The small community of Ballinskelligs has always maintained a deep-rooted relationship with the sea. The farm holdings were very small and incomes mainly earned by fishing. It was the main driving force of the community.
There is little documentary evidence of fishing in Ballinskelligs prior to the 16th century when the English Civil Service became established and from when state papers were available. With the positioning of the various monasteries in the early and middle ages fishing must have been widespread. If one considers the Skelligs for example, the monks must have been able to support themselves by fishing.
The early mainstay of the Southern Fisheries was based on the pilchard. (Denis O’Driscoll Lecture 18.4.94)
Sir William Petty introduced the Seine net into Kenmare and Ballinskelligs Bay’s where he conducted Pilchard Fisheries for a number of years.
Petty erected Fish Palaces all over the South coast. In Ballinskelligs Petty operated a Pilchard curing station in 1875. The remains of the building locally called ”pailiseisc” may in fact be a successor of Petty’s fishery. Folklore also tells us of a fish palace at the McCarthy Tower House, when it was taken over by the Sigersons.
The Pilchard fishing season was from July when the fish were most oily to December. The Purse Seine net concept which was introduced to Ireland around 1615 most likely came from Cornwall. The curing and preservation of pilchards was an essential adjunct to the pilchard fishing and gave considerable employment to coopers, carpenters in the area. Around 1688 the pilchards vanished and there seems to have been a general 20 year cycle in the pilchard fishery for a time after that. They were especially plentiful around 1730 to 1745. As the catches of pilchard vanished the seine boats concentrated on fishing other shoaling species such as mackerel, herring and sprat.
The end of the 1700’s and early 1800’s was a period of prosperity, decline and revival in the fisheries following each other very closely. The end of the 18th century was a great time for bounties with different Acts establishing and regulating them. At first the bounty was given for all deep sea fishing but it was then revised to fish for curing only.
Under the bounties, the number of men employed in the fisheries in Ireland increased from 36,159 in 1820 to 64,000 in 1829. (bounties of £87,080.00 being paid that year) This created an artificial selling price and there was a complete collapse when the bounties stopped in 1829.
The Purse Seine net concept appears to have remained unchanged for several hundred years up to the end of the Mackerel Fishing era. (Pilchards in the South of Ireland) Cork and Kerry Arch Society 1946.
The Seine boat was the traditional fishing craft of the Iveragh Peninsula. Seine boat fishing was only carried out in the Iveragh peninsula. A rich and vibrant tradition is associated with the art of Seine fishing, one of the most ancient fishing techniques in the world. The small community of Ballinskelligs have always maintained a deep-rooted relationship with the sea, often a relationship of dependency and survival. Despite the decline of the fishing Seine boat over the last century, the tradition of Seine boat racing is still as popular as ever throughout the Iveragh peninsula. The story of the Seine boat is centre to the social, cultural and economic history of the people of Iveragh and is an important facet of our rich heritage.