Jack Burtchell, a historian visited our class and told us about the cod fishing links between Waterford and Newfoundland.
Jack told us that Waterford to Newfoundland is 3,500 miles. That is the same as travelling from Waterford to Dublin 35 times. If we were to visit a 3rd class in Newfoundland we would find that their surnames would be the same as ours i.e. Kennedy, Kavanagh, Murphy, Robinson, Cronin, and Powers. They would talk with the same accent as us. In Newfoundland they play ice hockey instead of hurling. They call a ball a "puck" which is a word we use in hurling.
Newfoundland is twice the size of Ireland but it has hardly any people, it's empty. Newfoundland is very cold because it is near the Arctic. It covered in ice and snow. If you looked out the school window in Ireland you would see greenery, grass and trees. If you looked out the school window in Newfoundland you would see ice, snow and heather. In Ireland we have good soil for farming but in Newfoundland the soil is very poor and there is no farming. However they had fish in buckets! The Irish name for Newfoundland is "Talamh an Éisc", which means "the fishing grounds". ? of Newfoundlanders have Irish ancestry. That is because of the fishing industry.
In 1492 an Italian sailing for Spain called Christopher Columbus discovered America. He was sailing to India or Cathay (the old name for China) in search of spices. In the 1400's a fistful of pepper was worth more than a fistful of silver. The rich people would put it on their food if they could afford it. Columbus already knew that you could get to India by sailing around Africa but it was dangerous. Along the way there were blackguards, uncivilised fellows who would chop your head off. Columbus believed he could sail in the opposite direction and reach India by a shortcut. He didn't know that there was any land in the way. When he reached America he thought he was near India and he called the people Indians when they were really Americans. Columbus made three voyages to America. He changed the geography of the world.
In 1497 another Italian, Giovanni Cabote, better known as John Cabot set sail from Bristol in the Matthew. It wasn't a very big ship. He was sailing in search of fish. He stopped at Waterford to collect supplies, fresh water, vegetables and maybe crew. He discovered Newfoundland, a "new found land". The Basques come from SW France and NE Spain. They have their own language, culture, music, traditions and they are great sailors. For over 100 yrs the Basques had been selling dried salted cod in Europe and they were making a fortune out of it. They weren't telling anyone where they were getting the fish. The merchants of Bristol wanted a piece of the action. They knew the fishing grounds had to be near land because the Basques were salting and drying the fish. They hired Giovanni Cabote, fitted out a ship called the "Matthew" and sent him to discover the Basques source of fish. Giovanni discovered Newfoundland for the British but the Basques were already there before him. As soon as Giovanni discovered Newfoundland the whole importance of Ireland changed. Before that Ireland wasn't a very important place at the edge of Europe. Now it was the closest place to Newfoundland. Soon not only the Basques were fishing in Newfoundland but also the British, French and the Portuguese.
In 1534 the first Irish boat sailed for Newfoundland. It was a ship from Waterford. Every year after that, ships left Waterford for the fishing grounds in Newfoundland.
By the 1700's thousands of ships were fishing in Newfoundland.
In early March ships would arrive in Waterford and anchor at PassageEast. The ship's captain would employ an agent, perhaps a shop owner on the quay to recruit young fellows of about 17 yrs. to sign on for a seasons fishing in Newfoundland. An advertisement might be placed in the local paper or posters erected. Lads from all over the southeast would sign on. The ship would also take supplies on board, butter, salt pork, peas, beans, porridge, bread and ships biscuits. The ships biscuits were made by Jacobs. They were very hard and had to be broken with a hammer before you could eat them. They also took on board fresh water and vegetables.
The ships left Waterford in late March with the first favourable wind. The average crossing took 25 days or at worst 40 days if they met gales and storms.
When they arrived in Newfoundland they first set up camp on the rocky shores. At that time of year Newfoundland is very cold and the seas frozen. The camps were made up of little timber shacks. The spent the first month fishing for capelin. They didn't eat the capelin but chopped it up and used it as bait. In May the first cod migrated to the Grand Banks to spawn. The fishermen would row out to the fishing grounds in little boats. Two men to a boat. One man would lower the longline (as long as a hurling pitch) with hooks every few feet while his companion baited it. Then the long slow job of hauling the line back up would begin. In those days the cod were as big as a boy called Niall in our class and just as heavy. One man would haul up the line while the other would remove the cod from the hooks. If they were lucky they would fill the whole boat in one go. When the fishing day was over they returned to the shore where the fish were dried and salted. They built flakes all along the shore like tall desks that you could walk under. The cut the fish in half, removed the guts, chopped off the head, took off the fins, rubbed salt on it and put them on the flakes to dry. After a couple of weeks the cod were as hard as a board. This was known as Newfoundland fish, which was sold all over the world. It was highly prized, very valuable. The biggest market for the fish was Spain. After the fish was sold in Spain the ships returned to Waterford with olive oil, wine, citrus fruits and most importantly salt. Salt was used in butter making and bacon. The salting of pork to make bacon was invented in Waterford. Waterford is the "hometown of the rasher". Bacon was used to feed the fishermen in Newfoundland. In October the fleet would return from Newfoundland. About a ¼ of the men remained behind to mind the fishing stages and the shacks. It usually took only 14 days to sail home because the wind was behind them.
Eventually many of the fishermen settled in Newfoundland and they are the Newfoundland Irish of today. Unfortunately the fish on the Grand Banks were wiped out and there is no fishing there today. The trade between Waterford and Newfoundland made many people rich. Profits from the Newfoundland trade built half the quay, from the Clock Tower to the bridge. Many of the big houses along the river were built for the merchants involved in fishing. Probably about 50,000 people from the southeast region left for Newfoundland before the potato famine. Because of the trade there was a sail-making factory in Cheekpoint. There were five ropewalks in the city for making rope. Coopers were busy making barrels. Ten bacon factories were operating and butter, lard and soap was made. At that time Waterford was a rich city.
McSweeney's Fourth Class,
St. Mary's National School,