Waterford Harbour

Waterford Harbour
Cheekpoint village 1940's

Friday, 30 May 2014

Time and tide waits for no man

We all have particular clocks that we need to respond to. For farmers I guess it’s the dawn, when its light enough to see what your doing and which stretches to the dusk. All in all a long day in the height of the summer, but is balanced by the dark of winter. For factory workers it’s the clocking in machine, that no nonsense system that demands you be on time, or you won’t be paid. What I hated about this system is that it never seemed to take account of day or night, snow or sunshine, just a continuous pattern or rhythm like Fords assembly line.
For fishermen in the Cheekpoint area they rhythm was the tides. The tides tripped off our tongues, even as children, and before we really knew what they meant. Tides change approximately every 6 hours and we get two high waters and two low waters in an average day. As a fisherman you followed these with a tenacity of any good hunter following his prey.

Sonny Doherty and Andy Cunningham "hauling them back"
from an outward bound ship on the Ebb tide
Photo credit Tomás Sullivan

For Eels , fishing tended to happen when the tides are at there slowest, hence High and Low Tides, day or night. Similarly for Trawling and for setting and hauling the weirs. But the salmon fishing was a bit more complex. The salmon had a season and a weekly close. So we started originally on February 1st and fished to August 15th.and weekly we fished from 6am on Monday morning to 6am on the Saturday. The rest of Saturday was giving over to repairing nets and Sunday to rest. The drift net was used in Cheekpoint, employing two men to an open 18ft punt. . We used a set of 6 nets marked by buoys on either end. Originally punts were oar powered but outboards made things a lot easier in getting about to the drifts.

For simplicity lets say that tides started with High Water. Thus the tide was at its highest on the banks of the river and along the shore. On neap tides high waters were something you could relax around, but on spring tides you needed to be cautious, the higher tides tended to bring weeds off the shore and you were at risk of filling your nets. Once the nets stood still in the river it was High Water, and once they started to slip back down the river it was known as “First of Ebb”.

Following High water boats went ashore, and nets would not be set again in the area until the “Stripping of the Mud” about two hours after high water. The Strippin was a word we heard daily during the salmon season, and even as a child there was a recognition of its importance. The Strippin was a drift that was waited for in the Bathing Box below the mount quay. Boats would often go in to the bailing box to wait for two to three hours for the chance to be first boat to set on the Stripin. The wait was straightforward. First boat in, was first to set, as long as one of the two crew men stayed with the boat. If they left, their place was forfeit.

Once the stripping boat set others could set at the same time from the Binglidies or Snow Hill or at the Point. The Stipping occurred when the mud on the Wexford shore was exposed by the outgoing tide. It also marked the tides being at their strongest. 

The ebb tide continued with punts drifting down as far as “The Castle” or “Buttermilk Point” on the eastern side of the estuary or to the Barn quay or Ryans Quay on the Western shore (Waterford side). When the drift ended the nets were hauled and the punt returned to the Bathing Box to await their turn to set once more, or set them in on the Point if there was a space. The drifting continued to “Low Water” although many punts went home depending on how catches were going, whilst others when they reached “The Castle” would haul and reset the nets on Seedes Bank and drift them down towards Passage East and Ballyhack.

Tom Sullivan hauling nets at Ryan's Quay on the ebb tide
Photo credit Tomás Sullivan

Low Water could be drifted from a number of points, but the favourite was “Low water on the mud”. This drift was waited for at “the Rock” and was started depending on the strength of tides or wind direction and indeed time of day and whether the sun was out. Again, the boat had to be manned and generally it allowed that one person could go home for a feed, while the other waited. They could use the time to repair nets and generally it was a great way to hear news as other boats passed by. Coming close to low water, a stick could be placed in the mud beside the dropping tide to gauge the time it was taking to drop. The stick would be moved to beside the river until the river stopped dropping, and actually started to “rise” on the stick. The rising tide meant that it would soon be low water ie the tide would stop running out of the river and start to run in again. Antoher great measure of the tide was the stroke that would drift in onto the rock marking a change in the tide.

First of flood pushing inwards at "the Point"

When the punt and crew decided it was time to set for Low water, they set off for the wexford side of the estuary and set the nets off from the mud at “Campile Pill” and then came back in and held the nets close to the mud as they drifted down, in order to “jam” a fish in the shallows, or prevent them getting round the inside end of the nets. Low water was determined when the nets stopped drifting down. This would be seen first with the outside bouy on the net “hanging back” or the corks going “slack” as the current slowed. “First of Flood” was marked by the nets starting to drift upriver again. As the tide strengthened this was called “Flood Tide”. 

Tom & Michael Ferguson RIP drifting the flood tide
Photo credit Tomás Sullivan

The “Covering of the Mud” was another milestone in the day, as the mud on the Wexford shore was covered once more by the inflowing river, and most boats were keen to have their nets in the water for this time of tide.  The Flood tide then continued to High water and the whole process was repeated.

So to recap:
High Water
First of Ebb
Ebb Tide
Strippin of the mud
Low water (Standing tide)
First of Flood
Flood Tide
Covering of the mud
High Water

 I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.

My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales

Friday, 23 May 2014

Limekilns in the Cheekpoint & Faithlegg area (Part 2)

I wrote last week about the earlier origins of Kilns and this post focuses on the design and methods employed.

The local design is of a block shaped building of cut stone into which is built a firing chamber, lined with firebricks and insulated with rubble and clay.  Recent damage to one of the kilns at Jack Meade's highlights the technique.

Damaged Kiln at Jack Meades
Generally, the kilns (in many sources referred to as draw kilns), had a similarity in design, although variations occur due to local building technique or materials.  The firing chamber might also be known as a combustion chamber, crucible, bowl, well or a pot.

The chambers resembled an egg standing on its narrow end with the base and top removed.  Generally smooth, this allowed for the lime to slip down and be removed at the base.   There are recordings of this design causing the death of some lime burners or others who slipped in and could not claw their way out of the noxious fumes or stifling heat!

tapered chamber at Jack Meades with leaves blocking the base

Chambers were loaded with a charge initially - something flammable such as furze or very dry timber which would get the fire going.  Onto this the layers of limestone were added with an extra layer of firing material to keep the chamber burning (three to five layers of stone to one layer of firing material).  The fuel could be more timber but was probably coal slack or calum.  Coal slack is the thick dust that can be found at the end of a coal bucket and was something my grandmother prized for "keeping in the fire" She often collected it for a few days and then wetting it, she would place it over a well lit fire and it kept the fire burning for longer.  There is a long tradition in Cheekpoint of importing Welsh coal.

The fire was lit from the base through a draw hole.  As the lime was burned down by the heat in the chamber it too was drawn off through these holes.  Although many sources refer to these kilns as burning for three to five days as a means of creating lime, its worth speculating that the local kilns may have been able to burn continuously for a longer period, depending on demand

one large square draw hole, with two smaller beneath

There could be more than one draw hole, which seems to have been a technique to avoid ash being mixed with the lime. It also allowed more air into the chamber.  I imagine these holes could be blocked if required to adjust the burning. The Lime was drawn off into barrels apparently and then loaded onto carts for delivery to farms.

All our local kilns feature a Romanesque arch around the draw hole which provided access to the draw hole and also shelter for those working on them and a place to store tools.

Romanesque arch typical of local kilns

Local design seems to have favoured a double kiln.  The reason for this would appear to be that once a fire had been lit and the heat had been established in the kiln, it was much easier to get the next burn going and it quickened the process. 

the "charging area" or top of the kiln where limestone
was added to the chamber.  Jack Meades.

It's probably worth mentioning that the double kiln in the field above Jack Meade's was actually a single kiln originally as can be seen from the distinctive different materials used in both sides.  The piece on the left is much younger I would think, which would lead you to speculate on the age of the other.  This is in a much greater state of disrepair.

originally a single kiln, earlier kiln on right

It has to be said I have never spoken to anyone who remembers the Kilns being used.  With the onset of larger machinery and the ability to crush limestone, Kilns became obsolete.  As such, the details enclosed are gleamed from books and online sources which I have to admit leads me to speculate on just how accurate my piece is.  I found this blog post from Cork which gives more insight, which a reader might enjoy, but to end I found this depiction which I just couldn't resist.  A bit of a yearning here in me I have to say, as there's nothing like seeing an actual process.  It also reminds me, somewhat, of the Kilns at Cheekpoint

sourced from

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.

My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales

Friday, 16 May 2014

Limekilns in the Cheekpoint & Faithlegg area (Part 1 of 2)

As a child I was intrigued by the building called the Limekilns in Cheekpoint.  When I asked my father what it was for his answer reminds me of what I tell my daughter when she asks what the internet is...He said it was for making lime, as I might say its a means of getting information.

Double Lime Kiln at the Green, Cheekpoint

When as an adult, fishing the river, I noticed others up the Ross River as we sometimes called the Barrow my curiosity was piqued again and at some stage, pre Internet days, I managed to get some written information that began to lift the curtain from my eyes.   We do know, for example, that when Arthur Young did his Tour in Ireland and book of the same name, he stopped on two occasions with the resident landlords of the area, the Boltons.  He recorded much of their entrepreneurial endeavours amongst which were Limekilns at Cheekpoint, Faithlegg and Ballycanavan (Jack Meades).  His visit was 1796 and his second in 1798.  The book is available on googlebooks for free here.

Young tells us that the "progressive" Boltons had set the Kilns up to add lime to the fields in order to fertilise and enhance the crops and their yield.  He also mentions that they sometimes dried salt on the top of the kilns (presumably for use in preserving).  I also learned from other sources that many landlords actually encouraged their tenants to spread lime by offering free seed or other perks, suggesting that the tenants were possibly sceptical about the process?

Kilns were sited close to water as the lime stone, which was burned, was generally ferried by water.  In the Suir and Barrow, the boats used were termed Lighters - so named because they were used to lighten the load of sailing ships who could be held back from port by sandbars etc.  These had a three man crew one held the tiller and two pushed the flat bottomed craft along using poles.  They drove them into the water and pushed from the bow to the stern to get the boat along.   The crew also loaded and unloaded the craft which was no mean feat.  I read recently that there were 150 Lighters working the Suir alone between Waterford and Carrick into the late 19th Century.  Image below via Waterford County Museum.

However it was at the stage that I cam across Shire Publications and ordered my copy of Limekilns and Limeburning by Richard Williams that I finally had the completed answers to the process of the Limekiln. 

Lime has been around since about 6000 BCE and was used by the Mesopotamians.  The Greeks later used it in footpaths but it was the Romans who seem to have taken it to the building and agriculture level.  Some examples have been found from the Roman period in the UK, but as they never got to Ireland, we had to wait a while longer.  There is evidence that the early Christian period used lime to wash houses and the Normans certainly burned lime to assist in their castle, church and bridge building.   These tended to be temporary builds and were left to deteriorate after the initial need for lime in building had passed.

It was the demand for food that spiked with the Industrial revolution that made Lime burning so prevalent in the mid to late 18th Century.  This combined with the Napoleonic wars which also drove demand and enhanced knowledge in agricultural sciences made lime burning a regular feature of rural areas which necessitated the building of more permanent Kilns. End Part 1

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.

My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales