IN the upper reaches of the Feale, with all due respects to the residents thereon, there was a time when poached salmon was more common than eggs at mealtimes.
“You wrote some time back,” writes a Mountcollins reader, “about the Smearla and the salmon who go up but don’t come down. You said that in Mountcollins any salmon that arrived were warmly welcomed, and I may tell you we are as anxious as the Smearla poachers to keep the salmon here permanently. So plentiful were salmon here until a few years ago that it was part of a servant boy’s agreement that he would only be served salmon once a week. We used no fishing rods either, only torches and pikes. We salted them and we had them fresh, and we smoked them and I can assure you it was a smart salmon that made his way back to the Atlantic after our reception committees were finished welcoming him.”
The Mountcollins reader goes on to say that more salmon was eaten in Mountcollins than in any other part of the civilised world. “We had them,” he writes, “before the season and we had them after the season.”
Not long after I received the letter I ran into Joe Quaid of Knockadirreen, Duagh, but formerly of Direen, Athea. Joe Quaid was one of the best known and most distinguished waterkeepers ever to police the beautiful banks of Feale. As I so often said, he is even more fondly remembered by poachers than he is by legitimate fishermen.
“I had a way with them,” he once told me, “and I always found that plamas was better than force.”
He agreed with the contents of the Mountcollins letter, and said that the methods used in catching the salmon were most effective. Apparently, the idea was to blind the salmon with the torchlight and then stab them with the pikes. Sometimes a bearded gaff was used and sometimes an ordinary gaff, but the torch was the boy who did the spadework.
How were these torches made? Let us go over to Joe Quaid, who is currently writing a book which is to be called Hook, Line and Sinker.
“When I was an innocent gorsoon,” Joe opened, wandering the grove of Dirreen, I was introduced to the art of torch making by that master of torch makers, Mick Scanlan of Dirreen. Thanks be to God,” Joe Quaid proceeded, “the same Mick and his good wife are still hale and hearty, and I hope they’ll stay that way for many a year to come. As I say, Mick was a master torch-maker. The raw material was at hand in the bogs, and the main ingredient was bog deal. This had to be cut or peeled into splinters of equal width and length. To tell you how hard it was, it would be easier to cut slates. When cut, it was bound together by homemade sugans and left for awhile and left for awhile to season in the face of a dry West wind.”
According to Joe, there was no paraffin torch it’s equal, and, if made properly, lasted for hours. “Down then to the river,” said Joe “and every one of us armed with a torch and a gaff or a four-prong pike. That was a slaughter, but, thanks be to God there were no empty bellies in Athea when we were finished our night’s work. Nowadays anglers only fish for sport or for the money, but in those times we went after the fish because of the hunger.
“What about the law?” I asked. “You mean the elastic,” Joe asked, “because if you do, I’m going to tell you now that the law and elastic are one and the same thing. The more you have the more of the two that can be bought.”
I left Joe in the philosophic mood but not before he told me about an incident which happened in the city of Limerick the day before Saint Patrick’s Day.
“Is there a film star by the name of Dan Dailey junior?” Joe asked. I told him there was. “I was mistaken for him in Limerick”, Joe told me, “and I was asked to sign autographs for two girls
“Did you sign?
“Isn’t there enough signing?” he answered and with that he hopped on his bike and was gone.
THERE IS a letter from Ballingarry signed by Josie, which is full of praise for the Toureendonaill bachelors.
“I wish to inform you,” Josie opens politely, “that a share of bachelors around Toureendonaill have all recently married and are very happy except one who has a big bane of cows and who is very choosy and doesn’t like to see women drinking or smoking although he likes the hot pants.”
She asks me to do what I can for him and indeed I will as soon as the weather clears and the birds start to show themselves. I’m not surprised that happiness should reign in this former abode of saints, martyrs and scholars. My friend, Jerome Murphy of Listowel, informs me that Toureendonaill is a very hallowed place with a history going back over the centuries. “They have a great responsibility,” he said, “and they have every right to be proud.”
JACK Wilberforce Faulkner made one of his rare visits to Listowel last week on the occasion of the annual April horse fair. This year it fell on All-Fool’s Day, the first of the month. I asked Jack if he had been through the fair and if prices were up.
“The thing I’ll tell you,” said Jack, “there’s plenty asses and ponies but there’s no fools there.”
Jack told me he priced an oldish ass who was stationed for the day at the corner of market Street and William Street. When told that the price was twenty pounds he recalled that he had given away similar asses for practically nothing when he was a younger man.
“I swapped a fine ass in Abbeyfeale,” he told me, “for a pair of corduroy trousers with a patch. There was never nothing thought of asses till lately,” Jack continued.” No doubt Jack Faulkner knows what he is talking about. He ought to. He has been dealing in asses and ponies all his life, not to mention mules and jennets. He is now retired in Glin in his own house.
OVER NOW to Willie Finucane of The Lotts, Knockanure, for an up-to-date report on the romantic situation in the Moyvane-Athea-Knockanure district. It was Willie who said recently in these columns that the night-time cronawning of the border bachelors was was lonesomer than the pillalloeing of the banshee or lowing of a lost heifer or the bleathing of the jacksnipe in the isolation of the inner bog.
I myself have not heard this woeful cronawning nor would I care to hear it, but I have spoken to people who have. It beggars description.
“With Easter now on top of us,” said Willie Finucane, last week, “the summer won’t be long in coming and when it does the cronawning will die down a bit.”
Apparently a woman is missed more in the winter than in the summer by the lonely border bachelors. In the spring a young man’s fancy will lightly turn to thoughts of love, or so the poet says, but is the opposite in the North Kerry and West Limerick single gentlemen.
Of course, they are not so young that could be a cause of it. “You can feel the sighs of relief from Knockathea to Gortaglanna,” said Willie, “now that the days are getting longer. The summer is a great time entirely and hope rises in the hearts of the single brigade, with the thoughts of all the carnivals across the length of the summer and early autumn.”
Lucky year ?
ACCORDING TO Willie the long time bachelors believe that every year will be their lucky year. If they fail in Moyvane there is always Athea and if they fail in Athea there is always Carricfeale and there is Listowel Races and countless other occasions when women are on the look-out for likely latchikoes.
However, as winter approaches, the bachelor boys start to run out of carnivals and their faces begin to lengthen at the prospect of another long, lonely, womanless winter.
Suddenly autumn is dead and there is frost in the air. Then, like the mating call of a Siberian wolf, comes the first cry of a distracted bachelor carrying down the Gale River eerie and awful in its sound and filling those lucky enough to have women alongside them with contentment and happiness, sating them with satisfaction that they had the courage and perseverance to seek and to find.
The late-great John B. Keane was a Limerick leader columnist for over 30 years. This column first appeared in our edition April 10, 1971.