On the 1 of December 1977 at 8am Uncle Paddy and I rowed out of Killeenaran pier heading for the
Clarinbridge oyster bed a mile away. Our craft was a traditional Galway Bay flat which had seen better days.
It had lain rotting since my father had retired from dredging oysters ten years previously. Thanks to my
uncles perseverance we had restored the boat to some semblance of seaworthiness though my mother was
unconvinced, and insisted we carry holy water for protection .
Finally, after a week of hammering , sawing, boiling tar and brushing it all over the boat we were ready.
Seven boats left the pier that morning and we were the only one without an engine. I didn’t care, I was 18
years old and looking forward to my first day dredging, the start of a lifelong love affair with oysters and
the sea.
As we left the inner harbour the scene that unfolded before us was incredible, more than 100 boats of all
shapes and sizes plundering the seabed of its riches. Scoping was the term for dredging without an engine.
We dropped our anchor then rowed backwards to the end of the rope which was about 100 yards long.
Paddy, at the rear of the boat dropped out the dredge which was a metal blade with a mesh bag attached.
Then it was my turn, I gripped the anchor rope, fed it through a v shape in the prow and started to haul
boat and dredge together. Paddy adjusted the dredge-rope to the proper length and half way along the
pull he stopped me as the dredge was full. He lifted the dredge into the boat and emptied the contents of
sand and shell onto our stage which was a table at the rear of the boat.
Paddy threw out the dredge again and instructed me to resume pulling. I did as he asked while craning my
neck around to see had we had any catch. ”15!“ Paddy declared “not too bad”. We worked hard all morning
and by lunchtime we had filled a fish box. We paused for lunch and I took the opportunity to take in the
A flotilla of boats filled the bay, outboard engines revving, dragging their dredges in search of the valuable
molluscs. Health and safety was not a feature of life in 1977, nobody ever wore life jackets even though the
work was extremely dangerous. Pulling in the dredge usually involved one or both men climbing onto the
stage at the side of the boat and hauling it in as fast as possible. On a windy day with a rolling swell this
was definitely a hazardous occupation but the fishermen seemed to make light of the conditions and I
never saw anyone fall in.
The Clarinbridge oyster bed is situated in Dunbulcan Bay an inlet on the southern end of Galway Bay. Two
rivers flow in at the eastern end, the Clarin and the Dunkellin which are supposed to contribute to the
unique taste of the world famous oyster.
To polish off our lunch Paddy and I had half dozen small oysters and then resumed work. The boat had
been leaking steadily all day and we had had to keep teeming it but Paddy maintained it would seal itself as
the boards swelled up when wet. At 4 o’clock the boats started to disperse, all heading for their home piers
dotted around the bay .We pulled in our dredge and our anchor, dipped our oars into the water and set sail
for Killeenaran and home.