Passage East Fish house

The Passage East fish house stands today as part of the local community centre.  It was once the actual centre of the community however, processing at one point over 38,000 herring per day and providing a vital outlet for fishermen and onshore employment too.
As a regular shopper in the Ardkeen stores, I occasionally treat myself to a breakfast of kippers.  I grew up with a taste for this nutritious fish, but I have to admit, that I could never eat them in any way other than kippered.  In my youth there was many a home had a kippering barrel and the smell of the fish being smoked was almost as memorable as the taste.  Of course the technique was long used for fish, and none more so than in my neighbouring village of Passage East.
The story of the Passage East fish house’s origins appears to rest with a man named Kirby. The gentleman wrote to the traders in the Billingsgate market pleading the case for the local fishermen, and explaining that although there were significant catches of fish in the area, there was little by way of a market.
One of those trading merchants, John L Sayers Ltd., dispatched one of their buyers to investigate. Arthur Miller was then employed on the north west coast and was suitably impressed with what he saw, to recommend a fish house be built, specifically to smoke herring (another was built in Dunmore East). Land was leased from the Marquis of Waterford in what was known as the park and a fish house was constructed.
On the death of John L Sayer in 1910, Miller went into business for himself, trading in the kippering business as Arthur Miller Selected Kippers.  The products were not limited to kippers however, as red herring, bloaters and cured herring were also processed.

Photo of the women at work in Passage in the 1920s
accessed from the book, Shadows of the Past
with permission of Andy Kelly

The work initially required skilled labour to be employed, and “Herring Lassies” amongst other skills arrived from Scotland to prepare the herring for the process.  Many of the families in the Passage and Crooke area to this day are descended from these hard working immigrants.  Here’s a 1920’s video of these women at work:

The fish house was also used as a trading post for the buying and distribution of other fish including salmon, lobster, mackerel, shellfish and intriguingly, to me anyway, Newfoundland dried cod.  Boxes of fish were regularly transported along the road by horse and cart initially, and then truck to Waterford train station and hence to Dublin, London or the continent. The trade continued up to the death of Miller in 1953, and although the family continued with the trade for some more years, tastes and markets changed and the business finally closed.
Today the fish house remains as a reminder of that once busy and lucrative trade that created wealth both onshore and off.  Much of the process of smoking is still intact and it would be wonderful to think that at some point in the future it may be rekindled.  Of course Ballyhack Smoke House  is now operating on the opposite side of the harbour, so at least the techniques are far from extinct.

My blog today is based on details accessed from The Irish Herring Industry – One Family’s Story by Arthur E Neiland, a descendant of Arthur Miller.  I accessed the piece in a collection of local information which is based at Dunmore East public library and was donated by the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society.

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