Exploring harsh realities of fishing in the Gaeltacht

THREE of the few remaining boats that fish out of Machaire Rabhartaigh are to feature in a new TG4 documentary.

Deep in the Blood is a two-part series exploring the harsh demands of fishing in the Donegal Gaeltacht.

Two of the boats, owned by John O’Brien and his son Colm, fish commerically for crab while the third boat belongs to Peadar Coll.


Because of government restrictions on fishing for salmon and on the issuing of new fishing licences, very few boats now operate out of Machaire Rabhartaigh.

The O’Brien family owns all three of the remaining full-time boats fishing for crab behind Tory and off towards the Scottish coast.

It is tough unrelenting work involving lifting, clearing, baiting and re-setting up to 3,000 pots on a single trip that lasts between 36 and 48 hours. There is little time for chat and not a lot of time for breaks or for sleep as the pots are hauled in and returned, often in difficult conditions.

John O’Brien skippers the Handa Isle, operating with a crew of three, including his son Seán. They fish for crab behind Tory as often as the weather allows, spending 36 hours at sea on a single trip.

John’s other son Colm skippers the Aoibh Áine, a recently purchased crabber. It goes out on two-day trips to Stanton Bank off the Scottish coast. As the price of crab is falling, the pressure is on to spend longer at sea setting extra pots just to remain in business and have a reasonable standard of living.

The second leg of Deep in the Blood, which focuses on Donegal’s Gaeltacht, airs next Thursday evening.

The third smaller boat belongs to Peadar Coll who has a licence to fish for lobster and crab around the Donegal coast and who also does a bit of net fishing for pollock and wrasse – but as a pastime rather than a means to make a living wage.


The locals recall the fishing season of old, when boats could switch from seasonal fishing of salmon to fishing for lobster and crab as well as mackerel and white fish – when stocks had a chance to survive and replenish and there was decent money to be made.

The banning of salmon fishing in 2007 was the beginning of the end for many Gaeltacht fishing communities all over the country and the ending of a traditional way of life that had lasted for generations. With fewer opportunities, the young people of the Gaeltacht find work elsewhere and traditional fishing skills are lost, a vicious circle of neglect and decline that makes it hard to imagine a future for fishing in communities on the margins like Machaire Rabhartaigh.

The first episode of Deep in the Blood airs this Thursday, April 8, at 7.30pm on TG4 with the second instalment the following Thursday at the same time.

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