Angus MacPhail: lament for a declining industry

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Over the past few weeks, a number of unrelated but significant events and encounters – both sad and happy – relating to some great people have brought the fishing industry to the forefront of my mind and it spurred me on to dig out the verses of a song I started writing a few years ago.

The downward spiral of the fishing industry in Britain and Ireland is a multifaceted and sad story of unnecessary decline.

The song is not an attempt to go into detail and explain the quagmire of tangled knots and many factors that have led to this but a simple reflection on the sadness of the passing of a once powerful and highly-respected industry that is being badly misrepresented to the general public nowadays.

While the industry is a shadow of what it once was, fishermen still go to sea, there are still new boats being built and there is still hope for a bright future.

The Last of the Hunters

Here’s a health to the fishermen who plough the lonely sea
And battle with the ocean where it’s in their blood to be.
Dear the fruitful bounty of the blind and savage foam.
They are the last of the hunters, and they’re proudly sailing home.

Sailing home, sailing home,
The last of the hunters sailing home.

Away to the westward now against the flooding tide
The hunters of the wild, now the last ones in our time.
Through living gale and storm they sail, the crystal sea they roam
We’ll give a welcome at the harbour when the boats are sailing home.

From the mighty fleets of Yarmouth to the deep-sea ships of Hull
The famous Fleetwood trawlers all have suffered from the cull
In Lossiemouth, Lochinver, Fisherrow and Pittenweem
Golden days in memory, but now a fading dream.

Quiet now the harbours where a distant echo rings
Eriskay and Scalpay where the herring men were kings;
Laden deep for Mallaig and the Skipper’s chair a throne
Legends of the sea and still their ghosts are sailing home.

A realm of strong intrepid men and heroes of renown
A shadow of the past and being quickly torn down
By those in suits not fit to wear the boots of fishermen
The heart torn out from the harbour leaving scars that will not mend.

The lions of sea tied up in knots of weasels’ lies
Are fighting for survival as their world quickly dies.
Under cloaks of conservation, they’re being left to die alone
But we’ll stand upon their side again and hail them sailing home.

And in Newlyn, Plymouth, Brixham, Poole, The Wash and Grimsby town
North Sheilds and Eyemouth, Peterhead, the Broch, they’ll hold their ground.
Orkney, Shetland and the Hebrides, in Oban and Kintyre
Kilkeel, the Isle of Man and Killybegs, they will not die.

So we’ll toast the Mallaig trawlers and the creel men of the West
Pelagic ships of Whalsay and the seiners of Caithness,

Brixham beamers, Cornish crabbers, and in every pier and cove
We’ll give a welcome at the harbour when the boats are sailing home.