Waterford Harbour

Waterford Harbour
Cheekpoint village 1940's

Friday, 18 August 2017

Growing up amongst the nets

Growing up in a fishing village like Cheekpoint in the early 1970s, nets were part of the everyday scene in the community. They lay around in the same way tractors and machinery hang round a farmyard.  Nets for fishing the weirs, trawl nets including beam and otter, drift nets for Herring and Salmon and Eel pots.  Old fishermen like Andy Joe Doherty come to mind, sitting amongst the maze of meshes of a weir net, a section slung across his knees as he worked to repair some hole by the 'Red Shed' on the village 'Green'.

I suppose because it was summer, and we had more time being on holidays, I remember the salmon nets most of all.  The salmon season stretched in those days from Feb 1st to August 15th.  It opened each Monday morning at 6am and concluded the following Saturday at 6am. Sundays were a day of rest, mass, the Reading Room for cards, a match or the pub.  But Saturday was for boat and net repair, and the quay was generally buzzing with activity.
Buddy McDermott and Tom Sullivan hauling out the nets
Photo courtesy of Tomás Sullivan
The nets in those days were nylon.  They comprised of a head rope which had corks each about a fathom apart keeping the net afloat, and a lead rope which kept the net down in the water. Between both ropes was suspended a curtain of netting which once set in the river drifted on the tides. Because of the position of Cheekpoint and the strong currents in the area, drifts would normally last from between fifteen minutes to an hour.  

Another feature of the drifts was the countless fouls and obstacles to be negotiated. The meshes got ripped due to snagging rocks, weir poles, old fouls, the bottom, getting caught in the jetty, wrapping them up in the outboard engine propeller.  As we were below the ports of New Ross and Waterford we also had the risk of being cut by one of the many ships in and out of the ports.
A mending needle
Although the general perception of drifting was that salmon swam blindly into nets, the local reality was that we predominantly 'jammed' fish. Jamming fish was an expression used in trying to outfox the salmon, catching them in 'the bag of the nets' or trapping them as nets 'fell ashore' when drifts ended with the nets gathering in clumps close to the shoreline. The local practice had actually more in common with draft netting and snap netting, both techniques happened above us in narrower waters, than the common perception of drift netting on the high seas.
drift net
As a consequence the repair of nets was a constant necessity.  Saturdays then, would see fishermen at work, hauling out the nets from the boat and 'ranging them over' again on the shore, quayside, or the green. Some fishermen preferred to stay in the boat, a more boring job again as at least if you were on the quay there was more banter. Some skippers could overlook only the largest gap, but for many as much as a damaged "half mesh" was a no no. These were the skippers you didn't want to get stuck with, as you could spend the day standing in the one spot without a break.
a typical break
The process was always the same. One person on the cork rope the other on the lead. As you ranged them along you looked carefully for a gap or a tear. Once found the skipper would use a penknife to trim off and tidy the hole and with a mending needle, set about re-meshing the hole. In some cases it could take a minute, in others a heck of a lot longer. In all cases our job was to hold the net in a particular way. As a consequence we were often referred to as 'human nails' as if we were not around the fisherman would hang the net on a nail or other fixing.  As he worked we got no more than a grunt, when it was time for us to shift, or pull tighter, or move a fraction to enable the skipper to see what he was doing. Once done, he would snip the end of the mending twine, returning the knife and mending needle to his pocket.  Then we would stretch out of the repair job and you would hear either a grunt of satisfaction or disgust, depending on how the job was perceived. Then it was back to the careful ranging and on to the next hole.
repaired and time to range on
Some Saturdays could be spent entirely in this way, and after a while you learned to avoid the quays when such activities were taking place. It would be a few years yet before I had to learn the craft, and many more (if ever) before I could say I could repair a net in any kind of satisfactory way.  Of course in the 1990's the nylon nets started to change and before it was out, mono-filament netting was legalised. Because these were practically invisible to the fish anyway, repairing holes became virtually a thing of the past.  It was easier to pull sections of a hole together with string, or cut out a section and replace it.  Net repair started to become a thing of the past, and with it, what might have seemed like a chore to a child, but a very difficult skill nonetheless.

For this years Heritage week I am leading a walk highlighting Cheekpoint's Maritime past including the nets of the village.  It takes place this Saturday evening 19th August at 5.30 pm.  It commences from McAlpins Suir Inn and is free of charge.  

I will also co-host a walk on Sunday 20th August on the Geohistory of the area with local geologist Bill Sheppard.  It commences at 2.30pm and departs from Faithlegg National School. Also free of Charge.

This excerpt this morning is from a forthcoming book I have written on the Cheekpoint fishery which will be published in the autumn entitled "Before the Tide Went Out" 

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 August 2017

The Snowhill war heroine

Snowhill, Co Kilkenny is now little more than a place-name on the river, but it once graced a fine Georgian mansion with an extensive farm and demesne and boat house on the river. I previously wrote about the house, which prompted a memory in an older neighbour of mine, Mrs Bridget Power. Bridget recalled as a girl wandering up through the estate to visit her grandfather who ran the mill at Rathpatrick. Passing the house an older lady in a wide brimmed hat used to welcome them as they passed and offered refreshment. 

That lady was most probably Violet O'Neill Power, then owner of the Snowhill estate, the last of the family to own the property. Violets upbringing had been far from traditional it seems and from an early age she showed a strong will and a self determined streak.
Violet in her FANY uniform
via https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/5153419
In 1907 she was one of the first volunteers to join the FANY; First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. This unit was formed by Captain Edward Baker as a consequence of the miseries he had witnessed in the Boer War. The unit was trained to operate in war fronts as aid and assistance to wounded troops, but as it was staffed by women it was roundly criticised and at times lampooned, given the times and norms associated with them.

Following the outbreak of WWI Violet was in the first unit to be dispatched to the front, arriving at Lamarack hospital in Calais, France on the 27th October 1914. The training of the unit included nursing, first aid and motor mechanics. Their work included tending wounded soldiers and civilians, transport from the front line to hospital, and transport to convalescence homes. The motor mechanics was obvious, keeping ambulances in working order and on the road.
Violet is standing, third from left via
When they weren't providing vital services to wounded and injured, they helped boost moral. Violet was one of a performing stage troop called "the Fantasticks".

On the 23rd August 1918 she received her first commendation for services rendered the Croix de Guerre with silver star. This was followed by the Order de Leopold II, one of only two to be received by the unit.  What makes Violets awards all the more significant, is that she was a volunteer, received no pay, and in fact fund raised to maintain the operation and she supplied at least one vehicle to her unit.

After the war the FANY unit continued to operate on the front, repatriating refugees, providing transport, continuing with nursing and first aid duties as required and assisting the work of the Imperial War Graves Commission. The unit was stood down in 1920.

At this stage it would appear that Violet had returned to Ireland to nurse her ailing mother, Margurite. Her father, Joseph Edward, had predeceased his wife in 1897. She inherited the house thereafter, buying out her half brothers share. And there she tried to get back to normality, or whatever that could be following the war. It would appear that like many other landowners she struggled in the new Ireland, her war record and landed background possibly not helping. 
Snowhill House
When Bridget would have met her in the 1930s she was in her fifties and trying to maintain an ailing enterprise. Bridget recalled her once bringing her inside the house to view a wasps nest.  Perhaps an indication of the decline in the house. She married a horse breeder from Tipperary in 1945 dividing her time between her home and her husbands. She finally sold Snowhill, perhaps when it was already too late, in 1954. The new owners had it demolished in 1955.

Violet died on March 27th 1965, childless but having seen more of life than most. Its fitting as we commemorate those who went to war in WWI that she is remembered as much as anyone else

I'm indebted to James Doherty for assistance with this piece.  Much of the details were accessed from: McDermott Alice. '...Defy(ing) the Tyranny of Precedent' The life of Violet O'Neill Power, Twice Decorated Irish Great War Nurse.  

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 August 2017

Mine sweeping the harbour - Dunmore 1917

A new method of warfare in WWI was the use submarines in deploying mines.  Initially the presence of these explosives would only be known when an unfortunate ship stumbled upon them. The mine laying subs commenced with the UC I type in 1914 carrying a payload of 12 mines with a limited range.  This was improved on in 1916 with UC II class subs, considered the most successful.  They had an increased payload of 18 mines, faster speed and an extended reach.  

The mines were deployed from underwater.  Each mine dropped to the seabed from a chute.  A dis-solvable plug which reacted with seawater allowed the sub to move away a safe distance before it released a mechanism to allow the mine to float clear of its anchor weight and it rose to a pre-set distance on a cable. The distance was calculated to be always underwater, so invisible, but high enough to strike a ships hull.
An egg mine sketch with the release mechanism
To counter the threat ordinary fishing boats and fishermen were recruited under the Royal Navy Minesweeping Reserve. With some basic training they were redeployed to various ports and waterways.  Many were steel built steam drifters of 2-300 tons and up to 140 foot long.  The skipper and crew were not under naval discipline or expected to wear a uniform.  Their orders came from the Navy.

The method used initially was crude and risky. Two ships with a sunken cable strung between them scoured the channels in order to keep them clear for shipping. The risk was that ships needed to maintain a steady drag as any deviation might allow a snared mine to travel along the cable and strike one of the towing vessels.  By 1916 the method was improved with a kite system which allowed the cable to be steadier, and to ensure that any travelling mines exploded some distance from the ships. Serrated cables were also introduced, but these tended to be only effective with more powerful ships. 
Add caption
There was two techniques for dealing with mines.  They could be towed and if their anchoring cables snapped the mine which floated to the surface could be destroyed by gun fire.  Alternatively the snared mine could be towed into shallow water where it floated onto the surface and could then be dealt with.  Unfortunately steam trawlers for fishing were not built with military purposes in mind, and so unlike naval purpose built vessels with double hulls, they were more susceptible to underwater explosions.
City of York, a typical steam trawler of the time
During WWI 726 vessels were employed in mine sweeping and over 250 of them were lost, 214 to mines.  I have not yet come across any details of their operations in Dunmore or the harbour.  But we saw previously how its speculated they may have played a role in luring UC-44 to her doom in Dunmore East.  Two Mine Sweepers that we know of were lost off Dunmore.

The first was HMT Loch Eye, a steam trawler built by the Torry shipbuilders of Aberdeen.  She was built for a local company, the Empire Steam Fishing Company Ltd.  She was requisitioned by the Royal Navy for mine sweeping duties in September 1916.  On April 20th 1917 while operating off Dunmore East she struck a mine and sank with the loss of seven lives.  
These were:
ANDERSON, Thomas 36yrs, Engineman
BAXTER, Albert, Trimmer
FARQUHAR, George, Engineman
KEECH, Reginald 16yrs, Ordinary Seaman
MILNE, Frederick J 26yrs, Trimmer, 
NIGHTINGALE, Willie J, Ordinary Seaman
PIRRIE, Robert F 36yrs, Deck Hand
The mine had been laid by UC-33 which was rammed and sank in the following September.  All but one crew of the 28 aboard were killed.

In July another mine-sweeping vessel was lost, the HMT George Milburn.   From what I have read it appears she was on escort duty, en route from Cobh to Milford Haven.  She struck a mine off Dunmore on Thursday July 12th and sank with the loss of 11 lives.
These were:
ANDREWS, William R, Engineman,
BATEMAN, Michael 30yrs, Deck Hand
BLAKE, Reuben J, Deck Hand
BURNETT, George S D K 42yrs, Trimmer
FORREST, William 39yrs, Engineman,
FYFE, Thomas.  27yrs, Deck Hand 
LEES, Robert 19yrs, Deck Hand
LUCAS, George Henry 45yrs Skipper
MCNICHOL, John 32yrs, Leading Seaman
RITCHIE, John AM, 32yrs, Second Hand
SPINK, James F 40yrs, Deck Hand

The mine she struck had been laid by UC-42, which was lost in Cork Harbour in September, with the death of all her crew.
The crews of both trawlers and UC-42 remembered in
Templetown graveyard, Co Wexford
photo via Michael Farrell BGHS
The events around Dunmore East in 1917 will be remembered this weekend when The Barony of Gaultier Historical Society (BGHS) under the chairmanship of Michael Farrell will host an event entitled Friend and Foe.  It sets out to shine a light on these events and bring, if you will pardon an obvious pun, more information to the surface.  It starts this evening with a walk at 4pm looking at the life and times of Dunmore harbour 100 years ago.  A full list of events are available on the BGHS blog page.

Much of the information used today was drawn from Jim Crossley's book The Hidden Threat, The Royal Naval Minesweeping Reserve in WWI . 2011 Pen & Sword Maritme. Barnsley.  Thanks to Frank Murphy for providing me with the book.

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, 28 July 2017

Duncannon Chronicles

Our guest blog today like last months looks back to a childhood holiday spent on a beach. However this month rather than Crooke in Waterford we get to accompany the Lloyd family holidaying at Duncannon Co Wexford and there is a Waterford connection too. I'd like to thank my good pal and fellow blogger Andrew Lloyd for this account.

It was interesting to read guest-blogger Breda Murphy’s nostalgic account of A Crooke Childhood last month, because with a sufficiently good telescope she would have seen me and my siblings larking about across the water in Duncannon. A couple of months after my father died in 2001, my sister and I went down to Dorset to sort out his shed. This was where he stored all his art works and the matériel for their construction. It was impossible to believe that this was the place where the collection was executed because it was only by gingerly stepping on the few visible bits of carpet that we could reach the desk at the far end and make a start on the drawers. There were paintings everywhere – later art-class oils of still lives and slabby nudes hugger-mugger with early water colours of well-executed cloudscapes and rolling hills; craggy castles and colourful streets: from Ireland, Britain, Brittany, the Med; a dramatic view from shore of the Straits of Magellan next to a more placid panorama of boats bobbing in Dun Laoghaire harbour.

Duncannon beach 1961. Llewellyn Lloyd 

We finished the drawers, gathered all the brushes into a vase, the paints into a shoebox and started on the paintings, classifying them by theme and geography into the bins of a rack along one wall. We had a cup of tea and a scone (thanks Mum), and waded back into task. After some time, I turned over yet another grey-backed Rowney art-board to reveal Duncannon Strand 1961. There we were, my sister and I with our older brother and the red-white-&-blue Lilo air-mattress that we had brought from England that year for the annual visit to Ireland. There also was the red-white-&-blue beach-ball which never existed but which he had inserted for balance or, as we asserted indignantly at the time, because he had the paint there and didn’t want to waste it.

Apart from us and our partly mythical beach-gear, the beach in the painting was empty as far as the Fort on the headland and the sky was full of scudding cloud. So it must have been the Easter holidays. We came almost every year, often at Easter, to visit an ever diminishing store of elderly female relatives in Wexford and on the shores of Lough Derg in County Tipp. In Wexford, we would invariably stay in The Hotel, Duncannon. My father had connexions on both sides of Waterford Harbour. He had grown up in Dunmore East, where my grandfather Wilfred Lloyd was Harbour-master from the foundation of the state until he retired in 1947. My father was thus the window vandalising Llewellyn who preceded January’s guest-blogger David Carroll. Before he was The Gaffer on Dunmore's quayside, my grandfather had restlessly travelled the world, serving in the army in the 2nd Boer War and then seeking his fortune in America. He made, and lost, several fortunes out in the Wild West. At one point, he won a section of the Hollywood hills in a card-game, but could never hold on to assets; he was always buying drinks for pretty women or everyone in the bar and really wasn't very good at poker.

The grandfather could never pass a beggar in the street without giving something, remarking "I've been like that myself, m'boy, and may be again". Between bouts of top-hat-and-tails, Grampa had indeed been a hobo, riding the rails to the next adventure. He was in San Francisco in 1906 when the city was destroyed by the earthquake and subsequent fire. We don't know if he was living it high at the time or currently without funds, but you may be sure he was kind and made himself useful in the aftermath of the disaster. My father was an only child and idolised this charismatic chancer. I'd love to know more about Grampa but you could see His Boy get sacked by the wrench of loss whenever he talked about his Dad, so we didn't like to press. My father is dead 16 years now, so that gate is closed.

Whites Hotel Duncannon. With thanks to Kevin Downes 

Meanwhile back at Duncannon in the 1960s, we spent every unrainy moment on the beach or in the dunes: making bastions against the incoming tide, daring each other to touch the raw-liver-coloured sea-anemones or just turning blue and white and wrinkly in the sea. The strand there is split by a modest stream and occasionally, by Herculean efforts with a small tin bucket and two tiny shovels, we were able to dam this rill-beck-or-leat to create a wee bit of a pond between the dunes. It was, of course, unsustainable. The water kept coming through the drain on the other side of the road and we shovelled quantities of wet sand atop the berm as the water rose. But with no Little Hans Brinker (the Hero of Haarlem) to put his superhuman finger in the dyke, eventually a small failure would grow to a catastrophic collapse. We achieved dam-nirvana one fine Spring day when an elderly couple walked their dog to the far end of the strand while it was artificially dry from our exertions, and couldn't get back after the inevitable hydro-engineering failure had re-established the river.

The dining room. A postcard view.
Via Conan Power 

Though our shoes were but little, we tracked unbelievable quantities of sand back into the bleak lino-floored bed-rooms of The Hotel. Wet days were spent in the front-room of The Hotel wrangling and playing cards; watching, through the rain-slattered windows, the showers coming in one after the other across the sea from beyond the Waterford shore. The clock ticked loudly in the hallway and the day inched forward. If we could blag three-pence each from our parents, we went up the village to buy, and be delighted by, Lucky Bags but otherwise we were sustained by the enormous meals cooked by Nan Doyle. She laboured away in a fug of bacon-and-cabbage in the kitchen far down the dark corridor beyond the yeasty clatter of the bar. 

The pinnacle of my day as a young gannet was the appropriately named high tea: the chairs in the dining room made no concession to little legs and my chin barely cleared my plate. But the appetite was undiminished: we ate like arctic explorers to replace the calories whipped away by wind-chill and “bracing” sea-water. After laying a foundation with slabs of white and brown soda-bread cemented with butter-&-jam, washed down by tea the colour of tomato soup, the fry arrived: rashers and sausage and fried egg sprinkled with the acrid black smuts which flaked off from Nan’s enormous black crusted skillet. After that, a selection of Nan-made sponge cakes was presented. We never ate like that at home and I’ve never eaten cakes with such loft, such subtle sweetness and such variety since that time.

Nan Doyle in later years, back row on far right
via Conan Power 

Nan Doyle has long since gone to her rest, The Hotel burned down decades ago and was replaced in the boom-time by some handsome apartments. The crumb of Madeline which sent Proust tumbling back in time to a childhood tea with his Tante Léonie was gone in a minute. My father’s painting, which wrought a similar miracle of time travel for me, has lasted better. I must remember to tell the grand-children the truth about the beach-ball lest they think we had an extravagantly flaithiúlach childhood. 

the fire gutted hotel
via Conan Power 

Pat Baldwin, my father-in-law lives in retirement in Tramore but was born (1925) in Cardiff. His father came from Knockroe just behind Passage East on the Waterford shore but left to become a driver for Pickford’s after WWI. By another weird coincidence, we washed up in another Knockroe, having spent the last 20 years in a townland of that name on the flank of Mt Leinster. A couple of years ago, it was Pat’s 90th birthday and Andrew and Deena of Tides'n'Tales gave the extended descendants of the Baldwin’s of Knockroe a guided walk around the family heritage, finishing up with lunch at Jack Meade’s pub on the Cheekpoint Road. I met a lovely woman, an in-law of the in-laws, who hailed from across the river in Wexford. I mentioned my childhood days on the beach at Duncannnon and the sand on the bedroom floors in The Hotel. She was well familiar with the lightness of Nan Doyle's scones and sponge-cake or her deliciously fat-heavy fries. She had worked in The Hotel as a teenager during school holidays and remembered Nan far better than I did. Six degrees of separation?? Not at all: two degrees is plenty for anyone in Ireland. 

Andrew Lloyd 2012, 2013, 2017 

Like Russianside I blog regularly about science & evolution; islands & maps, food & water, language & codes. Here we go: http://blobthescientist.blogspot.com/

Thanks to Andrew for allowing us this glimpse into a different era. Thanks also for assistance in sourcing photos and further information to Maria Doyle and Conan Power, their time and effort was most appreciated. Conan administers a very interesting Facebook page called Hook Peninsula History Group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/518051638363237/

The last Friday of each month is offered as a space for a guest blog. If you would be interested in submitting a piece I'd be delighted to hear from you at russianside@gmail.com. The only criteria is that the piece needs to be about our maritime heritage, about 1200 words and I can help in editing if required, source photos and add in links etc. I'd also welcome any contributions from younger readers including students. I've run out of friends to pressurise or cajole so please consider 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, 21 July 2017

Barrow railway bridge

111 years ago today a special event train carrying up to 500 invited guests traveled across the the Barrow Bridge to signify the opening of the South West Wexford Line. It would mark a new departure in Irish Sea travel for citizens of the south of Ireland and be a vital link for Wexford in the years to follow. It was certainly a key architectural feature of the harbour in my upbringing and still one of the most amazing structures we have hereabouts.

Built between January 1902 and opened in July 1906 it served the railway faithfully and lived up to the designers and builders earnest efforts. It forded the river Barrow between Drumdowney in Co Kilkenny and Great Island in Co Wexford.  In doing so it connected the railway lines of the south of Ireland to Waterford (via the Suir Bridge) and hence on to Wexford and the new Rosslare harbour and the cross channel ferry service.

Growing up it was a wish of mine to take the train. My mother often got nostalgic when she spoke about it. As a young emigrant to the bright lights of London she remembered passing over the bridge on the way to the boat train in Rosslare. Her last outbound trip was in the winter of 1963. Having come home for the few days of Christmas she returned with her uncle, Christy Moran, and several others from the village including Pat Murphy and Charlie Hanlon and recalled a bonfire lighting in the village, a traditional local custom of farewell, a reminder of where the homefire burned. She returned to Cheekpoint in late 1964 to be married, and never crossed it again.
A postcard of the crossing, from the Great Island Co Wexford side
Initially buses and then cheap air flights started to bite into the viability of the line as a transport option.  But a mainstay was the sugar beet industry.  I worked with a man originally from Thurles some time back. We got talking about the beet trains and the autumn beet campaign that saw trains arriving daily into the town and the entire area a mass of diesel fumes as anything with a trailer was used to ferry beet from the train to the sugar factory. I related how the same trains passed through our lives. Wexford being the centre of the countries sugar beet growing and the beet trains which loaded at Wellingtonbridge had to cross the Barrow to get on to Carlow, Midelton and Thurles. I recalled one day sitting on the back step and a beet train engine almost to the swing section of the bridge before the last beet truck clattered onto the bridge. I lost count of the trucks but it was almost 2000 feet long in my estimation. All this was to change however and the last of the beet factories were shut down in 2006. The question remains though, did the beet factories ever need to close?

With the end of the beet industry and the decline in passenger numbers many fears were expressed for the viability of the line. Trends in sea travel had changed with travellers now encouraged to take a "carcation" Commuter passenger numbers were dwindling too. The car was king. The Passage East Car Ferry which started in 1982 may have also been a contributory factor.
Construction work underway
Finally on Saturday 18th September 2010 the last train crossed over the Barrow Bridge ending the historic link created with the bridges opening in 1906. Another special event train was laid on for the occasion, proving at least, that CIE had some sense of occasion of such a decision. Our neighbour here in the Russianside, Bridgid Power was one of those who made the trip. Another family who made the effort to take the trip was Alice Duffin in the Mount Ave, her daughter Una Sharpe and her grand daughters Emma and Fiona. They got off in Wexford and her dad Brian drove down to bring them home. He drew the short straw! So did my brother in law Maurice, he collected my sister Eileen, his mother Florence RIP and his young family after taking the trip too
A favourite stroll of mine

Although ships still pass through and many is the time we walk it, I never did manage to cross it in a rail car. For now, all I can manage is this virtual roll of the wheels, There have been efforts to revive the line, but it would appear the necessary funds are not forthcoming. Which brings to mind the wonderful Waterford Greenway and surely another viable option for this magnificent architectural gem and related and still accessible railway line. If nothing else it would ensure the route stays open. And the economic argument of the draw of such infrastructure in terms of reviving rural villges and towns is certainly in evidence in Waterford at present.

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, 14 July 2017

The Waterford - Bristol convoy

Sir William Brereton was an English politician and writer who did a tour of Ireland in 1635 and wrote an account of it that is available online. Interesting in itself, what I found fascinating was his departure from Ireland. Brereton sailed on St James Day, July 25th 1635 in a fifty strong convoy, which had gathered at Passage East to await favourable winds.  He sailed on a Royal Navy ship that was required to protect the flotilla from pirates.
one of the Whelps, accessed from
Having traveled to Passage on the 24th he had difficulties finding accommodation, such was the numbers of travelers gathered for the journey. One can only assume it was no different on the Ballyhack side. But on the following day the weather changed.  Here's how Brereton put it;

"... upon St. James day the wind was sufficiently calmed, and stood fair, and they in The Whelp discharged a piece of ordinance to summon us aboard very early, so I was constrained to go aboard without my breakfast...About six hour I went aboard one of the King's ships, called the Ninth Whelp, which is in the King's books 215 ton and tonnage in King's books. She carries sixteen pieces of ordinance, two brass sakers, six iron demi-culverin drakes, four iron whole culverin drakes, and four iron demi-cannon drakes... 

This ship is manned with sixty men...We had (through God's mercy) a quick, pleasant, and dainty passage, for within twenty-six hours after we parted with Ireland, the utmost point I mean of Irish shore, we were landed at Minehead in Somersettshire. 

This is a most dainty, steady vessel, so long as she carries sail, and a most swift sailer, able to give the advantage of a topsail to any of the rest of this fleet, for whom we made many stays, and yet could not keep behind them, so as they did not put up all their sails as they otherwise might, but suited their course to the pace of this fleet, whom they waited upon to waft over from Waterford to Bristoll fair, and to guard them from the Turks, of whom there was here a fear and rumour that they were very busy upon the coast of France. These are full of men, ordinance and small shot..." (1)

As I said, fascinating. But what can take from the account? Well, the Ninth Whelp was part of a fleet of naval ships stationed on the coast of Ireland aimed at protecting the crowns interests and guarding against outside influences on the Irish.(2)  Here's a fascinating piece on the background to the Whelps including the ninth.

St James Fair in Bristol was then the second largest fair in England. It had started in Bristol in 1238 and had grown from a one day event with a few stalls in St James church, to a two week long gathering encompassing the neighbouring streets of the town. It had grown to such an extent, and attracted so many merchants and businesses that it was a prime target of privateers and pirates. The Turks mentioned in Breretons account are the notorious Barbary pirates, who had sacked Baltimore in 1631. The Bristol Channel was patrolled by the Royal Navy in the run up and throughout the fair in an attempt to thwart the threat.
A typical medieval fair scene
accessed from: http://sherwoodforesthistory.blogspot.ie/2012/10/goose-fair.html
The reason for the Waterford convoy then is probably protection. But why was it such a popular event. The following gives a sense of the scale of trade and entertainments at the fair;

"Blankets and woollens from Yorkshire, silks from Macclesfield, linens from Belfast and Lancashire, carpets from Kidderminster, cutlery from Sheffield, hardware from Walsall and Wolverhampton, china and earthenware from Staffordshire and other counties, cotton stockings from Tewkesbury, lace from Buckinghamshire and Devon, trinkets from Birmingham and London, ribbons from Coventry, buck and hog skins for breeches, hats and caps, millinery, haberdashery, female ornaments, sweetmeats and multitudinous toys from various quarters arrived in heavily ­laden wagons and were joined by equally large contributions from the chief industries of the district.

To these again were added nearly all the travelling exhibitions and entertainments then in the country - menageries, circuses, theatres, puppet shows, waxworks, flying coaches, rope-dancers, acrobats, conjurors, pig-faced ladies, living skeletons, and mummers of all sort who attracted patrons by making a perfect din.

It need scarcely be added that the scene attracted a too plentiful supply of pickpockets, thieves, thimble-riggers and swindlers of every genus." (3)

One of the details that the account fails to shed light on is the type of ship and the numbers leaving Waterford harbour. Roger Stalley who has written on medieval travel suggests the most popular type of craft at the time was most probably a Carrack. As regards the numbers carried, accounts of the time of pilgrim ships suggest anything from 50 to 200, and in one notably case from New Ross, 400 pilgrims aboard a single ship. (4)
Parade of sail at 2011 Tall ships, the closest image that comes to mind to compare
Accessed from: http://www.shetlandtimes.co.uk/2011/07/08/christian-radich-with-
Even to take the lower figure of 50 passengers still gives us a head spinning number departing these shores for the journey and underlines the importance and relevance of Waterford and Bristol trade links. Realistically, the numbers would suggest that this represented a large contingent from not just the city, but the surrounding hinterland and towns. Indeed it may also suggest ships from around the coast, gathering into the safety of a naval escorted convoy.  

I don't think any modern reader can imagine the scene, except perhaps if they have seen the parade of sail which we were so lucky to host here in the harbour twice as part of the Tall Ships Festival of 2005 and again in 2011.  Once again however, we have an example of our harbours rich maritime past. One also wonders how many other flotillas departed for similar events down the years, that we had not the fortune to be captured by a writer.

(1)  William Brereton, Travels in Holland, the United Provinces, England, Scotland and Ireland, 1634–1635, ed. and publ. by Edward Hawkins, printed for the Chetham Society, vol. 1 (Manchester 1844.)

(2)  John de Courcy Ireland.  Ireland's Martime Heritage.  1992. Criterion Press. Dublin

(3)  http://www.prsc.org.uk/flying-coaches-and-pig-faced-ladies-reinventing-the-bear-pit/

(4)  Stalley, R. 1988. ‘Sailing to Santiago: Medieval pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and its artistic influences in Ireland’, In Bradley, J. (ed.) Settlement and Society in Medieval Ireland. Studies presented to F.X. Martin, o.s.a. Kilkenny: Boethius Press, 397-420

A very thoughtful and interesting blog on the origins of fairs

Thanks to Damien McLellan for the Roger Stalley paper.

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Friday, 7 July 2017

Honest John Roberts - the harbour connection

John Roberts 1714-1796 was born to a Waterford builder and architect from who it must be imagined he first learned his trade, before heading to London to further his studies. Apparently whilst there, he met and eloped with Susannah Maria Sautelle (1716-1800) and the pair had 24 children. Susannah was the daughter of the Huguenot and the couples first home on returning to Waterford was in Patrick Street.

I read previously that it was his wife’s contacts that landed him his first big break. Bishop Este was having a palace constructed on Waterford's mall. On his death work ceased but his successor Bishop Chevenix, another Huguenot, turned to Roberts to oversee the completion of what we now know as the Bishops Palace.

John and Susannah's home in Cathedral Sq, Waterford
marked by the Civic Trust blue plaque system
Roberts never looked back and his career from that point forward has been well recorded and celebrated, and its often mentioned that he has a unique distinction of being the architect of two cathedrals of different faiths in the one city; Christ church and Holy Trinity. Speaking for myself, I find my favourite building in Waterford to be his townhouse for the Morris family that we now refer to as the Chamber of Commerce building at the top of Gladstone Street, with its imposing view of the quay and his amazing internal staircase. I have speculated before that he was the architect of Faithlegg House, as he lived not more than 100 yards from it on what was called Roberts Mount, or Mount Roberts, which gives us a tangible harbour connection mentioned in the title. Faithlegg was his country mansion, but his townhouse was the old Bishops Palace, Cathedral Square.

Honest of course comes from a habit of his, of paying his workmen in small coins, freeing them of the obligation of going into pubs to make change, and also in paying half their wage to their spouses. Another admiral character trait however seems to have led to his undoing. He had a preference to oversee all elements of his work. On his last commission, the catholic cathedral in Waterford, he died. But had he been residing in Faithlegg perhaps he would have lived to complete the building?
Theater Royal, on Waterford's Mall
The story has it that he was an early riser and was normally on the job to greet his workers and supervise the days activities. In the days before he died he woke and went to work as usual. However, on this occasion he was a few hours early and so rather than return to his home he sat down to await the workers. He fell asleep and when he awoke, he had caught a chill. This turned to pneumonia and some days later he died; 23rd May 1796. 
Christ Church
However, had he been staying at his Faithlegg address isn’t it probable that when arising he would have had to have roused the stable boy to get his horse and carriage ready, or his boat man to ferry him to the city, three miles upriver? And surely either of them would have remarked to their master that it was indeed an early hour for such a trip. And just as likely their aged master would have turned on his heels and retired either to his bed chamber or his kitchen. Alas it was not to be. Maybe at 80 years of age, he was ready to take his final rest, however, one wonders had he lived another ten years what other architectural gems would Waterford boast.

Joe Falvey gives this great account:  http://www.munster-express.ie/opinion/views-from-the-brasscock/the-john-roberts-story/

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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Sunday, 2 July 2017

Buen Camino - First steps on "The Way"

I recently returned from my first adventure on walking the Camino de Compostela.  It was a ten day trip that my son Joel and I started from James Rice's tomb in Waterford with a plan to walk from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Logrono in Spain. I have had so many asking how it went I decided to transcribe some of those thoughts I committed to paper as I went, in the hope that it might assist others thinking of setting off.  Its not so much my personal thoughts as some nuts and bolts reflections on the actual route.

Firstly I have to say that getting there was so easy. We departed Dublin airport on Friday 16th on a 7.10am flight to Biarritz in SW France.  We stepped off around 10.10 (adding an hour for the time zone) and walked through the customs area and to the first bus stop outside on the left.  There we waited about a minute and a bus pulled up, with an electronic message board stating "Bayonne Gare" - Bayonne Train Station, which was where we would get a train to St Jean Pied de Port.  It cost €1 and the bus swept us along with its final stop outside a beautiful old ornate building which housed the station.  As we walked in the electronic ticket booth was on our right, and it gave an option for selecting your preferred language! €20.40 for two single tickets.  It departed within ten minutes filled with Camino bound walkers.

Fifty minutes later we arrived at St Jean Pied de Port.  Although we were unsure of what to do we opted to follow the crowd and we were led directly to the Camino office in Rue de la Citadelle where a helpful American gave me a very useful guide of all the hostels (albergues) along the route along with the costs and the services they provide.  
Porte St-Jacques, leading out to the Pyrenees
A credential was available here for €2, but as I already had mine posted from the Camino Society of Ireland, he stamped it and wished me my first Buen Camino, the traditional greeting or salute to fellow pilgrims as you pass along the way. The credential was our pilgrim passport, without which you could not get into a pilgrim hostel, and as you went along there were many opportunities to pick up a stamp, churches, hostels, cafes etc...each one becoming a little treasure or keepsake, imparting a specific memory of a place or time.

Outside Joel and I discussed what to do. It was about noon and although were were tired we opted for some lunch and to get a head start on our journey heading off to Orrison about 8km into the foothills of the Pyrenees. A beautiful stroll and although steep coming near the end, we covered it easily.  The hostess at the albergue was shocked when I stated we had not booked ahead, but she managed to find us a bed in an overflow building at 1km back down the hill. (we never booked ahead trusting we would get a bed and it was always so, but perhaps at a busier time of year this would be foolhardy)  It cost us €15 with cold showers but we slept fine and at least we had a good start for the next day. The hardest part was retracing our steps. Having climbed so far, we both resented giving up the yardage, but a bed is a bed.

Day 2
We were off at about 6.30am, picking up a quick coffee at the main albergue to give us a caffeine lift. The climb was steep, but the views stunning and around each bend or hill top was a new and more magnificent scene. Large birds of prey swept over our heads, seven at one specific time. I speculated that they were Condors. The cattle, sheep and horses grazed on the scarce grassland and shepherds were a constant occurrence, checking their livestock from what I imagined to be temporary homes on the hill tops. A distinct feature were bells on the necks of cattle and horses and the chimes were a companionable sound to the stillness of the hill top.

Although I found the climbing hard, Joel was in his element, even diverting off the path to nearby hill tops for an extra challenge, while he waited my catching up. Finding the path is easy, the signage is excellent, even without a map, but we do have Brierleys guide for reference which is excellent. It is essential also in giving a guide to the climbs (up or down) on each days journey...it's as well to be prepared.  We stopped for a breakfast of some sandwiches I had made at home at a drinking fountain, which I think was Col et fontaine de Bentarte. We crossed from France to Spain without any ceremony or discernible markings and walked through some wonderful beech forestry towards the summit at Col de Lepoeder. From here we took the steep path down to Roncesvalles which was treacherous at times, but shaded. An alternative, longer path, was used by many others who found it much easier. The plants and tress are very familiar to me which I find surprising, and I spend a lot of time just watching nature as I wander along.

We arrived into the old monastery before 12 noon.  Although hot, Joel was keen to move on.  I on the other hand wanted to stay, to rest and soak up the atmosphere of the place. We had a beer at a local bar, and then lunch at another spot and at 2pm were were able to check in to the albergue. After a shower and a wash of our clothes we got them onto a clothes line outside and then I went for a siesta. Joel to the bar. At 6pm there was mass in the beautiful nearby church which many of the fellow pilgrims attended and afterwards two choral groups performed a concert. By 8pm I was tired and longing for bed.  Looking forward to another days walking.  The laundry was dry, so I laid out the following mornings clothing, packed everything else away and got a great nights sleep.

At this point the rhythm of the road is starting to settle in.  Up early, pack away, fill the drinking bottle and out walking.  A stop for a coffee and a small sandwich (Bocadillos) or a slice of omelette (our favourite I think and came in many varieties and locally called Tortillas) after a few hours walking.  By lunch we were either at our destination or settling down to a siesta and doing an extra few kilometers in the evening. Today was such a day and we arrived about 4pm in Larrasoana, tired and hot.  The heat is becoming a real factor, and it was only later that evening when we got talking to a Spanish walker named Ramon that we realised how extreme. It had reached 37 degrees during the day. Ramon was saying it ten degrees hotter than normal, and we should walk accordingly.  

Our fellow walkers are an interesting bunch and we are both quick to say hello and get at least on first name terms. Some you get to know briefly never to see again, others are with you for a few days at a time. Some I avoided; a man in a monks robe with Mother Theresa emblazoned front and back, others I welcomed if only for a yard or two along the way. Many names stay with you, many stories, and many more you can only speculate upon.  I tried to be never nosy, always willing to lend a hand, sure in the knowledge that it is returned in spades.  I came upon John Paul today, he was dazed, and lost on the high hills outside of Zubiri. All around us the smell of pine was intoxicating, but my new Italian friend was oblivious to it.  He had become overcome with heat and had turned back up the hill, fearful he had become lost.  After rest, and a drink and my reassurance we set off down the path.  He held on at the steep parts, and slowly we wound our way into the town where he quickly found a fellow countrywoman who took him in charge.  I often thought of him after.

Dinner was problematic that evening as the menu was far from appetising in the local bar.  Many of our follow walkers refused the Pilgrim Menu, including Joel who opted for a burger off the main menu, which left a lot to be desired, but the bottle of wine he ordered, helped it all slip down and I was happy to join him in that. The pilgrim menu seems to divide opinion.  Some say it is just a slapped together meal of whatever is cheap and handy, but it is usually €10 and with three courses including wine, it will at least fill you up.  Many times we went for something lighter but for about the same cost.  On occasions when we did have it, it was indeed hit or miss. An interesting thread here on the same topic.

I'm also unsure about the benefits felt by locals of us walkers.  We don't buy much, most of us are on a strict budget, and even if there was something that you fancied, how would you carry it, when everything goes on your back. (there is a bag collection service available at the albergues, and I counted no less than 4 companies offering it in one place.  Basically for €5 your bag can be collected and dropped off at another albergue at a set distance, I think 25km was the limit)  As I walked I became more conscious of how we are perceived by locals.  In many cases I think we are tolerated as we go, but perhaps would not be missed. I was careful to always say Bunos Dias or Hola, and generally this was returned, but how would I feel if hundreds of walkers passed me every day as I worked in my vinyard! What do we bring to the Camino, rather than take from it.  A question I have left unanswered.

Day 4 - 6
And on we went in that rhythm.  Pamplona was wonderful to visit and though we had the look around it was very touristy and we were keen to be on the road. We walked later that evening towards Zariquiegui as the sun beated down on us and at one point found blissful shade under an old knarelled olive tree.  There we rested and chatted away about how easy it would be to sleep right there. Sleeping outside was becoming a real thought, the heat was getting more uncomfortable as we went on, and even at night the temperature never went so low that you would want to creep inside a sleeping bag. Continuing on we found two albergues in the village and so slept another night indoors. The following morning we made an easy climb to Alto del Perdon and got a photo of the rising sun against the Monumento Perrgrino.

We made Estella that day as we had the sun behind cloud for much of the morning and so felt energised after the interminable heat. It came out as we entered Lorca and those last 3.7km were a struggle, but a shower and a rest in the very airy municipal albergue soon put us right. The following morning we visited the Irache wine fountain, and weaving our way through fellow pilgrims became a bit of a bother.  Many appeared to be out for a day trip, wandering along chatting in Spanish, a small back back and walking sticks in each hand creating extra hurdles for us to pass. 

We chose Brierley's alternative path over the hill, through the nobel firs and down into Luquin where we breakfasted and then took on the long unshaded path to Los Arcos.  Pure drudgery in blinding sun.  I counted two trees on the road and a roadside cantena for a water stop.  We were parched by the time we made Los Arcos, but really enjoyed the beautiful church in the town square.  We rested up after lunch before setting out for Torres del Rio, a road I have to say that tried me to the core. Again blinding heat, endless wheat fields, and although there was a promise of rain on the far away hills, nothing but a whisp of a breeze occasionally reached me.  Joel had powered on ahead.  My walking companion and I are completely incompatible.  I choose shade, he wants sun, I love cool, he loves heat, I like to eat at lunch time, he prefers food in the evening, I like to be up early and in bed likewise, he wants to sleep in and be out all night.  Arriving at Torres del Rio that evening I was wrecked, but Joel was wondering if I was up for another 10km.  

That path tested me to my core.  All along I had been drawn to nature, marveling at the little things, wild flowers, streams, natural fords, field patters, a solitary robin on a blackthorn tree, lines of ants across the dusty roads, dragging wheat kernals back to their colonies. Always mindful to step over them, that afternoon as my feet began to drag, I started to loose interest.  Away to the south I could see huge cloud formations and dreamed of the rain it was dropping somewhere, perhaps 50km away. As my mouth dried, and my eyes stung with sweat and my feet started to blister I had only one thought which was to lie down and rest.  And then out of the corner of my eye I spotted the one thing that I had wished Joel was here with me for...a si gaoithe, a fairy wind.  It picked up right in front of me in the road, whipping up the dust into a spiralled colum and dropping it again seconds later.  I was disappointed at how quickly it had started and finished.  And then it happened again, this time in the newly mown wheatfield.  The straw was whipped up and carried skywards and slowly as the momentum in the updraft dissipated the straws floated down around me.  I felt blessed to have seen it, and then sorry that Joel was so far on that we could not share it, like we had when he was only a boy all those years before in a fishing boat on the Suir. The scene spurred me on, and later when we met up he was as happy as I was to have seen a similar event further along the road.

That night the heat really got to me, at 1am I walked out in my shorts and lay down on a bench, but the heat was all around me. I was dressed and walking by 5.30am and had told Joel I would meet him in Logrono.  I reached it at 11am, Joel was ten minutes after me, having slept until 7am.  After another night of lying in oven-like conditions, we decided to head to Bilboa and some air.  Sorry to leave the Camino behind, but happy to be heading back towards the family.

1.  I watched and read numerous items about what to pack and what to wear.  When you opt to carry everything in a backpack you need to be choosey. What I packed;
A water bottle for drinking - drinking fountains were in every town and village we passed through, the water is perfect, no need to buy it, we topped up at every fountain we came to.
two tee shirts (only used one - evening wear)
two underpants - essential
two pair of walking socks - essential
two pants - one shorts, one with detachable legs - essential
a fleece (never used once) 
a towel - essential
clothes pegs - handy, but perhaps not essential
a water proof mac in a sac - never opened (still bring it if going again though)
a toilet roll - what was I thinking??
a pair of flip flops - essential after wearing walking boots all day
First aid - Compeedes were essentail - got blisters in the heat
sun block
Hat - I had to replace mine as it was too heavy  and buy a new sun hat en route 
Sleeping bag - handy to lie on, but to all intents and purposes irrelevant in the heat, and most albergues were spotlessly clean

And you can buy anything on the way in any modest sized town

2. Footwear.  We both wore walking boots which were well broken in and comfortable.  I can honestly say however, that runners (or even walking sandles in the vast majority of places) would have sufficed for everywhere we walked.  Perhaps the weather conditions played a crucial role in this.

3. Budget - set a budget of €30 per day each.  Easily kept to and it would be relatively easy to stay at €20 as my appetite was not so large in the heat.  We paid between €6-15 for a bed which included showers, toilets, kitchen in many cases and laundry facilities (in some cases this was just warm water and a clothes line).  The Pilgrim menu was generally €10 and a beer or glass of wine was just over a euro.  Water was freely available on the route.  A small breakfast cost about €3.50 including coffee.

 4. I miss the walking and the company.  Hard to say it but turning away from the Camino was harder than I made it sound in my conclusion. I loved the rhythm of the road. I loved being in nature, of looking ahead to a new turn in the road and what it would bring, to meeting new people, to sharing a hostel, a shade break, a meal with folk who were on the road with me. I enjoyed having to think of nothing but my journey, enjoyed not having social media, no phone calls, no work.  It was a freedom to concentrate solely on walking, I found it relaxing, peaceful and indeed joyful. The Camino gave me a wonderful feeling, one that I sorely miss, and one I want to get back to as soon as funds will allow.