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.

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 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  T

Lusitania – the Passage East connection

May 7th will mark the anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania.  But did you know there was a link to the sinking and Passage East in Co Waterford? Well, if you didn’t that makes two of us.
I got a call last year from the cousin, who had heard that there was a life ring from the stricken vessel in the Merseyside Maritime Museum of Liverpool.  No surprise that, but what was, it’s on loan from a person originally from Passage East. We were both curious to know the back story.
The Lusitania began construction in 1903 at John Brown & Co Ltd, Glasgow and had her maiden
voyage in 1907 for the Cunard line.  She
was built with the intention of being the fastest liner afloat, and she earned
the nickname “Greyhound of the Seas” with an average speed across the
Atlantic of 24 knots.
Lusitania under way accessed from: 
On the 1st May 1915, she departed New York bound for Liverpool. It was her 101st voyage. The threat of U Boat attack had reduced her passenger list, but there were still some 1,959 souls aboard, including 702 crew. On the morning of 7th May, the ship approached the Irish coast. At 14:10 a torpedo fired by the German submarine U 20 slammed into her side, the ship being at that point off the Old Head of Kinsale in Co Cork. A mysterious second explosion ripped the liner apart. The ship listed so badly and quickly that lifeboats crashed into passengers crowded on deck, or tipped out those passengers who had managed to get aboard. Within 18 minutes the giant ship slipped beneath the sea. 1,119 souls perished. That number was estimated to include 140 Irish, 70 passengers and 70 crew.
A massive rescue operation got under way from the Cork coastal area and was controlled from Cobh, or Queenstown as it was then called. Scenes of utter devastation followed as men, women and children were laid out on the quayside for identification and spouses or parents rushed between the corpses in the hope or perhaps fear, of identifying a missing loved one.
Coffins being removed.  Mass graves were needed to inter the remains at Cobh
Accessed from:
And the connection to Passage East.  Well from what I learned, a fish merchant who resided in the village named Arthur Miller had taken the trip to Cork to meet skippers of fishing craft in the hope of extending his business and negotiating the rights to buy and export their catches.  Miller who was previously an agent for the Billingsgate fish market in London had come and settled in Passage East. He had set up his own business, which at the time was thriving and was exporting vast quantities of herring and kippers and other types of fish.  
As he waited on the quay at Kinsale, to meet the skippers, the fishing boats returned, but instead of fish, they carried a human cargo, those lucky enough to have been plucked alive from the Atlantic, and I’m sure many others who had not survived.  Going home to Passage that evening he brought a life ring from the vessel, which would later hang in his office in Passage until his business closed. The life ring is now at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, displayed as part of their Lusitania: Life, Loss, Legacy exhibition. 
Photo accessed from the Merseyside Maritime Museum

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 connect with me to receive the blog every week.  Simply email me to request to be added to my email list at