The Gap

My Father, the Fisherman
I can still see him standing at The Gap, a local fishing spot in Thomastown, casting his line into the
surging water – a man who loved the river bank and who’d spend hours waiting for the salmon to bite.
Many times I was there when a tug would come on the line and my heart would nearly stop with
excitement. My father would play the fish up and down, reeling it in slowly and carefully and then
he’d produce the gaff to kill the fish. When it was on the bank, he would take a piece of twine from his
pocket. This he would thread through a little wooden handle and the fish would be tied at the mouth
and the tail making a half moon shape which was then carried like a bucket. I often carried the
salmon proudly through the town to Crennan’s shop where it would be weighed and the weight taken
note of until later, when my father would call for the money. This was a time when money was not too
plentiful and my mother would be delighted to get a share of the proceeds.
When I was a child I spent hours at the river with him after school. I would call into the chemist’s shop
to buy a stick of barley sugar or blackjack to take to him. We never spoke a lot as I recall, but I was
content just to be there. He made all his own weights and flies. This operation was one which my
brother and I watched with interest. He had moulds fashioned from hard-wall which he had made with
match boxes. In the middle of the two moulds he’d scrape out a circular shape – he would then tie the
two pieces together with the holes meeting.
The next step was to take the boiling lead which had been heating over the range in an old can kept
especially for this purpose. He would then pour the lead carefully through a small opening which he
had made earlier.
During the shooting season, the smell of pheasant cooking was a familiar one in our house. To this
day I can recall the smell of burning feathers after the plucking operation. We used to fight over who
would help my father to clean his gun. He had a little brush on the end of a string and he would put it
down the barrel of the gun to clean it and we would pull it out the other end. We always had a
succession of dogs in our house and the name which cropped up most often was “Grouse”.
The local flour mill provided a lot of the employment at the time and he worked there as a lorry helper
and in the mill itself. Often, I called to see him at the mill, we passed it on our way to pick blackberries
and sometimes we would see him looking out one of the little windows and he would call us in. The
workings of the mill held a fascination for us and the noise and the thumping of the machinery would
vibrate the ground under us.
To the left of the mill yard, in a little shed, an important job was carried out. Several women would be
seated here sewing bags. They were called “bag women” and they used huge needles for their work.
One of the women was a very jolly person. Her name was Roundy and she always had a word for
us. The women wore big sacks tied in apron fashion around their waists.
He sometimes helped on the lorries, and trips to Dublin meant we’d get a stick of rock when he came
Simple times, the best of times.