Luke’s James Reflects

Some recollections of James Devlin, fisherman, thatcher, and netmaker of Kinturk, Annaghmore, and Aneeterbeg.

I went barefoot to school in Moortown in 1903. All the scholars went barefoot at that time.

Mkaing A Net - Luke's James

Luke’s James making a net

The roads were all holes. The surface-man would come round and cut a whin bush and put it in the hole and put a scraw or a sod on top of it.  So we had to walk the middle of the road, on the horses’ dung. You would have seen a string of scholars a mile long, walking the middle of the road. Master O’Neill was the master in my time.I wasn’t at school too long, when I was eight I started to help an oul fisherman, he lived his lone, they called him John McSloy. He had only a leg and a bit, and he couldn’t put his nets on the stakes, or take them off, or wheel them to the lough. He gave me 10 shillings a month for doing that job. I stayed with him 3 or 4 years and then I had to start to fish with my father after that.In those days we fished for pollan, trout, and perch. Seven or eight hundred of pollan in 10 nets would have been a good fishing. You learned from the old men. The pollan started to rise in the water in April with the first of the fly. Then they went to the bottom again until Mid-summer, and they would rise at the 21st of June, and never go down again till the middle of October. September was the highest month. The pollan were on top of the water in September. So you tackled your nets accordingly.

I often turned my hand to other things. I built a boat or two, but I didn’t practise it, for I was too slow at the boat-building. I started to thatch, and I went from here and there and thatched houses, for half-a-crown a day, in my young days.

I started making nets in my mammy’s day, God bless her. The oul women and oul men knit the nets for the fishermen. Mammy would send me to a house that weaved, for a spanyil yarn at 10 shillings. She could knit a net with that spanyil yarn. When she got up to make mate, I’d take the mesh board and needle, and then make the mesh as well as her. Mammy and my granny taught me how to make the nets. They would have got 5 shillings for making a draft net. That was a lot of money in those times. They called the 5 shilling piece, the horseman.

The old age pension, the 70 pension came in, in 1909. It was Lloyd George that passed that bill. The pension was a horseman, and there were 2 or 3 houses beside us where we lived, and there was from wan pensioner to three in every house, and they were the same as millionaires, with the 70 pension, and we had no pensioners, we had nothing, we had to scrape for the sixpence or the shilling.

Jack’s Lizzie went to the Battery and brought Brine’s Joe up the road with the glazers under his arm. They started a shop at Lavery’s Corner where the three brothers – the Stile Devlins – lived in three houses all under the wan roof. They were all fishermen. Oul Brine was still living and Brine’s Joe and Jack’s Lizzie started the shop where Brine’s brother Curly lived. Curly was called Patrick. They called him Curly for he hadn’t a hair on his head. He wasn’t married. He drunk the bit out. Brine’s at that time, and Curly’s too, was so low that a man standing in the middle of the road could have pished over the roof. There wasn’t six strows of thatch on the roof.

Brine’s was raided by the Black and Tans early wan morning the time of the Troubles. They put all out and made them stand in the middle of the road. Jack’s Lizzie was in a flour bag shift. The flour come in 140-pound bags and the bags were used for making bedsheets and shifts. Lizzie hadn’t bleached the flour bag and Blackbird Flour was still wrote on her back. The fishermen going down the road to the Battery seen her standing there in the shift with the blackbird on her back.

Paddy Hagan (1905-83) (interrupting) – You’re doting, James. You’re off the eggs. That was the Connies.

James – It was not the Connies.

Paddy – The Connies were coming from Cookstown, the two of them, oul Connie and the wife. At Hugh Nail’s loanin Laddie’s Mark catched a hoult of the wheel of the cart and couped it. The two oul wans and all. It was a bad doing.


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