I recently recalled the selling of Salmon in Cheekpoint. In conclusion of that piece, I mentioned the practice of running fish, a means of earning a bit of extra cash for some of life’s pleasures, which invariably meant drink and cigarettes.
Because the existence of fishermen, then as now, is so precarious, it was common practice at the start of each Salmon fishing season for the fish buyers to provide credit towards the cost of fishing. This would go towards nets, corks, lead and roping twine etc, or in some cases these were actually supplied. Over the course of the season to August 15th, a percentage from each fish sold went back to the buyer, until the debt was repaid. In years when fishing was good, this could be paid off quickly. But a bad year meant a boat could be hard pressed to make the repayment.
|My Uncle John (RIP), Uncle Sonny and Grandfather Andy (RIP)
Thanks to Sean Doherty for the photo
As each fish lost a percentage to the buyer, it wasn’t uncommon to hold a fish back and “run it” as we called it locally. Selling it to another buyer of course was out of the question, at least directly. But there was always a willing buyer locally for a fine fish, including the pubs. Of course it wasn’t just the buyers that were sometimes hoodwinked.
A common enough practice was that a boat and gear might be worked on behalf of an owner. In this case, the shares (which were always divided by 3) were 1/3 for the owner and the 1/3 each to the two men fishing the boat.
|Tom & Michael Ferguson (RIP) drifting for Salmon
Thanks to Tomás Sullivan for the photo.
I recall myself and my brother Robert being challenged one morning on our return from fishing the flood tide by the owner of the boat. Aboard we had three peal (small salmon).
“Is that all ye have?”
“Shure isn’t it well to have it”
“The Garriger said he saw ye taking in a pig of a salmon”
“Shure there wasn’t a salmon caught by anyone over there this morning, we bagged the biggest one of them, twas a right struggle to get him aboard”
“Garriger said he was 20lb at least, are ye sure ye don’t have him hidden under those nets!”
“Well if you can’t see him from there, he mustn’t have been much of a fish”
The owner was well in his rights to ask, and it was always the large fish that were run. In this case, it was our Uncle Sonny and he was blackguarding us, but we’d heard many similar challenges. The big fish were run because they raised more money and as the saying goes, you may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. But if you were going to run one, you would be sure to avoid being seen bringing the fish in over the side. It was also as well not to return to the village with it.
Many was the fish that was landed at Watty Byrnes in Ballyhack as boats drifted downriver on the ebb tide. You would wait until nearing low water and then steam across to the quay and in to the pub to sell your fish. Watty always did well from it. A good price for the fish, and you invariably dropped plenty of it behind the bar as you left with a few bottles of beer, or other items from his shop.
On one particular occasion, I was boy in the boat with another young man from the village. His skipper was attending a funeral, and I’d been asked to fish with him for that day. Anyway, a fine fish was caught on the ebb tide, and we proceeded down river by setting them at Seedes bank and letting them drift down to Ballyhack. When the tide slowed we steamed to Watty’s. Although, there would invariably be someone from Cheekpoint in the pub, you never had to worry. As Martin Mahon (RIP) said to us that day as he tapped the side of his nose with a nicotine stained finger, “What happens in the pub, stays in the pub!”
|Paul Duffin and myself early 90’s
Of course even when men were fishing their own boat fish were sometimes run. I recall a friend sharing the story from home one evening after his mother challenged his dad when he returned from fishing with no fish and barely able to put his legs under him.
“Have ye no fish?”
“A watery haul”
“Watery was it, pity you didn’t put more water in the whisky”
“Where’s me dinner, woman”
“Arrah, it’s where you should be, on the back of the fire!”
In the nineties, when I was finally fishing my own boat, I’d occasionally be asked to take a fish from younger lads, They were fishing on behalf of others and in time honored fashion, were keen to make a few extra bob. It was a bit more awkward passing a fish off as your own, and in some cases selling it on their behalf. Either way, when it came to handing over the money, you were looked after. It was the early days of Jack Meades, and many was the great night was had on the “windy stools” on the back of “running the Salmon”
If you’d like to know more about village life and the history and heritage of Cheekpoint, join us for a free guided walk this coming Bank Holiday Monday. Walk departs from Cheekpoint Quay at 5pm and is an easy going stroll.
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