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Who Really Owns The Harbour…?

Despite the fact that he has lived far from Greystones for many a year, Jago Hayden’s heart clearly still resides here.

And he’s got many a long and winding tale to prove it.

Having published two books the early years of Greystones, and, in particular, its fishing, it’s hardly surprising that Jago has been following the recent High Noon shenanigans that inevitably the refusal of trawlers into a harbour.

Naturally, our boy has a few words to say on the matter…

One wonders if the late twentieth century determination to obliterate the eyesore of a derelict harbour no longer fit for purpose, and replace it with an upper-crust marina and associated property development – and to hell with artisanal fishermen – has been used as a stalking horse by profit-oriented ‘developers’ in the new sense of the word, capitalising on the kudos of the long-dispersed La Touche family connection. But let me counsel caution.

One of the Christian Brothers who took both my brothers Liam (better known as Billy) and John, and myself for Latin at Synge Street CBS, and introduced us to a smidgin of Roman History, also took us through the Odes of Horace, one of which – if I remember rightly – touched on the elaborate villas built out from the shore at Pompeii by wealthy Romans. All perished in the devastating historical eruption of Vesuvius, along with with their erstwhile owners.

The ultimate destiny of the marina – and maybe even the new village associated with it – will, I feel, be determined by the continued erosion of the clay cliffs north of it; just as surely as their hitherto erosion destroyed the original and subsequent replacement rail lines, and both incarnations of the 1880s harbour.

As to the lack of provision for fishermen and their vessels in the new ‘harbour’, let me say this:

We Haydens were lucky. Reared in Blacklion, we spent three months of every summer for many years in a cottage in the Bawn, where our family’s proximity to beach, shore, pier and slip, ensured that we embraced every day – and everything to do with the sea and fishing – as an adventure in life. We were one of approaching-twenty families that had a boat of their own. Ours was a nearly forty-year-old fourteen foot rowing boat, originally built in Glasgow in 1902, which our parents had acquired from the Tuckers after their father died suddenly in 1939, and which we renamed The Kathleen after our newly born sister, who had arrived in May of that year.

Throughout the 1950s, as trammel nets increasingly replaced the traditional Long-lining as the preferred method of fishing in the small rowing boats, mostly fourteen and sixteen or seventeen footers that the local men fished, I can remember taking a black sole in a single net, set overnight across the mouth of the harbour in the hope of taking a lobster or two, at the very nose of the old pier; and on more than the one occasion. A trammel shot straight out from the shore tight to the southern edge of the Swan’s Rock was also a good bet for taking a sole. For an occasional lemon sole, straight off the dipping tank was the mark to begin shooting from, on the ebb. Yet another unusual set – just off the shore, barely twenty feet beyond the low water mark abreast of the Jubilee Castle, a trammel left to fish for no more than a couple of hours, occasionally yielded anything up to a dozen juvenile Brill and Turbot; all succulent and just big enough to eat.

Further to sea, when Seán and Kevin Dillon and I fished the Mac Lir (a sixteen-footer that John Spurling built for me and Jimmy Smullen) on the Ridge, we caught and identified all four Top Knots that exist in Irish waters, as well as Allis and Thwaite Shads, and on one occasion, even a Pink Ribbon Fish. But perhaps the most exotic looking fish we ever landed were two small Surmullet we discovered in the net one morning we had earlier shot away as the dawn was breaking. My mother’s first cousin, Jim Kinsella, called them Cherrybut, a name he had from his father John Thomas ‘Blacktop’ Kinsella, a man who had to sign his father’s death certificate with an X because, at the age of seventeen, he hadn’t yet learned to write. We – Séan and Kevin and I – later identified them as two distinct varieties of Red Mullet, one a Surmullus Barbatus; the other a Surmullus Mullus.

Seán and Kevin, God be good to them, now rest above in Redford.

Other men – or their families – have their own stories to tell. Ask Joe Sweeney, for instance, who was the first ever fisherman to order and fish a nylon trammel net.

Enjoying again in memory the sheer pleasure we had as we grew up with britches constantly wet from the sea, I cannot begrudge those fortunate yachtsmen – and women – their pleasure, nor their new marina and club house. But is it theirs? Public/Private Partnership to NAMA, to Sisk, and thence to whom exactly? One thing: Those who planned it had no right to exclude fishermen and casual boat owners from the harbour facilities they had earlier promised to preserve in the new development. I doubt if the new owners have any right in law to do so, either.

As for borrowing the La Touche name to underwrite the proposal in the first place, I don’t think it scored any brownie points.

You can read Jago Hayden’s history of rowing in Greystones here, and his analysis of old local pics here, and here.

1 Comment

  1. Jimmy. says:

    Great historical article by Jago, and he is right in highlighting the way the local fishermen and their rights have been denied by the jump up yacht brigade and some local councillors who consider the use of the harbour is solely for the use of the runner in so called elites Fight on lads for. your rights to fish as have generations of Greystonians.

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