Christmas 2019: Going Back

Since I started blogging in 2014 I have set aside a blog for Christmas. It’s a break from my normal fare, but isn’t Christmas a break from routine too! At least for those of us lucky enough to have a job that doesn’t involve pulling a shift over it. So for this year I wanted to reflect back on an advert from my youth and the sentiments it evoked

There was a popular Christmas  advert on TV growing up which unlike many ads on RTE at the time, contained a powerful story line. It featured a dad (I presumed) collecting his son from the train at Christmas, whilst the ad cut between what the son saw as they drove to his brightly lit home, where his mother (again a presumption) prepared for his arrival by turning on every conceivable electrical device imaginable.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, It was for the Electricity Supply Board and featured a song by Dusty Springfield called Going Back. 

I’ve no doubt but the popularity of the advert is that if Christmas evokes anything it’s an equal measure of nostalgia for things of the past and a yearning for family, to have them close and part of our lives. 

The advert stuck a chord at home because we were reared with stories of emigration and separation.  My mother often spoke of the journey back from London at Christmas on the boat train, the meeting of friends and neighbours on the long, tiring journey and the excitement of spotting Cheekpoint for the first time in six months from the train, as it came across the Barrow Bridge.  Although it was a short visit, with not a lot by way of extravagance, every moment of it was squeezed for enjoyment and celebration before the hard slog of the return loomed within a week.

She often recounted the visit of 1963 when the forecast was so bleak they were not even sure if the ship, St David, (or it could have been the St Andrew) would sail from Fishguard to Rosslare.  But it did, and on making it home on Christmas eve, the snow started to fall.  It snowed for much of the Christmas, but it was the return that would prove the most difficult.  Firstly the snow was so bad on the ground that cars couldn’t travel, and on reaching Rosslare a NW gale was blowing so hard, the ferry needed anchors to claw her way out of port.  After a horrible passage, they boarded an unheated train only to get trapped for the night in a snowdrift somewhere on the line.  The bright lights of London lost their appeal after that.

the third St David to operate on the route between 1947-1969: Accessed from
http://www.simplonpc.co.uk/GWR1.html#anchor1457599

My father had other memories, ones we only heard of much later.  Having left home to go to sea from the age of 19 many of his Christmas’ were spent in the company of fellow seafarers in distant ports, or on the ocean wave, where the only difference between that day and all the others was that the duties were reduced to the essentials and the stewards and cook made sure there was ample food for all. 

One yarn that we heard much later on was of an apparent Christmas in Spain where after the crew went on the batter ashore, they ended up in jail.  Next morning they appeared before the judge and when my fathers name was called the judge asked if it was an Irish surname.  “It is your honour” my father replied.  “What part of the country are you from” asked the judge.  “Waterford yer honour sir” he replied.  “You’re not one of the Doherty’s from Cheekpoint are you Bob?”  “The very same yer honour” “Case dismissed” cried the judge, continuing “Hope you will stand me a round the next time I visit the Suir Inn”  

Given the role of emigration in the country at the time, I’m certain that the ESB advert struck a chord with most Irish homes, and that’s probably the reason it became so popular.  It was aired for many years and it is still talked about on radio and TV shows to this day, particularly at Christmas time.

Over the years that advert has come to represent something deeper for me however; loss.  Those that are no longer with us, the distance between the memories and the present, where people like my grandmother who was so central to everything in our lives is no longer present, a once central element to the ritual that was Christmas.

My earliest memory of this was walking down the Russianside lane with our new toys in hand, eagerly waiting to show them off.  The smell of the fry from her kitchen, the warmth from the fire in the living room and the excitement of unwrapping her gifts to us.  Its telling, I suppose, that I remember nothing of the gifts we recieved, only her presence and her home.

Nanny never had a Christmas tree (until much later when we as teenagers insisted on getting it for her), her decorations were more traditional and centered around holly and ivy which was placed on the mantle and the glass case, and mixed with the faded blessed palm behind the pictures on the wall.  Her crib was a plastic drawing that she sellotaped to the wallpaper underneath the sacred heart lamp.  A red candle stood on her window sill and would be lit each night of the Christmas.

There was one particular feature of the house that seemed to mean more than anything else to her however, Christmas cards. These came from all over the world, and stood on the glass case, the mantle and on a string set under the mantle that sometimes went over and back twice or three times to accommodate the number, and ensure each could be seen.  As she got older the cards diminished as those who could send them were no longer living, but the ritual of opening, reading and displaying never diminished for her, nor did the sharing of the information that they contained.  And although at times it became a chore to me as she reread a message for the umpteenth time, it never lost the magic for her. 

Late 1990’s in the Russianside on Christmas morning…with the first of the next generation

As we grew from children to teenagers and into adulthood and we ourselves had children, the tradition could not be broken, and each year until her last, the house expanded to absorb the growing families of each of my siblings, and of course mine.

When she finally left us in 2002 it was as if a chain had been shattered and we were set adrift.   But families are resilient, and new traditions are born or adapted and so the gathering fell on the open door of my parents.  And although my father is no longer part of the ritual either, it’s well to remember that the gatherings on Christmas morning are creating the memories and the rituals that our children will carry into their adult lives.  When I asked my daughter Ellen what was the best part of Christmas day this year, she didn’t hesitate or have to think twice, it was joining her cousins in Nanny Mary’s on Christmas morning.

It probably won’t be Dusty Springfield or an advert for the ESB, but there will be some present happening that will create the nostalgia of the future for the present generation.  The world may change and trends will come and go, but I firmly believe the central element of family will remain at the core.  And family is not just about those that are present, it’s about those that are miles away, or indeed no longer living.  For me, that’s what that ESB ad evoked, in the imagery but most particularly in the lyrics and the haunting sound of Dusty Springfields voice: 

I think I’m goin’ back
To the things I learned so well in my youth
I think I’m returning to
Those days when I was young enough to know the truth

Now there are no games
To only pass the time
No more coloring books
No Christmas bells to chime
But thinking young and growing older is no sin
And I can play the game of life to win

I can recall a time,
When I wasn’t ashamed to reach out to a friend
And now I think I’ve got
A lot more than a skipping rope to lift

Now there’s more to do
Than watch my sailboat glide
And everyday can be my magic carpet ride
And I can play hide and seek with my fears
And live my days instead of counting my years

Let everyone debate the true reality,
I’d rather see the world the way it used to be
A little bit of freedom’s all we’re lack
So catch me if you can
I’m goin’ back

Songwriters: Carole King / Gerry Goffin

Goin’ Back lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Songtrust Ave

An emigrants Christmas wish

To celebrate Christmas this year, I thought I’d bring you the words across the Irish sea, an emigrant’s lament, a cousin of mine from the Russianside, but one of my grandmother’s generation.  Fr Tom Doyle was one of two brothers to enter the priesthood and both spent their years in England and beyond.  This piece was published in the Munster Express in the 1960’s and the clipping was found by a relation of mine recently.
Fr Tom saying mass in the home of his cousin in 1980’s
L-R Jim Duffin RIP, Maura Moran (my maternal Grandmother) RIP, Gerry Murphy, Ella Hallahan RIP
Mary McDernott RIP, Fr Tom RIP, Brian McDermott RIP, Maureen Burke RIP
Memories
T’was Christmas Eve, I stood on Mersey’s Strand
And wished I were back home in Ireland.
Down by the Suir and gazing at the hook
Blinking “welcome home” to Passage and to Crook.
To Cheekpoint and my home of days gone by.
When Christmas really was a feast of joy.
I heard the slough of boots across the pass
That led to Faithlegg Church and Midnight Mass.
The heart greetings “Merry Christmas Pat”
The same to you, may all your pigs grow fat!
And in the morn, the tang of burning peat
Spurred on by turning wheel to cook the meat.
The crowded table on the old stone floor.
The stranger always welcome at the door.
The lamp-lit darkness of the Christmas night.
When tales of ghosts turned many faces white:
The fiddler played, the elders danced with glee.
And Grandpa bounced me on his bony knee!
Those were the days with innocence abroad
And Irishmen knew how to praise the Lord.
I see it all and sigh, and inward’ pray.
God bless the Emerald Isle on Christmas Day
Tom- An Exile

The house described above, is my aunts, Margaret O’Leary. His Grandpa was my own Great Grandfather;  Joseph (called Jose) Doherty of the Russianside who was married to Ellen nee Walsh. They had 9 children; one was my Grandfather, Andy, another, Tom’s mother Ciss. Ciss married a Wexford man named Joseph Doyle and they had 6 children, Tom was one of the youngest, born in 1919.  The family emigrated to Liverpool early on.
Ellen & Jose in the Russianside early 1900’s
Photo courtesy of Sean Doherty

Tom and his older brother Michael, both entered the priesthood, Tom was ordained a priest of the Monfort Fathers in 1948.  Fr Tom arrived  to Cheekpoint every summer for his holidays and offered mass in local homes, and always mass at Faithlegg church and Crooke if required.  I recall one Sunday, when I was serving as an altar boy.  A new PA system had been recently installed, so that the priest didn’t need to strain his voice to be heard. Now Tom had no fear of straining his voice, which boomed out and dominated every conversation. As my Father put it, “you’d hear him in Wexford even if there was a gale from the east”. When Tom started mass that morning even the sleepiest parishioners sat bolt upright under the aural assault. So much so, that during the mass I was called back into the sacristy by the chapel woman at the time, Joan O’Dwyer and told to turn off the PA. 

Fr Tom was the only priest I ever heard called by his first name, something he actively encouraged. He considered Cheekpoint home, and never missed a visit to the Russianside.  One of my fondest memories of him was the summer I was asked to show him round the village, and tell him the names of the people inside and who they were related to. Once I connected it back to my Gran’s era it all fell into place with him, and when the door was opened he was immediately at home, and always welcomed. On the occasions I got inside the threshold, I’d be treated like royalty, even if the occupant would turn their head to me normally.  Fed and watered and occasionally an envelope passed to Tom for prayers, we would saunter on to the next house and my intelligence called for once more. At the end of the visits each day, there was “an economic recompense for my time”, as he put it.

The one thing I never realised until I started to research this piece, and certainly not apparent from the poem above, was that Tom wasn’t actually born in the Russianside at all.  I can only imagine that having been born into the Irish emigrant community of Liverpool, the Christmas traditions must have been ingrained into him from the stories of his mother and his older siblings.  It was obvious to me all those years ago, that he certainly felt like he was coming home each summer.  Fr Tom died on the 10th November 1997 aged 78 and was buried in his communities burial ground at Romsey near Southampton. His obituary has more of his career.
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Enduring “Mal de Mer”

We were based in Dunmore in the winter of
1983 for the Herring fishing but we returned home in the Reaper for Christmas,
and along with all the other half-decker’s, manoeuvred inside Cheekpoint quay,
where they could be moored without any concern for their safety. Once Christmas
came no one wanted to be checking on boats, for the week we’d be off.  It
would be over soon enough. Once there was a buyer we would be away fishing
again, and with empty pockets, glad of it.

Cheekpoint village mid 1980’s.  MV Reaper at the top of the quay,
Boy Alan and St Agnes amongst others.  Photo via Anthony Rogers

That January of 1984 a market came
available on the Sunday after New Year.  The weather had been broken, with
gale after gale blowing in off the Atlantic.  As we walked onto the quay
that afternoon it was enough to just look at the boats in the harbour of Cheekpoint
to know that the evening wasn’t going to be pleasant.  Punts and half deckers
alike were pulling on anchors and ropes, swaying in and out at their moorings,
reflecting the restlessness of the river.

As we set sail there was a low scudding
cloud and a fresh wind from the SW.  We were an hour or two from high
water, which would mean a slower trip than usual down against the incoming
tide.  At Ballyhack the seas were already a choppy, but by Creaden (the
Waterford side of the harbour mouth) we were pitching and heaving heavily, the
seas breaking in on Broom Hill (Wexford side) looking fairly ominous.
Deep down in my stomach I could feel the
rumblings of upset and my head was starting to pound a little.  I had been
there before, and knew that by keeping my head up and staying busy it had
helped. As we kept moving out the harbour I noticed a change for the worst in
the seas.  The wind hadn’t altered any but the seas were running higher
and the trough that the Reaper went into became deeper and slower to climb out
of.  Standing was difficult, and making your way round the deck took planning, attention and luck.
Although I didn’t realise it at the time,
the tide was now running ebb and with it the change for the worse in the
seas.  Try as I might, none of my tried and tested methods of keeping the
sickness at bay would work.  Progressively I worsened, just like the seas and
then I started to yawn, deep yawns which seemed to rise out of my belly. 
Minutes later I was spewing over the side.  Immediately I felt better, and
longed to believe that the worst was over. 
There was a small flicker of
hope, maybe we wouldn’t find any fish and we could go in.  However
this was dashed when we marked a sizable lump of herring and Jim shouted to set. 
I was sick again and then it was time for the nets to go.  When we had the
nets out and the tea brewed, I forced a cup of the hot sweet tea down. 
Jim said it would help, but Denis was just grinning. I took one look at the
sandwiches and cast them into the sea.  Gulls pounced on them immediately,
screeching at each other and tearing away at the bread. How I longed to be like
those birds, with feathered wings to take them above the relentlessly pitching
and heaving seas.  A seal came into view, a giant, interested no doubt in
the actions of the birds, and what they had found to eat.  If I jumped in
and swam with him, would the cold of the seas and the shock of the water be
enough to relieve me of the horrible sensation that seemed to make every fibre
of my being ache.
I wondered how the other boats were
faring, were others feeling as bad. I also realised my father was nearby in the
Boy Alan.  I wondered what he would make of me. I said a quick prayer to our lady, asking for the strength to finish the job, not let myself or my father down. Again the sickness came, but it was a dry wretch, more painful and debilitating.  
Tea over, Denis checked the net. 
Signs were good.  Jim and himself consulted and decided we better start to
haul.  As the nets came in so did the herring, pile and pile of them and
the back breaking work of dragging the fish filled nets across the deck, was
like my own cross on Calvary.  I have no recollection of how long it took,
but I know that I didn’t have anything left to vomit as we proceeded. 
Over and back, stowing them safely, whilst the deck heaved, rolled and pitched
and I staggered like a drunk.  At some stage the winkie came into view and
it was like Christmas morning all over to me, to see it advancing towards the
gunwale of the boat.
Once in I loosened to light to stop the
winkie from flashing and last thing I remember was slumping onto the
nets.  I awoke at the breakwater at Dunmore East, and was surprised that I
no longer felt sick. But I was worn out, grey in the face, a spent force. We
tied up at the quayside and I started to get the ropes ready for the
shaking.  However a wave of relief washed over me when Jim said that we
would go home that night and return in the morning to shake out the nets. 
I didn’t sleep well that night.  The
sense of shame I felt at and the expectation of the slagging I would get next
day stopped my mind from finding rest.  In the morning I strolled over to
the village to get a lift to Dunmore.  Calling in to my parents, I found
my father lying on the couch.  My guard was up immediately, 
“How’re ya today?” he asked.
 
“I’m grand” I said
“Although I’d be better if we had the nets shook from last night”
  
“There was a lot of men glad to get
home from Dunmore last night” he said, continuing “that was one of
the roughest nights we had in many a year”
“No one else was sick” I
said, 
“Oh they were sick alright” he
countered, “You should have seen the speed of some of them going up the
ladder in Dunmore” 
And although I doubted it, I still had a
laugh, and started to feel a little better.
“Did I ever tell ya about the young
scouser that shipped out of Liverpool with us on a trip to Gibraltar” One of my
father’s traditional opening lines to a yarn. 
“No” I said, wondering where
this was going
“Ah he was all mouth” he said,
“There was nothing he couldn’t do, or hadn’t seen. We were in the Irish Sea
when he started to grow green.  By the time we were in the channel he
couldn’t stand and when we reached Biscay he barricaded himself into his cabin and
refused to stand his watch.  The bosun was another scouser and when he
heard of the carry on, he grabbed a fire axe and splintered the cabin door.
 He grabbed the young fella by the throat and dragged him to his watch.
 By the time they got to Gibraltar the young land scurried down the
gangway and as far as we know took a train home”

From outside I heard a car horn blowing,
it was Robert Ferguson, come to collect me father in his white Hiace van.
 I started towards the village via the knock, but as I walked I thought
about my father’s story.  Did he just make that up for my benefit, or was
it actually true and if so how did he recall it so fast.  Down the years
I’ve often wondered about that ability he had.   Maybe now as a father I
can properly understand, we show love in so many different ways, we constantly
worry about and try to protect our children. Just like his ability to soothe
away the blood and pain when we were in a fall, he also done his best to soothe
away the pain of growing into adulthood. Whether the story was true or not, it was a
wonderful ability he had.  And it at least meant I could hold my head up
that morning as we journeyed to Dunmore and I continued my journey towards
adulthood.

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.
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What Robin Red Breast meant to my Grandmother at Christmas

Christmas time in my Grandmothers was marked by a hunt. It was her search for addresses for friends both at home and abroad, addresses she had scribbled on scraps of paper or cut from an envelope and squirrelled away.  Some were in the glass case, others in her box of writing paper, while others were stuffed into an old tea pot. Matters were made worse because she never threw out an address, even if the person had long vacated and moved to a new address.  Each year was the same vexatious search, so much so, that to us it became part of the tradition of Christmas.  For Nanny however, t’was always a chore, and she would mutter and give out to herself, for not being more organised.

As December moved on more and more cards arrived, and nothing gave her as much pleasure as sitting down to open and read the latest batch.  You couldn’t come into the house without getting an update from her. It was also a talking point for the neighbours, Margaret O’Leary or Bridgid Power would be interested to hear the happenings when they called in.  Nanny would also make it her business to pass on regards if mentioned in a card, and would task us to remind her to tell Martha Fortune (RIP), Maggie Ferguson (RIP) and many others that such and such was asking after them.

Either Robert, Kathleen, Eileen or myself would be asked to tie up a string over her fireplace, upon which she draped the incoming cards, and by Christmas eve there could be two or three lines of cards and more on the fireplace and mantle.

Now Christmas cards are all much of a muchness to me.  Stereotypical images of Santa, decorated trees, fireplaces, loads of snow…and on it goes.  But of all the cards Nanny sent or received, the one card she loved most of all had an image of a Robin on it.
Via Google images
I once asked her what it was about Robins she loved,  She reminded me that they are loyal little fellows, who are always close to the house, grow friendly and accustomed to human care, will feed from the doorstep or the window sill, and indeed she maintained a habit of feeding the Robin, right up until her very last days.  But she also had a story about the origins of Robin red breast which she said made it the bird of choice for Christmas cards.
“On the night of the birth of Jesus, he lay in a crib in the barn at Bethlehem.  As the night grew on, the fire that kept him warm with his father and mother grew lower and lower and was at risk of going out. Both Mary and Joseph were exhausted from the journey and the occasion of the babies birth. The Shepard’s had left and all was quiet. Mary turned to the horse in the manger and asked that he tend to the fire.  But the horse, donkey, cow, and the sheep were all asleep and did not hear her plea. However she realised that something was stirring at the fire, when she heard a whirring sound. Glancing round she spotted a small little bird, beating away with its wings to fan the dying embers. As the fire flamed up, the little bird flitted about the barn, gathering straw, twigs and pieces of timber. The fire grew higher and stronger and the heat grew.
They fell asleep in the comfort that the bird had created and next morning when they woke the fire was still going strong.  Mary called the bird to her and perched on her finger, was surprised and concerned to see that in the work of stoking the fire, the little bird and burned itself and the breast was now red.  In thanks for the deed of the little Robin, she decreed that forever more the Robin would keep the red breast in memory of the selfless deed.”
When Nanny died all those small traditions went too. But the card industry seems to be still going strong, and the image of loyal Robin red breast is still very much in evidence.

Last year I marked Christmas with a story about our local Faithlegg Church Crib

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.
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East meets West, a Herring Fishermans Christmas

I’ve covered the Herring Drift Net Fishery in several parts these last few weeks, and today in the run up to Christmas, I wanted to recount an incident that made Christmas a little more poignant for me in the mid 1980’s.  We were selling directly at the time to Polish luggers that moored off Passage East in the harbour. These were fishing boats themselves and I’ve covered their activities before.
Part of the process of selling to the lugger was that we had to go aboard to agree the tally and get a docket to ensure we got paid.  Stepping out of the half decker and onto the ship was entering a very different world.  All ships have a similar smell; food, diesel oil, humans living in close contact.  They also have a familiar look, bulkheads, narrow passages, small cabins with smaller bunks, men trying to pass each other in close proximity.  The first thing I noticed was the solidness of the deck, it felt like land when compared to the half decker.

A squat burly man, the bosun, stepped forward.  He had a woollen hat on his head and a padded jacket on against the cold and damp, but no oilskins.  He held a tally book in one hand and he extended to other and gave me a firm handshake, then a gesture to follow him, into the superstructure of the vessel. 

Once we reached his cabin, he sat down at the table and indicated I do the same.  He had a book of dockets, upon which the evenings catch per boat was listed.  I wrote the name of the Boy Alan above and he stated the number of cran taken aboard.  I was, frankly, bricking it in case t’was a lesser amount than what Robert Ferguson (Skipper of the Boy Alan) had stated.  With a wave of relief I agreed with his tally and this was entered into the book.  He took out a glass from a shelf, filled it, and his own stained glass, then he beamed at me, toasted me Slainte and we both downed the shots.  The rum struck the back of my throat and I could feel the redness in my cheeks.  But I managed it without a cough.  
As my eyes glanced around the cabin, it was obvious to me that it was its own self contained unit. The table was adjoined to the wall and at its best could seat four, but only if the papers, docket books, glasses, bottle and a number of other nick knacks were tidied away.  There was a small wash stand, that doubled for washing drinking glasses and a regular shave, judging by the items set beside it. There was wood panelling around the bunk and I could see some photos within easy sight, as the bosun lay at rest. I could see a family group, but too small to distinguish and some individual photos of children.  The porthole was on the outer wall and as the Lugger swung with the tides would have given him a view of the New Line in Passage, or Seedees bank on the Wexford side. Behind me lay a metal bulkhead, grey and unyielding.  In all it was probably a ten foot long by five feet wide rectangle and it was the bosun’s only space for privacy.  He was luckier than most crew aboard I guess.

The Polish deep sea fleet numbered about 80 vessels at the time and they fished from the North Sea across the Atlantic and as far as Africa. Mackerel was the top catch, followed by Herring and Cod.  The fishery was centrally planned by the communist government and was managed by three state run companies Dalmor, Gryf and Odra.  The bosun was one of 16,000 employed in the deep sea fishing.
   
I was still sitting, as he moved to get back on deck, and slightly embarrassed I moved to join him.  I’d forgotten how tired I was, it was the first chance I got to sit in hours.  He ripped the page he had been scribbling in off the docket book and placed it in my hand.  “Good Business” he said and clapped me on the back and pushed me out the door.
Returning to deck was like running a gauntlet.  At several cabin doors, seamen were offering produce; fags, spirits, beer or clothing.   Each came at a price, but it was buttons compared to what we would normally pay in Irish shops.  Half of Cheekpoint, and all the other villages in the harbour were dressed as Poles, drunk on questionable spirits and sweet tasting beer and coughing up tar from foul smelling fags.  They traded their eastern European produce, in the hope of making enough western currency to buy sought after goods.  These could be then sold at huge profits at home or given as gifts.  Levis jeans seemed to be a favourite western purchase, branded jackets, clothes, perfume and watches were also sought after.    
The bosun walked me to the ladder, and as I turned towards him to descend onto the halfdeckers below, I wished him a Happy Christmas and said I hope he made it home to his family. He must have grasped what I was saying because he beamed at me, and said yes, but that we needed to bring more fish!  There would be no trip home without a full hold.  Although Poland was firmly behind the “Iron Curtain” and had been since the end of the second world war, the Communist party had turned a blind eye to the country’s deep religious beliefs.  Christmas in Poland was a festival with as much meaning and custom as in Ireland. To be home for Wigilia would be important to any family man.  
Heading upriver that evening I realised the Poles who worked so hard both to fill the fish barrels and to trade with us for hard currency were no different to ourselves in the run up to Christmas.  Most of them, just like the bosun were probably family men.  Working for low pay in a dirty and dangerous job, they wanted no more than ourselves; a few bob in their pockets and some nice gifts for their families once they made it home.  I as much as anyone knew what it was like to have my father away. I could appreciate just how hard Christmas was on fishing and sailing families, many of whom, particularly in the previous generations, were lucky to get a parcel with some hand made gifts or foreign purchases and a letter.
We would continue fishing for another few days, and although this was governed as much by the weather, as the market, I was happy for the lugger crew when we were notified that it was time for them to set sail for home. We had whatever we were going to have for Christmas now, and so did the Poles.  
In the preceding days I followed the progress of the lugger on her journey home, at least in my minds eye.  I wondered would they head up the Irish sea and over Scotland, or go via the English Channel and then slip across the North sea.  Days later they would steam over the tip of Denmark and into the Baltic. They would probably welcome the air getting denser and colder and surely their hearts would lift their chests as they slipped into port at Gdansk, Hel or Kolobrzez.  They would take a bus or a train home, and arrive into the arms of family and greetings over would unpack their bags and widen the eyes of their children.

At least that’s how I imagined it would be.  Free of the routine of fishing, we could turn ourselves now to Christmas shopping, house calling, drinking beer and making merry.  Christmas was only starting and it would soon enough pass, and just like the Poles we would grow weary and perhaps even bored of the festive routine, and would long to be back on the water.
Postscript.
The glory years of the Polish Deep sea fishery was coming to an end.  3 factors were crucial in the demise, and even as the luggers bought Herring in Waterford harbour, the storm clouds were upon them.  The first impact was the extension of 200 mile limits on national fishing grounds and related restrictions, the second, was the changing of the guard in Poland and the move to private enterprises and finally the third, was joining the EU.  From being one of the largest deep sea fishing fleets in the world the Polish fleet is now decimated.
some figures:
in 1988 total catch was 628,000 T approx. in 2008 it was 179,000
in 1990 there were 77 deep sea fishing boats.  By 2009 there were 4!
in 1980 there were 16,000 people employed in deep sea fishing alone.  by 2008 there were 2991
All the details on the Polish fishery are taken from an EU report on Fisheries in Poland IP/B/PECH/NT/2011_02 

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