Fishing Lines: The land of fish and quips

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An interesting cutting caught my eye this week, detailing how 40 anglers had consumed 3,000 pints of beer in four days. That works out at almost 19 pints per man per day, which is serious drinking even by Irish standards. But the landlord of the George Hotel at Chatteris, near Cambridge, confirmed it was true. "They nearly drank the bar dry," he said. "They were drinking and dancing until 5am, and they still got up for breakfast." Serious drinkers indeed.

The event was a friendly pike-fishing contest between a team of Irish (wouldn't you know it?) and British anglers. No doubt it was even friendlier by the time they had downed all that ale, though I haven't been able to discover quite how much, if any, fishing they did. One of the British team, Mike Skipper, said: "The Irish enjoy a good party and we had to keep them company."

Links between Ireland, fishing and drinking are not entirely unconnected as licensing laws, even now, are fairly relaxed in rural areas. I spent many holidays over there and have fond memories of nights that didn't even end when the landlord went to bed. You helped yourself and left money by the till.

In a village outside Mullingar one night, we were drinking until 1am, though last orders had been called at least an hour before. Finally we vowed to head back to our tent. But as we headed for the door, the landlord ran round to stop us. "Oh, there's no need to go yet, lads," he said. "The boys always stay for a drink or two on Saturday night."

With hospitality like that, our fishing days gradually became shorter and shorter. On the first day, we fished dawn to dusk. On the final few days of a two-week holiday, it needed wonderful fishing to get us out by midday.

Ah, those were the days! I spent 90 per cent of my money on whiskey and beer, women and fishing - and squandered the other 10 per cent. But then, for a single man fishing hard all day with his mates, the nights were made for drinking - and so, often, were the days.

Every butcher, the baker and candlestick maker seemed to have a bar. When you are self-catering, this is a serious hazard. We would vow to get the shopping sorted before we set off fishing. But when we popped into the grocers, the owner would start chatting. A cloth-capped leprechaun we hadn't noticed, sitting at the hidden bar, would say: "Ah, youse lads are here for the fishing? I'll tell you a fine spot."

So we would chat to him, and invite him to have a drink, and have one ourselves, then he would buy us one... and the same story would be repeated in the bakers, and the tackle shop, and the post office. By the time we reached the river bank, all we wanted to do was sleep. Small wonder that looking back through my records, at a time when Irish fishing was truly spectacular, I seem to have caught very little. But it certainly didn't seem to matter at the time.

The country Irish believe that time is for other people. One day I went fishing near Cork with an Irish friend, Pat Madigan. I drove and he directed me, but some way through the journey, I recognised the road, and on the way back, I took a different route.

"Why are you coming this way?" asked Pat.

"Well, it's about five minutes faster than the way you brought me," I replied.

"What are you going to do with the five minutes?" he asked.

I still haven't thought of a smart reply.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I fished a lot in Northern Ireland, sometimes for salmon, sometimes for roach. The fishing was so good that week-long festivals with a 400 capacity were sell-outs with a long waiting list.

We usually stayed at the Killyhevlin hotel just outside Enniskillen, and the lads behind the bar said they made so much in overtime that they could afford a week's holiday afterwards.

And it was at the Killyhevlin that I saw a chap bumping into a mirror and apologising to the reflection. Now that's drunk.