Once it was said the hauls of herring landed at Fishguard were so great that the fields of West Wales were spread with the excess catch. And if this sounds balmy, decomposing fish would make a good (if environmentally expensive and pretty maloderous) fertiliser. When I read this I then remembered that the farmers of the great Inca Empire of Peru were said to do a similar thing. Before planting their maize seed, they dibbed a hole and dropped a fish in first to feed the growing plant. I’m assuming it wasn’t a fresh one that could otherwise have been eaten.
The sculpture (maker not credited) sits beside the harbour in Lower Fishguard and commemorates the town’s rich herring days. The trade was already established by the 900s CE when the Vikings, who spent a lot of time raiding Wales and Ireland, left off pillaging for a bit of fish buying. These rapacious sea-raiders called the little inlet Fiskigarðr and this, according to the town web page, means ‘fish catching enclosure’ in Old Norse. The name Fiscard in fact hung on for centuries after the Vikings were long gone, and only Anglicised at the end of the 19th century. The Welsh name is of course quite different, and probably these days more geographically useful. Abergwaun means the mouth of the Gwaun River.
The herring industry scaled reached industrial heights in the late 18th century. Fifty Fishguard coastal vessels were bringing in catches that were sold in Ireland and the English ports of Bristol and Liverpool. Oats were the other main export, the crop doubtless well fish-nourished on the fields of the West Wales hinterland. It now becomes clear why the town’s shipping was targeted by the American privateer Black Prince in 1779 (see previous post). It looked like the town would be good for £1000 ransom fee. But then looks can be deceptive.