In the nineteenth century a range of fishing vessels would have been observed working along the West Cork Coast. These included everything from small fishing boats, smacks and hookers through to schooners and trawlers.
In the later nineteenth century Cornish luggers and Manx luggers frequented these waters, and by the turn of the century a small number of steamships and steam yachts were employed by the Irish fisheries.
Small Fishing Boat
Traditionally West Cork fishermen used small fishing boats. The sketch below by William Brocas depicts a typical fishing boat.
A smack was a traditional fishing boat.
The hooker was associated with the Kinsale fishery and Rynne describes it as ‘a deckless boat with one forward mast for a mainsail. Seldom would such craft exceed 20 tons burthen’ (Rynne, 2006, p.202).
A schooner was a two-masted vessel. Those described by Brabazon had a burden of 150 tons and a tender of 50. The advantage of schooners, he explained, was that ‘they could attend all the fisheries, Herrings, long-lines, Sun-fishing, and trawling, all at their different seasons’. They were typically manned by a crew consisting of skipper, mate, three men and a boy. A fully-equipped schooner would cost in the region of £1,000 (pp.15-16).
Trawlers drag fishing nets behind them, along the bottom of the sea. In 1848, when Brabazon published his book, The Deep Sea and Coast Fisheries of Ireland, a large trawler would have had a burden of 70 tons. This would have enabled it to fish waters that were 40-70 fathoms deep (70-130 metres). Flat fish such as turbot, sole, brit, plaice, flounders, John Dory, mollagoons, and skate or ray were commonly caught by the trawlers, but as Brabazon commented:
A trawl net when sometimes hauled on board presents as heterogenous a mass of fish as can well be imagined.
The Manx lugger was ‘essentially a cross between a single-masted smack and the two-masted Cornish lugger, and became the fishing vessel of choice among both Irish and Manx herring fishermen by the 1860s’ (Rynne, 2006, p.202 citing McCaughan, 1989, p.131).
The Cornish lugger was a two-masted boat used by Cornish fishermen. These replaced the Manx luggers between 1869 and 1890 and were far superior to the other fishing vessels, enabling the catch to be landed more quickly, which prevented deterioration of the fish (Rynne, 2006, pp.202-3).
The late nineteenth century saw steam-powered craft being used by some fisheries, but the uptake was slow. ‘By 1889, there were only three steam trawlers and five steam yachts operating in Ireland’s commercial fisheries’ (Rynne, 2006, p.203).
The image above is of the Princess Beara at Greenock, Scotland ca. 1914. Registered in Cork in 1901, she was a passenger and cargo steamer operating between Castletownbere and Bantry. Built in Greenock, Scotland, more information about the Princess Beara is available on the Scottish Built Ships website.