a feast for the eye, the colours magical, the sky almost afire, a contradiction to the cold night to come.  Boats were eager to set in daylight, to better see where others were setting nets, and also because the herring tended to rise with the dusk and skippers felt they would miss their chance of a decent haul if they left it too late.

Some nights the shoals could not be found.  It was generally obvious from a lack of bird activity, the tell tale signs of gulls wheeling overhead, or divers such as the majestic and gigantic gannets plunging from a hundred feet or more into the freezing seas and emerging with a beak full of silver meat.  On these nights the boats tended to be well spread out and the VHF radio was quiet.  Occasionally a haunting voice would float across the radio.  Kenny Bolger (RIP) singing an Irish ballad, when that happened, it tended to confirm that there would be no fish on that particular night. The Bolgers were fishy folk, as good at catching fish as anyone, and if my school mate from De La Salle was left near the radio it meant there was damn all else to do.

Other nights however were different.  The seas were alive with birds and seals.  A slick of oil, released from the herring on the sea bed, which Denis said you could smell and taste in your mouth, but something, I never manged to do.  The radio was buzzing with sightings and at times Jim would call us in to look at the fish finder, the tell tale blackness of a herring shoal, and the extent of it mapped out on the grey blue paper as a stylus flicked over the paper marking the fish below.

Once satisfied that the herring were abundant enough the winkie was turned on and cast over, followed by the nets.  I looked after the lead rope initially, not trusted as yet with the head rope and ensuring that the cans were paid out clear of the nets and set to the correct depth.  Generally all the nets were set, but occasionally, Jim might heave too, concerned by the markings on the fish finder and the extent of the shoal.  When you hit the herring in large quantities a couple of nets could fill the boat, and the last thing you needed was extra work.  Once set, the nets were tied via a hauling rope to the bow of the boat we hung from them. 

This was a signal to get the tea on, and the grub bag out.  Tea in the Reaper was always good.  As much as Jim loved his cigarettes, he equally loved his tea.  The kettle was boiled on a gas stove and the tea bags were added as the kettle started to sing.  Hot and sweet, tea and sandwiches never tasted any better.  

On another occasion I was asked to go with another Cheekpoint boat for a couple of evenings.  Having set the nets, The skipper tasked his brother “wet the tea”  What he produced was so vile, even the copious amounts of sugar I added couldn’t disguise the awful taste.  I honestly thought he had pee’d in the kettle and on the first opportunity tossed the lot over the side.  When he spotted my cup empty he was immediately on me, “will ye have more tea Andy” "I won’t J... J.. thanks" says I…and like a not yet created Mrs Doyle, he harangued me about it saying ”a ya will, ye fecking will”  until I dolefully relented.  The next night I was more wary, and as "cook" went forward to boil the kettle I kept a close eye.   Under constant pressure from the skipper who would shout in occasionally, reminding him to hurry, that they needed to haul the nets, he flung in the tea bags before the kettle was anywhere near boiling and emerged with only a faint hint of steam from the kettle moments later.  At least I could drink it knowing the problem was half-boiled water.

The nets would be checked on occasionally, to be sure that they were fishing, and to get a sense of how heavy the catch might be.  Too early and you could haul the nets off the rising fish, too late however and you risked overloading the boat. 

Hauling was a tough affair when the nets were full.  Here's an interesting example from Northern Ireland.  But at least a net hauler made the work easier.  Once ready to commence, the rope was hauled in to the gunwale and opened from the net.  Then the head and lead ropes were gathered up and placed over the hauler drum.  The hydraulics were engaged and the nets were then pulled on and helped in over the side. 

While Jim kept the boat up to the nets, Denis hauled the ropes and I gathered up the nets as they fell to the deck and dragged them to the stowing area.  When the catch was light this was easy enough, but on nights with a big catch, this was hard arduous work.  The netting coming in over the drum could be three feet wide and it was all I could do to help Denis and Jim at the hauler and then stagger away under the weight of the nets to stow them on the boats deck. 

You had to be careful where you dropped the nets, and on more than one occasion Denis had given me a tongue lashing.  Stowing the nets meant making it easy to clear them afterwards and safe to steam back to port.  On a decked boat, it was important that the nets and fish were properly dispersed, and it was something he wanted me to get right from the start.

Having hauled a big catch, there was always a sense of ephuroia aboard.  A big catch, once you had a market, meant a decent wage that week, and in the weeks coming up to Christmas, or indeed after it, such a catch was always welcome.  Big catches were not the norm, and you would have plenty of"watery hauls".  You tended to relax after that exertions and in the tired but happy glow, surrounded by flipping fish in their death throes and wheeling gulls, calling to you, as if for a feed, Denis would often set to telling yarns.  Jim tended to wink at me, or throw his eyes up to heaven and I never knew if there was any truth in what Denis would tell me, but I would always be doubled up with laughter.

One of the nights a seal had bobbed up aft of us as we headed across the harbour towards Dunmore.  "Did I ever tell ye the one about Tailstones (Jimmy Doherty) and the seal in Youghal".  Even if he had I would have said no.  I never got tired of listning to his stories.  "Himself, Lannen (Jimmy's brother Andy) and myself were fishing salmon in the Dominic this summer down in Youghal.  Well all was going grand till this day we were hauling back on the nets and half the fish that came in over the side had a piece missing.  'Mother of God' said Lannen…'if them seals don’t clear off, we wont have the price of a pint this week'  Tailstones said he'd put them seals right, once and for all.  Next day they arrived in Youghal to go fish and he retrieved a shot gun from out of the back of his van.  When they were out fishing, I spotted a seal a long way off, head bobbing out of the water.  Tailstones fired up the engine and went in pursuit and moments later brought her about and stepped up to the Gunwhale, loading the gun.  He raised it and was about to discharge it when the seal turned and lo and behold the seal had the full face mask of a diver and a mouthpiece to boot.  I threw my hand up and diverted the gun barrel to the heavens and the same moment the gun was discharged and the only casualty was a gull that happened to be flying past.  'Mother of God' said Lannen, 'we’d have never got absolution' 

As I laughed at his yarns the next phase of the job was coming into my head; shaking the nets, and it would take time and energy.  But that respite leading up to it, as the boats bobbed and swayed across the harbour towards Dunmore was most welcome.  More work might be ahead but we were a satisfied crew bringing home the catch, and with the promise of a few bob in your pocket at the weekend


Next instalment – clearing the nets and selling the fish

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.

My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales