Smorgasbord Short Stories – Milestones Along the Way – #Ireland #Waterford 1950s – The Sea Angler’s Club by Geoff Cronin


Following on from The Colour of Life, my father-in-law Geoff Cronin wrote two more books with stories of life in Waterford and Dublin from the 1930s. He collected the stories on his travels, swapping them with others in return for his own and then treating us to the results of the exchange. Geoff also added some jokes overheard just for the Craic…Over the next few weeks I will be sharing selected stories from  Milestones Along the Way.

The Sea Anglers Club Dunmore East

In the late 1950s a group of guys who were interested in fishing for something other than mackerel got together and formed the Dunmore East Sea Anglers Club. Earlier trips out to an area off the Hook Lighthouse had proved that there was an abundance of big fish to be caught there, conger eels, spur dogs, big pollock and occasionally skate and tope. Then came the time when on Sundays we hired a trawler which could take ten rods at a time and when on one such occasion Pat Phelan landed a skate weighing 87 lbs. we were well and truly bitten by the bug.

Thus began the serious business of developing the club and to that end, we organised weekend competitions and invited members of other clubs to participate for prizes and there were competitions for shore anglers, and those who did not wish to go to sea. At this time the general interest in sea angling was taking off and clubs were springing up all over the country.

Then there was the river fishing fraternity which had a strong following, as there were several good trout rivers locally and good pike and roach fishing was to be had in the lakes around the country.

The Dunmore East Sea Anglers decided that new members were needed if we were to grow the club, and to that end, it was decided to target the river fishermen and see if they could be introduced to sea angling and the bigger fish. We invited the chairman of the biggest club to take part in one of our weekly competitions and when he accepted, we booked a place for him on one of our trawlers and I was deputised to look after him and see that he had a good time.

Off for a day’s fishing.

Came the appointed day and I was introduced to this surly guy and guided him to the boat and showed him his station. We set off from the dock and I began to sort out my tackle when I noticed our friend had only two-ounce sinkers, and we all knew that it required half a pound of lead to take bait to the bottom. So, I asked him if he would like to borrow some heavier gear, to which he replied, “Are you suggesting that I don’t know how to fish?” I withdrew gracefully and left him to his own devices, and had to smile when he produced a ten-foot pike rod totally unsuitable for the day’s work ahead. Anyway, he lit his pipe and settled down to wait until we reached the fishing ground.

He was, however, unaware of what was going on at the opposite side of the boat. “What are we fishing for anyway?” he asked me in a most aggressive way.

“With any luck” I said, “we’ll get a shark or two.”

He guffawed and said “Don’t be codding me now, boy.”

I made no comment and could see that I wasn’t going to win him over. And so, he baited a hook and with a two-ounce sinker and dropped it over the side, where it disappeared under the boat.

Now, at the far side was Harry Garret, a seasoned angler, with a six-foot rod, a homemade Nottingham reel with a hundred yards of orange line of a hundred pounds breaking strain and, cutting a mackerel in half, he baited a huge hook with one half of the fish, and with a pound of lead on the end, he dropped the lot overboard and settled himself on a fish box. He was after BIG congers.

And then the inevitable happened. Following the run of the tide our visitor’s line, with his 2 oz. weight, travelled under the boat and found Harry’s line, whereupon Harry said quietly, “Hello lads! I feel a tickle,” and he began to wind in his line slowly. At the same time, our visitor’s rod was bending sharply. He responded by giving it a chuck, and then Harry struck with such force that our friend’s rod was disappearing under the boat. He began shouting for the gaff, and telling us he had a monster. Harry, meanwhile, was bracing one foot against the gunwale and winding relentlessly, when the skipper shouted from the wheelhouse “Are ye tryin’ to lift the feckin’ boat out of the water?”

Everybody saw what had happened, and they fell about the place with laughter. Our guest, however, was not amused. He cut his line, and began to pack his gear.

Just then the skipper called me to the wheelhouse. “Have a look over there” he said. I did so and saw a three- foot fin sticking up out of the water. “It’s a basking shark,” I said. “Here, take the wheel and steer over leaving him on your right, I want to see your friend’s face when he sees this.” I obeyed and as I got near, the fin disappeared as the shark dived. But as I watched, he exploded out of the water, rising to his full height and standing on his tail, he crashed down on his back with an almighty smack – only twenty feet from where our guest stood. What a performance, a twenty-five foot fish weighing a ton, falling on his back right before our eyes! The visitor was ashen-faced. “What in the name of God was that?” he said. “It was only one of the sharks I was telling you about,” I lied. “I think I’d like to go home now,” the visitor said and he was very subdued when we eventually turned for home.

We had a good day’s catch, but no sharks, and the lads enjoyed the joke immensely. Of course, we didn’t recruit the river men, but we had many a good day thereafter and many a good catch too. The best catch was by my old friend Jim O’Connell, who landed a skate which weighed 107 lbs. Incidentally it was an odd sandy colour and we thought it might be a blonde ray, which would make it a record – a skate is normally grey in colour – so we contacted Dr. Went in the Fisheries Department and he asked us to send it to Dublin for examination. Well, we humped it into the boot of O’Connell’s car and drove to Waterford Railway Station, where we asked a porter to bring out a trolley. “What have ye?” he asked. “A fish” said O’Connell. So out he came with a trolley and we dropped the skate onto it. “What in God’s name is that?” asked the porter, “and why are ye sending it to Dublin?”

“Because” said Jim with a straight face “we couldn’t find a pan big enough to fry him!”

This story still endures among the sea anglers of Dunmore East.

Jim O’Connell (left) with Pat Phelan’s 87 lb. skate and Paddy Kelly (boatman).

And just for the Craic

A tourist being shown over the Irish countryside by a local, paused when he saw some red berries growing on a plant at the roadside.
“Tell me,” he said, “what are those berries?” “Those are blackberries,” he was told.
“But they are not black, they’re red,” said the tourist.
“That’s true,” said the guide, “but you see sir, they’re always red when they’re green!”

©Geoff Cronin 2008

Geoff Cronin 1923 – 2017

About Geoff Cronin

I was born at tea time at number 12 John Street, Waterford on September 23rd 1923. My father was Richard Cronin and my mother was Claire Spencer of John Street Waterford. They were married in St John’s Church in 1919.

Things are moving so fast in this day and age – and people are so absorbed, and necessarily so, with here and now – that things of the past tend to get buried deeper and deeper. Also, people’s memories seem to be shorter now and they cannot remember the little things – day to day pictures which make up the larger canvas of life.

It seems to me that soon there may be little or no detailed knowledge of what life was really like in the 1930s in a town – sorry, I should have said City, in accordance with its ancient charter – like Waterford. So I shall attempt to provide some of these little cameos as much for the fun of telling as for the benefit of posterity.

I hope you have enjoyed this weeks stories from Geoff and I hope you will pop in on Saturday 7th November after Halloween. Thanks Sally.