Fishing has always been at the heart of Ireland’s coastal communities, providing employment to many and a way of life with a solid identity that bound families, friends and villages together. But against an industry fast changing and in ways beyond their control, fishermen and their communities have seen their very foundations challenged and with it a sadly inevitable ebbing away of the skills and traditions that long sustained them.
In ‘Before the Tide Went Out’, Andrew Doherty explores these traditions through the story of his own childhood growing up in the fishing village of Cheekpoint, Co. Waterford and where for 15 years he worked hard at the family trade fishing on the rivers and along the coast. His book is both a wonderful testament to his happy youth in Cheekpoint and an impassioned call for the preservation of these important communities.
An expert storyteller, Andrew weaves tales of his childhood roaming the harbour doing odd jobs for sweet money and fishing trips learning the basic skills of the trade. He recalls people and places with great clarity and a locals knowledge of Cheekpoint’s history shines through. There’s a fond nostalgia of a time bygone and a palpable sense of the pride he had growing up there, learning the trade and becoming a fully fledged member of the fishing community.
The hard and backbreaking nature of the fishing trade is laid bare. When he first started working on the boats in the summertime, the long months in school had left his hands soft and they were the first to suffer, breaking out in massive swollen welts which would soon turn black and blue. The days were long, the work was tough but always the sense of pride and thrill of the work shines through in his tales and stories of fishing trips with his father, uncles and the diverse characters of the village.
His book sometimes reads as a comprehensive guide to the skills and techniques learnt while working on the boats. He notes the minutiae of working on the river detailing description of techniques tripping, mooring, drift netting, mending the boats, working with the nets and maintaining the weirs.
While much of the story is written through the rose-tinted glasses of memory that draws you in with warm recollections when even hardest of days on the boats have an appealing aspect, the latter part of the book strikes a somewhat difficult but nevertheless important note. The old ways and the fishing community he so fondly remembers are passing away. The increasing restrictions and policies introduced in the 1990’s put an end to the traditional fishing methods and eventually killed off the bustling salmon trade of his childhood village and the same was true for many other fishing communities around our island. Andrew draws our attention to the fact these changes continue to put severe pressures on coastal communities where we risk losing a unique aspect of our island’s culture, history and landscape.
Andrews book is an enjoyable read and serves an important role in the fostering of appreciation for this significant part of our island’s heritage. It encapsulates the essence of Ireland’s traditional fishing communities and successfully attempts to preserve part of this knowledge on paper. And it also functions as a impassioned plea to the powers that be to realise all that we might lose if we don’t work hard to protect these vulnerable communities.
‘Before the Tide Went Out’ is available to buy from Andrews Website. Visit here to order a copy.