The great legacy of fishing

Herring Curers at the turn of the 19th Century
Herring Curers at the turn of the 19th Century

The fishermen of Magilligan, Greencastle, Moville and the surrounding coastline as far out as Inishtrahull have left a legacy of fishing skills and a great fishing tradition. For centuries they have trawled the harsh seas around the North West in search of catch as varied as herring, salmon, turbot and the vast array of shellfish to be found along the coasts of Lough Foyle in Derry to Lough Swilly in Co Donegal

Around the coasts of Inishowen and Derry the people relied heavily on the bounties of the Sea. With their great fishing skills and adaptation to their surroundings, the people of the Northwest persevered and sustained though famine and emigration

Herrings were fished for abundantly around the Northwest’s coast line in the late 19th century, especially off Lough Swilly (lake of the Shadows), were it is recorded that “there were that many herring boats in one week you could walk across them from Buncrana to Rathmullan”.

Fishing and fish curing was practiced all along the Donegal and Derry Coast, in places like Malin Head, Inishtrahull ,Moville ,Greencastle ,Buncrana, Culdaff Tremone and Lough Foyle. The women of the northwest normally gutted and cured the fish.

This fish was sold at the various Markets of the time, The most popular Markets were Carndonagh Buncrana Rathmelton,Letterkenny ,Coleraine & Londonderry .Were they were consumed locally or exported to Scotland & England .

In the 1700s Lough Swilly was a roaring herring trade of the time, extracting enormous amounts of herrings for home consumption and for export to the West Indies. At its height Mr Robert Alexander a merchant from Derry and Resident of Boomhall, built curing and salting houses at inch Island called the downing’s which were able to process 100s of 1000s of tons of herrings for salting and curing in barrels. This was a massive business affecting the local economy, in the Northwest, until the herring industries demise in the mid-1900s.

(Herring Curers at the turn of the 19th Century)

I remember as a boy in Derry in more recent times, the sound of the familiar cry of the herring sellers “Fresh Herring” “Fresh Herring” the call came usually from the back of the fish van doing the rounds in the newly built housing estates.

Mickey Quigley’s or (Mickey Fish) wet fish shop on William Street normally sold the herrings in Derry or Harry Dohertys in Creggan .Some older generations will remember Porter and Roulston grocers William street & Sidebottom’s Carlisle Road selling herrings from barrels, salted and cured.

Nowadays fresh herrings and an array of fresh fish can be purchased locally in Greencastle by Foyle Fishermans Co-op ,Harry Mc Cormick of Greencastle Seafood and in Derry by the leading seafood suppliers and fish mongers “Donegal Prime fish “at Skeog Industrial Estate.I have been using Donegal Prime Fish for many years now as a chef and their standard of produce is unrivalled locally, the vast array of fish to be had from Donegal Prime must be seen to be believed ,they will always try to source the fish for you, travelling as far as Billingsgate famous London fish market , if not available locally .Some Local Butchers are now selling fresh fish like the great fishmongers & Grocers of the past

Eugene Henry of Donegal Prime Fish

There are also many restaurants in the northwest who produce the best fish dishes direct from Greencastle pier .Donal Doherty and Ray Moran of Harrys Restaurant in Bridge-End are blazing the trail in promoting locally sourced and home grown Inishowen Food ,Fish like Gurnard from Greencastle Pier are their speciality. Harrys are worth a special visit to experience this fine food, service and attention to detail. Ian Orr from Browns Restaurant in Bonds Hill Derry, uses the best of local Seafood each week, Direct from Greencastle, Utilising fish like John Dory(San Pierre ) Monkfish Cheeks and Squid. Ian Makes his own Chorizo Sausage which compliments the seafood Beautifully. Watts & Co have been using sustainable local mackerel recently on a lot of their menus too. These three great restaurants are certainly worth a visit to sample the some of the best seafood in the world.