Isle of Mann


In the 1880s the Isle of Mann fishermen often visited Balbriggan for the 'Fall Herring'. They joined the men from Kilkeel and Arklow and often filled the harbour to over 100 boats. The herring-girls were  in their wake as they worked their way, folowing the silver shoals. The herring were sold and barrelled outside the old Gasworks ie. on the Western side of the first two arches from the railway station. The barrels were then taken by ketch to the Isle of Mann or sent by rail to Dublin. Local buyers used horse and cart and later lorries to move their lot.

Some of the Isle men were well known to the locals and and the names of their boats were keenly awaited. The Peel Guardian often sent a correspondent to report back to the folks at home as to the happenings in Balbriggan.

Here is one such report:-

A night on the Irish coast -  Balbriggan

The following is a continuation of a previous trip by S. Bradford of his time with the Peel fleet. A year later this was published in the "Peel Guardian" on November 25th. 1905.

It was the last day of October, and here was I once again in Balbriggan, and again was on a visit to my friends in the Peel nobbies. It was a lovely day: the sun was shining brightly, and a gentle breeze was blowing seaward. I made my way from the station down the steep incline that leads to the harbour, and once again I found myself in the midst of my friends, who gave me a hearty welcome. As the boats could not sail for some hours, owing to the tide, I had a walk about the town, and called at a friend’s house, and then returned for dinner to the boats.

I made a splendid meal of Manx broth, and corn-beef, as the sea air had sharpened my appetite. After dinner I accompanied the cook of my vessel up to the main street to get some provisions. We first sojourned to a little huckster’s shop, kept by a woman with a very red nose. Here we enquired for bread, but as it had not yet come in, the cook went to the bakery for some, while I conversed with the shopkeeper. She could not understand what brought me to Balbriggan. I was not tarry enough for a sailor she said "and could not comprehend how any sane person could go to sea for pleasure in the beginning of winter." She introduced me to everybody who entered the shop, and I was greatly relieved when my friend hove in sight with his loaves. So now our purchases being completed we returned to the boat.

We were the last boat to leave for sea, and as the wind was light we had to row her clear of the harbour. There were about 26 vessels sailing out of Balbriggan; some trawling for flukes, the remainder herring boats. The flukers left early on the tide, and were well away to the north when we left the harbour. We steered N. by E. towards the Mourne mountains, which loomed duskily on the horizon. To the south lay the little town of Skerries, and outside it three small islands, one of them containing the ruins of a small church built by Saint Patrick. Further out to sea was the Rockabill Light, a fine lighthouse, and buildings erected on a rock some five miles from the shore. Once well clear of the harbour a little breeze sprung up, and soon we passed the coast-guard station, and approached a rocky peninsula marked by an iron cage. We kept well to the windward of the rocks, and soon overtook the two boats that were out just before us. The wind dropped so we shook the reef out of our mizzen, and hoisted our big jib, and also got out the oars, and as some nets had to be repaired I was given the tiller. The cook was below preparing tea, as I could tell by the increased amount of smoke from the funnel.

By the way I must tell a story about the cook. When first I saw him I thought he was a little black boy, but shortly afterwards I heard him calling, and on looking out of the foc’s’Ie door I saw him with a bucket of water and a large piece of flannel scrubbing himself, and in a minute the black boy vanished and I saw before me a nice little white boy. He then said "I’m not black now."

A special treat was reserved for my tea. I was told I was to have some "towed" ray, and I wondered to myself what it was. Thoughts flashed through my mind of some species of ray having its tail shaped like a human toe, but soon I was to learn. A ray was brought from under the side-deck, and a rope assigned to it, and it was put overboard to be towed behind the vessel to make it tender. However, our skipper did not approve of this, as he thought it would stop the way of the vessel, so when our backs were turned he quietly hauled it in, and hid it on the stem-sheets.

To leeward of us I now saw a smack preparing to shoot. She had not a long train, as she soon hoisted her mizzen, and was lying at her nets. As last we prepared to shoot, as the sun was sinking slowly in the west in a murky haze. I could see the white houses of the towns of Gormanstown and Laytown, and once, lighted-up by a last lingering ray, I saw the village of Clogher nestling, as it seemed, at the foot of the mountains. Balbriggan could be seen faintly over our stern, partially hidden by the falling darkness.

We now prepared to shoot our nets, and as soon as that was done, the riding light being lit and hoisted, we adjourned for tea, and one of the crew facetiously; remarked, he hoped the cook had the china and tablecloth properly laid. After tea hand lines were brought out, and we started to fish. The darkness had set in, and all around were the lights of the boats like a floating town, and the red flashlight on Rockabill threw its gleams warningly towards us. We had fair luck at our fishing, getting nearly a basket of whiting, the only trouble being the dogfish, which seemed to swarm around the boat. Then a heavy shower compelled us to take shelter below. As soon as it had cleared, the cook and I returned to our lines. As I left the fo’c’sle I heard a sepulchral voice from one of our for’ard bunks say. "My fader he don’t fish, my fader trawls." a remark which caused much merriment.

Soon after the skipper, cook and I started to prove. We soon had the swing on board, and then the first net and it contained as I was informed by the cook a cast of "blue bills," and a warp of herring, So we let go again and I returned to the fo’c’sle and turned into the skipper’s bunk. When I woke I heard sounds on the deck above, and knew that the nets were being hauled, I felt too comfortable to turn out so I lay on, and had another nap, When I again awoke we were on our way home. I turned out, a nice breeze was blowing, and I made my way up to the bow and lay alongside the jib-boom, looking at the various lights along the coast. Miles away in the sky could be seen the reflection of the lights of Dublin, and I wondered to myself how all my friends were spending their evening,

When about a mile outside Balbriggan the wind fell, so the oars had to be got out and at last we reached port about 2-30 a.m. No sooner were we inside the jetty than we heard an Irish voice sing out "What luck, skipper." and soon the catch was brought from us. We had supper and all turned in for the night. When I awoke it was after 8 a.m. Ahead of us was moored a Liverpool collier loading timber for Garston, and as the tide was out I had a fine view of the "sludgy squidgy" bed of the harbour.

The wind had now changed to the east, and with it came rain. The waves could be heard roaring on the beach outside, and the "white horses" came racing in, a great contrast to the fine weather of the previous day. After breakfast I went up town, and saw the people going to chapel, as it was a Saint’s Day. When I returned the collier had departed and we were berthed in his place. I saw a nobby outside in the bay, and  was told she was the Lilly, but she seemed afraid to venture in and run for Skerries. It rained all day so we stayed in the fo’c’sle till tea, and I had more "owed" ray. I was told we should have had it "crimped." only there was a lack of breadcrumbs and parsley. Some boats can do things in style evidently. At this meal our supply of bread ran out, and an expedition was got up to kill our cook, but being a wise child he was not to be found


While the boats outside us were at tea a misfortune occurred. As I have remarked above, we were in the steamboat’s berth, and as the mud was very soft the collier had made a bed for herself in the harbour bottom. When the tide fell the boats that were at the edge of the bed listed, and fell off, capsizing their crews and their meal. Tackles were soon rove to the quay and the boats righted.

As I had to return to Dublin by the last train, my time now was very short, so having a last look round the town I made my way to the station accompanied by one of my friends. My train arrived, I jumped aboard, and made my way once more to the Irish metropolis.


The first article written by the same author is probably more interesting and can be assessed at the end of this page. Meanwhile let us look at some of the Isle men who visited the harbour between 1880s and 1920s. Many of them were captured on record when they signed a petition in 1909 to improve the lot of fishermen in the harbour. Some of the names are difficult to read so I will leave them to our Manx visitors to decipher.

Sample 1.isle of mann2pic


Sample 2

isle of mann2pic


There are several pages of names, some of whom are later to become famous as they were part of the crew of the" Wanderer" the famous Manx fishing boat which saved many lives during the sinking of the Lusitania.  The two I would like to mention are Thomas Woods and Stanley Ball, as they have  another connection with Balbriggan as we shall see later. Let The Manx Note book Mannin describe what happened :

The Sinking of the Lusitania.

The great liner sank in fifteen minutes, about 2-15 on the afternoon of May 7th, 1915, and no steamer arrived on the spot for two hours. The Wanderer, a Peel rugger of about twenty tons, was fishing a few miles away. Thomas Woods was alone on deck, on watch, and steering - he had sent little Johnny Macdonald below to make tea - when he saw the Lusitania list. He gave the alarm, and the crew quickly tumbled up on deck. The skipper's first words to Woods at the helm were, 'Go for her, be British.' The Wanderer, undeterred by the danger of lurking submarines, was quickly within a quarter of a mile of the scene of the disaster, where she took on board 160 people-men, women, and children, including Mr. D. A. Thomas, of Cardiff, the famous coal owner and millionaire, and his secretary, Mr. A. L. Rhys Evans. So crammed was the lugger; that Mr. James Brooks, of Bridgeport,Conn., wrote, 'I even had to sit with my leg hanging over the side because there was no room to put it on the inside.' The rescued, many of whom were in a pitiable plight, were kindly tended by the skipper and crew, who gave them all their changes of clothes, blankets, food and drink, and, the weather being fine and the sea calm, they were able to transfer them to the tug Flying Fish, of Queenstown, two miles off the Old Head of Kinsale. Such are the bare outlines of the story. The imagination fails to grasp the realities of it, but extracts from the letters of the skipper and crew, given below, are more telling than the words of any one who was not present can possibly be. The names of the crew were as follows, William Ball (skipper), Jurby ; his son, Stanley; William Gell, Ramsey; Thomas Woods, Robert Watterson, John Macdonald, and Harry Costain, Peel; owner, Mr. Charles Morrison, Peel.

The Skipper’s letter to Mr. Morrison, Owner.

We had rather an exciting experience on Friday afternoon, about 2-30 p.m. We were coming in with about 800 mackerel, the wind light and ahead, and we put off to sea again for another shot, rather than lose the night. When we were six or seven miles off the Old Head we saw the Lusitania sink, after being torpedoed by a submarine, about three miles SSW outside of us. We made straight for the scene of the disaster. We picked up the first boats a quarter of a mile inside of where she sunk, and there we got four boat loads put aboard us, We couldn't take any more, as we had 160-- men, women, and children. In addition, we had two boats in tow, full of passengers. We were the only boat there for two hours Then the patrol boats came out from Queenstown. We had a busy time making tea for them - and all our milk and tea is gone and a lot of clothes as well, and the bottle of whisky we had leaving home. The people were in a sorry plight, most of them having been in the water. We took them to within two miles of the Old Head, when it fell calm, and there was a little air ahead. The tugboat Flying Fish from Queenstown then came up and took them from us. It was an awful sight to see her sinking, and to see the plight of these people. I cannot describe it to you in writing.


Thomas Woods:
woods thomas 1

The saddest sight I ever saw in all my life. I cannot tell you in words, but it was a great joy to me to help the poor mothers and babes in the best way we could.

Stanley Ball : We saw the Lusitania going East. We knew it was one of the big liners by her four funnels, so we put the watch on. We were lying in bed when the man on watch shouted that the four-funnelled boat was sinking. I got up out of bed and on deck, and I saw her go down. She went down, bow first. We were going off south, and we kept her away to the S.S.W., so we went out to where it took place - to within a quarter of a mile of where she went down, and we picked up four yawls We took 110 people out of the first two yawls, and about fifty or sixty out of the next two; and we took two yawls in tow. We were at her a good while before any other boat. The first person we took on board was a child of two months. We had four or five children on board and a lot of women. I gave a pair of trousers, a waistcoat, and an oil-coat to some of them. Some of us gave a lot in that way. One of the women had her arm broke, and one had her leg broke, and many of them were very exhausted.

The Manchester Manx Society voiced the sentiments of all Manxmen, when it invited the skipper and each man of the crew to accept a medal, on Tynwald Day designed by Mr. F. S. Graves.

Copy of the medals presented



Poster for Lusitania at the time




Balbriggan Connection for Thomas Woods and Stanley Woods

Thomas Woods:-

Thomas spent many years fishing for herring from Balbriggan. He is recorded as skippering a couple of Manx vessels from the harbour, including the 'Wanderer'. He was well known in the town and liked by the locals.

William and Stanley,father and son, often fished from Balbriggan, first as crew men and later as skippers. The last boat recorded was the 'Aigh Vie'. I presume pronounced the same as the Irish Gaelic 'Ath Mhaith' meaning good luck. To divert for a moment; the mac Gillivray brothers,whose father came from the Isle of Skye with my own folk, purchased two boats at the begining of the 20th. century. The first was the Nobby 'Aigh Vie' from William and Stanley Ball above, and the second was the 'Stephensons' which they renamed the 'Brecan Lass'. The amazing thing regarding these two boats is the fact that they are both with us today.

The former Ball boat is being brought back to its former glory by Patrick Murphy in Co. Galway. He tells this story. When the 'Wanderer' rescued survivors from the 'Lusitania' one of the people brouht aboard was a wealthy heiress who was with child. She was so well treated by the Ball family aboard that after the child was born, she gave them enough money to purchase their own boat and call it 'Good Luck' - Aigh Vie. True or untrue, but passed on from owner to owner to the present day.

Photo of Crew of the 'Wanderer'

wanderer crew 1pnt



Copy of 'Aigh Vie' registration in Balbriggan

aigh vie 1pnt



Other Balbriggan Connections

Before we leave this topic we must not forget John Orange of Chapel Street, a Fireman on the Lusitania and passenger Mary Costello of Clonard Street, both of whom lost their lives that fateful day. She later also lost her brother, John, 4th. Com. Irish Guards in Flanders. The talk at the time was that the ‘Yank’ Richardson had a passage booked on the ship but on hearing that Mary had to get home urgently, he gave his sailing ticket to her.


A Night on the IrishCoast 2

Hallow Eve with the Peel Fishing Fleet at Balbriggan

The following is an article which appeared in the Peel Guardian on November 12th. 1904, and tells of a night at the Irish herring fishing.

This little account of my stay with the herring boats in Ireland I have been asked to relate. I do not claim for it any literary merit, but ask pardon for my deficiencies. I write it to give account of your friends and relatives' doings in my own land, so that although they are absent from you, yet they may seem near.

It was a dull, cold morning as the Dublin express steamed into the little station of Balbriggan. From the train one could see the grey sombre tumbling mass of the Irish Sea, partially hidden by the sea fog. A strong wind was blowing from the eastwards. causing the waves to break with continuous thunder on the sandy beach below. Before entering the station we passed across the lofty viaduct overlooking the snug little harbour. with its fishing boats and squat white painted lighthouse. The tide was out, turning the harbour into an oozy mudflat, and the smoke rising lazily from the boats fires completed the fleeting picture.

Descending the station steps we found ourselves in a street joining the renowned stocking factory). and taking the road to the left we descended a steep hill, and after passing under the tall arch on the roadway we entered the quay. No sooner were we seen, than, we were greeted with a sincere and hearty welcome by many friends, and accompanied by one of them made our way to his boat. We left our "traps" in the fo’c’sle and with them some homemade jam I had brought down.

My friend was at home with the men at once, and I left him chatting on board whilst I went to see my other acquaintances.

I saw about sixteen Peel boats. mostly "nobbies" and on the mizzen of one flew the three legs of Man. Accompanied by my Irish friend and two particular Manx friends we passed along the principal street of the town to the Drogheda road. Here we saw a number of men, nearly all engaged in picking blackberries, for the hedges on each side of the road were very plentifully stocked with them. The natives, I was told would not touch them, saying they were ‘forbidden fruit." We walked some distance along the rood and then retraced our steps, it being nearly dinner hour.

The wind continued to blow strongly inshore, the boats were unable to get to sea, so my friend was disappointed in not viewing the herring fleet at work. Nevertheless he enjoyed himself thoroughly with his new friends. After dinner a football was subscribed for, and the town club gave permission for the use of their ground. The buying of the ball caused great excitement, nearly a dozen going into the shop to participate in the purchase. When the ground was reached there was a delighted audience from a neighbouring girls’ school. The game was very keenly contested - the falls being numerous especially amongst the "cookie" boys, but the greatest treat of the lot was to see a big fat skipper keeping goal, and giving advice to his side in true nautical fashion, and afterwards had another game till dark.

Then we had a rest and a long chat, and some of the men went up town, and sat in a long row on a wall just like gulls, watching the people passing up and down, and criticising the many horses from the fair at Drogheda returning home. The female portion of the town seemed the best of friends with the Manxmen, and knew most of them by name. As night came on we shifted our quarters to a neighbouring gable, and there leant against a wall. Some smart repartee was exchanged between the passing girls and the wits of our party. Some came over and spoke to us, and one gave us each a handful of nuts. The quaint accent of the people was amusing to a stranger, with its peculiar drawl.

About nine o’clock I made my way down to the dimly lighted harbour, and there a pretty sight greeted me: the night was dark and cold, and the warm rays of light gleaming through the companions and skylights of the boats threw a homely glow over the dark deserted quays. I was pursued by the children from the coastguard station who were eating nuts and shouting. "Hurrah for the

Manxmen!" These children spend most of their spare time on the boats, and I saw the floor of the cabin littered with nutshells, where they had been kindly permitted to spend most of the evening,

All the older men were on board by this time, and ready for sleep-, so after a good supper we all turned in and fell asleep, As for me, owing to my strange crouch, I was unable to fall asleep for fully half-an-hour, At last I succumbed to Morpheus, and was awakened by the boy lighting the fire for breakfast:

On enquiring the time I found it half past seven. The morning was dull as I turned out, the smoke was ascending cheerily from the boats chimneys, and above us rushed a morning train on its way to the metropolis. Here I may mention that one of the sights for the Peel men in Balbriggan was to see the mail train catching the post-bag from the apparatus just outside the station, and very nearly every evening most of the younger men awaited the coming of "the mail."

After breakfast l got a towel and soap and went up the stream that flows through the town for an al fresco wash. Feeling greatly refreshed I returned, and saw the coast-guard children on their way to school. So attached are they to the Peel men that they had to see the boats before they went. We now departed for the football ground, where sides were picked, and a specially great game indulged in. Then we returned to dinner, feasting off real Manx broth, meat and a "duff" which made me feel, as the schoolboys express it, "stodqed:"

My station was now drawing to a close, as I had to return home by the afternoon train, so after a stroll along the walk overlooking the beach, and past the neat looking coast-guard station and martello tower we returned for the last time to the boats. l bade a general good-bye, and was accompanied to the station by some of my friends, who expressed the hope that they would see me soon again. I just caught the train. As we crossed the bridge l leaned from the window and was greeted by cheers from the boats below. I waved my cap in reply. The harbour vanished and I found myself en route for Dublin, after having spent a most pleasant Hallow Eve with the Peel fleet.

S. Bradford


We were down the 'kay' the other night and were trying to remember the last Isle of Mann fishing boats to fish from from here. We only came up with two names 'Boy John' and 'Girl Lynne'. Anyone add to this?