The Fisher Lass by John McGhie (1867–1952)
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"I am a fisherman
Frae driftnet to deep trawl
Whin I left the Sea tae settle down
I couldnae resist its Call
I've lifted prawns an' scallops
An' herrings by the shoal
Cod an' skate an' whitin'
When money was ma goal."
Been out in awe the weathers
Fingers blue wi cold
To seas as high as mountains
An' sun-kissed clouds of gold
Shoals of rainbowed herring
Fin of basking shark
Clouds o' tiny plankton
Seen in our lights so stark"
~ The Fisherman, Jim McRobert, 2003
Fisherfolk historically have been a superstitious lot due to the constant danger of the unforgiving sea. Fishermen up and down the Scottish coasts have traditionally been keen observers of potential omens as they set sail, believing that strict observance was necessary to ensure a safe voyage home. In Lerwick, there is a fisherfolk custom of not mentioning a pig, rabbit, or salmon in conversation, or if so, referencing them only obliquely by colloquialisms. A pig, for example, should strictly only be referenced as a "curly tail" while a rabbit should be referred to as " bob tail," a "fower fitter," or a "mappin." Salmon too have been equally feared as bringers of bad luck and are known as the ‘reid fish’. Additionally, if on your way to fish, if you see a minister (or a woman), you should go back home and restart your journey as both (particularly a minister) was seen as extremely bad luck. It has also been suggested that no mention of the church, a minister or a manse should be made on a fishing boat, particularly amongst men working the Moray Firth. Go fish! 🎣🐟
Scotland's fishing communities have a long history adapting to the hardships of a dangerous life. Fisher folk of the past acquired a reputation for being superstitious and following particular rituals in the hopes of both increasing the catch and avoiding danger with luck superstitions, including special superstitions about the power of words.
Herring were called "silver darlings" because fishermen believed that if they used the proper name "herrin," the fish would stay away! For a glossary of Scottish dialect fish names by Robert Watt, issued in 1989, click here.
Classic regional and signature seafood dishes include: Finnan-haddie (a cold-smoked haddock) and Arbroath Smokies (another regional smoked haddock), Cabbie-claw (from the Shetland dialect for young cod), Tweed Kettle (an Edinburgh-based salmon hash), "blawn fish" (fish hung up to dry in an open passage), and Haggamuggie (a sort of fish haggis).
See below for a 1920s British Pathé film showing the Scottish Herring Harvest. click the portrait of "A Scottish Fisherman" (19th century, artist unknown).