Waterford Harbour

Waterford Harbour
Cheekpoint village 1940's

Thursday, 24 December 2015

What Robin Red Breast meant to my Grandmother at Christmas

Christmas time in my Grandmothers was marked by a hunt. It was her search for addresses for friends both at home and abroad, addresses she had scribbled on scraps of paper or cut from an envelope and squirrelled away.  Some were in the glass case, others in her box of writing paper, while others were stuffed into an old tea pot. Matters were made worse because she never threw out an address, even if the person had long vacated and moved to a new address.  Each year was the same vexatious search, so much so, that to us it became part of the tradition of Christmas.  For Nanny however, t'was always a chore, and she would mutter and give out to herself, for not being more organised.

As December moved on more and more cards arrived, and nothing gave her as much pleasure as sitting down to open and read the latest batch.  You couldn't come into the house without getting an update from her. It was also a talking point for the neighbours, Margaret O'Leary or Bridgid Power would be interested to hear the happenings when they called in.  Nanny would also make it her business to pass on regards if mentioned in a card, and would task us to remind her to tell Martha Fortune (RIP), Maggie Ferguson (RIP) and many others that such and such was asking after them.

Either Robert, Kathleen, Eileen or myself would be asked to tie up a string over her fireplace, upon which she draped the incoming cards, and by Christmas eve there could be two or three lines of cards and more on the fireplace and mantle.

Now Christmas cards are all much of a muchness to me.  Stereotypical images of Santa, decorated trees, fireplaces, loads of snow...and on it goes.  But of all the cards Nanny sent or received, the one card she loved most of all had an image of a Robin on it.

Via Google images
I once asked her what it was about Robins she loved,  She reminded me that they are loyal little fellows, who are always close to the house, grow friendly and accustomed to human care, will feed from the doorstep or the window sill, and indeed she maintained a habit of feeding the Robin, right up until her very last days.  But she also had a story about the origins of Robin red breast which she said made it the bird of choice for Christmas cards.

"On the night of the birth of Jesus, he lay in a crib in the barn at Bethlehem.  As the night grew on, the fire that kept him warm with his father and mother grew lower and lower and was at risk of going out. Both Mary and Joseph were exhausted from the journey and the occasion of the babies birth. The Shepard's had left and all was quiet. Mary turned to the horse in the manger and asked that he tend to the fire.  But the horse, donkey, cow, and the sheep were all asleep and did not hear her plea. However she realised that something was stirring at the fire, when she heard a whirring sound. Glancing round she spotted a small little bird, beating away with its wings to fan the dying embers. As the fire flamed up, the little bird flitted about the barn, gathering straw, twigs and pieces of timber. The fire grew higher and stronger and the heat grew.

They fell asleep in the comfort that the bird had created and next morning when they woke the fire was still going strong.  Mary called the bird to her and perched on her finger, was surprised and concerned to see that in the work of stoking the fire, the little bird and burned itself and the breast was now red.  In thanks for the deed of the little Robin, she decreed that forever more the Robin would keep the red breast in memory of the selfless deed."

When Nanny died all those small traditions went too. But the card industry seems to be still going strong, and the image of loyal Robin red breast is still very much in evidence.

Last year I marked Christmas with a story about our local Faithlegg Church Crib

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, 18 December 2015

East meets West, a Herring Fishermans Christmas

I've covered the Herring Drift Net Fishery in several parts these last few weeks, and today in the run up to Christmas, I wanted to recount an incident that made Christmas a little more poignant for me in the mid 1980's.  We were selling directly at the time to Polish luggers that moored off Passage East in the harbour. These were fishing boats themselves and I've covered their activities before.

Part of the process of selling to the lugger was that we had to go aboard to agree the tally and get a docket to ensure we got paid.  Stepping out of the half decker and onto the ship was entering a very different world.  All ships have a similar smell; food, diesel oil, humans living in close contact.  They also have a familiar look, bulkheads, narrow passages, small cabins with smaller bunks, men trying to pass each other in close proximity.  The first thing I noticed was the solidness of the deck, it felt like land when compared to the half decker.

A squat burly man, the bosun, stepped forward.  He had a woollen hat on his head and a padded jacket on against the cold and damp, but no oilskins.  He held a tally book in one hand and he extended to other and gave me a firm handshake, then a gesture to follow him, into the superstructure of the vessel. 

Once we reached his cabin, he sat down at the table and indicated I do the same.  He had a book of dockets, upon which the evenings catch per boat was listed.  I wrote the name of the Boy Alan above and he stated the number of cran taken aboard.  I was, frankly, bricking it in case t'was a lesser amount than what Robert Ferguson (Skipper of the Boy Alan) had stated.  With a wave of relief I agreed with his tally and this was entered into the book.  He took out a glass from a shelf, filled it, and his own stained glass, then he beamed at me, toasted me Slainte and we both downed the shots.  The rum struck the back of my throat and I could feel the redness in my cheeks.  But I managed it without a cough.  

As my eyes glanced around the cabin, it was obvious to me that it was its own self contained unit. The table was adjoined to the wall and at its best could seat four, but only if the papers, docket books, glasses, bottle and a number of other nick knacks were tidied away.  There was a small wash stand, that doubled for washing drinking glasses and a regular shave, judging by the items set beside it. There was wood panelling around the bunk and I could see some photos within easy sight, as the bosun lay at rest. I could see a family group, but too small to distinguish and some individual photos of children.  The porthole was on the outer wall and as the Lugger swung with the tides would have given him a view of the New Line in Passage, or Seedees bank on the Wexford side. Behind me lay a metal bulkhead, grey and unyielding.  In all it was probably a ten foot long by five feet wide rectangle and it was the bosun's only space for privacy.  He was luckier than most crew aboard I guess.

The Polish deep sea fleet numbered about 80 vessels at the time and they fished from the North Sea across the Atlantic and as far as Africa. Mackerel was the top catch, followed by Herring and Cod.  The fishery was centrally planned by the communist government and was managed by three state run companies Dalmor, Gryf and Odra.  The bosun was one of 16,000 employed in the deep sea fishing.
I was still sitting, as he moved to get back on deck, and slightly embarrassed I moved to join him.  I'd forgotten how tired I was, it was the first chance I got to sit in hours.  He ripped the page he had been scribbling in off the docket book and placed it in my hand.  “Good Business” he said and clapped me on the back and pushed me out the door.

Returning to deck was like running a gauntlet.  At several cabin doors, seamen were offering produce; fags, spirits, beer or clothing.   Each came at a price, but it was buttons compared to what we would normally pay in Irish shops.  Half of Cheekpoint, and all the other villages in the harbour were dressed as Poles, drunk on questionable spirits and sweet tasting beer and coughing up tar from foul smelling fags.  They traded their eastern European produce, in the hope of making enough western currency to buy sought after goods.  These could be then sold at huge profits at home or given as gifts.  Levis jeans seemed to be a favourite western purchase, branded jackets, clothes, perfume and watches were also sought after.    

The bosun walked me to the ladder, and as I turned towards him to descend onto the halfdeckers below, I wished him a Happy Christmas and said I hope he made it home to his family. He must have grasped what I was saying because he beamed at me, and said yes, but that we needed to bring more fish!  There would be no trip home without a full hold.  Although Poland was firmly behind the "Iron Curtain" and had been since the end of the second world war, the Communist party had turned a blind eye to the country's deep religious beliefs.  Christmas in Poland was a festival with as much meaning and custom as in Ireland. To be home for Wigilia would be important to any family man.  

Heading upriver that evening I realised the Poles who worked so hard both to fill the fish barrels and to trade with us for hard currency were no different to ourselves in the run up to Christmas.  Most of them, just like the bosun were probably family men.  Working for low pay in a dirty and dangerous job, they wanted no more than ourselves; a few bob in their pockets and some nice gifts for their families once they made it home.  I as much as anyone knew what it was like to have my father away. I could appreciate just how hard Christmas was on fishing and sailing families, many of whom, particularly in the previous generations, were lucky to get a parcel with some hand made gifts or foreign purchases and a letter.

We would continue fishing for another few days, and although this was governed as much by the weather, as the market, I was happy for the lugger crew when we were notified that it was time for them to set sail for home. We had whatever we were going to have for Christmas now, and so did the Poles.  

In the preceding days I followed the progress of the lugger on her journey home, at least in my minds eye.  I wondered would they head up the Irish sea and over Scotland, or go via the English Channel and then slip across the North sea.  Days later they would steam over the tip of Denmark and into the Baltic. They would probably welcome the air getting denser and colder and surely their hearts would lift their chests as they slipped into port at Gdansk, Hel or Kolobrzez.  They would take a bus or a train home, and arrive into the arms of family and greetings over would unpack their bags and widen the eyes of their children.

At least that's how I imagined it would be.  Free of the routine of fishing, we could turn ourselves now to Christmas shopping, house calling, drinking beer and making merry.  Christmas was only starting and it would soon enough pass, and just like the Poles we would grow weary and perhaps even bored of the festive routine, and would long to be back on the water.

The glory years of the Polish Deep sea fishery was coming to an end.  3 factors were crucial in the demise, and even as the luggers bought Herring in Waterford harbour, the storm clouds were upon them.  The first impact was the extension of 200 mile limits on national fishing grounds and related restrictions, the second, was the changing of the guard in Poland and the move to private enterprises and finally the third, was joining the EU.  From being one of the largest deep sea fishing fleets in the world the Polish fleet is now decimated.

some figures:
in 1988 total catch was 628,000 T approx. in 2008 it was 179,000
in 1990 there were 77 deep sea fishing boats.  By 2009 there were 4!
in 1980 there were 16,000 people employed in deep sea fishing alone.  by 2008 there were 2991

All the details on the Polish fishery are taken from an EU report on Fisheries in Poland IP/B/PECH/NT/2011_02 

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, 11 December 2015

Did Waterford port have a flag based communication system?

One of our most intriguing ruins in the area must be the Lookout in the Glazing Wood.   The Lookout stands above the River Suir and is now surrounded by Larch trees, part of the Coillte forestry scheme. But in the past it would have had fine views of the river, and many have speculated that this gives a clue to its purpose.

Perhaps the best view I have seen of the structure
via the ever generous Brendan Grogan
The Lookout is a stone and mortar made structure built out from the cliff face of the Glazing wood. The stone used in the base was hewn from the cliff behind the structure on the Glazing wood path.  The positioning is very strategic.  It's built on a solid outcrop of stone which stands out from the surrounding hillside and has a fall of about 15 feet to the hillside.  The structure rises approximately 20 feet to its base.  This base measures fifteen feet by four feet.   There is an entry arch onto the platform, again made of stone and above this there appears to be the remains of second storey, or at least a higher platform.  I've seen a painting (by one of the Power's of Faithlegg House) which suggests the building was once a small tower, with a door for, I presume, security. 

The only written account I could find as an explanation came from one of Michael Fewer's books by Cliff and by Shore.  In it, Fewer and his companions, speculate that it was perhaps used by revenue men to monitor river traffic. Perhaps related to this, Anthony Rogers had a story that it may have been part of a system of monitoring the river traffic up to New Ross at a time when relations between the two ports was particularly fractious and where laws required all Waterford ships to offload their cargo at their home port.  Ships heading up the Barrow could expect to be intercepted, boarded and examined.  Not alone can you see the entry to the two rivers, but you can also see the old alternative entrance around the Great Island and of course the medieval Port of St Mary (Dunbrody Abbey and Campile)

My father always said that it was used by the Hobblers and Lightermen as a lookout for ships.  Its known that Hobblers rowed as far as the Hook and beyond to take sailing ships in tow and provide pilotage.  Its also a fact that a series of mooring buoys were positioned at Cheekpoint for sailing vessels who would have required the services of lighters to be unloaded, or lightened.

Others have speculated that it may just be a folly.  The detail that went into the construction is, I think, a little basic for a folly.  I also think that if the Aylward, Bolton or Power family were minded to construct such, that they would surely have located it at a site that would have afforded them the spectacular view of the harbour from the Minaun, or the vista of the counties of the south east, not a strategically significant overlooking the river such as the Lookout affords.

The lookout from the Marsh road circa 1950
photo credit Anthony Rogers

An idea of the view from the Lookout 1970
Photo credit: Brendan Grogan
Tommy Deegan, amongst others on the Waterford History Group Facebook page, has considered there to be a link between the lookout and Popes Tower in Ferrybank.  The tower, which is situated close to where the Ard Rí hotel is now lying in ruins, was the property of the Pope family, a very prosperous merchant family from the city.  Some of the speculation suggests that semaphore may have been used to communicate the arrival of ships.

Any reader of the 17th & 18th C sea bourn trade will know that the quantity of trade was phenomenal.  In the same way that the M50 in Dublin is now jammed with traffic, so was the river system and wharfs of ports, of which Waterford was to Ireland's fore.  The difficulties faced by shipping companies and the boats and sea captains were many.  Weather was an ever present factor obviously, but getting pilotage into ports, whether or not to pay for towing services, the speed of passing through customs and the ability to get a good position when berthing to allow for fast and efficient unloading.

Ports such as Liverpool operated a flag system from the mouth of the Mersey.  The Bidport flag system was a means to communicate to the port the arrival of a particular locally owned shipping company boat and cargo.  This gave the company time to organise for custom men to be ready, a berth to be secured, dock workers to be ready to offload, and provisioning and an outboard cargo to be organised.  Then as now, speed was considered to be of the essence.

I've also read that flags at points such as Bidport also were a factor in communicating the weather conditions at the mouth of the harbour.  Ships would delay sailing until sure that conditions were favourable to make a safe passage out of the harbour and onto the sea,

Is it possible Waterford had a system of flags or other warning system operating to communicate the arrival of craft?  When we look at the scale of shipping along her quays, would it not be in local merchants interests to secure a ripe unloading position along the quayside.  Isn't it also probable that a port almost 18 miles from the mouth of the harbour would have some means of predicting the sea conditions off the harbour, where ships could be at their most vulnerable. Lets face it, Flags have a very long history in the conducting of maritime trade and defence. 

There are other interesting points in relation to lookouts or flags that I am aware of.  Brendan Grogan could tell me that his grandfather used a flag to communicate his whereabouts as Harbour Master in town.  He was also aware (via Julian Walton) of a flag system being used from Brook Lodge (near Jack Meades) to communicate the passing of ships in Kings channel.  James Doherty could tell me that there were a series of flag poles on the quays, upriver from the Clock tower.  He was also aware of a curious placename in Crook known as Spy Hill.  It brought to mind another story I heard on a Barony of Gaultier Historical Society walk in Dunmore some years back, where mention was made of a look out post above the village, where pilots kept an eye on incoming ships with a spyglass, or telescope.  

Spy Hill, Crook.  Accessed from maps.osi.ie
Obviously a lot more research needs to be done to confirm or dismiss this idea. Is it not possible however that in a harbour and port of over 1000 years, where war, plague and every nationality under the sun has visited, that many of these stories are just echoes of the reality of life at different points along this noble history.  I can't but feel, there are many other echoes out there.  

Many thanks to James Doherty, Anthony Rogers and Brendan Grogan for allowing me their time and knowledge of the area, to discuss this with them.  If anyone else has other stories, placenames, theories or written accounts, I would be delighted to hear of them.

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, 4 December 2015

Cheekpoints most notable landmark

Growing up in the Mount Avenue in the 1970's the most notable and invasive feature on our young lives was neither the magnificent Barrow Railway viaduct, or the colliding waters of the three rivers as they met below our home.  That honour, if that phrase is appropriate at all, was given to the blue and grey superstructure of Great Island Power Station, which lay directly across from our bedroom windows on the Wexford shore, and the twin chimneys that raised to 450 feet.

Great Island was an oil fuelled power generation station, owned and operated by the ESB, construction of which commenced in the spring of 1965.   It was the first such station to be built outside or Dublin or Cork and at its peak would employ up to 200 people.  The station opened in 1967 with one generator and work commenced soon after on a second generator, which necessitated a second chimney.  This extension was completed and working by 1972. At its commercial height it would supply 20% of the nations power needs.  To the right of the site, are five 17,000 ton capacity tanks for the storage of oil.  To fill these tanks, a very fine jetty was installed to which tankers tied up and were unloaded by suction pumps and via pipework to the tanks.

The proposal when first mooted (around 1963) met with considerable disquiet in the community of Cheekpoint.  And a deputation of fishermen travelled to Dublin to discuss and negotiate the fishermen's concerns.  The deep water jetty which would be planted smack bang in the centre of some of the best salmon driftnetting waters was the principal concern and fishermen were anxious to communicate the loss that this would bring.

A good sense here of the scale of the jetty, and how it blocked the fishery
accessed from:http://homepage.eircom.net/~horeswoodns/power_station.htm

Fishermen got little footing in Dublin however.  The project was a major capital investment for the country and was seen as crucial for the developing industrial base which was a major plank of government policy.  The promise of jobs however, was considered to be very real, and assurances were given that Cheekpoint men would be in a favourable position to benefit.

In the end those jobs did materialise and it was one of the reasons for example that my father returned home from sea, and it was also a factor in the return of my mother from London.  They were married in the Christmas of 1964 and my father started on the building work on the station in 1965. 

The jobs, however, were fleeting.  Once the major construction work had ceased so did the work.  A bone of contention in the community, probably still felt to this day.

Photo circa 1969 with thanks to Brenda Grogan
In the 1970's the station was a real invasion into our lives.  The lights at night shore through all but the thickest of curtains, and was one of the reasons my father planted a line of trees between the house and the river.  There was an ever present humming noise, which we managed to get used to.  But there was an extremely loud release of steam occasionally and also ear splitting bangs from time to time.  These were bad enough during the day, but they also occurred at night/early morning and were the cause of many a night of lost sleep.  (My Uncle John, a river pilot, managed to get the number of the manager of the station at one point.  Any night the station started and woke his home, he'd ring up the manager.  "what can I do" asked the manager, to which John replied "well if you can't stop it, you may as well be awoken like everyone else in Cheekpoint" I thought being woken at night was bad enough, but it was only when I started drifting for salmon later in the 70's and we were right under the station that the noise was really brought home to me.

An advert from the time with an artists sketch of the work in progress
There were several local campaigns to highlight the noise, but in those days we had limited means of recording the racket.  Occasionally, a monitoring station was set up outside our home as a result of my father (amongst others) campaigning through Brian O'Shea TD.  Coincidentally however, the station lay dormant until the monitoring station had been moved.  It didn't seem to be as big an issue on the Wexford side.  However, noise travels more easily across water than land.
grass fire in front of the oil tanks late 1970's
Photo credit Aidan McAlpin
The chimneys could be seen from almost any part of the area, including town and did become an identifying landmark.  The red lights that shone constantly at night became a familiar feature from the river and shore, and were always intrigued to watch the work of steeplejacks scaling up the sides to replace bulbs or do other essential maintenance.   However imposing they looked from a distance to be standing under them was awe inspiring, and you felt like the whole structure was tumbling down upon you, when you looked up. I'd never make a steeplejack.

As early as 2000 there was speculation that the station would have to close as a result of deregulation in the power industry and concerns about the commercial viability, pollution and cost of oil, used in stations such as Great Island.

Appropriately named Grizzly at Great Island from News & Star dated Fri 11aug 1995.
In the news following the death of two tug boat men who were helping in berthing the tanker.
Mickey Aspel and Johnny Lacey were their names. RIP

I had a mixed reaction to news that it might close.  Along the way there were some concerns that an Incinerator could be located on the site.  The fact that it was such a fine site with deep water access made it a very important, strategic location.  The announcement of the sale of the station to a Spanish power generation company Endessa sent shivers through the village I think.  For the state to sell off such a site made little sense in the long term.  Construction of a new gas fired station, which commenced in 2012 and officially opened in June this year brought the possibility that the old station would finally be knocked along with the chimneys.  It's currently owned by Scottish company SSE Airtricity.  I wonder how many others will feature in the stations story in the coming years.

Several years back Julian Walton, at the launch of the Development Groups booklet on local history, stated that the chimneys were a local landmark, and would in time become as important as the church to the local built heritage.  Many scoffed at the notion.  However, after living under their shadow, smoke and warning beacons for most of my life, I think I would miss them not lighting the night sky. In the end, like so much in the Ireland of present, I guess it will all be reduced down to pounds, shilling and pence matters, rather than any thought for built heritage.  Mind you, a similar landmark in Dublin, the Poolbeg chimneys, have been retained because of their iconic status.

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, 27 November 2015

On Cran, Joulters and Luggers

Over the last few weeks I've looked back on the Herring Driftnet Fishery of Waterford Harbour and this week I wanted to bring the practical side of it to a close with a look at the selling of fish.

That first year of fishing herring, we had a market in Dunmore East.  A family (I think named Kervick) bought the herring from out of the boats on our return, and although I was not aware of it until later, they basically governed if we went to fish or not.  Essentially unless they had a market, it was pointless going to fish.  Each evening, depending on the weather of course, they would let us know what we could catch, and if I remember it right, we divided the catch amongst the boats.
Basically, they set a quota by which the boats could fish.  It they required 200 cran, this was divided between the boats going out to fish.  If some boats had a little over their own share, they might take home some, or pass it on to people on the quay.  At times a “joulter” might arrive, someone who wanted to buy fish and sell it on themselves.  These men tended to be from inland, and next day they would be selling door to door in Tipperarry or Kilkenn

Selling to a joulter was considered to be good business, you might make a few more pound per box, but was totally bad form if you had an unfilled quota, and skippers would be expected to turn them down, in order to fulfil the order from the usual buyer.  I remember one skipper from Cheekpoint, who didn’t seem to mind who he put out, once he got to sell his fish, for a few pound more.  I remember one altercation, where Robert Ferguson and Dick Mason scandalised him to his face, out of concern that the regular buyer would hear of his dealing with the joulter and pull the market from all the boats.  The gentleman wasn’t to be deterred however.

Removing the fish in Dunmore was done by filling fish boxes and then hauling them up out of the boat and stacking them onto the quayside.  once stacked up they were removed by forklift.  The hauling out was all by hand, and depending on the size of catch, and the state of tide, could be a back breaking activity,

I think it was the next season and we had a market from the luggers of Eastern Europe.  Some were Russian, but the more common were boats from Poland, who anchored off Passage East and who bought the herrings from directly out of boats, which tied up alongside.  The luggers were nothing more than fishing boats themselves, and because they were from the "eastern bloc" they carried a large crew.  It was a time when communism was still the political and economic system of the Europe from East Germany to Alaska and herring played a large role in sustaining the proletariat. Unemployment was supposed to be unknown, hence the large crew.

Typical type of Polish lugger accessed from
Depending on timing or our catch, we would sometimes tie up at the lugger to continue shaking the nets, or in other cases head back to Cheekpoint and once the nets were cleared, come back down to offload.  It usually had a lot to do with what boats got there first, and how long you were likely to wait before you could off load.
Off loading at the luggers was a relatively easy job.  Overhead the derrick would swing out from the lugger and a basket would be lowered into the boat.  Once in, we used shovels to fill the basket, as quick as we could.  Once filled it was hoisted onto the deck of the lugger and then the deckhands worked to salt and barrel the fish.  Each basket was the measure of a cran, and the skipper usually busied himself by counting the baskets, which on deck, or from the wheelhouse, an opposite, kept a tally for the lugger.  For each basket, a herring was put to one side, to be tallied at the end.  Pen and paper was considered a less accurate, if not totally impractical measure!

The filling was a hard, hot and relentless job, but at least once you started to see the deck, you could see yourself making progress.  Coming near the end, you had to get into the nooks and crannies of the boat, ensuring that you made every last one of the herrings count.  Each basket had to be filled right to the top.  When you thought you could get no more, you generally topped it up with another scoop, careful, mind you, to smoothen it off.  On deck you were being carefully watched, and at times there was a cat and mouse game played.  Shouts down, urging more fish per basket, reprimands from the wheelhouse, strange words being bandided about.  You had to be mindful, each basket was more money, but a dissatisfied Pole, might mean hard bargaining at the end.

Hauling a cran of herring ashore.  Accessed from
As each basket was hoisted, it was carefully guided out of the boat by us crew.  Ever mindful that if it struck the ship it might topple, and with it some of our profit.  Up it went over the gunwale of the ship, and it was only then that we could relax, knowing it was their problem from then. 

It wasn’t often I got to go aboard and take the docket.  It tended to be the skippers job.  My first occasion was when fishing with Robert Ferguson and he asked me to hop aboard to lugger as he had to move the “Boy Alan” away and allow another boat alongside. I'll return to the event closer to Christmas.

Once emptied the return journey was one of cleaning down the decks, washing scales off every conceivable part of the boat and ourselves and more tall tales and banter.  It was never more satisfying than when you had landed a large catch and all the work had been worthwhile,  Of course there were many trips when I'm not sure if we even covered the cost of the diesel oil,  But even then, for me there was always the river to enjoy, the every changing, always alluring river.  The fishing you see, may have been an economic necessity, the work may have been tough, but it was all nothing compared to the sights, sounds, smells and ever changing character of the river and the people who worked it. 

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 November 2015

"Shaking" the Herring nets

Over the last few weeks I've occasionally covered my exploits fishing herring in Waterford harbor. The first week looked at getting prepared, and the second installment looked at the finding of the shoal and the catch.  This week I look at the really hard part of the work, what we termed "shaking the herring", the tried and trusted method traditionally used to clear the fish from the nets.

Every other fish I ever pursued was a joy to take from the nets.  Salmon may need to be extricated, sometimes at the cutting of a mesh, eels could be spilled from a pot, bait or bottom fish poured from the cod end of a weir net or trawl, but herring were a different matter entirely.

Although the phrase gill netting is used to describe how fish are caught with a drifting net, the truth is that many fish thus caught, very often don’t actually get meshed by the gills, or if they do, its relatively slight.  Salmon for example in Cheekpoint were usually trapped in the bag of the net, only the younger, smaller peal, as we called them tended to be meshed,  But herring, truly lived up to the description.

The nets were set on shoals of swimming fish, and the vast majority came into to the boat firmly meshed.  Therefore, they needed to be freed from the mesh in order to be sold.   Whereas a few salmon might make for easy handling, at least thousands, if not tens of thousands of herring was a totally different matter. 

Once the nets were aboard, we usually took a break, waiting to get either into port, if we were heading to Dunmore, or into calm water if we were heading back to Cheekpoint.  The nets had to be stretched between the head and the foot rope, the greater the spread the easier the job.  Some boats rigged a pole or an oar from gunwale to gunwale, but aboard the Reaper I would take both ropes up and over a beam running from the wheelhouse astern to the gantry.  Denis and myself would haul the nets over the beam and towards the stern, shaking the herring as we went along.  Once we were tied up, Jim would start be freeing the net from the pile on the deck, considerably lightning our workload. 

An old photo from UK, our method was no different
This was always an easier job with “full herring” but spents were a different matter. Spents were herring that had spawned already and spents tended to be narrow fish that when they met the wall of netting pushed through the mesh to their back fin.  Spent fish often had to be removed by hand, and in the worst of cases had to be twisted in half to be removed.  As we shook, you had to take care to have a good grip.  Shaking herrings was a difficult job with gloves, it was easy to loose your grip, but if you tried to do it with your bare hands, the meshes of the net cut into your fingers and your blood mixed with the herring scales, guts and blood of the herring made the stinging and throbbing unbearable.

Many was the night I would be practically crying with the pain, my father standing over me, plunging my hands into scalding hot water with a quarter bottle of dettol for disinfectant.  Each cut had to be cleaned, the hangnails thoroughly washed, and all the while the skinned hands redder than if they had been burned in a fire and roasting hot to the touch.

A modern image of Stephen and Tommy Perham, Devon
accessed from
As bad as shaking herrings was on the night of the catch, it was twice as bad the following morning.  On occasions we would stop, whether it was too late, or the weather too bad, or maybe it was a Friday night and people had better places to be.  The following morning it was pure misery.

Everything was cold and wet, oilskins, boots and worst of all the gloves.  The gloves because they were damp with the previous nights sweat, going over the stingily painful fingers.  Some mornings the frost was thick on the ground, and those mornings seemed the ad an extra level of pain to those fingers, that is un-describable.   In time things warmed up and you'd be fine.  However in all the features of the herring fishing I think it was the scales of the herrings that were the worst. 
Typically enmeshed Herring, accessed via
Herring scales are small in size, huge in quantity, and they got everywhere.  How many times I had pulled on the oilskins over my head only to feel the piercing dampness of scales going down my back I can’t say.  Scales got everywhere, the oilskins were covered, the gloves, your hat, or hair if you weren’t wearing one, the boat was covered, the deck, anything within 2 meter radius of the boat.  Worst I guess was when you got one in the eye.  Impossible to see and thus remove, you would endure the agony of it, until you could get to Ardkeen, and then wait in a queue to see a doctor who hadn’t an iota of an idea what you meant be shaking out herrings.  The patch over the eye was a common occurrence for me, never lasting more than to the time it was to go fishing again.

Once shook the herring laid on the deck of the boat and it was then time for them to be boxed and sold.  A topic I will return to soon.

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, 13 November 2015

words and phrases my Grandmother used

I've mentioned before that I first came to live in the Russianside with my grandmother, Maura Moran, in my late teens.  "Nanny" as she was called was in the family had her own way of expressing herself. But of course, she was just a different generation, and from an old fishing family who had words and expressions that had not changed for many generations I presume.

To be honest I was oblivious to the way we spoke until Deena came into our home.  Deena and Nanny took an instant liking to each other and they would talk for hours at the fire, or in the kitchen. Afterwards Deena would often ask me for a translation, and as she herself became part of the home, would ask Nanny directly what she meant.

Nanny with the "Thursday Club" gang in the Reading Room several
years back now.  The club finished this past September. Another important
meeting point and sharing or stories and maintaing local connection.
Photo courtesy of Bridgid Power. 

So between us, we have put the following little dictionary together.  Most words are spelled phonetically as we are unsure of the spelling.  Of course you can also check out the Dictionary of Waterford Slang, and you don't even need the book, as they have an online version.

Streel.  A person would "streel in" to the house, meaning they looked the worse for wear, but probably more like they had done something wrong.  For some reason the phrase tended to be used to describe a female.  She might also remark - "did you see the streel of that wan", "she streeled in" or "thats some streel of a wan".  I particularly remember a chap visiting us one time with his wife and he was wearing a pair of jeans with rips in the knees - all the fashion at the time.  Nanny was apoplectic when they left "Did you see the streel of him, and his wife sitting there looking at em"

Scrawb.  Any cut or scrape of little or no consequence was considered a "Scrawb"  "How did you get that scrawb on your arm"  Always to be treated with warm water and dettol

pish óg. Any oul tall tale or incorrect story was considered "pish óg" this also went for sayings which she considered untrue or questionable.  I remember Deena asking once about fishermen meeting red haired women on the way to fish and turning back as it meant they would catch no fish.  "arrah that's only oul pish óg" she would say

As you would expect from a commercial fishing home, there were many phrases to describe the weather.  A sample:

Maugey.  Generally a dreary, grey overcast day, most likely with a chance of rain,  In discussing this with Vic Bible he wondered would it have meant muggy.  But generally a muggy day includes heat, and it was an expression I can remember being used winter or summer, but maybe that was the origin.

Black wind - any wind from the east was described as the black wind.  No idea why, but she was convinced it brought illness

Ang-ish.  Another expression to go with the weather.  An angish day.  An angish day was a day that looked like it was going to rain at any minute.  I now realise this is an Irish/Gaelic phrase - a work colleague one day who is a native Irish speaker asked me how the weather was in work.  I said it was Ang-ish.  And asked after her own situation.  "Go Aingish ar fad" and when I expressed surprise that she knew the term she told me it meant miserable altogether.

Moolick - When something was dirty.  When it was worse than that twas "Pure Moolick"  when used it was often combined with a facial expression of disapproval or even disgust.

There were also phrases she used that we always enjoyed.

When someone disagreed with you - "well, tis not the one way takes everybody"

When something inevitable happened, like someone fell off a bike, who was always careless - "long threatening comes at last"

Or when you had to do something even when it was against you will, but necessary none the less - "groan she may, but go she must"

The current generation probably get less opportunity to hear such words or phrases, with heads stuck in computers, on phones or other screens accessing information, entertainment or connecting with people across the globe.

When John Barry returned from Canada in the 1960's he was nicknamed "the Guy" because he used the Americanism so freely, and because it stood out as being so odd in the community.  No such oddity would exist now I'd imagine.  Different times indeed.  And yet when relations visited us from Prince George, BC in Canada recently they struggled with our accents and our words.  So perhaps much of the words and expressions of Nannys generation remain.  We just dont pause to consider them in our daily use.

Others, such as fishing expressions and local placenames however are much under threat,  The fishing ones because as the fishing activities the community grew up around have been removed, so those activities are no longer practised or discussed.  The placenames, because many of them related to the fishing also, or because as the older people die out, so do their use.

That's why activities such as the placenames project currently under way with the Cheekpoint Fishing Heritage Project is so relevant.  There will be several events over winter 2015/16 in the Reading Room Cheekpoint.  Please come along to share your local knowledge, or improve it!

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, 6 November 2015

amongst the Herring shoals in Waterford harbour

As the Reaper and the other Cheekpoint boats proceeded downriver, we were joined by the Passage and Ballyhack men, forming a convoy of decked and half decked motor boats of varying size and power and a multitude of colours.  Depending on the tides, the Passage men might head down inside the Spit light along the west banks, with Creaden off their starboard bow.  The “Pointers” along with the “Hackers” favoured the channel waters around the spit, onto Duncannon and beyond to the lower harbour.
the Cheekpoint fleet from around this time
Photo courtesy of Anthony Rogers
It was only after Duncannon that you felt the change in the river and the deepening and less familiar seas of the lower harbour.  The sea around Broom Hill told you all you needed to know of what to expect below.  If the rocks were calm and free of waves, you could expect a reasonable sea, but if the seas were surging up and around, it was to be heavy going.  If seas were breaking, and the mists were rising up from it onto the grass banks above, then you knew the seas were turbulent, and most likely we would never have even “set sail”.  (Many was the afternoon the skippers would be up on the high road, looking down the harbour and discussing the weather) 

When we arrived in the lower harbour, boats began to disperse, hungrily searching the deeper waters for signs of herring shoals.  Some were close in to the shore, beneath Loftus Hall and further down towards the Hook. Others maybe stretched as far as Creaden Head.  Boats took various courses, and many zig zaged amongst each other, keen to “mark” a herring shoal on the fish finder and establish a pattern of where to “shoot” the nets.  Dunmore boats skippered by Paul Power, Napper Kelly and Mick Sheen would be sounding as they came across to met us, effectively covering the entire harbour.

As the gloom of the evening gathered and the sun set over the Commeraghs away to the west, the frenzy grew.  Some evenings the sunset was hidden but the evenings the sky was clear were a feast for the eye, the colours magical, the sky almost afire, a contradiction to the cold night to come.  Boats were eager to set in daylight, to better see where others were setting nets, and also because the herring tended to rise with the dusk and skippers felt they would miss their chance of a decent haul if they left it too late.

Some nights the shoals could not be found.  It was generally obvious from a lack of bird activity, the tell tale signs of gulls wheeling overhead, or divers such as the majestic and gigantic gannets plunging from a hundred feet or more into the freezing seas and emerging with a beak full of silver meat.  On these nights the boats tended to be well spread out and the VHF radio was quiet.  Occasionally a haunting voice would float across the radio.  Kenny Bolger (RIP) singing an Irish ballad, when that happened, it tended to confirm that there would be no fish on that particular night. The Bolgers were fishy folk, as good at catching fish as anyone, and if my school mate from De La Salle was left near the radio it meant there was damn all else to do.

Other nights however were different.  The seas were alive with birds and seals.  A slick of oil, released from the herring on the sea bed, which Denis said you could smell and taste in your mouth, but something, I never manged to do.  The radio was buzzing with sightings and at times Jim would call us in to look at the fish finder, the tell tale blackness of a herring shoal, and the extent of it mapped out on the grey blue paper as a stylus flicked over the paper marking the fish below.

Once satisfied that the herring were abundant enough the winkie was turned on and cast over, followed by the nets.  I looked after the lead rope initially, not trusted as yet with the head rope and ensuring that the cans were paid out clear of the nets and set to the correct depth.  Generally all the nets were set, but occasionally, Jim might heave too, concerned by the markings on the fish finder and the extent of the shoal.  When you hit the herring in large quantities a couple of nets could fill the boat, and the last thing you needed was extra work.  Once set, the nets were tied via a hauling rope to the bow of the boat we hung from them. 

This was a signal to get the tea on, and the grub bag out.  Tea in the Reaper was always good.  As much as Jim loved his cigarettes, he equally loved his tea.  The kettle was boiled on a gas stove and the tea bags were added as the kettle started to sing.  Hot and sweet, tea and sandwiches never tasted any better.  

On another occasion I was asked to go with another Cheekpoint boat for a couple of evenings.  Having set the nets, The skipper tasked his brother “wet the tea”  What he produced was so vile, even the copious amounts of sugar I added couldn’t disguise the awful taste.  I honestly thought he had pee’d in the kettle and on the first opportunity tossed the lot over the side.  When he spotted my cup empty he was immediately on me, “will ye have more tea Andy” "I won’t J... J.. thanks" says I…and like a not yet created Mrs Doyle, he harangued me about it saying ”a ya will, ye fecking will”  until I dolefully relented.  The next night I was more wary, and as "cook" went forward to boil the kettle I kept a close eye.   Under constant pressure from the skipper who would shout in occasionally, reminding him to hurry, that they needed to haul the nets, he flung in the tea bags before the kettle was anywhere near boiling and emerged with only a faint hint of steam from the kettle moments later.  At least I could drink it knowing the problem was half-boiled water.

The nets would be checked on occasionally, to be sure that they were fishing, and to get a sense of how heavy the catch might be.  Too early and you could haul the nets off the rising fish, too late however and you risked overloading the boat. 

Hauling was a tough affair when the nets were full.  Here's an interesting example from Northern Ireland.  But at least a net hauler made the work easier.  Once ready to commence, the rope was hauled in to the gunwale and opened from the net.  Then the head and lead ropes were gathered up and placed over the hauler drum.  The hydraulics were engaged and the nets were then pulled on and helped in over the side. 

While Jim kept the boat up to the nets, Denis hauled the ropes and I gathered up the nets as they fell to the deck and dragged them to the stowing area.  When the catch was light this was easy enough, but on nights with a big catch, this was hard arduous work.  The netting coming in over the drum could be three feet wide and it was all I could do to help Denis and Jim at the hauler and then stagger away under the weight of the nets to stow them on the boats deck. 

You had to be careful where you dropped the nets, and on more than one occasion Denis had given me a tongue lashing.  Stowing the nets meant making it easy to clear them afterwards and safe to steam back to port.  On a decked boat, it was important that the nets and fish were properly dispersed, and it was something he wanted me to get right from the start.

Having hauled a big catch, there was always a sense of ephuroia aboard.  A big catch, once you had a market, meant a decent wage that week, and in the weeks coming up to Christmas, or indeed after it, such a catch was always welcome.  Big catches were not the norm, and you would have plenty of"watery hauls".  You tended to relax after that exertions and in the tired but happy glow, surrounded by flipping fish in their death throes and wheeling gulls, calling to you, as if for a feed, Denis would often set to telling yarns.  Jim tended to wink at me, or throw his eyes up to heaven and I never knew if there was any truth in what Denis would tell me, but I would always be doubled up with laughter.

One of the nights a seal had bobbed up aft of us as we headed across the harbour towards Dunmore.  "Did I ever tell ye the one about Tailstones (Jimmy Doherty) and the seal in Youghal".  Even if he had I would have said no.  I never got tired of listning to his stories.  "Himself, Lannen (Jimmy's brother Andy) and myself were fishing salmon in the Dominic this summer down in Youghal.  Well all was going grand till this day we were hauling back on the nets and half the fish that came in over the side had a piece missing.  'Mother of God' said Lannen…'if them seals don’t clear off, we wont have the price of a pint this week'  Tailstones said he'd put them seals right, once and for all.  Next day they arrived in Youghal to go fish and he retrieved a shot gun from out of the back of his van.  When they were out fishing, I spotted a seal a long way off, head bobbing out of the water.  Tailstones fired up the engine and went in pursuit and moments later brought her about and stepped up to the Gunwhale, loading the gun.  He raised it and was about to discharge it when the seal turned and lo and behold the seal had the full face mask of a diver and a mouthpiece to boot.  I threw my hand up and diverted the gun barrel to the heavens and the same moment the gun was discharged and the only casualty was a gull that happened to be flying past.  'Mother of God' said Lannen, 'we’d have never got absolution' 

As I laughed at his yarns the next phase of the job was coming into my head; shaking the nets, and it would take time and energy.  But that respite leading up to it, as the boats bobbed and swayed across the harbour towards Dunmore was most welcome.  More work might be ahead but we were a satisfied crew bringing home the catch, and with the promise of a few bob in your pocket at the weekend

Next instalment – clearing the nets and selling the fish

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, 30 October 2015

The Banshee attack at Coolbunnia

Halloween will be upon us tomorrow evening.  In the past it was a very different occasion as against what it is today.  I've written about the Halloween of my childhood before.

Now it wouldn't be Halloween without a Ghost story and here's one my Father told1

"There was a family called Walsh who lived above where my brother Robert now lives in Coolbunnia,  The man of the house was a Fisherman and was renowned for mischief.  He was returning home from fishing one night with his eldest son.  They were coming up the lane off the strand when the heard the banshee howling and keening.  The son ran away up the lane, but his father stayed behind and crept up to see her.  She was sitting on a rock looking out on the river and was combing her hair with a beautiful comb.  Now Walsh loved a bit of blackguarding.  So he watched the banshee carefully and at some point she dropped the comb to fix her hair and in that instant he ran up, snatched the comb and ran away home. 

accessed from

Meanwhile his son had arrived home and was relating what he had seen to his increasingly concerned mother. Suddenly the door crashed open and there her husband stood laughing and shouting, his eyes wild with the sport.  But as he banged the door shut behind him the howls of the enraged banshee could be heard coming up the lane.  His son and wife saw a strange eerie light shining under the door and the screaming raised to a furious pitch.

His wife ran to him and shook him, asking him was he mad or what, how could he bring the banshee on their home and her children, that the demon would murder them all.  Realising his mistake, her husband barred the door and they then ran to the windows, checking the latches, pulling the curtains across.  He urged his son to put what timber was in the house on the fire.  The banshee was rushing round the house, checking for a way in.  The windows were shook, the door banged and rattled, the light was seen coming down the chimney.  The fire was stoked till the flames rose higher.  But it was an open fireplace and they knew that sooner or later they would run out of fuel. 

They went up into the bedroom where the younger children had been woken from their sleep and all huddled together and started to pray.  Outside the roars of the banshee were relentless, and many the home was woken, and many said a silent prayer that she would be soon on her way.

Suddenly the son had an idea.  Could they not just give the comb back. But how. It couldn't be thrown out, what if she didn't see it.  Could they wait till she came down the chimney, but then the house would be cursed.  The considered the dilemma over and back.  Finally they came up with an idea.  The son would retrieve the fire tongs from the kitchen and hold the comb out to the enraged banshee.  Once done, his father placed the comb between the iron tongs and the window was opened a crack and the comb pushed out in clear view.  The eerie light appeared at the window and the screeching reached a crescendo of rage as the banshee spotted her stolen comb.  She grabbed it and the tongs but the boy hung on and a fierce struggle ensued, she pulling with all her demonic strength while the boy hung on to the tongs, terrified it would force open the window, and entering she would kill them all.  All at once she relented and departing, she could be heard screeching her way up towards the Minaun, her returned comb firmly in her grasp.

Exhausted, the family slumped down on their bed or slept where they were huddled.  Next day the neighbours called and asked after the noise of the banshee they had heard the following night.  The neighbours could not believe the account, but on the tongs being produced, had to relent they being in a twisted and mangled state.  For years afterwards people coming to the village called in to view the tongs and hear the story" 

The banshee, my father claimed, having been bested by the Welsh's, was never heard in Coolbunnia afterwards!

1.  Jim Doherty in his book - The Next House has a similar story, but with different details. 

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 October 2015

Drifting for Herring, Winter 1983

It was about this time of year in 1983 that I got my first taste of fishing in the deeper waters of the harbour around Dunmore East and the Hook.  It was a strange and confusing place that was more dangerous and unpredictable than the fishing I had known heretofore.  Some nights were threatening, with dangerous seas and unpredictable conditions, others were magical, still, calm, star reflected seas and a gentle breeze.  Deep water also meant the dreaded seasickness, something I'd never known up to that point, and something I would never want to meet again.  But it was the fishing itself that was so different, boats, nets, fish, conditions and practices.

I've mentioned before how part of our entertainment in Cheekpoint was hanging around the quays helping out the fishermen.  In the autumn of 1983, the first since leaving secondary school, Jim (Dypse) Doherty approached me on the quay and asked would I like to come with him and Denis (Harvey) Doherty to drift for Herring.  I jumped at the chance.

That afternoon I was aboard the Reaper, a fully decked motor boat with an enclosed cabin.  She was the only one of her type in Cheekpoint at the time.  (Most of the boats were half deckers, with open decks and if you were lucky a small weather deck and cuddy)  When waves broke across the Reaper they swished round the deck, prior to escaping via the scuppers.  She still required bailing, but not at regularly.
The Reaper off Cheekpoint
Photo taken by Anthony Rogers
Jim and Denis were as different as chalk and cheese, but the one thing they shared was that you would never see either of them without a fag in their mouths,  Jim smoked away, lighting one after the other.  But occasionally he would remove the fag as he paused to consider a response to a question.  Denis on the other hand, never seemed to be without the fag in his mouth.  It hung from his lip, whatever the job, and I often marveled at his ability to chat away, with the fag hanging off his bottom lip, until it burned right down till there was almost nothing left, and yet he never seemed to notice.

All was different on the Herring boat.  Growing up with Salmon, I knew my way round nets and the boats.  But the Herring nets were deeper and the meshes smaller.  They still had a lead rope and a head rope, but the head rope had much smaller corks.  This was to allow the nets to sink down to the level the Herring were swimming at, and this depth could be moderated via gallon can's on a few fathom of rope which could be lengthened or shortened as required, stationed at regular intervals along the head rope..

Instead of a bouy, a dan was used on either end of the nets.  A dan was a homemade marker.  It was usually a straight stick of hazel (although broom handles were coming into fashion then).  In the middle of the stick was either a buoy or a slab of builders aeroboard for flotation.  The dan was weighed down with bricks or lead.  At the other end, each boat had a set of colour flags atop made out of fertiliser bags or fabric, each boat had their own colour to distinguish each other.  At the top t
was a flashing winkie (light), so that you could see your nets in the dark.  One of my jobs was to go up to my Aunt Ellen's shop in the village and get some batteries. The winkie only came on in the dark, to save batteries, so to see if it was working I had to cup my hands over it at see if the light came on.

The nets were ranged over and another difference was that each net was tied at the head and the lead rope, but the actual net meshes were not joined.  The herring drifted in shoals you see, and nets may need to be separated and left to other boats to haul if the catch was too big.

Instead of hauling the nets by hand, the Spenser Carter net and rope hauler was operated via hydraulic pipes and once the net was heaved over it and the motor engaged, you put your energy into hauling the ropes and dragging the catch to the deck to be stowed.  Another difference was that as you hauled the boat was kept on the nets via the engine and the mizen mast astern.  The last most significant difference was that you used a fish finder to identify the swimming shoals.  Of all the equipment aboard the Reaper, this was the one I found the most amazing.  I guess that up to then all the knowledge I had acquired about salmon was handed down and learned the hard way.  It was about the natural elements and a sense of how the salmon thought and swam.  It had been thus with Herring before, watching the surface for oil, looking at the actions of the diving birds, spotting foraging seals and what they emerged on the surface with. 

I felt like a real man, that first evening going down onto the quay with my grub bag, and stowing it on the Reaper.  Jim started the engine and I let go the ropes forward and aft and Denis took them aboard. Jim took her away from the quay while we bustled around with the last minute jobs. It was 3 O'clock in the afternoon and we needed to be on the herring grounds to set as dusk fell.

All around us the other Cheekpoint boats were leaving too.  My father was in the Boy Alan with Robert Ferguson (skipper) and Eamon Power.  The St Agnes was skipperd by Dick Mason and had Edward Ferguson aboard and I think Brendan Foley.  The Collen II was also there, Ned Power, John Joe and Matt (spogey) Doherty and the Maid of the West was also there, a much older and smaller boat, with the brothers; Mickey, Paddy and Jack Duffin.  I think it was the next year that Sean (hops) Doherty joined with a new boat with his father John and Jimmy O'Dea. John Ferguson would join later, I remember Tom Sullivan and Seamus Barry also crewing, when on their month off on the Bell boats.  At some point Michael Elliott joined in with a fine boat, the Glendine.

I was following in the footsteps of generations of Cheekpoint fishermen, who had departed to fish in the lower harbour.  I'd heard many stories, and knew that boats like the Maid of the West had been rowed down, nets set by oar, hauled by sheer strength and then rowed home again.  I knew that men had lost their lives at it, and that even with the modern conveniences it was no cake walk.  I would know the fear of watching a following sea breaking over the stern and washing over the decks, be totally lost in a clinging fog only to narrowly avoid the cliffs at Dunmore, and know how humbling and humiliating seasickness could be.  All that was to come, but that evening, standing on the forward deck of the Reaper I only knew excitement, and that I was starting a new journey on my relentless road towards adulthood.

In the coming weeks, I will try  to give a sense of the actual fishing methods, the clearing and selling of the fish and some of the historical evidence highlighting how ancient a practice it was.  

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

Thursday, 8 October 2015

whats a phone box?

As a child the village shop was owned by Molly Doherty, on the spot where Ben Power now trades.  There's a photo hanging up there of Molly standing in front of it all those years back.  It was a much more modest building, but one feature of it was as you went in the door, there was a chocolate coloured box with a door and windows on the left hand side of the door.  In the box was a telephone.  I never had any call to use it, or can say I ever stepped inside, but I do remember it being used. 

Looking back on it, I guess the box was to afford some sense of privacy when it came to transacting your communication with the outside world of 1960's Ireland.  However, the reason I can remember it was that very often, and I suppose it was particularly older users, they would shout so hard into the mouthpiece, that you could hear every word.  It sometimes made it hard to put in your order to Molly. 

Apparently the first phone box in the country was installed on Dawson Street in Dublin in 1925 and it proved so popular that they spread nationwide.  Some history here and more here.

It must have been sometime in the early 1970's that the phone was moved outside the shop to a "modern" call box.  In a way that would make sense, it must have been hard if you needed to make a call when the shop was closed! There again, I'm sure Molly would have had many a call out in an emergency.

The new box was a concrete, wood and glass affair, with the P&T emblem for the Post and Telegraphs, and I can remember using it well.  In those days if you had a call to make you trudged to the cross roads with change in your fist.  There was a receiver and a coin box.  To make a call you lifted the receiver, put in the correct amount, then dialled the required number on a dial that had to be turned for each digit and awaited the response from the other side.  Once received you had to press a button, marked A, which allowed the coins to drop in and thus your were connected.  The call lasted as long as your money did.  If the call didn't go through, or you wanted to cancel it, you had to press the button B.  failure to do so meant the loss of your cash.
A replica
 Of course that was also the era of ringing the operator if you had difficulties.  To ring the operator cost nothing, so of course as youngsters we often rang just for the craic.  "Hello Operator?"..."Yes, how can I help you"..."get off the line, there's a train coming". 

It was a great place to shelter on a wet night, being completely closed in, but terrible if you were waiting to make a call and someone was in there already.  As teenagers, you might have arranged to call someone at a particular time.  Alas on arrival, there was someone in there who you knew would be half the evening.  You would wait discreetly at first, but then trying to make sure you were seen, obviously waiting, and obviously needing the call box in a much more "urgent" way, but you just knew it was pointless.  Meanwhile, someone else, a girl perhaps, oblivious to your dilemma, was thinking you didn't care, and you could go to hell for yourself. Those with a phone in their home, had no ideas of the tribulations faced by us non phone owning folk.

Another feature of the phone box was that people rang looking for someone in the village.  I was never sure if they thought it was a home number or if it was pre arranged and expected the other person to be there.  In any case, if you answered it, you could be asked to run anywhere.  Maybe it was a measure of our boredom or just some throwback to an earlier and more community like time, but you could never refuse to run a message.  It wasn't too bad if it was to Veronica Duffin who lived next door but at times it was for the new houses, the back road or worse down the Mount.

I once took a call from a Londoner who asked if Johnny Murphy was around.  I said he lived in the village.  I was asked could I get him.  I ran down the road and into Johnny's home.  Johnny wanted to know who it was.  I could only tell him he was ringing from London and he's better run or the fella would be broke.

At some point the old box was removed and a newer fancier phone came in with the Eircom logo splashed across it.  I can't remember now if it was cash operated or if you needed a phone card - a collectable of the 90's.  The box was a waste, the ends were open, so if it was raining t'was useless to shelter in, and in a gale of NW wind, a common occurrence at the cross roads, you would be blown out of it. 
Accessed from:
There were other coin boxes in the village at the time.  Both pubs had them, and Jim Doherty (RIP) and Phil had one just inside their door in the village.  I remember William telling us about a neighbour knocking up the household one night to call an ambulance.  It reminded me of my grandmother running out of the house one night to call a neighbour to go for the phone, after her brother had a heart attack.

I don't know who had the first domestic line in the village.  But I remember my uncle John (RIP) and Mickey Duffin (RIP) having ones for their jobs as pilot men.  Over the years the domestic phones have become more prevalent and the public phone boxes disappeared.  The one at the Corss roads went in the last ten years.  With the modern communication revolution, such things must seem like a historical throwback.  Indeed I heard a child asking her father "whats a phone box?" when one was exhibited at this years Spraoi weekend in Waterford.  There again, if anyone is thinking I'm one for nostalgia, take a look at this page dedicated to bringing back the old phone box

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