The final 125 Memorial Association bronze statues to commemorate Black Friday, the greatest fishing disaster in the British Isles, when a total of 189 fishermen were drowned after a sudden storm blew up while they were out at sea, was finally unveiled on Eyemouth’s Bantry last Friday, 135 years to the day of the tragic event.
Every one of the town’s widows and every child who lost a father that day is depicted in the Widows and Bairns statue, with sculptor Jill Watson capturing the pain, distress and fear on the faces of every individual.
The bronze statue joins similar ones at Cove, St Abbs and Burnmouth which also have the exact number of widows and children of those villages directly affected by the fishing disaster.
The statues were the idea of the 125 Memorial Association, which decided that after over a century of grieving for the fishermen, the strength and bravery of the women and children left behind should also be remembered.
It set up a fund to raise the £250,000 needed for the four bronze statues, but the numbers to be included in the Eyemouth one were so great that it has taken a decade to get close to the £100,000 needed, with £50,000 of it being a grant donation from the Fallago Rig wind farm environment fund operated by Tweed Foundation.
On a blustery afternoon with waves crashing against the Bantry, the Good Hope, a 90-year-old fishing fifie similar to the largest fishing boat at sea off the Berwickshire coast on October 14, 1881, sailed into Eyemouth Bay as the unveiling ceremony got under way.
Weather conditions were nothing like those on the day of the great storm that hit the fishing boats back then, but watching the Good Hope battling the elements gave the crowds gathered on the sea front a sense of what it must have been like for those on shore watching the horror unfold in front of them.
The loss of one boat left 11 widows and 26 fatherless children, and the women and children gathered along the sea front could hear the cries of the stricken sailors ,but such was the ferocity of the storm no one could do anything to help them.
Opening proceedings, 125 Memorial Association chairman Jim Evans said: “In the 100 years after the disaster, there were many memorials to those fishermen who lost their lives.
“But there was another story concerning the widows and fatherless children who were left and how these ladies would not let Eyemouth die.” The number of descendants of Eyemouth’s 129 lost fishermen who were at the ceremony last week was testament to the widows’ determination to keep the fishing port alive.
There were a number of Borders dignitaries at the ceremony including the Duke of Roxburgh and Jeanna Swan, Lord Lieutenant of Berwickshire, but at the heart of the ceremony were the six descendants – Ena Aitchison, Gale Coates, Margaret Carey, Dawn Walker, Helen Johnston and Alison Woodhouse – who unveiled the statue, and the young children and teenagers there who are also direct descendants of the fishermen.
The youngsters talked about who their relatives were, a number of them having kin from both their mother’s and father’s sides who died in the disaster.
Giving a moving prayer of dedication, Superintendent of the Mission to Fishermen, Clair McIntosh, said: “Those wives would see their husbands and boys drown out there, horror-stricken and those emotions are depicted in the faces of all the figures on the statue. It’s magnificent and very moving.”
As a short excerpt from Get up and Tie your Fingers, a play written as a tribute to the fishing widows, was performed by ECHO choir, they recited the names of the fishing boats and the fishermen lost that day.
A total of 189 fishermen died along the North Sea coast of southern Scotland on October 14, 1881, the greatest fishing disaster in Britain’s history: Eyemouth 129, Burnmouth 24, Cove 11, Coldingham Shore 3, Newhaven 17 and Fisherrow 7.
It still remains a dangerous occupation to this day, 150 fishermen having been lost in the same stretch of water, from the Forth to Amble in Northumberland since the disaster.