November Dark

November Dark

Dramatic sky over Nead an Iolair on November Dark this year

The month opened with Snap-apple night and tales of pucás and little folk. From the rising of the moon on November Dark the mackerel would make their way to deeper water; it was the end of the seine season. With the crops all in and hill grazing finished, fires were set on the hills and preparations made for the winter. There was little employment for the months ahead… (from Northside of the Mizen by Patrick McCarthy and Richard Hawkes 1999)

I have mentioned this reference to ‘November Dark’ in previous posts but, apart from the Northside book, I have been unable to find any other allusions to the term – either on the internet (which is usually a sure source of every conceivable fact or fiction) or on our bookshelves (which are overflowing with volumes on Irish culture, traditions and folklore). According to McCarthy and Hawkes it points to the appearance of the November new moon: this year it occurred last Wednesday – the 11th – which was also Martinmas.

bookshelf

gallimaufry on the bookshelves at Nead an Iolair

Once, the day had particular significance: …With the rising of the moon from November Dark the mackerel made their way to deep water; it would be the end of the seining season. Most of the barrels of fish were collected by ships from September onwards. Limerick Steam coasters and ships from England and America anchored offshore, and the barrels would be taken to them. The faller boats took five to eight barrels per trip to the ships. They were hauled up by a derrick, two at a time, into the hold. Often 300 barrels would be loaded onto one ship… Although the barrels of fish were taken throughout the season by the fish buyers, it was on November Dark that the seine crews received their money… (from Northside)

Seining: the huer (top) watched for the arrival of the shoals and then signalled their location to the boats at sea; the lower photograph shows seine netting on the beach at Greystones, Co Wicklow

Historical evidence documents seining in the South West Coast of Ireland from County Waterford, to County Kerry, from the 16th century onwards. This was an important industry with Baltimore, Dunmanus, Schull, Sherkin, Kinsale, Bantry and Whiddy Island as centres, together with outlying curing stations called Fish Palaces or Pallices, of which there were significant numbers along the Southern coast. The fish – usually pilchards – were caught by means of a seine net: two boats, the seine boat and the so-called follower (locally called the ‘faller’) were used. The seiner, a large boat pulled by perhaps a dozen or more oars, carried the net, which was often 300–400 yards long. An experienced fisherman acted as a huer by directing fishing operations from a suitable vantage point ashore. From high land, the huer could see the shoals of pilchards clearly, and he alerted the seine boat, by shouting (the ‘hue and cry’) or making suitable signs as to the location of the shoal. Often the shoals were too far out to be seen from the land, and one of the crew – known as  a spyer – had the job of locating them from on board. On a given signal, the net was shot around the shoal by the seine boat, and in the meantime, the free end of the net was picked up by the faller, with a crew of perhaps five or six, pulling the ends of the net together. The footropes of the net were gradually drawn up until the fish were completely enclosed, and by means of baskets the fish were transferred from the net to the boats.

Tucking

Cornish ‘Tucking’ – gathering in the pilchards from the seine net – by the Newlyn School artist Percy Robert Craft: the original painting is in the Penlee Gallery, Penzance. As the seining season advanced, the Cornish boats followed the shoals to the west coast of Ireland

…After the season’s fishing all the nets were barked in a ceiler (a flat bottomed iron pot) at Dunmanus or Goleen… The ceiler would be full of boiling water and bark (a non-sticky type of tar), and the nets were steeped for a good spell. Barking drove out the salt and would preserve the cotton mesh for the next year’s fishing. The nets, when being repaired, were spread out in a field. In Dunkelly the field was called the Seine Field, and at Gurthdove it was at Willie’s Paircnafarriga. Only the experienced and older men were allowed to repair the nets, as the younger lads rarely had enough care for a job that had to be done so well… (from Northside…)

The Barking Pot at Goleen has been restored as a historic site: sadly the pot is no longer in use

Seining was used to catch pilchard, mackerel, herring and pollock off the Irish coast. A ‘Kerryman’ article by Ted Creedon in the Irish Independent back in 2003 gives a very comprehensive account of the living made in pre-war years – this is a short extract:

…Mike Séamus O’Sullivan of The Glen, St Finan’s Bay, was a member of the crew of the last seine boat to land a catch in South Kerry. Mike began fishing lobsters with his father when he left school aged sixteen.

“That was before the war and lobsters were making four shillings a dozen in those days, but when the war came the fishing really got going in these parts,” Mike told The Kerryman this week.

“We were catching mackerel, pollock, herring and they were cured and boxed at Renard Point before going by train to England. The seine boats were catching all mackerel in the war years and prices were about two shillings per hundred, but one day in 1942 an English buyer arrived at Renard Point and offered £3 a hundred!” Mike recalled.

“There was a fortune made in those days then and the local buyers put their prices up to £4 a hundred for the mackerel to keep the English buyer out!” he said…

mending nets

Mending the nets – in this case in a traditional Irish kitchen: a photograph by Tomás Ó Muircheartaigh, who documented life in rural Ireland between the 1930s and the 1950s. The Irish caption to this photo suggests that the net was damaged by a shark

We have been looking back through our archive of the photographs which we’ve taken here on or around ‘November Dark’ in past years. There’s quite a contrast: we have had times of golden sunsets and warm days when we could sit out, while this year has brought a period of wild storms and grey skies.

Mizen Sunset November

November evening

November contrasts: our view a year ago (above) and (below) in the last day or two, brief respite from a period of Atlantic storms

November Dark – have any readers a recollection of this term? We’d like to know – and record – memories of the day and its significance here in West Cork…

sad end for a seine boat

From Northside of the Mizen – the photo is captioned ‘A sad end for a seine boat’

9 thoughts

  1. Hi there,
    In Cormac Levis’s Towelsail Yawls: The Lobster Boats of Heir Island and Roaringwater Bay, while it doesn’t mention the term ‘November Dark’ specifically, it does mention that the November new moon was viewed by the Islanders as the optimum time of the year to harvest willow withies for lobster-pot making. “At that particular time, all growth is said to an absolute standstill before re-awakening with the waxing moon”. This meant that the sap in the withies was at it’s lowest paint making them “tough but pliable”. It is a fantastic book if you can get your hands on it!

    Like

    • Thank you, Tim, for the book recommendation (I haven’t come across it but I will look out for it now), also for the information on the withies: I’m going to follow that up too!

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      • Unfortunately it is out of print. The time Traveller bookshop has a copy for 78 quid!!! Time for a second edition I think. There should probably be a copy in Skibbereen Library. Well worth the read, some fabulous accounts of the Heir Islanders who were famous all along the Cork coast. The author Cormac Levis is an organizer of the gathering of the boats in Ballydehob every summer.

        Liked by 1 person

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