It is that itme of year they are heading for the ocean, I am told, to cross the Atlanitc and reach the
Sargasso Sea. These strange dark creatures waving their way down river on their epic voyage, but we
have the advantage – they do not like weirs.
There is a large weir that stretches right across the river apart from one seciton, where our old mill
had its sluice gate and they abundantly congregate there. We have a large net in a frame in the mill
race and open the gate. When our net is full of eels, we close the gate and dump all of them into an
underground tank through which river-water lfows through. There our eels will live itll we are ready
to ship them out. Our father has arranged with the ifsh market to send boxes for us, elegantly they
arrive labelled ‘Billinsgate’ on the top. Johnny, or as we call him ‘Factory Jack’ as he has spent all his
life with our factory, packs the boxes early to get them on the 9am train from Trim to Dublin. They
will sail to England and then onto London. “Fresh eels from Ireland” they will shout, giving an exoitc
edge above the Thames ones.
My brother and I have a wooden double bed and a few wooded chairs at the factory, where we rest
between trips to tend the net. It is November now and very cold, so mother tends a ifre and makes
tea from itme to itme, that keeps us going through the night. It is worth it as we can make over £100
on a good year. Our father makes his own nets that we use, using Barbour’s Linen twine – the ifnest
quality of lfax that gets sent from Belfast, they even send the neittng needles for free. None of this
would have happened if the Midland Great Railway had not built a staiton in Trim a couple of years
ago in 1864.
Its good to breath life into the old tuck-mill again, as the factory has only recently closed. Our family
built it in the late 1700’s, using the rushing waters of the Boyne to felt and scour wool and then
weaved into bales. Mr. Donaghue, a local to us, brought stale urine in a barrel from Trim Workhouse
by donkey and cart. It had to be the Workhouse so it is clear from alcohol as those there could not
afford to drink. I did not like it when Mr. Donaghue arrived, the smell was terrible, but I am told it
was important for the salts, wool cleaning and whitening.
The cloth they made was wonderful and went by horse and cart to various counites, Monaghan
Orphanage Insittuiton was one of our best customers. The 4th Earl of Darnley of Co. Meath from
Athboy, bought bales of red lfannel and tweed peittcoats for the women and suit lengths for the
men as Christmas boxes. He was an elegant man and generous too, and I am told he was a great
The cloth was a thriving business for a while but was eventually superseded as a lfour mill. Sadly for
us though, a large six-storey lfour mill at Newhaggard was built only just down stream towards Trim,
and this really ended our factory. Now our family do some farming and supply eels to London, and
we get by. One day I hope to travel and visit London and Billinsgate ifsh market, a great adventure,
like one of the eels on a big voyage, except not get jellied at the end.
Portrait of 4th Earl of Darnley wearing ifne red-lfannel robes, by Thomas Phillips. C. 1760’s – 1830’s.
Photo credit to The Naitonal Trust.
Island on river Boyne beside factory Billingsgate Fish Market, London