Recently my good friend David Carroll made a gift to me of Cormac Lowth’s newly published comprehensive and beautifully illustrated book – Ringsend Sailing Trawlers. With Some History of Boatbuilding in Ringsend. The book captures the maritime, fishing, and seafaring industry connected to the Ringsend area of Dublin. Spread over 32 chapters it charts the origins of the small fishing community on the bank of the Dodder backing onto Dublin Bay, the arrival of Brixham trawler families, the conflict that emerged with local fishers, and the reality of life in the area, particularly in the 19th and early 20th Century.
I think for Cormac the stars of the show are the people of the community, but they are firmly staged against the backdrop of Dublin Bay and the vessels that became synonymous with the area, not alone as fishing boats, but as sailing boats in regattas, pilot boats and workboats. There was also a thriving boatbuilding industry which Cormac charts in a very detailed manner.
What stands out for me in the book is the detailed descriptions of many daily activities now lost to the steady march of progress. For example, he gives an account of beam trawling from the setup of the system, the launching, and the fishing practices. How many in the country at present would even know what a beam trawl was, let alone know how it was fished? It evoked a wonderful memory of working the same system here in the Ross River with my father and Uncle John in my childhood. In other cases, he mentions almost as an aside, that glass balls, which were used for buoys on the nets, were made by the local glass manufacturers in the village. I remember them on the mantelpiece at my Grandfather’s and only now thought to wonder where they were made – perhaps locally in Waterford? I was also reminded of my grandmother Moran recalling her mother making nets and string for long lines at the fireside all those years ago, the toughness of the life, but the skill and resilience of the people. Although I have never met Cormac I think that this is an admiration and appreciation that we share if the book is anything to go on.
Perhaps my favourite part of the book is the introduction, where he recalls his early years with his father who had bought a boat called the Pride of Ardmore and with local help had established a safe mooring and over time converted her to a motor sailing vessel and also rigged her to trawl. These local salts were the direct descendants of the sailing men, many now fishing part-time and they shared the knowledge and love of the Bay that seems to have had a direct bearing on Cormac’s life.
There are so many other wonderful pieces to the book, the street names prior to redevelopment including Ropewalk Place, the names of the fishing families, and the ancillary trades that abounded. Although I was already aware via David Carroll, I was delighted to read about Pill Lane where the fish market once thrived before the corporation made efforts to impose order. Obviously, I updated my recent Pill placenames blog as a result of Davids’s guidance. It’s a book filled with such historical nuggets that shine through.
If I had to be picky and find fault, I guess it would be against myself and my own lack of knowledge about the area, that certainly would have added some clarity and context. All told I can only heartily recommend this book and urge you to get it before the limited production is sold out. If I had to bet, I’d say it’s one of those books that won’t be found in second-hand bookshops, the owners like me will cherish it.
The book Ringsend Sailing Trawlers By Cormac Lowth is published by Peggy Bawn Press. It retails at €27 I believe and can be ordered directly from Cormac by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org Or you can order via eBay