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Bumboats at Moville,Donegal

by BBC Radio Foyle

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Contributed by 
BBC Radio Foyle
People in story: 
Anthony Mc Monagle & Sonny Fiorentini
Location of story: 
Moville, Co Donegal
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A8883345
Contributed on: 
27 January 2006

Anthony McMonagle & Sonny Fiorentini,
This story is taken from an interview with Anthony McMonagle & Sonny Fiorentini, and has been added to the site with their permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions. The interview was by Deirdre Donnelly, and transcription was by Bruce Logan.
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During my young days, Moville and Lough Foyle were a navy base for the RN, and the Destroyers went out and in. There were 3 tankers - “President Sgt”, the “Empire dolphin” and the “Empire control”. There was a smaller tanker, the “Petrophault”, a French tanker.Remember, this was happening in Eire which was neutral during the war.
The RN ships came in convoys and oiled up with Oil from the Persian gulf. There were all nationalities of ships.
We smuggled things out. We were allowed to take out Eggs, butter - Butter was rationed, but we got it in vast quantities on the Black market. There was Cheese, spring-time cream — the thick cream - Ladies silk stockings and underwear, cosmetics.
The USN destroyers wanted no eggs, but they liked cheese and cream. The Canadians liked souvenirs. The other ships were Polish, French, Spanish, Norwegian and several others coming in and out, of all nationalities. At the Pier at Moville were 2 minesweepers anchored at night. In the morning they went outside the Heads towing a cable to check for mines. They were wooden ships.

In above the channel was a big Troopship, the Manilla.

The Old Channel had the Foxglove, a cable ship between us and Derry.
There were big iron buoys where the subs came in during the night.
An old ex-trawler was used for towing a wooden raft, a target, Canvas. The ships fired at it outside the heads and came back at night.

[What Irish Army presence was there?]
Absolutely none. The Customs used to follow us
We used to exchange the stuff they called “contraband”.

We bought the eggs for 1 and 6p a doz. 30 doz cases went out, and we sold them loose. Sailors handed down their hats saying “I want 2 doz” — that’s 4 packets of cigarettes. The cigarettes cost them 6p a packet. We were paying 1 and 6 for the eggs. Everyone was happy.

We used to get the silk stockings for 3 and 11p, and got 3-4 packs of cigs for them.
They were only running the sailors in half a crown in old money in them days.

We tried to get in first, you’d pull up along side the ship in your boat and then climb up onto the deck of the ship and whoever got in first ran to the canteen manager who ran the shop. He bought in bulk.
On a Canadian ship you asked for the VA.
One morning — we went out in the night. You would hear the anchors dropping and then you’d be up and out and away
This British 4-funnel destroyer was alongside the tanker. I went out, this boy came along and said “how you doing, McMonagle?”
“How do you know me?”
“Never mind, but I know you!”
Our Paddy had joined the navy. I hadn’t seen him in years.
They wouldn’t allow him ashore in case he didn’t come back. They were going in a convoy.Would you believe it was my own brother o the ship.

The worst time was at night. Everything was the blackout. There was no lights, except for the ships signalling in morse code.

We used to fish salmon in the spring. The worst thing was subs coming in at dark from the sea. We would hear it — the sound was distinctive.

At the end of the war, one of the pilots … Dan McCann was steering the surrending subs into Lisahally. The subs were just lying there, 2 of them. Dan says “anthony, these boys is Germans, they’ve been captured”
They were taking them to Lisnahally. They wanted eggs but had no cigs, so we bartered for tea. It was the best tea I ever had. I got 15lb of tea off them for eggs.Strange wiry tea but great stuff.They got to Lisnahally, they were taken off there.
They had plenty of drink aboard.
The tanker crews out at Moville were Chinese and some others. One was a Belfast man, Bill Craig. These Chinese used to get paid monthly.
My father knew Joe Kane, who ran the Liberty boat. It did 3 runs at 8am, 1pm, 6pm. If the captain wanted out he put up a Red flag with a yellow cross, that was the signal. Then the liberty boat would go out and bring the boys in off the tanker.
The Chinese would come in when they got paid. They wouldn’t buy chickens except to gut them live. 3-4 in each hand.
Old Frank left an egg under each chicken, and the Chinese thought they had laid!

A Seaplane was anchored above the Saltpan rock where the troopship was.
After the war they left the buoy. It was all red rubber, around it was cats eyes to be light up at night.

A Dutch tug came in. they didn’t want eggs or silk stockings. “You get us a cock-a root” - Quaker Oats porridge!
“How much?”
“All you can bring”
“That could be quite a lot”
“Salad oil”
“How much”
“All you get, we buy”
I brought it out, the crew gathered round in the stern.
They paid me, and drank the bottles.Would you believe it.
“Cold weather up Baltic, keep cold out!”
A big section of a Russian dry-dock came in. It was 2 sections of a concrete wall — they fill with water at sea, ship sails in, they pumped the water out.
They didn’t want to be photographed.
One time fishing off Inishowen there was a mine! I was fishing with Thomas Kane and his son Robert. It was a small boat, open boat. The only light was a lantern with a candle. Thomas Kane says “I’m looking ahead, there’s something like a big barrel ahead of us.”
He went out to it. I never seen a mine in my life. It had prongs on it, and green seaweed.
“It’s a mine”
A tug came out, dropping the pilot off.
“We’d be as well to tell the pilot, it could be magnetic” I said.
Thomas gave him compass bearings of where the mine was. The speedboat came down flying.
We went home, I went to bed. Joe Kane had connections with RN in Derry. They phoned him.
“I got word from Derry that the speedboat went down fast. The tug had put a message through, and they got it at a few miles going down.”
It was moored on the bottom of the sea, the fishing or whatever disturbed it, it came up to the surface.

Uncle Charlie used to go out to tend the ships. He comes up one day when I’m having my tea, says “there’s a ship down there you can make some money off”.
She was a cargo ship with dried fish as cargo.
He said “Brown’s foundry men are coming down to fix her, put a plate on where she got hit. There’s 100lb-bags of stock fish to get out of the road, and they’re not allowed to dump them in the channel.”
We were obliged to make room for them.

So we went out and found ourselves in the fish selling business for a while.

Jamesie lived in Derry, but fished around. My brother Jackie worked on the engine for him. He said “that tanker bought my fish, let’s see if they buy yours.”
We went out, these oil tankers had a fender alongside so ships alongside didn’t touch. The chinese threw a ladder over. She was a light ship, the ladder didn’t come all the way up. We stood on the boat and pulled. I put my foot on the ladder, and I held on to 2 ends of the rope.
The ladder caught on the fender. I went out over the motorboat. I had thigh-boots on me. I wasn’t much of a swimmer. It was a high tide, or I would have been out past Magilligan. Jamesie grabbed me. It took them the might to pull me in. The boots were full up!
Sonny Fiorentini
I was only a lad during the war so my bumboating experiences were few.We were down at the wharf. The butchers supplied the ships, they had a contract.
Halfway up there was a boom across the Channel, they had to cut across to Greencastle and back out again. So the first time, the boys wheeled round and right out and I was with them.
We were the first out to the destroyer. The man bartered for cigarettes — very little money came down, usually cigarettes. About 300 bags of cigs came down, and our man came back with them.
100wt bag each to deliver. If my father had known he would have beat me. We walked down the road and delivered them just waiting for the customs to appear.
Anthony Mc Monagle part 2
The USN gave us US cigarettes, but there wasn’t great demand from them. There were 10 packs in a carton, and for a few souvenirs they’d give’em to you. They called the cigs “Camel”, “Philip Morris”. The UK ones were “Churchman”, “Senior Service”.

There was also Pipe tobacco. The cig tobacco was red band, pipe tobacco was green. You got a new pack, sealed, I opened it and checked. I was caught out once. You can re-seal a pack with syrup and skins.

[What was the social life in Moville like? Did the sailors come ashore?]
I remember Barny O’doherty owned the Silver Star café.His wife ran it.One night Canadians came in. he told me these boys were starving “I didn’t get to me bed until 5am. Me wife was frying all day. The place was packed out. We were going to close.”
They fried 24 dozen eggs. Boys eating 3-4 eggs.
“At 4am more boys came! They paid us, no bother.”
They came in on the Liberty boats.That was Moville at the time. Often ships had to sit until the pilot came to guide them into Derry — that could take a few hours. Some of the ships like aircraft carriers were too big to go any further so they’d be in and out to Moville regularly. They’d like a good feed and a few drinks and maybe a dance if there was one on. It is only a small fishing town but it was very busy in those days.

The Black Ranger came in, a tanker. We were going out herring fishing that day. The other boats were all out. It was 3am. This sailor was there in moville.
“What are the chances of getting me to my ship? She sails at 5.”
The other ships wouldn’t oblige him, so I did. Before we went out he said “I have no money.”
“I didn’t ask you for money. You asked me for help.”
“When I get aboard ship, I’ll get you some cigs”
“No, we don’t want to talk and wake the crew. As soon as you’re aboard, we’ll go. I have a brother who’s a sailor somewhere in the world, and I would want people to help him. I wouldn’t want him to be stranded.”
1954, I was married. We went into the Maple Leaf restaurant in Dublin. Outside this fellow tapped me on the shoulder.
“Donegal?”
“Aye”
“You’re the bloke who run me out to my ship.”Would you believe it!
Sonny Fiorentini — Part 2
There was a plane crash in the hills in Shroove. 6 killed in it. The RAF lorry parked outside the barracks near our place. The boddies were in the back. My sister and I were sent to bed early. We looked out the window. 6 bodies under the blanket.The bodies were on the back of a lorry and were taken back over the border. Bits of the plane passed on the lorry in the next few days.
I do remember people got thick plastic and made rings of it. You rounded it off, a square pit at the top. You got a hot poker, hit it a jab and then put coloured glass into it and you had a diamond ring.This was made from perspex from the planes

We used to fish for coddling. The Foyle was high with coddling.
During the war with so much food chucked off the ships there was a lot of fish in the water. We went out one morning, a strong tide so you could only fish 1 hour when the tide was slack, for it wouldn’t sink to the bottom. We went to the Shalls, just outside the town.92 coddling in 1 hour!
In winter, big cod fish and coddling, and between is “The stump” — prime fish, the cod family. We cured our own. With salt out of Bakers in Derry - You got a big tub - Split the fish down the tail, hung them over the line on an ordinary dull day, took them in, worked them until they hardened, salted them and hung them up out in the shed all year.
You did the same with herring.

You got a lot of sailors and foreign money. You had to get the exchange rate in your head. In our shop/cafe in Moville we got used to working out the change in half a dozen currencies. Things were rationed even in the free state.
We got tea off ships. USN and Canadians had chests of tea, but never used it because they all drunk coffee.
4 x 25lb chests of tea. A pound a lb then, big money.
So our business survived well.
At high tide everybody headed for the bath-house. You fished for crabs with a stick.
This Norwegian came down when he was drunk. He said “I want to go home”, and jumped in! He must have been a hell of a good swimmer when he was sober, because he went out 100 yds.Then a Greencastle bum-boat went out, we shouted to them and went to the barracks to get the guards and he was saved.

On stormy night the boys couldn’t get out to the ships again. The Parish priest opened the hall to them to stay in for the night.

An old man, John Kivershaw, used to stop by for the night and go out to his ship in the morning.
“I left Estonia, ships was my home. Of all the places I’ve been to, they were never as friendly as in Ireland. I’d have no hesitation about living here.”

One destroyer went up and down the Foyle, H21. Big waves came in, a big wash. We waited down on the shore. It was always in a hurry.
It was at the invasion of Normandy.

The Black Swan was another destroyer. We used to get 28lb boxes of butter on the Black market. Then we started getting 56lb boxes off that ship. They called it “Black Swan” butter.

That chap Craig from Belfast was a bosun on a tanker. He met his wife, her name was Patricia Queeg. Billy Sonyers, from Estonia, he met Kathleen Bryson. After the war he worked on the Head line ships.
Anthony Mc Monagle:
My father was a driller in the british army fro 27 years before the last war. He and I were out fishing the night Messines park was bombed in Derry. As we came in we heard this [propeller noise], we got a feeling it would come down on us.
“That’s a Jerry”, he said.
They were looking for the navy yard in Derry. Sean Redmond had his house tumbled. The ships were in blackout. Little did he know he was passing a good naval base in the Foyle.
Sonny Fiorentini part 3:
In wartime,I think there was 1 body washed ashore down by Greencastle.
One boy came a cropper at Moville wharf. His body came back a few weeks later.

The Aircraft Carriers stayed down a bit cause they were too big to go up to Derry. They played camoggie on the decks!

There was a crash-landing through a field at Greencastle. The pilot was taken to the barracks, he wasn’t killed. The Guards came in to our place next door to get the meal for him. Next day there was 60ft trailers for him at the RAF station, towed the plane away and took him with them to intern him. That was Neutral for them.
Anthony Mc Monagle:
Sometimes the net would snag, that would be a plane sunk. How you’d know is you’d get a piece of aluminium up. A lot of planes went down. One over by Limivady direction. Fishermen check landmarks so you don’t catch on it again.

In the dredger, in the channel there were 3 anchors. This was years later. One morning we couldn’t get the anchor up. When we did there was a big cable on it.
“If that’s copper we’re rich”
It wasn’t copper. That was a cable to the Foxglove to Derry.

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