The Listening Project: Wilfred Keys and Thomas Kyle on fishermen's superstitions



When Wilfred Keys asks Thomas ‘Tommy’ Kyle about fishermen’s superstitions, Tommy refers back to his youth. He describes how skippers would call the fishing off if they encountered certain people on their way to the harbour – as well the trouble he would find himself in if he were to mention rats, pigs or Salmon aboard a boat fishing for Herring.

The root causes of these superstitions are unknown. But Tommy speculates that whilst they may be coincidence, if something bad were to happen aboard, fishermen would assign fault with certain harbingers of misfortune.

However, these superstitions also invited opportunity for fun. Tommy recalls how he, and others in the village, would play pranks and place Salmon or hang up pigs’ feet on the boats of superstitious fishermen.

The Listening Project

The Listening Project is an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC. People are invited to share an intimate conversation with a close friend or relative, to be recorded and broadcast (in edited form) by the BBC and curated and archived in full by the British Library. These one-to-one conversations, lasting up to an hour and taking a topic of the speakers' choice, collectively form a picture of our lives and relationships today.



MS1: Well, there were a lot of superstitions, you know, I’ve never been in a fishing boat –

MS2: Hmm-mm

MS1: But I’ve heard stories that if somebody’s gone down, there are certain things they hears or sees or whatever, and he’ll turn tail and go home. Is that right or is it – is that all in the past or –

MS2: I could nae just speak now –

MS1: Yeah.

MS2: But I know in my time at the fishing, as a wee fella – you know, as a wee fella you notice everything, Wilfred.

MS1: Aye.

MS2: You know, you’ve nae responsibility, so you tend to notice – you’re no really doing a job – you’re there doing a job, but you’re no as needed as the man who’s [skelding 0:00:36] the deck.

MS1: Right.

MS2: So, you tend to notice everything.

MS1: Hmm-mm.

MS2: Listen to everybody’s conversation, be amazed at some of the things you would have thought were silly, and yet as a wee boy, they’re magical, you know?

MS1: Yeah.

MS2: You know, you only need to mention rats on boats. That was a dreadful thing, don’t mention a rat.

MS1: Oh [laughs].

MS2: Don’t mention a pig.

MS1: Yeah, yeah.

MS2: Don’t mention a salmon.

MS1: Any reason for that? I mean, is that – or is it – how did that come about, you know?

MS2: I don’t really know, but they were the –

MS1: Yeah.

MS2: There were certain people in the village and, you know, I’ve no memory of this, but my father would have told me that some of the skippers that he fished along as a young man, if any of them met a certain lady walking to the harbour in the morning or in the evening to fish for herring, they would have turned and called it off.

MS1: Right.

MS2: Because they – and we would all say, “Oh, a load of silly nonsense,” but the fella would have said the day that you went on to the fishing was the day you tore your nets or you lost something, or –

MS1: Yeah.

MS2: You know, and so –

MS1: Could have been coincidence or – you know, but there’s – yeah.

MS2: And then, for fun, you know – and I would have been involved in this when I was younger, we would have left tins of salmon on the wheelhouse window and things for men that were very superstitious –

MS1: [Laughs].

MS2: Just for the fun of it, and [laughs] we would have been watching and you would have seen the tin of salmon hurtling across the harbour [both laugh]. And somebody would always say, now – somebody would say, [“Wish me any luck today” 0:01:58], you know [laughs].

MS1: A tin of salmon bounce off your head [both laugh].

MS2: We used to do it, and folk would have tied pig’s feet up on the foremast to the boat and things for [inaudible 0:02:08] and – you know?

MS1: Such goings on, but it’s such goings on in the fishing industry.

MS2: But it was good fun, Wilfred, you know, when we were younger.

MS1: Yeah.

The Listening Project: Wilfred Keys and Thomas Kyle on fishermen's superstitions
1 June 2013
Sound recording
Wilfred Keys, Thomas Kyle, Conor Garrett
© © Audio: The Listening Project © BBC; Image: Hulton Archive / Stringer
Held by
British Library

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