The Sheep’s Head peninsula has a history of fishing, the pilchard industry at Dunmanus and at Dunbeacon was documented in 1641. A survey of the area in 1810 by Townsend stated that the peasants of this area used milk and fish to put a ‘taste’ on potato – the staple food of the time.
Boats and nets for fishing were made locally. The material for nets was sourced in Cork, local men and women were experts in net making. When Knit the nets were ‘barked’ by being immersed in a huge pot of boiling water in which the bark was dissolved, this process dyed the nets and gave them strength and durability.
Lobster pots were made locally also, possibly for many centuries. They were made from sally rods which grew in marshy ground. A timber frame with holes was placed on the floor and while the twigs were still wet and pliable they were woven creating the lobster pot.
At the turn of the century the mackerel fishing industry was thriving at Lower Letter on the Dunmanus Bay side of the peninsula and at Gearhies on the Bantry Bay side. The trade generated local wealth as there was work in fishing, making and mending nets, cooperating, salting and transport of the fish. The crew were ‘small’ farmers who fished part time. The sea continues to provide for local families with Ahakista and Bantry being fish landing piers.