Waterford Harbour

Waterford Harbour
Cheekpoint village 1940's

Friday, 27 June 2014

The Faithlegg Ice House

I'm not sure how many know of the Faithlegg Ice House.  Like Limekilns, the purpose of them appear to have been forgotten.  As a teen I remember walking in what we called locally the Oak Wood (although at the time all that remained were stumps under a pine wood forest). The entrance to the wood was via Park Rangers playing fields, and you emerged at Faithlegg Pill and crossed a bridge into Ballycanavan and Woodlands.  Alas both the wood and bridge are no more.

It was while walking this shortcut that I first came across the Ice house.  It was lost amongst the trees and it created an eerie feeling.  The chilly damp of it was forbidding, and the dark chamber at the end of the passage-way allowed teenage imaginations run riot.  We often challenged each other to enter, but none dared, at least not once we had dropped a lighting piece of paper in and realised just how deep the chamber was.
Faithlegg Ice House looking east this morning
Ice houses were a fashion of their time and the Ice House in Faithlegg was most probably built when Cornelius Bolton had Faithlegg House constructed, 1783.  It may have been later, perhaps when the Powers remodelled and extended in 1875, but I would doubt it.

The purpose of the Ice House was to store perishable food and to have ice available in the presentation of food and chilling wines.  In effect if the larder was the fridge of the time, the ice house was the freezer.  Items such as fish, poultry and game could be suspended from the ceiling.  These would not freeze as such, but be chilled to prolong their freshness.

sketch of a typical ice house design
Records show that the first Ice house constructed in Britain or Ireland was 1619, and the design and concept was imported from Italy or France.  Their construction reached their height between 1750-1875, after which new technologies replaced them.  It's thought that somewhere in the region of 3000 were built in all between Ireland and Britain.  I've personally seen three in Ireland, Birr Castle, Scout Irelands headquarters at Larch Hill and Faithlegg and have heard of several more including Lismore and Stradbally in Waterford.

The basic design was a free standing masonry structure with a vaulted roof covered by soil or thatch.  It had four essential pieces; entrance door, passage way, chamber with associated drain and a vault.   The design was to ensure that ice placed inside was preserved and was based on the reality that ice tightly packed together self-insulates.  There is obviously some degree of melt and consequently the drain in the chamber was essential to allow for runoff. 
entrance way (now gated and locked!)
the passage way and the chamber door at the rear
In siting the Icehouse the essential criteria was based on the ability of the meltwater to drain away from the chamber rather than proximity to the house.  Easy enough when you had a legion of servants to go grab you a snack!

Ice was initially gathered from the freshwater streams during winter.  In some cases artificial ponds were made.  These were filled by diverting freshwater springs into them (spring water being colder than rainwater and thus quicker to freeze), and allowing a freezing night to do its work.  I don't know if such existed at Faithlegg, but I have heard of one at Kinsalebeg in west Waterford and another called the Ice Field was situated around Dromina House again in the west of the county .  The ice was broken up in the morning and transported to the Ice house. The filling would take several days and it was the duty of the Head Gardner to oversee it.


Today the Ice House is a feature on Faithlegg Golf Course.  At least this should ensure its preservation.  Mind you, I would dearly love to see it's social history acknowledged in some way.

Much of statistics included in this post were gleamed from Buxham. T.   Icehouses.  2008.  Shire Publications.  Buckinghamshire.

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, 20 June 2014

"Taking the boat"

I've spoken before about my maternal grandmothers feelings about emigration which put simply was a matter of great pain and loss.  Last week got me to thinking about it more, as I met with cousin Ed and his family at a gathering in Crooke.  Ed had travelled from southern Florida to connect with members of his extended family following the emigration of his grandfather in the early 20th century.  His grandfathers sister, Margaret Hanlon of Coolbunnia was my fathers mother, someone I never knew as she died a young woman.

Meeting with Ed and his family and of course our own extended family was one of those rare happy occasions, as it seems we mostly gather at funerals these days.  I've met the returning emigrants and their descendants before, but at an age where it had little meaning to me.  However time moves on and with it your perception of the world and yourself.

On Sunday last there was plenty of music and song and at one stage I was called on for a story, and to be honest, nothing would come to mind.  Fear does that of course.  I'm much more relaxed hidden behind a computer screen.

Once I had thought on it though, the story I could have told was a story of emigration that my grandmother passed on to me about her brother "taking the boat" to America.  She was born in Feb 1919.  She was the youngest and had six brothers.  Ritchie was the eldest and I'm not 100% sure of the correct running order of the other lads but they included Mikey, Christy, Paddy, Johnny and Willie. 

the Moran siblings less eldest brother

They were born in the Russianside in a small three roomed house.  It was a fisherman's cottage, close to the river, where as soon as the boys could pull an oar or haul a net they would have been out fishing.  But times were tough, fishing was a poor livelihood and one of the realities of most families at the time was emigration. 

Nanny was never sure how the money was raised to send Ritchie to America but she suspected that some of her uncles on the Moran side were already living in New York and that they organised the fare and a job at the other side.  Whatever the arrangements, she was unaware of it all until the night of the American Wake which probably took place in the mid 1920's.

She related how different the house was leading up to the event, the extra scrubbing and cleaning, the setting of the table back and the extra food that was prepared or dropped into the house.  She didn't remember drink but she did recall music, singing and dancing which started in the evening and which to her young eyes must have been magical.  At some point she remembered being carried into a bedroom by a brother, which she thought was Christy, having fallen asleep where she sat.  Next morning she woke early to find the music and dancing over, but many of the neighbours still around.

Her parents didn't seem to have gone to bed and her mother looked drained and tired.  Very soon after rising a pony and trap came down the road.  It was driven by Paud and John Burkes father if I remember correctly, who Nanny said was a relation of ours.  Into this was put a case belonging to Ritchie and after he lifted her up and gave her a hug he hopped aboard and went off up the Russianside Road, his brothers strolling beside the trap until it reached the top of the hill..  Her father turned away to walk towards the strand and her mother turned towards the house and she remembered her wailing behind the closed door.

Even as a child there was work to be done, but sometime later in the afternoon, Ritchie strolled down the Russianside Road.  Nanny who was throwing the remains of a teapot over the ditch ran to him and he lifted her up again and she innocently asked him "how was America?"  She remembered being confused, after all he was often away longer when he was at the fishing, and there was never a party then, and her mother and father never acted as they had done that day.

It transpired that having travelled to Waterford to catch the train to Cork and ultimately Cobh, the station master had turned him back as the ship wasn't yet ready to sail.  He took Ritchie's case for safe keeping, told him to return on the morro and Ritchie turned on his heels and strolled home. The next day Ritchie was gone again but this time Nanny didn't see her big brother again for over thirty years.

gathering to celebrate the emigrants return,
Ryan's Quay July 1956

Ritchie eventually died in America as did Johnny.  Mikey died on the buildings in England.  Willie who spent half his life in New York, retired home to the Russianside only to die not long after.  As I said the relations did visit, but I was of an age where it meant little to me.  But I guess now that Nanny is dead (the last of her family to go to her rest) and my father too, I have a greater sense of my own mortality and an enhanced interest in those belonging to me. 

A few years back we were on a short holiday in Cork and took a trip down to Cobh.  Visiting the heritage centre there, I became overwhelmed as I walked through what would have been the departures gate for emigrants.  Reflecting back, I realised it was probably because I had seen emigration from my grandmothers perspective; a sundering of the family.  However, maybe Ritchie saw it as an adventure, an escape or a great opportunity. 

Talking to Ed last Sunday evening made me wonder about it some more.  Although I will never know, I suppose emigration like anything in life is a personal journey.  But it also impacts on all those it touches, and in Nanny's case that was very negatively.  Maybe if she had been older when Ritchie left, she would have seen it with different eyes.   

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:  
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Friday, 13 June 2014

The Cross on Cheekpoint's Green

Pat Murphy told me recently that as far as he knew the Cross on the Green was originally erected in 1913 by the local community.

The Cross 2010
It followed a visit by a priest from the missions who came to preach in the parish.  A collection was taken up and offered to the man, who was staying locally and travelling about spreading the Gospels and describing his overseas work.  The missionary refused the money according to Pat, but as a consequence, it was decided to put the money to some "spiritual" use.

Just how a decision was made can only be guessed  but it was decided to erect the Cross.  And if the photo below is anything to go by, the unveiling (if this is indeed such) was a very large occasion.

photo credit Tomás Sullivan

The Cross was moved from the middle of the Green, probably sometime in the late 1950's.  It was put in the top corner of the Green,just behind where the present grotto is located, on a rocky outcrop.  At some point, again according to Pat, Denny Murphy and Tommy Doherty did some remedial work to hold it all together including an iron bar support placed at the rear.

The Cross, in this position, was a regular meeting point as it was on a direct line between the Mount and the back road, when people took the short cut through the "Knock".  Many were the weary fisherman that trudged home that way including Paddy and Christy Doherty who kept their boats at the lower quay.  I remember sitting there as a child, particularly as the sun set over "Snow Hill", getting the last of the summer sun.  At that stage the blackened timber was beginning to crumble particularly at the base, and we often joked that the woodworm must be holding it together by joining hands.

I can also remember my Aunt Ellen complaining that the Cross should never have been moved and that Cheekpoint would never have luck until it was returned to its original location.  It may have been that, but more likely its imminent collapse, that spurred my Uncle, John Doherty, to move it back to it's rightful place in 1980.

Another memory is of the figure of the crucified Jesus in John's shed as he repaired the plaster from which it was sculpted.  His brother in law Paddy Connolly who was a gifted carpenter, constructed a new teak cross onto which the figure was remounted. 

The teak cross and repaired figure was repositioned on a new stand and steps.  These were constructed on the green by John and Alf Doherty, and probably others helped too, that I have no recollection of.

Probably Fr. Tom Doyle blessing the new cross summer 1980
Photo Credit Tomás Sullivan
Sadly the only memory I have of any religious use that it was put to, was when the village gathered to say a rosary around it in the hope that my brother Joseph would be given back by the River Suir.  He was drowned on Sunday August 10th in 1980 and his body found on Thursday August 14th.

According to Pat another cross was erected in Passage East, at the same time as the Cheekpoint Cross, and arising from the same circumstances.  Pat thought it may have been much smaller and placed in a window of someone's home. 

The Cross is probably a little taken for granted now, but thankfully as in the time of my youth, it still remains a gathering point for our young and not so young.

fun day event on the green 2011
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:  
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Friday, 6 June 2014

The Cheekpoint quays

Cheekpoint is located 7 miles downstream from Waterford City. It has been an important navigation point for the ports of Waterford and New Ross as it is located at the meeting point of the three sister river network, the Barrow, Nore and Suir. Between them the drain an area of land second only to the Shannon.  The Suir 114 miles long, and the Barrow 119 miles long, combine beside Cheekpoint and create the estuary that flows out to the Atlantic.  Employment in the village historically was tied to its riverside location. The principle source of employment was the fishery, with related activities including shipping, pilotage, and port works.  Most of this activity centred around Cheekpoint Quays.
I would imagine that the present Main quay was constructed around the time that the Mail Packet Station moved to the village.  The Lower Quay was probably a later addition.  The Station was created in Cheekpoint in 1785 by Cornelius Bolton (the younger).  Cheekpoint Quay would have been the point of departure for all mail, including some freight and passengers, from Waterford to Milford Haven in Wales during that time.  The station operated until 1813, when it was moved further down river to Passage and then to Dunmore East in 1824.  With the coming of steam driven ships, the station as finally moved to the city around 1837.

Years ago Christy Doherty of Marian Terrace told me a story of a paddle steamer calling at the quay and he as a nipper hoping aboard and with his family heading downriver to Duncannon for a fete.  Christy said paddle steamers regularly called to Cheekpoint quay and he likened it to a modern day bus stop!  Initially I thought he was spinning me a yarn.  This photo proves otherwise.

Paddle Steamer at Cheekpoint c 1899
photo courtesy of Tomás Sullivan

The quays were used to create a safe harbour for the fishing fleet in the past.  The boats included punts, prongs and sailing yawls.  When not in use, boats such as the punts and prongs would be hauled out on the green to be dried, repaired and painted.  The sailing yawls were eventually fitted with engines to become motor boats.  Some of which can still be found in use in the estuary today.  
 
The village in the 1970's
The prong, a barrel shaped boat, is unique to the area.  It was renowned for its ability to be launched across the mud flats which are in abundance here.  Its curved bottom allowed it to slide effortlessly across the mud and into the river, at even the lowest of tides.  The timber punts of old are slowly being replaced with plastic, but some examples still remain.  These are well worthy of retaining as are the skills of making, repairing and maintaining them.

As children we used the quay as one of our main playareas.  This included football or hiding go seek on the green, swimming between the quays or hand lining for flounder or crabs.  It also included a lot of jumping in and out of boats and of course gazing at the activities of the fishermen.
Fishermen employed a number of different methods in their trade in the village, and it depended on the time of year and what was in season.  The principle fishery was the salmon. This season began on Feb 1st and continued till Aug 15th. Using drift-netting, (and perhaps some draft netting) at its height it would have employed up to 30 punts with a two man crew in each. On Saturdays the nets were hauled out and crews would stand around the quay "ranging them over" and mending holes caused by fast swimming fish or from snagging fouls in the river while drifting. 
net mending in Slade 1970s
from Billy Cofers (RIP) book - The Hook
Other methods of fishing which took place from the quays here included trawling, a two man activity using the larger yawls (previously sail boats but motorised from the 1940’s. The preferred method was a beam trawl, though the otter board method was also used. My lasting memory of trawling is with my father and uncle John.  We had been "dragging" for a few hours and "hauled up" to see what we had caught.  I don't remember anything other than a very large conger eel that day.  It trashed about in the net and when it finally got free it slithered about at a tremendous rate all around the deck of the boat.  I remember standing on the gunwale while the two men battled to bring it under control and heave it over the side.  The purple skin, dark eyes and slimy residue all left a bad image of this particular fish on me, one that still remains.

Another distinctive factor in the Cheekpoint fishery was the use of Weirs. An example of which can be seen above the main quay.  These could provide year round fishing, and were a major contributor to the net worth of those families lucky enough to possess one. There was much of the weirs around the green and quaysides growing up, from making or repairing the net used to the actual poles that were driven into the riverbed to repair them.

Eels were also fished from the quays here, and it was a summer fishery.  Eels like the heat and during winter disappear into the river mud to sleep.  They emerge when they decide its warm enough and feed voraciously.  This feeding frenzy suited the fishermen well and using a baited fyke (fyffe) nets they managed to capture plenty.  The Eels captured had to be kept alive in the river prior to their sale, and were exported live to the Netherlands. The buyers would arrive on the quay with their water tanks on the back of trucks and the fishermen first weighed the eels and then loaded them into the tanks for export.  There was always a few escapees that required our willing attention.

The autumn and winter fisheries were a bit of a mystery to me as we would have been more likely indoors or in school. The herring fishery began in November and could extend up to February. This required the Yawls, later motor boats, with a crew of initially four, but latterly three, and was a drift net fishery also.   There was a Spillaring or long lining activity that perhaps has a long history in the area and this could be practiced from autumn to early spring. This employed the punts or prongs and targeted bottom fish such as cod. Shell fish gathering would have also been important, dragged up or picked directly from the rocks.
Blessing of the boats 1930's

Although the fisheries have suffered many setbacks in the last ten years, perhaps the worst impact on the Quays was the construction of Groynes by Waterford Port Authority.  The Groynes were constructed by dumping tens of thousands of tonnes of rock into the river at right angles to the river bank with the intention of keeping the Cheekpoint sandbank cleared.  It worked better than the authorities said they expected, and the casualty was 24 hour access to the river for Cheekpoint.
Today, Cheekpoint quay still retains a hint of its past hustle and bustle, but what remains are only hints.  Gone is the energy and excitement, gone is the huddled groups of sea booted fishermen swapping news, gone is the economic vitality it generated.  Recreational use may bring some vitality in the future .  However an equally essential ingredient, if only for the rich memories, will be some element of an economic fishery.

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