By Eugene Daly
My father, Mícheál Ó Dálaigh, was born on Cape Clear in 1910, the eldest of four children. When his father Eugene died in 1920, he quickly had to take over the part of breadwinner and at a young age became a fisherman.
The people of Clear, often known as Capers, had for many generations always been fishermen. On Cape Clear one is aware of the all-embracing sea. In the 1880s, through the work of Father Charles Davis, a £10,000 loan was granted by the English philanthropist, Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts.
With those loans they bought ‘dandies’, 50 to 60 ft long made in the Isle and Man and later in Baltimore Fishery School. By 1920 there were up to forty of these boats fishing out of Trá Chiaráin, the island harbour. Some of the musical names for these boats include Sarah Gale, Guiding Star, Carbery Queen, Jasmine of Downings etc.
‘Long-lining’ was pursued by the Capers for generations. The lines were about 600 fathoms long. Shorter lines, with barbed hooks attached, were attached to the main line about nine yards apart. They caught iasc bán (white fish) – an langa, an trosc, an cholmóir (ling, cod and hake) as well as iasc mín (flat or fine fish), such as broit, leathóg bhuí, leathóg Mhuire, turband, etc – brill, lemon-sole, halibut and turbot. Other fish landed included an chadóg (haddock) anafláig (monkfish), cnúdán (gurnard) also an roc garb (thornback ray) scalaphort or sciata (skate).
There was little demand for monkfish at that time, though it is very costly today. The monkfish, also known as the angler or ‘fishing frog’, is an ugly fish with a likeness to a frog because of its great curved semi-circular jaws, which are adorned with rows of sharp needle-point teeth on the upper and lower lips.
They are called ‘angler fish’ because nature has given them up to four rods growing out of their head. The fish can settle itself into the sand, or on a rough kelp-grown bottom, with only its eyes exposed and its fishing rods in operation.