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The Dingle Sturgeon Story

On April 2, 1966, a fishing-boat came into Dingle harbour carrying a very rare and valuable catch: a wild sturgeon - the fish whose eggs are used to make caviar - in today's money, the fish was worth over 3,000 euros.

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Documentary maker: Ronan Kelly

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The Dingle Sturgeon Story

The crowds gathered to see this unusual species. The fish was being kept alive on the deck of the boat, under wet sacks, until a photographer from The Kerryman came along to preserve the moment.

The sturgeon was a so-called 'royal fish', which meant that any sturgeon caught in Irish waters had to be given to the King or Queen. That was back in the 1400s when that edict was issued. In 1966, this was interpreted as meaning that the sturgeon should be given to the Head of State, President Eamon De Valera.

The Dingle fishermen contacted Áras an Uachtarán. Dev thanked them and asked that they give the sturgeon to the Poor Clare nuns in Kenmare. The nuns were delighted and prepared to have a feast with this unusual dish.

Back in Dingle, the photographer still hadn't arrived. One young fisherman was standing beside the fish when he heard a crewman call, "Throw it out!". He picked up the fish. Soon a few more in the crowd took up the cry, "Throw it out!" Of course, they meant, to throw the fish out onto the pier but, in a moment of distraction, he thought they meant he should throw it into the water. He did just that.

A groan and a roar went up from the crowd as fishermen scrambled in punts with nets and boathooks to try and find the fish. They had no luck - the fish was gone.

The nuns in Kenmare weren't going to get their fish - the Dingle fishermen sent them a box of other fish instead.

Later that day, while one punt was still trawling the harbour in the hope of catching the sturgeon, another fishing-boat came into the harbour. Amazingly, this one had a sturgeon too. Not as big, but still, a sturgeon.

The day was saved, the fishermen's promise to Dev would be fulfilled and the nuns would get their fish.

But that was not going to happen. The fisherman who caught the second sturgeon had been involved in republican activities and had been interned in The Curragh in the 1940s - by Dev. There was no way, Dev was going to get his sturgeon - whether he was giving it to the nuns or not.

Instead, this second sturgeon was sent to the fish market in Billingsgate in London where it fetched a fine price.

And that was that. Until about 10 years later when the republican fisherman was told what had ultimately happened his sturgeon.

The fish merchants in Billingsgate were purveyors of fish to Buckingham Palace and, the fish that didn't go to Dev, it went to the British queen instead.

Music used:

Various tracks from the album, "Cry of the Mountain", by Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin

"The Dunbrody", by Vincent Kennedy from the album "The Hook, A Place And A People"

Producer, Ronan Kelly

First broadcast November 2nd 2013

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