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Paimpol (Municipality, Côtes-d'Armor, France)


Last modified: 2012-04-21 by ivan sache
Keywords: cotes-d'armor | paimpol | pempoull | ship (white) |
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[Flag of Paimpol]

Flag of Paimpol - Image by Ivan Sache, 21 November 2011

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Presentation of Paimpol

The municipality of Paimpol (in Breton, Pempoull; 7,756 inhabitants in 2006; 2,361 ha) is located on the northern coast of Brittany, 45 km north-west of Saint-Brieuc. Once a municipality with a very small area, Paimpol was increased by incorporating neighboring municipalities, Plounez (pro parte) and Lanvignec in 1836, Kernoa and Bout-du-Pont in 1843, Kérity (pro parte) in 1896, and Plounez and Kérity in 1960.

Paimpol is named for two Breton words, pen, "a head", and poul, "a pond", recalling that Paimpol was once located on a peninsula covered with ponds, all drained long ago. In the late 19th century, Paimpol was one of the French capital of the grande pêche, that is deep-sea cod fishing. The first evidence of deep-sea fishing in Paimpol is the Beauport Chart, granted in 1514 by the neighboring Beauport abbey to the fishers from Bréhat island, suppressing tax on fish obtained out of the territorial waters. In the 18th century, Newfoundland was the main site of gathering for the fishers from the Saint-Brieuc Bay; in 1713 (Treaty of Utrecht), France lost its permanent settlements in Newfoundland, but was granted rights of fishing and drying on specific places of the island forming the "French Shore". The fishers had to leave the shore at the end of each fishing campaign. In 1787, 12 ships from the Paimpol Fishing Company were recorded in Newfoundland. Cod fishing in Newfoundland still employed 1,500 seamen from Paimpol in 1835, when it started to decline.

In 1852, following the advice of the cod fishers from Dunkirk, the Paimpol-based shipowner Louis Morand sent the schooner L'Occasion to Iceland. The ship wrecked to the shore during its third campaign, but other shipowners from Paimpol followed Morand's wake. As opposed to fishing in Newfoundland, which required heavy three-masters manned by a large crew, fishing in Iceland was based on lighter schooners, making fishing much more profitable. In 1863, the official regulations prescribing the schedule of the fishing campaigns were dropped; smaller boats called chasseurs (hunters) were sent at mid campaign to repatriate the cod already fished from the schooners that moored in the fjords. From 1863 to 1870, the Paimpol fleet increased from 41 to 61 units; in the 1870s, bigger schooners were built, boosting the development of the related industries. The port was revamped, with the building in 1878 of a basin, reusing stones from the obsolete fortress of Bréhat. In the next 20 years, the Icelandic fleet remained stable (56 units manned with 800 seamen in 1892) while the Newfoundland fleet disappeared (only one unit left in 1892). The port of Paimpol peaked in 1895, with 80 "Icelandic" schooners manned by 1,200 seamen.

Cod yields started to decline in the beginning of the 20th century, which did not prevent the shipowners to launch new schooners; a second basin was built in the port in 1898-1902. The Icelandic fleet dropped to 53 units in 1907 and 20 in 1911; that year, seven ships sailed back to Newfoundland. The decline of the fleet was increased by the loss of 32 schooners in 1904-1914. More ships (La Louise, L'Edelweiss, La Mascotte) were sunk by the German submarines during the First World War. The government of Iceland forbid in 1922 foreign fishers to enter the territorial waters, which ended the use of the chasseurs. In spite of the motorization of some ships (Goëlo, Butterfly, La Glycine), the schooners were deemed obsolete for the Newfoundland campaigns in 1926. Butterfly was lost in 1935; the same year, La Glycine, the last Paimpol schooner, ended its 23rd and last Icelandic campaign.

Source: De la grande pêche à Pierre Loti blog.

The cod fishers from Paimpol are the main characters of the novel Pêcheur d'Islande (An Iceland Fisherman) published in 1886 by the prolific writer Pierre Loti (1850-1923). The novel is very realistic, some say ethnographic, based on a comprehensive documentation. The writing style has been considered as "impressionist". The most successful of Loti's works in spite of being less exotic than other novels, Pêcheur d'Islande was reedited several times, often with nice illustrations. The Calmann-Lévy edition (1936) was illustrated by the noted Breton painter Mathurin Méheut (1882-1958).

The Breton singer-songwriter Théodore Botrel (1868-1925) wrote in 1895 the song called La Paimpolaise (The Paimpol Girl), probably inspired by Loti's success with Pêcheur d'Islande. The song includes the famous stance J'aime Paimpol et sa falaise (I love Paimpol and its cliff); falaise was used for the convenient rhyme with Paimpolaise, although there is no cliff in Paimpol. Botrel, indeed, visited Paimpol for the first time only two years after having written the song.

Ivan Sache, 21 November 2011

Flag of Paimpol

The flag of Paimpol is red with, in the middle, a blue square charged with a white sailing ship, the square framed within a red (inner) and white (outer) border. The flag, reported by Philippe Rault (Les drapeaux bretons de 1188 à nos jours [rau98]), is actually used in the cloth (photo, July 2010; photo, December 2007; photo, undated).

The square charged with the sailing ship comes from the municipal arms, "Azure a three-masted sailing ship in dexter base an anchor sinister bendwise argent". The arms were ascribed by the Armorial Général in 1699. Some sources claim that the hull of the ship is shown or on the Armorial Général.

Ivan Sache, 21 November 2011