Roamer: Women followed the fleet and opened mussels for the fishing trawlers

Following Wednesday’s page about the death of my mother, and my short tribute to her life here following her harrowing experiences in Vienna due to Hitler’s anti-Semitic mass atrocities, I was very moved by the messages of condolence in Roamer’s in-tray, via text, and on the News Letter’s announcements page.

Following Wednesday’s page about the death of my mother, and my short tribute to her life here following her harrowing experiences in Vienna due to Hitler’s anti-Semitic mass atrocities, I was very moved by the messages of condolence in Roamer’s in-tray, via text, and on the News Letter’s announcements page.

Many thanks for the kind thoughts and prayers which I assure the readers who sent them will be cherished, and they are also much appreciated by mum’s family circle.

Prior to her health deteriorating mum sat on the committee of the annual Fermanagh County Show.

For some time Roamer has been trying to get around to reading author Samuel B. Morrow’s vividly-illustrated book about the show, and about the numerous local farming societies’ immense contribution to life in and around Northern Ireland’s beautiful lake lands that mother made her home.

Entitled A Landlords’ Legacy, there’ll be extracts from the book on this page next Wednesday, and meanwhile the Fermanagh County show takes place next week on Tuesday, August 4 and Wednesday, August 5.

This premier agricultural event, an annual highlight of my life in Fermanagh when I was a child, attracts over 12,000 visitors from Ireland, the UK and further afield, and there’s always a dazzling array of attractions, displays, side-shows and of course all sorts of everything related to farming.

It was at the show in the early 1950s, then held in the Farmers Mart, that I savoured my first ever toasted bacon sandwich, purchased from the back of a farmer’s trailer.

It was delicious, and I’ve adored toasted bacon sandwiches ever since!

There was an exhibition of pig carcasses nearby, with enormous sides of bacon hanging in rows on hooks, enlightening a grim-faced four-year-old about the source of his much more appetising Ulster Fry!

I also had my first ever milkshake at the show.

If I remember correctly the then completely novel beverage was given away free at a demonstration area operated by the Milk Marketing Board.

Milk in our house was only for pouring on my porridge, or drinking, often under coercion, from a cup or a glass along with the aforementioned Ulster Fry.

I’d have preferred lemonade!

So to sip a sweet, frothy, banana or vanilla flavoured (or it might have been strawberry) half-pint of deliciously cold draught in a tall, colourful carton, was a hugely memorable gastronomic first.

Thereafter, my regulatory cup of pre-refrigerator, lukewarm milk at the tea table was even more of an imposition.

Next week’s multi-faceted Fermanagh County Show programme is outlined on the show’s web page on fermanaghcountyshow.org.uk where you’ll find everything from celebrity cooking demonstrations, pet, poultry, rabbit and rare breed events, a full children’s programme, and sheep-shearing, concerts and crafts.

The mammoth menu of activities recently won the show the Farmers’ Guardian Show Business 2015 all-UK top award, beating off challenges from many of Britain’s leading community shows.

Several weeks ago a full-page story on this page about Lough Neagh pollan instigated a few fishy responses!

The unique little fresh water herring was once a country-wide delicacy, and during WWII, when Ulster’s trawler fleet was under pressure from German U-Boats, Lough Neagh’s pollan made a tasty substitute for their seawater cousins.

I wondered if fresh pollan, filleted or whole, were still available anywhere to buy and cook, and so far I’ve received no replies to that query, though several folk are similarly interested to know where the Lough Neagh herring can be purchased.

And several recipes were sent by a pollan-seeker that have been simmering in Roamer’s in-tray for a few weeks.

It seems they’re prepared in exactly the same way as any other herring or trout, and there’s a particularly mouth-watering almond version using pollan fillets wrapped in tin foil.

Bake the fillets at about 180C gas mark 5 for about 20 minutes, grill the almonds lightly and mix with melted butter and lemon juice.

If someone would advise Roamer on the whereabouts of a few fresh pollan for sale I’ll definitely have a go at this!

The pollan account a few weeks ago also mentioned the part played by women in the fishing industry.

I mentioned a report from times past about sea fishermen’s spouses - “the wives went with their men to help pull the boats down the beach and carried the men on their backs out to the boats when they were afloat. This meant that they weren’t sitting with wet feet all night.”

I’ve further been reliably informed that “women in Northern Ireland never really actively fished and if any did they were an unknown minority.”

A researcher in 2003 investigated fishing families in Scotland and in an outline history of the industry wrote an intriguing document which showed that women didn’t only heave their husbands out to the boats, but they worked as ‘herring lassies’ gutting and packing the herring in barrels with salt.

The Scottish industry ‘imported’ Irish workers, to join the local women who followed the fishing boats wherever they went, earning a few pence per barrel and often working in kinship-groups for mutual safety.

Women came from the west of Ireland to work in the Co Down ports too, and where the boats ‘long-lined’ for mackerel it was the women’s duty to bait the hooks with mussels.

There are apparently sandy coves in Co Down where huge quantities of mussel shells can be found a few feet under the shoreline that were discarded by the womenfolk.

Roamer wonders if precious pearls ever augmented their meagre remuneration.