Got My Whishy: Cleveland Irish

Cleveland Irish: Got My Wishy
By Francis McGarry

“Murray Hill is the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.”  Aunt Irene always reminds us when she wants to get Italian food, but won’t just say it.  She sometimes treats us to more interesting facts.  The Appalachians were once volcanic and used to be some of the tallest mountains in the world.  Aunt Irene watches her Nat Geo. 

Please don’t get her started on the Ice Age and Lake Maumee. I will have to give it to her; she provided some great background information when researching fishing in Lake Erie. 

Lake Erie is the 12th largest lake in the world.  Commercial fishing on Lake Erie dates back to Commodore Perry’s defeat of the British Fleet in 1813.  The first fishery was near the Maumee River, which at one time flowed towards the Mississippi River. Thanks, Aunt Irene.

The Western Basin is west of Sandusky and the Eastern Basin is east of Erie, PA.  The Central Basin is all points in between. That’s us. 

The Western Basin contains more shoals and islands and an average depth of 24’.  It is mostly a mud bottom. The Eastern Basin is generally deeper than the rest of the lake, with the deepest point in the lake being 210 feet.  The Central Basin deepens to 60 to 78 feet, with a base of mud, sand and clay.

The variety of the lake is a result of the last ice age.  The variety is represented in the location of commercial fisheries.  Lake Erie produced historically nearly a third of all the fish in the Great Lakes. 

The Western Basin is primarily responsible for those numbers.  Calm and shallow water combined with an abundance of fish made commercial fishing a considerable industry in the west.  Cleveland never had a substantial fishing economy.  We chose industry and getting fish imported. 

Advertisements appeared in the Plain Dealer as early as 1845 for white fish at $7 per barrel, and $6 for pickerel and herring.  If you needed lard, the canal boat unloaded 1,131 pounds of it with the fish.  Fish sales were booming too. 

Over 1,000 barrels of fish were sold to Clevelanders in a day.  Cozzens Grocery also had fresh lobsters and oysters imported from New York, with saltwater fish. 

The Limerick Hook
Those were not the only fish-related ads in the Plain Dealer.  N.E. Crittenden’s had the hook, or hooks.  He had Spring Snap Hooks, Griswold Fish Hooks, Yankee Doodle Fish Hooks and the best hook of the all, the Limerick Hook.  Crittenden’s had 10,000 Limerick Hooks for sale. 

The Limerick fishing hooks were known all over the fishing world.  Daniel O’Shaughnessy conceived of the hook while fishing for salmon in the Shannon River.  He was the most famous fishing hook maker of his time. 

Daniel O’Shaughnessy was not the first to make a hook.  The earliest true hooks date back to the Neolithic age and were usually made from bone, shell, horn, bird’s beaks, or constructed with a wooden shank and a flint point, which meant that they had to be quite large.

The Bronze Age saw the appearance of smaller hooks, made from an alloy which contained much more copper than modern bronze, and consequently, would have been much harder. Iron hooks also have a long history.

The Romans created networks of small iron pits to sustain the huge demand for swords and spear heads that their armies created. Making hooks was a byproduct of that.  The history of the modern hook really begins with the discovery of how to make steel.  The first mention of a steel hook is from 1496. 

Hooks first became available in Irish tackle shops in the seventeenth century. By 1823, there were numerous firms of hook makers in Ireland and its neighboring islands. There were plenty of rivals and competitors in Aberdeen, Dublin, Kendal and Limerick. A wide range of different patterns evolved, some of which survive yet: Needle point; Round bend; Sproat; Kendal; Limerick; Aberdeen; Sneck, O’Shaughnessy; Kinsey; and Kirby.

Hook making was very labor intensive and the larger companies often farmed it out as piece-work, with local families earning pennies by bending the hooks, while the sharpening and polishing was carried out in nearby mills. Enforcing any kind of quality control in this environment was problematic; the main problem was the unreliability of batch tempering, which meant that anglers had to test every hook before they used it. However, the Norwegian firm Mustad, which was founded in 1876, paved the way for modern and reliable hook production to begin by introducing hook-making machines to its factory.

Even if the quality control was difficult for the Limerick Hooks at N.E. Crittenden’s Store, there were still 10,000 of them available there. Many would only use the O’Shaughnessy Limerick Hook, or even the hooks out of Dublin.  Both had the reputation of seldom breaking, although they might bend on occasion.  “The English hooks, made of cast steel, in imitation of the Irish ones, are the worst of all,” according to the Field Book, Sports and Pastimes of the British Islands.

A Lot of Hooks
The population of Cleveland was only 17,000 in 1850. That is a lot of hooks!  Which would indicate that there was some fishing going on, just not commercial.  In 1849, Jesse Enos requested the city to lease the “West Fishing ground.”  Frank Pinckney made a similar request for the “East Fishing Ground on Bath St” the same year.  Those are the only requests noted in the Plain Dealer. 

It is clear that fish was being imported to the city via the canal.  It is also clear from the first copies of the newspaper that a large number of fish hooks were being sold in the city.  Irish made fish hooks that followed the Irish that followed the canal. 

I asked Aunt Irene if she ever went fishing in Cleveland, all I remember is her taking us to Captain Frank’s.  She discussed at length the Dunkleosteus.

*Francis McGarry holds undergraduate degrees from Indiana University in Anthropology, Education and History and a Masters in Social Science from the University of Chicago.  He is an assistant principal and history teacher.  Francis is a past president of the Irish American Club East Side.  He is the founder and past president of the Bluestone Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.   

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