In this extract Jim Quinn talks about his experiences working on the merchant ships out of Dublin port. He worked on coasts and remembers travelling all around the coasts of the UK, and Europe. He also remembers running with oil ships across the Atlantic ocean, he talks about going up to Labrador and going right across the North Pole.

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Was it merchant ships you were working on?

Oh yes, merchant ships …

Mostly from the UK and Ireland?

Well, I was on coasts, we’d … you know, we’d go around, all around the UK and across to France and to Brest and places like that and then up into em Holland and Belgium, Antwerp and Rotterdam and some of the smaller ports things like that, and then into the Baltic… but I’ve gone across the Atlantic a good many times…

To America?

Oh yes, we used to run with oil ships, we used to run over there, I was over there in an English ship running up into... round the St. Lawrence River and up to Labrador and they were building at the time a thing called the Jewel Line right across Canada for its defence against stuff coming in right across the North Pole like for radar stations, we’d bring them up to Labrador, we brought barges out to the Eskimos and some of the fellas were… nothing up there only trees, ice everywhere but, yeah, it’s a difference but you see a different type of grub, like, I’ve been in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in St. John’s they all speak with Waterford accents!

I saw a documentary quite recently about that, it was so weird!

They all speak with Waterford accents and a lot of them, their mothers and fathers used to speak Irish and some of them still speak it and the Christian Brothers said they didn’t want… they got themselves into trouble like they did here too doing the same thing... but the Christian Brothers are also one of the main… for men education and they… the big thing was seal flippers and cods’ heads for the… you know, that was the dish because the whole place was… I’m talking about maybe 50 years since I was there… and they used to go off and catch the seals, well they used the flippers and seal meat and cod and the cod was then up in what they call the Bellai Straits as you go around into Newfoundland and actually we’re further north than Newfoundland…


We are if you look at the Gulf Stream, we should be worried about that but… they... I’ve seen the Portuguese sailing ships actually, sailing ships they used to drop what they’d call dories, a thing about the size of this with a flat bottom, they drop them all down every so often and that’s for fishing for the cod with hand lines and the place is always full of fog because of the Labrador is coming down, you see, and as it comes down it freezes and you see the icebergs and then it hits some of the part of the Gulf Stream coming up and of course it causes fog… and those fellas were left out in that on their own, left, just coming, next thing you come across, you’d see the boats and then you’d know that there’s going to be a line and probably you wouldn’t be able to see across the… you’d have to slow down just to make sure you found out which way they were heading, you know, which way they were in order not to run into them, they lost plenty of them… but they were the Portuguese but the French were up over there as well, you’d see them…

Scary, they were all in the fog.

That’s what we did, fog is always scary, it’s scary here, never mind at sea!

Did you ever see any polar bears or anything?

No, but I've seen em... we went up a river called the Sangranay River there in Canada and we saw the black bear up there but they’re very common, they’re all over the States as well they are and they’re increasing too, you’d see the deer there along the water’s edges… it’s… I never seen a polar bear no!


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About this item


Dublin City Life, Work and Family, Work



Date Added



"Jim Quinn talks about his experiences working on the merchant ships out of Dublin port." Lifescapes: Mapping Dublin Lives, Item #251 (accessed February 21 2018, 7:26 am)