A working day spent with three of the few remaining boats that fish out of Magheraroarty, Go Domhain san Fhuil is going out on TG4 on the 8th and 15th April,
Because of government restrictions on fishing for salmon, and on the issuing of new fishing licences, very few boats now operate out of Machaire Rabhartaigh. The O’ Brien family owns all three of the remaining full time boats, fishing for crab behind Toraigh Island, and off towards the Scottish coast. It’s tough, unrelenting work, involving lifting, clearing, baiting and re-setting up to 3000 pots on a single trip that lasts between 36 and 48 hours. There’s little time for chat, and not a lot of time for breaks or for sleep, as the pots are hauled in and returned, often in difficult conditions.
Two of the boats, owned by John O’Brien and his son Colm, fish commercially for crab, staying out for up to two days at a time in all but the most difficult of weather conditions.
The third boat belongs to Peadar Coll. He fishes closer ashore as government restrictions on fishing make it almost impossible for small scale boats to earn a living from this most traditional of livelihoods. While the decline in the number of boats fishing locally is impossible to deny, what’s harder to shake is what’s ‘in the blood’, the generational instinct to fish in the Atlantic, whatever the circumstances.
Fishing is an inter-generational activity in many Gaeltacht communities, including Magheraroarty in West Donegal. It’s a small horseshoe shaped bay, with a stone pier facing out towards Inis Bó Finne, a small island with a strong link to the mainland.
The locals recall the fishing season of old, when boats could switch from seasonal fishing of salmon to fishing for lobster and crab, as well as mackerel and white fish – when stocks had a chance to survive and replenish, and there was decent money to be made.
The banning of salmon fishing in 2007 was the beginning of the end for many Gaeltacht fishing communities all over the country, and the ending of a traditional way of life that had lasted for generations. With fewer opportunities, the young people of the Gaeltacht find work elsewhere, and traditional fishing skills are lost, a vicious circle of neglect and decline that makes it hard to imagine a future for fishing in this most marginal of communities.
While the decline in the number of boats fishing locally is impossible to deny, what’s harder to shake is what’s ‘in the blood’, the generational instinct to fish the Atlantic, whatever the circumstances.