As visitors arrive to Castletownbere from the east, they pass the bridge to Dinish Island on the left. The material culture reveals itself through road signage that advertises the various local businesses attached to the fishing sector. Approaching the town centre, the presence of the Lifeboat Station and, thereafter, the many restaurants promoting local fish and seafood shows that Castletownbere is an active fishing place.
A stroll through the pier reveals its significance to Castletownbere. It symbolises many things for members of the fishing community. Like many fishing ports, it is a meeting place, a workplace, a point of departure and a point of return. At times busy, at times still, it is a focal point for the entire community. The pier and fishing boats signal the importance of fishing to the local economy to locals and visitors alike. It is a complex place with both practical and symbolic significance. While the pier remains very deeply anchored in the everyday lives of Castletownbere, it is also a place of ritual, heritage and tourism. It is
a place that can be full of life when the boats return from fishing, but also a quiet place for the wider community when boats have gone to sea. When the weather permits it is a busy place where fishing practices are performed and boats ‘come in’ and ‘go out’ to the rhythm of catches. For fishers the pier is a place of constant movement and activity where work and encounters intermingle. During periods of adverse weather conditions it becomes a meeting place for fishers. During the summer months the pier is the backdrop for festivals and events.
Festivals form an essential part of fishing communities; and in turn, places like Castletownbere, are shaped by events such as the Fishermen’s Mass and Blessing of the Boats. These rituals are ways to celebrate a living practice, yet, these customs also provide a specific place for people to commemorate and give meanings to a vernacular practice that connects local places to the wider world. The pier is a relevant place for transmitting such local traditions to subsequent generations. Festivals and rituals, linked to fishing as a way of life can be observed in coastal places worldwide. Local customs are not unique to particular places and similar customs and ‘ways of doing’ can be shared across borders.
Fishing is not merely about facts and figures, quotas and regulations. It is an industry steeped in culture; it is a way of life that is constantly evolving, yet, remains anchored to its many traditions. The willingness to explore new and different futures speaks to the resilience of the fishing community and a willingness to adapt to a changing world. For fishers and their
communities, the pier is a significant place that is the equivalent to the square in a market town. It is an in-between place where the worlds of fishers and their families, locals and visitors converge. The fishers are not quite at home, not at sea. It is a distinctive place that embodies social and cultural interaction. Fishing practice does not only consist of fishers going to sea, but encompasses a way of life that connects the fishing home, the fishing boat and the wider fishing community. The pier is a place where all members of the community, whether directly involved in fishing or not, gather and meet. For tourists and visitors, the pier is where the shore meets the sea, a place where they can create their own stories. The pier is at the heart of all fishing communities and Castletownbere is no different.