Last seine boat catch lives on
Mike Séamus OSullivan of The Glen, St Finans Bay, was a member of the crew of the last seine boat to land a catch in South Kerry. Mike began fishing lobsters with his father when he left school aged sixteen.That was before the war and lobsters were making four shillings a dozen in those days, but when the war came the fishing really got going in the
By Ted Creedon
Mike Séamus O’Sullivan of The Glen, St Finan’s Bay, was a member of the crew of the last seine boat to land a catch in South Kerry. Mike began fishing lobsters with his father when he left school aged sixteen.
“That was before the war and lobsters were making four shillings a dozen in those days, but when the war came the fishing really got going in these parts,” Mike told The Kerryman this week.
“We were catching mackerel, pollock, herring and they were cured and boxed at Renard Point before going by train to England. The seine boats were catching all mackerel in the war years and prices were about two shillings per hundred, but one day in 1942 an English buyer arrived at Renard Point and offered £3 a hundred!” Mike recalled.
“There was a fortune made in those days then and the local buyers put their prices up to £4 a hundred for the mackerel to keep the English buyer out!” he said.
Seine fishing for mackerel was done at night but never on a moonlit night. Two boats were involved, one to carry the seine net with a crew of twelve men and a following boat with a crew of seven. They would row out by Puffin Island or up and down St Finan’s Bay until the fish were spotted by one of the crew, a man known as “the spyer.”
He would watch for the telltale disturbance of phosphorescence in the water which meant the fish were rising on the ebb tide.
“All the instructions were given in Irish in those days, and when the spyer saw the fish he’d tell the captain and the seine net would be paid out. The net was passed between the two boats. It was 62 fathoms long and 14 fathoms deep,” according to Mike.
On the night of November 1, 1946, Mike was a member of the last crew to go seine fishing in South Kerry.
“We could see the fish out in the bay all that day so that night we put a crew together. The captain was Martin Brennan,a great fisherman, and my father was in the crew as well.”
“We headed out by Puffin Island first then turned left and when we got to the middle of St Finan’s Bay the place was alive with fish. We put out the seine and in no time at all it was full. We arrived below at the pier in The Glen with 24,000 mackerel and every man made £24 pounds that night – a fortune in those days,” Mike said with a laugh.
Two men were sent to the fish buyer in Caherciveen. They cycled both ways in the rain and the dark without any oilskins or protective gear and arrived back at 5am. The fish truck had to make six trips between The Glen and Renard Point before the catch was cleared from the pier.
“The weather got bad after that and we couldn’t go out again and the weather was bad all the following year so we couldn’t use the seine boat at all. From then on the fish didn’t come near the land but people had to go a long way south of the Skelligs to catch them and so we went no more – it was too far.
“The seine was dried up and kept in a shed for about 30 years but I don’t know what happened it after that. The boat was kept in good condition for years but in the end it rotted away and that was the last seine in Iveragh,” Mike stated.
“It was hard work – all rowing and towing, and it was a fine day when a man would be taken out and shot rather than go seine fishing,” he declared.
Mike celebrated his 82nd birthday on September 1st. The details of how seine fishing was carried out have been recorded from Mike by Seán Mac a’ tSithigh, Heritage Officer with Comharcumann Naomh Fhionáin Teo.
The crews on that last trip in 1946 were:
Seine Boat: Martin Brennan (captain), Seamus Matthew O’Sullivan, John Brennan, Davey Barry, Michael Moriarty, John Devane, Patrick Brennan, Mike Seamus O’Sullivan, William Carey, Tom Leary, James Connell and Jack Brennan.
The Follower: Patrick Riordan (captain), Patie Riordan, Daniel Shea, Michael P. O’Sullivan, Michael Golden, John Connell and James Smith.