Down through the ages, we know that Clontarf was famous both for the variety and quantities of fish that were caught along the shoreline and in the bay. The presence of large sandbanks ensured that a plentiful supply of shellfish was always present. However, the first evidence we have to support the existence of cultivated oyster plantations comes from the records of Dublin Corporation (Dublin City Assembly).
Their records show that on July 18th 1718, Humphrey French was awarded permission to plant oysters at Crab Lough, S.E. of Clontarf. For those of you who are unsure of Clontarf’s local geography, Crab Lake is located immediately to the left of the wooden bridge.
Humphrey French’s entrepreneurial venture was obviously successful because it riled the lords of the manor, the Vernon’s who owned Clontarf Castle and its lands. On January 17th 1729, Captain Vernon, who at that time had a very volatile and litigious relationship with Dublin Corporation, made a claim to the strand.
The dispute raged on for five years but in the end, the Corporation was successful. Following the judgement, the Corporation declared, by common law applying to the citizens of Dublin: “That the Lord Mayor, Sheriffs, Aldermen, Commons and their ladies had the liberty to go and eat oysters at the said bed for one day each year”.
By 1777 we have evidence that the Clontarf Oyster Beds were not given sufficient time to properly mature and develop. John Rutty states in ‘The Natural History of the County of Dublin’ (1777): “There are several oyster beds near this city, both artificial and natural. Of the first kind, we have two.
The first lies opposite the Cold Harbour, half a mile S.E. from Clontarf. It is commonly called Crab Lough by reason of the frequency of crabs as well as oysters there.” He goes on to tell us that the oysters were of a gelatinous consistency, and very small, mainly because of over-harvesting.
The oyster cultivators obviously took notice of what John Rutty had to say because by 1821, Clontarf was famous throughout all Ireland for the quality of its Dublin Bay Oysters.