Flanagans Fish Shop Closure -end of an era

Last week Flanagans closed after a remarkable history of almost 116 years. In fact, a week shy of that, for Martin J Flanagan opened on Friday 28th February 1908. Ironically that was a leap year too.

Waterford Standard – Wednesday 26 February 1908; page 2
The original advert for the company – opened in a leap year of 1908 – on Friday 28th of February

One of many fish shops when I was a child in Waterford, only Doherty’s in Patrick St and Billy Burkes in Ballybricken now remain. Flanagans had vacated the city center of course, moving to the Northern extension and for a time they had a small outlet at Ardkeen.

Flanagans in Broad Street Waterford, Check the original on NLI

The new business advertised heavily to get the word out, including the use of a bicycle.

Our readers will be glad to learn the Mr Martin J Flanagan has opened his new Fish Shop at No. 18 Broad-Street, Waterford.  The house and shop have undergone extensive alterations to meet the requirements necessary for this class of business, and the proprietor hopes to merit a share of public support.  For the quick delivery of his customers Mr Flanagan has purchased a Rudge-Whitworth bicycle, specially designed with a suitable basket arranged over front wheel, capable of carrying 56lb, so that there will be no delay in conveying the good purchased at his establishment.  

Waterford Chronicle – Saturday 29 February 1908; page 2

As a child, however, I knew of Flanagans because of their van which travelled around the harbour fishing villages, buying fish directly from the quays and local homes. My father always sold to Flanagans and as a signal to stop, my mother would put a conch shell on the gate pier.

The van would stop, the arm on a weighing scale would be hoisted, and we would carry out the fish for the official weighing. I say official because we had already weighed the fish on a handheld ouncel, but it was what the buyer’s measure stated that determined the final payment. Weighed by the pound and paid by it, even a 1/4 lb made a difference to cash-strapped families but there was no point in arguing.

An ouncel that saw a lot of fish down the years

Several small peal would be weighed together, but a “fine salmon” would get its own treatment and always attracted more interest. Big fish meant a higher rate of pay per pound. Of course many had already gone to McAlpins, Mr Mac always paid the best prices around for large fish.

Once weighed, the tarpaulin would be lifted off the back of the van, releasing a black wave of flies and blue bottles off the fish already stored there, and as our father’s fish were sorted into boxes we took a careful measure of what was there. Then a docket was written up calculating the weight, price per pound and the all-important calculation of what the catch realised.

A docket of mine from 1989. Note the price difference between a 9 lb salmon and a 7lb (jack as we would call it) and the two peal weighed together.

Hard-pressed fishermen would sometimes have to get the price of the annual licence from a fish buyer. And sometimes that included some new nets and oilskins etc. In this case, the docket would also include a deduction as the loan cost was taken off in a percentage.

When I was fishing in the 1980s the fishbuyer’s practice of coming around started to slow, but I think it was the 1990s before it died out. Most of the lads had cars or vans at that stage and I regularly went to town with Pat Moran in his rusty green Ford van which smelled to high heavens of fish. We would pull up in Arundel Sq at the back of the premises and carry the fish through in a box to the lads. There the filleters were employed, and fish were sorted, weighed, and prepped for the shop floor.

In those days most of the salmon were being sorted and iced in styrofoam boxes, to be dispatched that same day worldwide. But it was the era before the salmon farms. would eat into the market. It was also the era of salmon fishing on the high seas, and small operators like us were starting to become irrelevant.

Russ Parsons had a feature in last weeks Irish Times on Woodstown Oysters – having travelled the world he raved about the quality of the product but pointed out that although some locals stock them including Elaine Power in East Pier Dunmore, we as a nation don’t appreciate or support such products. This attitude may have had nothing to do with the closure of Flanagans, but perhaps our relationship is worth considering. If only to think of how and why we should support our fishermen and fishing industry.