The Hennings were first involved in fishing when Harold got a berth on this vessel the ‘Forethought’. Years later he would buy this boat with his brothers.

1949 – Present Day

The Henning family are not ingrained in seafaring like many others in Mourne. Their involvement in the sea only started in earnest when Harold Henning, son of Wesley decided he needed a car. At that time, there was one way in Kilkeel to earn money fast – fishing. When Harold’s brother John started fishing wages could hit £50 a week, compared to his previous wage of £7 in the Aircraft Furnishing factory. Harold first got a job with Alec Newell on a fishing boat called the ‘Forethought’. Years later Harold and his brothers John and Richard would buy this boat.

Fishing in a prosperous time in Kilkeel, the three brothers built up a fleet of four fishing boats. The journey was always fraught with risk, as after purchasing the ‘Forethought’, the price of Prawns, their principal catch, dropped dramatically from £25 a stone to £13 a stone. John Henning remembers that Christmas being particularly difficult financially. Things improved thankfully, and the family became successful fishermen.

Harold went ashore to start a fish auctioning business and at the same time started trading in some shellfish. That was the initial seed of a business idea that turned into a firm called ‘Down Mussels’, a Mussel and Oyster Business, with the family operating beds in Belfast Lough and Carlingford Lough as well as their own Mussel Dredger, a Dutch bought vessel called the ‘Dingeus Jan’ in 2001. Harold’s wife Lou has handled the accountancy for all the boats over the years, and has done a lot of work promoting the fishing industry in the group NIWIF (Northern Ireland Women in Fisheries) as well another local support group, the Fishermen’s Wives Support Group.

After some initial struggles, the family persevered, and built a factory at Kilkeel to process their catch. However, with problems getting the product to market quickly enough, the family sold the entire business to a Dutch business man, but retained the Oyster beds which are based in Millbay.

Nowadays, Harold and John operate the Henning Bros factory which currently trades in Crab products, Scallops as well as some Lobster. 95% of the product comes from local fishermen. Harold wife Lou who has spent many years promoting fish locally runs the office, and also on the staff is John Henning’s son in Law, Aidan McCartan. John’s son Alan has a link to the industry, working for the Fisheries department at the harbour, a stone’s throw away from his Father’s business.