Thursday 8 December 2016

Cat and mouse on cliffs of Mayo

Joe Kennedy

Published 02/08/2015 | 02:30

The anglers hope for a bounty of mackerel when the fish are running well and the lucky lads may pull out of the waves far below a dangling hank of silver darlings
The anglers hope for a bounty of mackerel when the fish are running well and the lucky lads may pull out of the waves far below a dangling hank of silver darlings

Archaeology tourists and scenic routes motorists in the West who seek out the Ceide Fields in north Mayo marvel at the sheer cliffs landscape of Downpatrick Head.

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Uncovering the blanket bog that masked the landscape revealed Stone Age remains of walled fields, houses and megalithic tombs more than 5,000 years old, preserved over an area of thousands of acres.

There is an award-winning visitor centre, designed by the Office of Public Works, presenting the botany and geology of the area, beside spectacular 370-feet high cliffs near the seaside town of Ballycastle.

There is a massive chunk of rock called Dun Briste, sheared off from the mainland, on which there are ruins of a fortress-dwelling and which, via helicopter, RTE radio once made a riveting documentary presented by an old Sunday Independent colleague, the late Des Hickey.

Those sheer mainland cliffs attract an assortment of hardy sea-anglers who cast their very long lines out into the heaving Atlantic - and with some, if frustrated, success.

These men and youths, protectively clothed from the elements, and mainly from Eastern Europe, are enthusiastic about their sport and determinedly patient. Quite often their fishing expeditions can become frustrating exercises, and mostly because our old friends, herring and lesser black-backed gulls, hold watching briefs like patient lawyers in nooks and crannies on the sheer cliff face.

The anglers hope for a bounty of mackerel when the fish are running well and the lucky lads may pull out of the waves far below a dangling hank of silver darlings.

It is then that the game of cat and mouse can begin. The cats are the waiting gulls, the mice, on multiple hooks of coloured feathers, are the bouncing fish many of which are swiftly plucked off on the long haul up to the cliff top.

The anglers shout in the colourful language of their homelands but to no avail and are lucky to finally land a couple of fish on their tattered tackle, the tantalising string of six or eight wrigglers having been snatched by the voracious and skillful birds.

Still the patient fishermen turn up most weekends, prepare their rods and lines and hope for the best.

The clever gulls have found a substitute for the once busy inshore boats that netted the seas around, the crew providing scraps a-plenty for them before landing their catch at local piers.

These days the birds at these places pay rapt attention to mobile vendor vans whose cooking smells attract both man and bird. The gulls fill up on the discards from the paper bags.

Grey mullet, an unattractive fish of harbour bottoms and inlets - and which I, with other young fishers, once treated with disgust - has become an interest with trawler men on the south coast, the bottom of the inshore barrel having been truly scraped.

But can you blame the fishermen, after all that ignominious treatment by the EU? But, sin sceal eile, and a longer tale, indeed. Mullet is edible but trawling for the slow-growing species will soon wipe it out.

These leathery-lipped creatures feed by scraping the mud surface of murky creeks for decaying vegetable matter. Their insides are like the gizzards of fowls. Ugh. Still, some anglers like to cast lines for them . . .

Sunday Independent

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