Wednesday, 23 February 2011



Did the Media come to Eyemouth harbour?
Did folks speak up to wish you well?
As you sailed into that cold grey fog
Did more than gulls cry out farewell?

Who witnessed the end of Fisherrow’s fishing
Fairnie fishermen for three hundred years
Yet but a diary marked the end of an era

- “Margarets and Nova Spero
Sold and Away”

© Shona McMillan
23 February 2011

My poem written today about the sale of the last two Fisherrow fishing boats which took place on 21.02.11. After the longest struggle, these family owned boats have finally been sold due to a combination of events including the rising cost of fuel and the restrictive legislation and quota system which is making it increasingly uneconomic to earn a living from fishing in Scotland.

Looking out to sea from Eyemouth, Shona McMillan ©

Operated from Eyemouth in the Scottish Borders, these boats were part of this once significant fleet which has seen drastic economic times reduce their numbers to under ten local boats - the Nova Spero and Margarets were both owned by the Fairnie family from Fisherrow, East Lothian. Myself from the Thorburn fishing family, my great-grandfather and granda' were both fishermen and former Harbour Masters of Fisherrow. As a child my granda' said that one day the boats would be gone from Fisherrow - their numbers did indeed diminish until by the late 70s there were none left. Yet, wanting to remain in fishing, fishermen like the Fairnie's continued to live at Fisherrow but operated their boats out of Eyemouth in the Borders or Fraserburgh in the North East. It is a heartfelt blow to see these boats go... And so sad that the celebrity fuelled Media have generally chosen to ignore stories about our fishing, our culture and tradition.

Rocks at entrance to Eyemouth Harbour, Shona McMillan ©

In 1881, a terrible storm hit the East Coast of Scotland and from Newhaven in Edinburgh, Fisherrow in East Lothian, Eyemouth and Burnmouth in the Scottish Borders, 189 men were drowned. The majority of those who lost their lives came from Eyemouth, jagged rocks at the Harbour mouth wrecking many of the boats trying to get in to safety. In time the tragedy became known as the Eyemouth Disaster. During the storm and for days after, people gathered at the harbour to see if more might make it home. Now in 2011, there is no storm but fishing is in decline as never before. And that the last Fisherrow boats are sold and quietly they slip away... it seemed to me such a sad ending. Yet, who would even know when the Media has REPEATEDLY chosen NOT to cover stories from the fishing because they do not deem them to be news worthy... (I do not agree).

Looking down on Eyemouth at sunset, Shona McMillan ©

Monday, 21 February 2011


A last photo this evening from Eyemouth in the Scottish Borders, not a memorable photo for scenic quality but with 'the fleet in' - two boats are gone from the picture. After 300 years in the fishing, the last Fisherrow fishing family 'the Fairnies' have sold up and the Margarets and Nova Spero left Eyemouth harbour today.

With the recent awards won for my People and Songs of the Sea project - I had hoped that 'at last' more media coverage might come to the actual stories WITHIN my project. Frankly, there are times that I have been left quite sickened by some of the upbeat uninformed headlines written about me winning the award as THIS STORY IS NOT ABOUT ME but the PEOPLE OF THE SEA. In my frustration, I even put at the top of my last Press Release (this is a SERIOUS story PLEASE highlight the crisis in the fishing). Yet much media coverage has completely chosen to ignore the issues... Accordingly, I write this blog to mark today's events so one day, perhaps when folks reflect "where did the fishing boats go?"  For those who want to know more and maybe look for news online there will be nothing except this from me today. The BBC TV News, STV News, Scotland's national newspapers - NO ONE will bother to remark that the last family owned fishing boats from Fisherrow were sold from Eyemouth today because of the ever rising cost of fuel combined with the strangling legislation on the industry making it uneconomic to continue to try and fish, that the fishing industry is quietly slipping away one, two, three boats at a time from harbours all around Scotland's coast! It seems only specialist papers such as the Fishing News have any interest to cover this but - we, WE are losing Scotland's fishing industry and the culture of the fishing community and this seems news worthy to me! - What is being done?

Sometimes the enormity of an event is unseen in a number. Today events may only be seen as a loss to one family but what exactly does that mean. The Fairnie's have sold two boats - two crews have lost their jobs. With the sale of the boats - now gone from the industry will be the skills and expertise that has been passed on from generation to generation - and now we see the numbers increase. The Fairnies have made their living from the sea over hundreds of years as did many Fisherrow fishing families. Considering all these families - now the numbers really mount up. The fishing community of Fisherrow was not clearly visible by some geographical line because fisher people tended to marry fisher folk from other coastal communities so the numbers increase again and we see - the culture of these fisher folk was part of Scotland's culture so today, when the bigger picture is considered - today really was the end of an era. The sale of the last Fisherrow boats, a loss to East Lothian, to Eyemouth's fleet, to Scotland's fishing industry and its heritage - a loss to us all.

I was telephoned by Eyemouth Harbour Master Ivan Stevenson and told the news "get yourself to Eyemouth - the Fisherrow boats have been sold and are leaving today." It was a 120mile round trip for me (and, after a musical weekend with the Dubliners I had just driven 300miles and arrived back very tired) but yes, today was important and I am very glad I got the call. As a matter of 'respect' it felt like it was the correct thing to do so I did make my sad journey. And took my most recent award for a last photo attempt to see IF the Press THIS TIME will highlight the serious issues. Yes the Berwickshire News, East Lothian Courier and East Lothian News HAVE given coverage to the current crisis in fishing but other papers have not even touched on it - not an interesting story for their readers... But this subject is certainly of interest to me and others I know so, I asked to go to the Harbour Office to see today's entries. Having been researching my project, some months back as part of my ongoing research - I was given the details of the Fairnie family tree and some of their fishing photos. Reading the office entry today, I commented to the Harbour Master - "SOLD and AWAY" - For such a short line, for those who know the bigger picture it is a short entry but one which says it all. Yet, for those who don't know, how can they understand. Wanting to explain more - I placed the Fairnie family tree and photo of the Nova Spero by the entry to try and convey a fuller story...

The event recorded in the diaries of Eyemouth Harbour - "MARGARETS AND NOVA SPERO LEFT FOR PETERHEAD 16.00HRS. SOLD AND AWAY"

I wonder - what thoughts are going through the minds of those on the boats tonight as they sail their boats away? No photos in this blog from me as the boats sailed out today, just my last photo tonight from Eyemouth as I prepared to leave - aware I'd be back to the harbour but that this day was the end of an era. And, when I reached Fisherrow and called to the Farinie's home - there, Jennifer Fairnie (wife of one of the two Fairnie brothers selling up today) she used the same expression in conversation with me:


The end of an era - words that convey a tight, sick feeling in the pit of the stomach, words that burn the eyes with tears that try to fall. 

Wednesday, 2 February 2011


Update 3.02.11: I WON!!!

January 2011 has seen a flurry of press articles on the continued awards I have won on behalf of my People and Songs of the Sea project (my multimedia celebratiion of the fishing community's culture and heritage). Many friends have contacted me to ask - "Have you seen that article?" "Do you have a copy I could look at?" Therefore, it seemed a good idea to gather together a flavour of the recent press so interested folks can read it as they wish. Also, this gives me the opportunity to say thanks to all who have contacted me, to mention how lovely it's been to share the excitement of these awards with friends and the special people who have encouraged me in my work. Of course, as ever I'd like to take the opportunity to express my thanks to the fisher folk who have let me photograph them and share their stories through my exhibitions in Scotland and on line around the world. In truth, it is a sad fact that there is little to celebrate in our fishing industry just now as it faces these hardest of economic times. Nevertheless, I feel relieved to have done the best I can to at least document this changing culture for future generations to learn about through the album, my photos and writing. As ever, my thanks to the fishing community. It's an honour to document and respectfully share people's photos and I am proud to have opened 2010 by winning the album award and now, the latest project recognition.

Decade Award won and presented to me in 2011

So, 2011? Well, January has been an eventful month! On Radio Liveireland, the year began with their best of the Decade programme on which it was announced my People and Songs of the Sea had won their creative project of the Decade award. The broadcast featured music by award winners in 15 categories - to hear the LIVEIRELAND DECADE SHOW please click the link (People and Songs of the Sea begins at the 35 minute mark but ALL the music is VERY well worth listening to so do sit back and give it a play!).

10.01.11 At the Irish Consulate, Shona McMillan presented with
an award certificate from Susan Conlon, Consul General of Scotland

As the story broke, the first paper to run a feature on it was the Berwickshire News and East Lothian Herald, a paper covering the news from East Lothian, through the Scottish Borders to the north of England. To access the story on their website you can click through to the BERWICKSHIRE NEWS their article talking about my project but also highlighting the current difficulties in the local Eyemouth fishing industry and the sad depletion of Scotland's fishing fleet.

Berwickshire News - click to enlarge photo

In East Lothian, the story ran in the EAST LOTHIAN COURIER with comments from locals including retired fisherman Archie Johnston. (And, from my earlier Blog SCOTTISH FISHING IN CRISIS you can play my video about the fishing boat "the Beulah", one of many, having to be sold off and its very sad final departure from Port Seton).

The Courier's photo (taken by their photographer on an incredibly windy day) shows me at Port Seton, East Lothian. Here, so many of my photos have been taken - the fishermen now well used to me turning up with my camera and photographing them at all hours of the day and in all seasons. Photographing them as they work along the harbour or in the net shed mending their nets and getting the boats ready for sea or, on their return, when the boats come home and land their catch.  Getting to know these hardworking people so well I can now read their expressions, the concern for their livelihood which can be apparent behind their welcoming smiles when the boats return after a very long night's hard work with a catch that is miserably poor in light of the high fuel costs they have, harbour dues, quotas and discarding legislation that they must adhere to... Sadly tho,' the socio-ecomic consequences of what I am photographing is not a story to get covered by all newspapers and it saddens me that some completely fail to even touch on the problems faced by the industry.

The story of what is happening in Scotland is also a story being similarly played out in Ireland. Indeed, many Irish fishermen have read my online postings and share their stories with me. Boats in Ireland also unable to sustain a living. Fishermen face the inevitable decision to continue or sell-up. Yet, stories also come back to me of boats up for sale but not being bought because of the numbers leaving the fishing at this time). The Irish aspect of People and Songs of the Sea touched on by the IRISH POST below.

In addition to award stories, Press interest in my work has been an opportunity to try and gather more information about the specific old family photo used for the People and Songs of the Sea album cover.

Newspapers the Musselburgh News and the East Lothian News both covered the personal story behind my project. The album cover shows a photograph my mum left me. Dressed in her Fisherrow fisher lassie's costume my mum, with family and friends, is collecting for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (the photo taken around 1936 in front of Fisherrow Harbour). The photo shows my mum, second from the right, her sister Wilma, far right and holding the boat. Second from the left is my Aunt Chris who passed away, Christmas 2010 (the sad news coming to me on the same day as the anniversary of my mum's passing in 2006). Accordingly, now that my own family members in the picture are gone, it will only be if someone else connected to the photo comes forward that I will learn the names of these unknown fisher faces.  Now in their eighties or nineties, time is running out for me to track down these women but I am sure that "out there" someone in the fishing community will know. Through my project, so many things have happened I could never have imagined eg: relations scattered around the world coming across my postings and getting in touch. And, a song my great grandfather recorded in 1928 making its way back to me from an American archive, crossing the miles and the years to come home. In these ongoing cultural connections, who can tell what this post may one day bring forth out of the online sea of opportunity that is today's truly remarkable world wide web.

As papers, such as the Fishing News above, other press and media continue to support and carry news of my project - the decline in the fishing industry won't be reversed but at least the cultural value of the fishing community will not just fade away in silence. Our nation's cultural heritage has helped make us who we are today. Therefore, it is essentila that we preserve our cultural heritage for future generations so that they too can look back (as I have) to know from where it was that their family's roots began.

You can keep up to date with my People and Songs of the Sea project through my online "Shona McMillan Celtic Reflections" sites and People and Songs of the Sea postings through my: FACEBOOK PAGE YOUTUBE CHANNEL, my BLOG and PEOPLE OF THE SEA GROUP.
In addition, for those who wish to purchase from me a copy of PEOPLE AND SONGS OF THE SEA  you can contact me directly through this blog, my website or buy the CD from  GREENTRAX RECORDINGS
Album Award won and presented to me in 2010

Thanks for visiting: SHONA MCMILLAN CELTIC REFLECTIONS and please feel free to rate my Blog or post any comments you have in the box below. Also, if you think others may find this of interest, please suggest to them that they visit my site. You can also directly invite your friends to join my Blog through Facebook or by sending them the link 
Kind regards, Shona McMillan.