Waterford Harbour

Waterford Harbour
Cheekpoint village 1940's

Friday, 29 January 2016

February - traditional start date of the Salmon Driftnet Fishery

The traditional start of the Salmon drift net season in Ireland was, for generations, February 1st. Once opened it stretched to August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption, and a very important church holiday in the village in the past.   By the time I started to fish the season had been shortened to commence on St Patricks Day, but I was raised on stories of the February start and the harsh winter conditions faced by my father and my mothers people.  

My maternal Grandmother Maura Moran raised me on stories of the conditions her father (Michael) and brothers (Ritchie, Paddy, Christy, Mickey, Johnny and Willie) faced while drifting for fish. One of those earliest memories I believe, was the smell of drying clothes at the open fire day and night.  All the outer garments and even the socks steaming away on the fire, and her mother, Catherine, often up through the night, keeping the fire in and turning the clothing, so that the men would be some way comfortable going back out to fish.  That might be the following morning, or in a short few hours depending on the tides.  The season in those times closed each week between 6am on a Saturday morning to 6am on the Monday.  Once the week opened it operated for 24 hrs a day.

Paddy Moran RIP and Michael Ferguson RIP
Ranging nets on Ryan's Shore 1950's
Walter Whitty (RIP) told me that as a child he remembered seeing "oilskins" hanging to dry in the high street.  These were not the comfortable oilskins of today.  These were homemade, by the women generally and cut from calico purchased in town.  The calico would be measured, sown and then soaked in linseed oil to keep the water out (or at least some of the water).  They would then be dried in the sun and be fit to wear.  My Grandmother said that often as not an oilskin might return from sea journeys and during WWII might wash up on the strand or in the nets, but in general the men wore thick overcoats to keep the weather out and always a few pairs of socks if they had them.

Blessing the boats, Nets and men prior to the opening 1930's
Terry Murphy (RIP) once told me a yarn.  He was only a boy and was fishing with Billy the green, grandfather of Elsie Murphy.  He called down this cold frosty morning and Billy came out with his socks in his hands.  He plunged the socks into the water barrel and squeezed them out.  He then put them on his feet and put his boots on. Terry paused for dramatic effect and looked at my puzzled expression.  "Well" he said, "when you are on the oars all day the water in your socks heats you up better than any hot water bottle".  It was often I saw the proof of those words since, I have to admit.

The oars were the only way to get around and it meant that fishing was a slower, more rhythmical affair.  I've written before about how hard it was for us as children even with outboard motors to use the oars.  The men in the past had to use the tides and had to make the best out of each drift.  Once set the aim was to get the maximum out of each drift, prior to hauling and setting again.  It meant that on ebb tide when they set from "Binglidies" or "the rock" that they drifted as far as they could, then reset the nets from where they stopped, rather than returning (as we did with the aid of an outboard).  They would drift to the end of the ebb tide, take the low water where they found it and return village-wards with the incoming tides.  My Grandmother said the men were starving on their return.  They might put in to warm some tea in a billy can, but often as not, wouldn't eat from the time they left the house to when they returned. (Low water to high water is a total of 6 hours)

Returning home was also work of course.  The hemp nets that my Grandmothers father and brothers used had to be ranged out of the boat and "spreeted" - hauled up and dried in the wind.  Not doing so would shorten the life of the nets which was a cost they could not afford.  So on returning to go fish, the nets had to be lowered and then ranged back into the boat.  Any wonder the majority of my gran uncles took the boat to America or England as soon as they could.  Any wonder also that it was the older men and young boy that did the fishing in all the other families around, those old enough choosing the emigrant boat or a sea going berth, at least until the summer peal run.

Poles along the quay for "spreeting" or drying the nets 1950's
As I mentioned in my own time, the start of the season had been shifted to St Patricks day and in the 1990s (1996 I think) the season was destroyed from the perspective of commercial fishing in Cheekpoint in that it was reduced to a June 1st - Aug 15th season and operated from 6am - 9pm.  It was a slow strangulation of the fishery which eventually closed in 2006.  Funnily enough in those times there was hardly a week went by without some media outlet decrying the state of the Salmon fishery and trying to close down the drift netting as a means of preserving the Salmon stocks. Salmon stocks have not recovered however.  Now those media outlets have to look beyond the traditional bogeyman, and yet seem unwilling to challange any sacred cows such as farming, industry or forestry.  

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, 21 January 2016

Mining Waterford Harbour

Two weeks ago we looked at the mine incident that closed the Barrow Bridge in 1946.  It was a floating mine, the origins of which was not identified, but it had been in the water for some time.  It might conceivably have dated to WWI.  At the time the mouth of the Harbour was regularly mined from German submarines hoping to interrupt allied supplies.  The allies were also deploying mines, most of the access points to the Northern and Southern entry points to the English coast were blanketed by mines in a futile attempt to thwart the u boat menace.

The German mines at the time were a contact mine which were deployed initially from ships but from June 1915 were planted from U Boats.  The mines were anchored by cable to the seabed and with enough draft to stay below the waterline.  They were pear shared, 3ft in diamater and filled with 350lb of TNT.  The top of the mine had 5+ horns, with a glass tube inside, which when a ship depressed, it broke and released a chemical to detonate.

US Sub Chaser SC-272 moored in the harbour circa 1918
Minaun in the distance
with thanks to Paul O'Farrell who passed on the image to me
The first Irish casualty of the mines was the SS Manchester Commerce which was sunk off Donegal 26th Oct 1914.  It was December before the admiralty realised it was the victim of a minefield and it would be July 1915 before they were satisfied that the estimated 200+ mines had been cleared.  Gives some sense of the difficulties posed.

Local readers are probably well aware of the story of Kapitanleutnant Kurt Tebbenjohanns and UC-44 which was sunk off Dunmore in 1917.  The U-boat was replanting a minefield between the Hook and Dunmore East, when it struck a mine.   Some might say ironic, but as it happens it was anything but, a story I will return to next week

accessed from http://www.digitalhistoryproject.com/2012/06/
submarine-mines-in-world-war-i-byleland.html

Tebbenjohannes and his colleagues were regular visitors to Waterford Harbour, trying to interrupt the flow of resources to allies. Deployed at night from a submerged sub, the task of clearing mines fell to converted trawlers and their crew with a token naval presence aboard.  Two boats would work together drawing a metal rope between them in an effort to locate the sunken bombs.  The risks were high and any mistake would see the loss of the boat, and most probably the crew.  For example in the weeks previous to the arrival of Tebbenjohannes, one boat was lost, but the crew of the minesweeper was rescued by fishermen from Dunmore.

According to Wikipedeia the total number during the whole of WWI was 235,000 sea mines and clearing them after the war took 82 ships five months, working around the clock.  Somehow I doubt they found them all.

Mines were also a feature of WWII but this time Ireland was a neutral and the harbour area was not directly targeted.  However, readers might be interested to know that it was the Irish who mined Waterford harbour at this stage!  There was a minefield operated between Passage East and Ballyhack from 1941. The mines were deployed by the Irish government forces in the channel, and were operated by control from the shore (Ballyhack) also known as command detonated mines.  If any threat was seen, the mines were to be detonated by the shore watch.  I have no further information on it, but would love to hear any other accounts.  (MacGinty: P.61) Personally I'd imagine the minefield was directed more towards protecting Ireland from a German sea borne attack.  The Irish government had been informed by an Admiral Fitzgerald of the Royal Navy to expect same via the harbour at an early stage of the war. (MacGinty: P.32)

During WWII mines became more sophisticated.  The German side were the first to develop magnetic mines that detonated as a ship passed close to them. Mines were also deployed from airplanes, which meant the seas around Ireland became a target after the fall of France.  Mines became a constant hazard, and ships and fishing boats and indeed walkers along the coastline were asked during the emergency to maintain a constant vigil.  There's a fine photo of the Great Western in camouflaged colours in the harbour.  For anyone thinking that seems a little far fetched, especially as a neutral country, they would do well to remember that mistakes are commonplace in war and every time the ship went to sea, the seafarers would be justified in thinking it might be their last trip.  This must have been heightened as most of those aboard would have known personally family bereaved by such war casualties as the Conningbeg and the Formby.  I've mentioned before the perils faced by the Hanlon family from Coolbunnia.  150 sailors died in WWII on Irish registered ships. It's estimated that up to 4,000 more died on allied ships.(MacGinty: P.58)
SS Great Western in her war time colours
Accessed from Waterford History Group
posted by Tommy Deegan originally
Mines were reported regularly from ships, shoreline walkers and the look out posts, operated by the Marine and Coastwatching Service from Sept 1939,  that lined the coastline.  The interception and dealing with the menace of mines on the seas became a job for the newly formed Irish Marine service (now Navy). (MacGinty: p.26)

Ironically it was the navy's approach which caused many of the difficulties as experienced by the newly developed inshore fishing fleet in the post war years.  The methodology employed was to approach floating mines and detonate them by shooting one of the protruding "horns"  A distance of 80 yards clearance was required.  However it was realised that when the mine casing was holed, the mine filled with water and sank.  The naval personnel naturally assumed that the salt water would corrode the detonators and explosives, however that would not be the case.  Up to 183 mines were destroyed by the navy during the war.  (Macginty: pp63-5)

Any cursory search in the Irish newspapers will highlight the scale of instances since WWII of mines being brought up in nets.  Had the naval personnel realised the longevity of the metal mine and or perceived how post war fishing practices would develop and the scale of bottom trawling they may have reconsidered their disposal strategy.  Dozens of these articles relate to Dunmore East and vessels out of Dunmore and I was present in the 1980's for one such adventure.

The details are sketchy I'm afraid, as I could find no record in the newpspers.  However I remember a particularly nasty SE wind and a trawler coming in off Dunmore, but refused entry.  The trawler was being towed if I recall correctly.  The mine was trapped in the nets and part of the nets had fouled the screw.  Holding off Dunmore, a team of army bomb disposal experts arrived in Dunmore that day.  I vividly recall their energy and enthusiasm as they jumped out of a dark green jeep with large kit bags and boarded the Betty Breen to go out to the trawler.  However, they were back after an hour, green in the face and much less energetic.  The trawler was sent over under the Hook and the decison was taken to await a team from the Navy to deal with the issue.

You might think that such problems no longer exist.  However the most recent article I could find for Dunmore was the Irish Independent of March 2005 and the most recent nationally was August 2007 in the same paper, this time a mine trapped in nets off Co Cork.  Be careful out there, you never know what secrets the sea might give up, particularly on a stormy day.

Thanks to Tomás Sullivan for loaning me his copy of The Irish Navy
MacGinty. T.  The Irish Navy.  1995.  The Kerryman. Tralee

Drew some information on the mines from:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_mine#Contact_mines

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, 15 January 2016

Faithlegg's holy well

Many readers will know that we have a holy well in Faithlegg dedicated to St Ita.  January 15th is her feast day, (she reputedly died on this day in 570AD).  We looked at St Ita around the same time last year, and I left it with a question in terms of why the well is dedicated to her.  I still haven't answered this to my personal satisfaction and have a few more thoughts on it, but to begin, here’s an overview.


Various sources state that Ita was born Princess Deirdre, to King Kennoelad and Queen Necta  of the Deise tribe in Waterford circa 470AD.  Her birth place is not certain but the majority of written accounts speculate that it was in or around Ballyduff, Kilmeaden.   A few online sources have claimed she was born in Faithlegg. 

via www.holyimagesicons.com
Ita travelled throughout the Deise area and appears to have studied in Ardmore, Clashmore and Lismore, and eventually she settled down in Killeedy in East Limerick where she founded her monastery.  There she ran a school which was responsible for the teaching of many early churchmen and women, including St Brendan the Navigator.  So many passed through her hands that she earned the nickname "foster mother of the saints of Erin". St Ita is often described as the Bridgid of Munster, highlighting her position in the pantheon of Irish female saints, a close second to Bridgid of Kildare.  

Last year I speculated on several theories about the well being dedicated to her at Faithlegg. However this year I wanted to highlight what for me is an inconsistency. You see when Canon Power was doing his famous work on the Placenames of the Decies (published in 1907), he actually mentions several wells in the area, but omits any mention of St Ita.

For him, the well we now know as St Ita's, is known as Tobar Sionnaig or the Well of the Fox.  What he actually says about it is this: "...though it is possible that the latter member of the name is personal.  This well, which is nearly opposite the church and on the west side of the road, had a reputation for sanctity.  Rounds or stations were said here, but have been discontinued for nearly a century"

I find it puzzling that Power would have no mention of a christian saint, if such a name was associated with the well at the time.  Maybe he was going with the earlier work of another renowned placename researcher John O'Donovan and the staff of Ordnance Survey Ireland who between 1829 and 1842 completed the first ever large-scale survey of an entire country. Acclaimed for their accuracy, these maps are regarded by cartographers as amongst the finest ever produced.   We've seen the lengths these early map makers went to for accuracy with the name of Faitlegg previously. 
OSI 6" B&W with Tobarshorork opposite Faithlegg Church
Canon Power was well known for doing his research, and would seek out older members of the community or those with learning to seek further information.  He does decry the lack of native Irish speakers in the parish at the time, but surely Ita or Idé would be a name that even the corruption of it would have giving him a clue.  The fact that Power was a local (Callaghan), would have surely strengthened his knowledge of the area.

Deena had a suggestion that Foxes were associated with saints and perhaps that would explain a connection.  She found stories associated with St Moling, St Kieran, St Patrick and even St Bridgid but none for Ita.  

I can draw no conclusions on this except to express the possibility that St Ita was a name of more modern origin, and one which O'Donovan and Power refuted, or at least ignored.  Is it possible that the Power's of Faithlegg brought it with them, when the moved into the area in 1816?.   Or is it an older name, that came to light after the efforts of the OSI and Canon Power.  Again, only more research will possibly tell.


Someone elses record of a visit to Faithlegg and St Ita's Well: https://edmooneyphoto.wordpress.com/tag/st-ita/

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, 8 January 2016

A century of Barrow Bridge incidents

The Barrow Bridge was officially opened in 1906 to connect Waterford's train station, and thus the SW of Ireland, to the newly developed port at Rosslare.  I've written before about the initial planning and concern about crossing the River Barrow which separates counties Kilkenny and Wexford, across from Cheekpoint. The principal objection was from the Port of New Ross.  The concerns were addressed by inserting a swivelled opening span to allow ships access to the River Barrow and thus New Ross. The outside channel was used for ships entering the Barrow, the opposite, on the Kilkenny side, for egress.  A manned control tower operated the opening and closing function. Down the years there have been many incidents recorded at the bridge, what follows is a sample.

The Barrow Viaduct Jan 2016
The first notable incident came almost an exact year from the official opening of the bridge.  From the Cork Examiner of 26/7/1907  we learn that "Yesterday the barque Venus, of Hellsingborg, Norway, bound for New Ross, with a cargo of timber, whilst in the tow of the barque Heron, collided with the Barrow Bridge, or Railway Viaduct. The Venus had her whole foremast knocked clean out, and the crew had a narrow escape, the bridge being apparently uninjured."

opening span of bridge
While Dublin was in revolt during Easter 1916, the bridge was one of the pieces of infrastructure considered vital to the interests of the crown forces.  Admiral Bayly, commander of the British naval services sea protection detail based at Cobh sent motor launches to secure the bridge and ensure uninterrupted rail travel. (Nolan: p141).

Another curious incident is related in the Munster Express dated 9th June 1923.  The opening span was stuck in an opened position for some days following a loss of a "Shaft" or pin, which was central to the operation of the swivel action.  The shaft was finally retrieved by dragging the river bed.  No explanation is supplied as to why it happened, or indeed why a replacement could not be found.

In the 1930's the issue was trespass. Several men were brought to court owing to what was claimed to be a "tremendous amount of trespass"  The defendants were listed as Thomas Dempsey, Campile; Patrick Carew, Ferrybank; Patrick Cashin, Drumdowney; John Black and Richard Atkins of Glasshouse and two Cheekpoint men; Denis Hennerby and Michael Heffernan.  Solicitor from the railway stated that the men were putting their own lives at risk by travelling the line either by foot of bicycle.  The case against Mikey Heffernan was struck out, and Aitkins was adjourned.  The others faced a fine of 6d and costs amounting to 7/-.  (Source: Munster Express 3/12/1937)

At the outbreak of WWII and for several months after the bridge continued to see daily use.  Both Irish and those with Irish relatives and cousins and some refugees, fled the looming war.  Many travellers could only finding standing room on the decks of the ferry boats and seating was a luxury on the train too.  (McShane: p11)  As the war wore on and shortages deepened, rail traffic was suspended due to a lack of coal, only to be reinstated after the war 

My mother like so many others left for England in the 1950's.  To her the bridge brought mixed emotions, sadness on leaving, fires burning in the village, the last farewell to the emigrants that would keep families fed.  Of course it was also of gladness when she would get to return across it for the following Christmas and it would give her the first view of home.

There were several bridge strikes down the years from ships passing through, generally to enter the Barrow.  According to my father, the only surprise about hitting the bridge was that there were not more.  I remember hearing one as a child, where the stern of the ship was swept onto the central fender as it passed through, with minor damage to the ship and none to the bridge.  The sound reverberated around the village.

On another occasion, the 7th April 1986, the inbound Panamanian registered ship MV Balsa struck and did considerable damage to the opening.   She was of 6000 tonnes and was empty at the time (she was chartered to collect a cargo of malt) which probably contributed to the accident.  The central span was damaged and the bridge was immediately closed to rail and shipping until an inspection was carried out.

The bridge strike that caused the most severe damage occurred on March 7th 1991. The MV Amy a Dutch registered coaster was again entering port when she collided against the opening span of the bridge and knocked it out of line.  The timber fenders and central wharf was also damaged.  In fact the damage was so severe that the line and shipping channels were immediately closed.

However, legal writs started to fly as 14 vessels were stranded in the port between the Port of New Ross and the ship owners and shipping companies.  Within days an agreement was reached to allow egress and entry via the undamaged side of the opening, but the railway line remained closed.  Three months later the railway was again in use, saving motorists the 40 mile road trip, and rail passengers a bus transfer from Campile.  The repair was reputed to have cost £3-5 Million, and was carried out by a Cobh salvage company, who operated from Cheekpoint and were as renowned for their long hours of labour as their huge capacity for porter.

By far the most curious incident to close the line occurred on Friday 22nd March 1946.  A drifting mine - used during the second world war- was spotted floating close to the bridge by two Cheekpoint men Heffernan and O'Connor (Paddy and John respectively as far as I can recall, John being the father of the Munster Express journalist of the same name).  They reported the sighting to the Garda station in Passage East and a unit from the Curragh was dispatched under Comdt. Fynes to deal with the threat.  Locally it was always said that the boys had thrown a lasso around the mine and towed it away from the bridge as a train approached, saving countless lives as a result.

A more sober account can be found in that weeks Kilkenny People.  The mine grounded between Snow Hill Quay and Drumdowney Point (known locally as the Point of the wood) as the tide went out and once settled on the mud, a rope was tied around it, to prevent it floating away. Although the Boat train departed from Waterford that evening, it was decided to close off the line to rail and shipping on the Saturday.

The bomb disposal unit had to wait for the tide to go out before they approached the mine on the Saturday.  It was described as 5' 4"x 3'4" and was encrusted with rust and barnacles.  It was thought to have been a floating mine, deployed with an anchor and chain that had broken away.  The opinion of the army was that it had been deployed on the sea bed several years before,  There was no information provided about it's origin.  The unit managed to make safe the mine by 4pm that evening, meaning the 5pm train could depart with safety.

CIE had to face a high court injunction in 1991 to carry out the repairs on the bridge to allow trains to run once more,  At the time there was speculation that they would prefer to remove the opening and make the railway line redundant.  With falling passenger numbers and the rise in private motor use the days of the line were numbered.   The closure of the Sugar Beet factories was the final straw.  The final train crossed the Barrow Bridge in September 2010.

Many thanks to James Doherty for his help with this piece and in particular loaning me the following books which I referenced in the piece;
McShane. M.  Neutral Shores.  Ireland and the battle of the Atlantic.  2012.  Mercier press.  Cork
Nolan et al.  Secret Victory.  Ireland and the War at Sea 1914-18.  2009.  Mercier press.  Cork

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, 1 January 2016

Enduring "Mal de Mer"

We were based in Dunmore in the winter of 1983 for the Herring fishing but we returned home in the Reaper for Christmas, and along with all the other half-decker’s, manoeuvred inside Cheekpoint quay, where they could be moored without any concern for their safety. Once Christmas came no one wanted to be checking on boats, for the week we’d be off.  It would be over soon enough. Once there was a buyer we would be away fishing again, and with empty pockets, glad of it.

Cheekpoint village mid 1980's.  MV Reaper at the top of the quay,
Boy Alan and St Agnes amongst others.  Photo via Anthony Rogers
That January of 1984 a market came available on the Sunday after New Year.  The weather had been broken, with gale after gale blowing in off the Atlantic.  As we walked onto the quay that afternoon it was enough to just look at the boats in the harbour of Cheekpoint to know that the evening wasn't going to be pleasant.  Punts and half deckers alike were pulling on anchors and ropes, swaying in and out at their moorings, reflecting the restlessness of the river.

As we set sail there was a low scudding cloud and a fresh wind from the SW.  We were an hour or two from high water, which would mean a slower trip than usual down against the incoming tide.  At Ballyhack the seas were already a choppy, but by Creaden (the Waterford side of the harbour mouth) we were pitching and heaving heavily, the seas breaking in on Broom Hill (Wexford side) looking fairly ominous.

Deep down in my stomach I could feel the rumblings of upset and my head was starting to pound a little.  I had been there before, and knew that by keeping my head up and staying busy it had helped. As we kept moving out the harbour I noticed a change for the worst in the seas.  The wind hadn’t altered any but the seas were running higher and the trough that the Reaper went into became deeper and slower to climb out of.  Standing was difficult, and making your way round the deck took planning, attention and luck.

Although I didn’t realise it at the time, the tide was now running ebb and with it the change for the worse in the seas.  Try as I might, none of my tried and tested methods of keeping the sickness at bay would work.  Progressively I worsened, just like the seas and then I started to yawn, deep yawns which seemed to rise out of my belly.  Minutes later I was spewing over the side.  Immediately I felt better, and longed to believe that the worst was over. 

There was a small flicker of hope, maybe we wouldn’t find any fish and we could go in.  However this was dashed when we marked a sizable lump of herring and Jim shouted to set.  I was sick again and then it was time for the nets to go.  When we had the nets out and the tea brewed, I forced a cup of the hot sweet tea down.  Jim said it would help, but Denis was just grinning. I took one look at the sandwiches and cast them into the sea.  Gulls pounced on them immediately, screeching at each other and tearing away at the bread. How I longed to be like those birds, with feathered wings to take them above the relentlessly pitching and heaving seas.  A seal came into view, a giant, interested no doubt in the actions of the birds, and what they had found to eat.  If I jumped in and swam with him, would the cold of the seas and the shock of the water be enough to relieve me of the horrible sensation that seemed to make every fibre of my being ache.

I wondered how the other boats were faring, were others feeling as bad. I also realised my father was nearby in the Boy Alan.  I wondered what he would make of me. I said a quick prayer to our lady, asking for the strength to finish the job, not let myself or my father down. Again the sickness came, but it was a dry wretch, more painful and debilitating.  

Tea over, Denis checked the net.  Signs were good.  Jim and himself consulted and decided we better start to haul.  As the nets came in so did the herring, pile and pile of them and the back breaking work of dragging the fish filled nets across the deck, was like my own cross on Calvary.  I have no recollection of how long it took, but I know that I didn’t have anything left to vomit as we proceeded.  Over and back, stowing them safely, whilst the deck heaved, rolled and pitched and I staggered like a drunk.  At some stage the winkie came into view and it was like Christmas morning all over to me, to see it advancing towards the gunwale of the boat.

Once in I loosened to light to stop the winkie from flashing and last thing I remember was slumping onto the nets.  I awoke at the breakwater at Dunmore East, and was surprised that I no longer felt sick. But I was worn out, grey in the face, a spent force. We tied up at the quayside and I started to get the ropes ready for the shaking.  However a wave of relief washed over me when Jim said that we would go home that night and return in the morning to shake out the nets. 

I didn't sleep well that night.  The sense of shame I felt at and the expectation of the slagging I would get next day stopped my mind from finding rest.  In the morning I strolled over to the village to get a lift to Dunmore.  Calling in to my parents, I found my father lying on the couch.  My guard was up immediately, 

"How're ya today?" he asked.  
"I'm grand" I said "Although I'd be better if we had the nets shook from last night"   
"There was a lot of men glad to get home from Dunmore last night" he said, continuing "that was one of the roughest nights we had in many a year"
"No one else was sick" I said, 
"Oh they were sick alright" he countered, "You should have seen the speed of some of them going up the ladder in Dunmore" 
And although I doubted it, I still had a laugh, and started to feel a little better.

"Did I ever tell ya about the young scouser that shipped out of Liverpool with us on a trip to Gibraltar” One of my father’s traditional opening lines to a yarn. 
"No" I said, wondering where this was going
"Ah he was all mouth" he said, "There was nothing he couldn't do, or hadn't seen. We were in the Irish Sea when he started to grow green.  By the time we were in the channel he couldn't stand and when we reached Biscay he barricaded himself into his cabin and refused to stand his watch.  The bosun was another scouser and when he heard of the carry on, he grabbed a fire axe and splintered the cabin door.  He grabbed the young fella by the throat and dragged him to his watch.  By the time they got to Gibraltar the young land scurried down the gangway and as far as we know took a train home"


From outside I heard a car horn blowing, it was Robert Ferguson, come to collect me father in his white Hiace van.  I started towards the village via the knock, but as I walked I thought about my father’s story.  Did he just make that up for my benefit, or was it actually true and if so how did he recall it so fast.  Down the years I've often wondered about that ability he had.   Maybe now as a father I can properly understand, we show love in so many different ways, we constantly worry about and try to protect our children. Just like his ability to soothe away the blood and pain when we were in a fall, he also done his best to soothe away the pain of growing into adulthood. Whether the story was true or not, it was a wonderful ability he had.  And it at least meant I could hold my head up that morning as we journeyed to Dunmore and I continued my journey towards adulthood.

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.

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