Waterford Harbour

Waterford Harbour
Cheekpoint village 1940's

Friday, 28 April 2017

The Lighters - work boats of the River Suir

Some boats are just not sexy.  Sailing ships, paddle steamers, even smokey steam boats returning from foreign shores all have their appeal. But work boats tend to get a poor press, except perhaps amongst the men that plied their trade among them.  One that surely fits this category is the Lighter, the river transporter par excellence and one that is now confined to memory. I know of nothing extant and no plans for a replica.  So today's guest blog is very special to me.  I was put on to the source of the information by David Carroll, but the writer today is Leslie Dowley and his topic; The Lighters of the River Suir.

Waterford’s unique location in the south-east corner of Ireland allowed for easy access to ports in the UK and continental Europe. It was also serviced by two of Ireland’s largest rivers, the Barrow and the Suir. The former serviced counties Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford and was tidal as far north as St. Mullins in Co. Carlow. The latter serviced counties Kilkenny, Tipperary and Waterford and was tidal as far west as Carrick-on-Suir in Co. Tipperary. These counties were among the top food producers in Ireland and the long tidal stretches made it easy to transport goods up and down the rivers in large boats. This resulted in Waterford becoming one of Ireland's leading ports for the import and export of goods. By the early nineteenth century, Waterford was the second largest port in Ireland (after Dublin) in terms of commercial traffic. 

Prior to the “great famine” Waterford had some £2.5 m worth of exports and £1.7 m worth of imports and was therefore a net exporter. The exports where nearly all food stuffs, as prior to the famine, Ireland was exporting sufficient food to feed 2 million people in the UK and had gained the name of being the “breadbasket of England”. In 1832 the volume of goods going down stream from Carrick-on-Suir was estimated to have been 11,527 tons of flour, 28,678 barrels of wheat, 19,445 barrels of oats, 3,878 barrels of barley, 1,028 tons of butter, 139 tons of lard and 63,751 sides of bacon. 

In the tidal areas, the main boats used to transfer goods to and from the ships in Waterford were known as a “Lighters”. These were a type of flat-bottomed wooden barge which were about 71 feet long and 16 feet wide and could carry up to 40 tons. The lighter’s had a crew of two and they used 30 foot steel-shod poles for manoeuvring at close quarters and to keep the boat in the tidal stream. While the main power was generated by the rising or ebbing tide each crew member was equipped with a 35/36 foot oar or “sweep” which swiveled on a 2 inch oak dowel. These were used to increase propulsion and each stroke meant walking six steps forward and six back. The lighter men were very skilled operators, with intimate knowledge of the river, its currents and tides. The journey from Waterford to Carrick normally took two tides while the reverse journey took at least 8 hours. While Carrick was the main destination upstream, there were wharf's at regular intervals for the unloading of coal from the lighters. This was due to the delivery radius of a coal-horse being some two miles.
Lighters being poled into position in Waterford
By 1835 there were some 88 boats operating between Carrick and Waterford. In 1836, the Suir Navigation Company was founded to control all commercial traffic on the Suir and to improve and maintain the navigation. One of its first projects was the construction of the “navigation cut” at Carrick, which allowed the lighters to avoid the weir at Carrick Castle and enter the harbour at periods other than high tide. To finance these ventures, the hauliers were empowered to charge one penny per ton on all goods transported more than one mile west of the bridge in Waterford. The main investors were Lord Bessborough, Lalor of Cregg, Richard Sausse, the Grubbs of Clonmel, William O’Donnell and the Dowleys of Carrick-on-Suir. 

In the same year there were 93 boats employing 200 men on the stretch of river between Carrick and Clonmel. The boats on this route were known as yawls and carried about 14 tons. They were initially towed upstream by a team of men, but were later replaced by horsepower. The route to Clonmel was dogged with industrial action. In 1918 there was a strike which went on until February 1919 and the route to Clonmel was finally abandoned by Dowleys, who were the sole operators at the time.

Yawls in Carrick awaiting a cargo for Clonmel
Many of the lighters and yawls were built in the Carrick-on-Suir area. Three firms of boat-builders are listed in Slater’s Directory of Ireland of 1870 and one of them, Keogh Brothers, were still active in 1919 according to Kenny’s Irish Manufacturers’ Directory of that year. 

In 1877 J. Ernest Grubb founded the Suir Steam Navigation Company and was the owner and sole shareholder. In the same year he bought the steam tug the “Fr. Matthew”. It could tow four lighters to a maximum of 160 tons and could also carry passengers to fairs in Waterford. This improved the commercial use of the river and the stores on the quayside were a hive of activity and employment. By the end of the nineteenth century the route to Waterford was dominated by J. Ernest Grubb with the steam tug the “Fr. Matthew” while the others using the route included Thomas Butler, the Healy’s, T. G. Howell & Co., Richard Walsh of New St. and Edward Dowley of New St. 

In 1912 J. Ernest Grubb retired and his grain business was sold to Edward Dowley & Sons Ltd. while the Suir Steam Navigation Company was sold to Richard Walsh of New St. In the same year Dowleys bought a tug of their own, the Knocknagow I, for service between Carrick and Waterford. The Knocknagow II was added soon afterwards and both were used to tow lighters also.
The fully laden Knocknagow II making way from Carrick to Waterford
In 1923, Dowleys and Walshs attempted to reduce the rivermen’s wages. This resulted in a series of strikes and the river trade was further disrupted by a dockers strike in Waterford. All of this hastened the demise of the river trade in favour of the more dependable road transport. The civil war led to some revival in the river trade as road and rail traffic was disrupted by the blowing up of strategic railway bridges. However this revival was only temporary.

The Knocknagow I with a lighter being loaded in Carrick
In 1927 there were further strikes by the rivermen and the river trade never fully recovered from these disputes. In the same year Edward Dowley & Sons Ltd. purchased the Suir Steam Navigation Company from Walsh’s which effectively ended Walsh’s involvement with the river trade. 

During the Second World War the two Knocknagows continued to ply the route between Waterford and Carrick when fuel for road transport was in short supply. The lighters also served the town well during the war. 

After the war Edward Dowley & Sons Ltd purchased another two barges in the UK called the Rocksand and the New Forge. They also bought a cement barges that was towed by the Knocknagow. The imminent arrival of a cement boat in Carrick caused a lot of debate in the local pubs and bets were being laid as to whether a cement boat could float or not. It did float and was 100 ft long by 24 ft wide and 13 ft high. However, it was very cumbersome and an ill-advised purchase and its’ use was abandoned not long after. The Knocknagows kept operating up to 1973 when they were sold and this effectively marked the end of commercial trade on the river Suir.

My thanks to Leslie for this piece of vital maritime social history. You can read more of his amazing family history on his family website. Our next guest blog is due for May 26th and at this point I may have two to choose from.  We have several others in writing I'm told and would still be open to some female contributions.  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 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 connect with me to receive the blog every week.  Simply email me to request to be added to my email list at russianside@gmail.com.



Sunday, 23 April 2017

The magical Faithlegg Salt marsh walk

When Arthur Young, the noted agriculturalist and travel writer visited the Faithlegg area in 1776 and again in 1778 he was an enthusiastic supporter of the works of Cornelius Bolton, the elder and his younger son of the same name. One of his observations was that he had planted over 300 acres of forest and was starting to reclaim lands from the river. We know this as he put it all down in a book.

On a recent heritage ramble we walked from Cornelius the younger's home, the present Faithlegg House Hotel. Walking through the old farmyard, we strolled down what was once a wrought iron fenced walkway lined with lime trees and then via the glen road into the woods where swathes of emerging bluebells dipped their heads in welcome.


The woods of course are now a Coillte forest, the stumps of  Bolton's forest of oaks can still be discerned in places, and the old place name, the Glazing woods, connects us back in time when the Penrose family made a product synonymous with the family in Glasshouse, Co Kilkenny, a stones throw across the River Suir.  Locally it's said the timber that fired the kiln came from Boltons woods.

Our walk took us to the outskirts of Cheekpoint and then we looped back to the Hotel via the magical salt marsh, where the Boltons once reclaimed land from the mighty Suir, but which eventually demanded it's return.  The landscape tells the story, stone quarried from the towering cliffs, carried by cart and laid out into the river, built up in time to shut out the raging tides and crashing waves. Inside the protective embankment filling of hardcore, subsoil and topsoil built up to create a verdant layer which gave more than a hundred years of productive agriculture.  

It's arrogance to assume that we can ever do anything, but borrow from nature, and sometime in the 1930's the river came to reclaim its property. Crashing through it laid waste to the toil of humans and spread its salty liquid into the soil.  Now it's home to otters, red squirrel, pine marten and foxes, egrets, swans and ducks, winter visitors such as red shank or godwit and a foraging ground for kestrel and buzzard. Its a magical place because it is always changing, always exciting to the curious, always begging questions. It excels in autumn but throughout the year it provides a home, a meal and an escape. But it belongs to the river, and to nature, and we need to respect that.

On the day 50 visitors came, and Deena and I had to call on the services of our ever supportive friend John O'Sullivan and his faithful companion Ozzi to act as sweep. Although we prefer a smaller group where you can chat and get to know people the feedback was very positive and our friends Jean and Paul of Waterford in your Pocket  made a beautiful piece of video for facebook to capture the spirit of the day. And Mark of Waterford Epic Locations was also along so that everyone can appreciate the magic of the Salt marsh  via this piece of drone footage he uploaded to you tube.

The next walk will be on the May Bank Holiday Monday.  Details are on the event page on Facebook and we will post updates and other snippets of information there.  The walk will look at the built heritage of the area, is 2km approx and should take 1.5 hours.  Appropriate foot ware for walking on farmland advised. 

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 connect with me to receive the blog every week.  Simply email me to request to be added to my email list at russianside@gmail.com.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Chasing the Smugglers - Waterford harbour Coastguards 1822

The HM Coastguard service was created in 1822 when the Revenue Cruisers, Riding officers, and the Preventative Waterguard were amalgamated into a single force to try tackle incidents of smuggling and to enforce the collection of taxes. Waterford was in the top three ports of the country and required a significant force to patrol the coast and the harbour entrance. The administrative base for the port of Waterford and New Ross was the city, but the operations were at their busiest at Passage East and Ballyhack.
Passage East and Ballyhack on the opposite bank
via Paul O'Farrell
We saw in my cousin James Doherty's guest blog a few weeks back, that smuggling was a constant issue for the crown in the waters around Waterford, and indeed Ireland. It was seen as a legitimate way to do business and it could be argued by local merchants as a legitimate way of engaging in trade when seen against the harsh taxes and controls placed on irish merchants by the crown. The smugglers used a variety of methods; hiding contraband in legitimate cargo, running ship loads of illicit cargo, transferring cargo to others such as fishing boats or calling to out of the way drop off points along the coast and harbour to off load part of their cargo. The enforcement of tax collection and the prevention of smuggling then, required a vast force.

A government paper1 of the time gives a list of the roles, the numbers employed and the costs associated with maintaining the Coastguard service at Waterford and New Ross.  In total, 92 men were employed.
A well armed preventative man!  Accessed from
http://hastingschronicle.net/features/hastings-coastguards-and-smugglers/
The top was shared by two positions the Collector and the Comptroller, their chief duty seems to have more to do with keeping each other in check, than overseeing the collection of tax (a seemingly regular enough practice within the structure of the organisation). Under them were several clerks, storekeepers and surveyors to ensure the smooth administration of a vast network of river related roles.  The Office of Waterford was housed in the customs house, based on the quays but we can see from the document a sub office in New Ross, and a presence at Dunmore, Cheekpoint but principally at Passage East, and I presume Ballyhack.

Passage and Ballyhack are an obvious site, due to their strategic location. Ships could reach the villages under sail without too much difficulty and there anchor to await unloading by the lighter boats, sailing when tide and wind allowed and/or towing to ports by the hobblers.  First aboard was the Tide Surveyor (earlier called tyde) to check the manifest and cargo and ensure all was in order. The particulars of the ships cargo and journey was taken for record. A Tide Waiter (wayter) was left aboard the ship to ensure that nothing was removed from the vessel and he would stay with the ship day and night. The Waiters would leave if the cargo was moved to a lighter, or remain aboard and travel upriver if the ship headed to Waterford or Ross. Once arriving in port, the waiter presented himself to the custom house to account for the cargo, the unloading being carried out by porters, supervised by landing waiters, and these under the supervision of Land Surveyors.

A fleet of boatmen and craft serviced the coastguard, ensuring ease of transport to and from vessels and between the lower harbour and the ports.  Meanwhile along the coastline further watchers were stationed.  These included coast officers and walking officers and also men on horseback known as riding officers. Between them they would keep a watch on approaching ships and would effectively follow them along the coast to Passage or Ballyhack, handing over responsibility and providing any observations to the Surveyor on duty.

The total cost of the operation at the time was £8,005 which I presume was for the year. The most numerous employees were working as tide waiters and supernumerary tide waiters which numbered 42 men alone.
An advert to twart the smugglers
Accessed from: http://jennywattstreasure.com/
history-of-smuggling-in-ireland-bootlegging/

I was interested to note that there was a also a Tidy Surveyor in position at Dunmore East.  It must be presumed this role was the oversee the Mail packet station as it operated from here at the time. Contemporary and historical works suggest the Packet service in general was a regular method of smuggling, either in the ships manifest or by individual crew.

Try as the coastguard might, the numbers of vessels and the ingenuity of sailors and merchants, created a constant supply of smuggled goods. It would take a fundamental shift in government policy towards free trade and fairer taxes later in the century before the problem started to be effectively addressed.2
  
For more on this subject The Waterford Archaeological & Historical Society's next lecture is on 28th April at 8 p.m. in St Patricks Gateway, Patrick St, Waterford,  The lecture is "The Forgotten Force." by Mr James Doherty and will look at H.M. Coastguard in pre-independence Ireland. Regulations, Roles and Responsibilities.  €5 for non-members, free for members

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 connect with me to receive the blog every week.  Simply email me to request to be added to my email list at russianside@gmail.com.


1. Detailed Account of Establishment for Collection of Customs and Ports of Ireland 1821-22.  Enhanced British Parliamentary Papers on Ireland

2. King's Cutters and Smugglers 1700-1855, by E. Keble Chatterton

Here's some very interesting information on smuggling and the Coast Guard service from West Waterford via the county museum:  
http://www.waterfordmuseum.ie/exhibit/web/Display/article/369/6/Ardmore_Memory_and_Story__The_Sea_The_Coastguard_Service.html

For more on the operations at Waterford and specifically Passage, see Decies #31 by Francis Murphy
http://snap.waterfordcoco.ie/collections/ejournals/100748/100748-1.pdf

Friday, 14 April 2017

The Cheekpoint "cowboys" who lassoed a floating mine

As children in the 1970's one of our favourite games was Cowboys and Indians. Everyone wanted to be John Wayne, or indeed Clint Eastwood as it was the era of the spaghetti western. On one occasion we were making a lasso out of some rope in the yard when my father fell to telling us about the Cheekpoint fishermen who had lassoed a floating mine. He had our eyes 'out on sticks' as they say in his embellished telling.

My Father of course was Bob Doherty, sometimes known as the Hatter, and considered by many to be as mad.  He was renowned for his stories, many of them tall indeed, but a recurring theme in my blog stories in which he features is that he like all great story tellers based his best on facts.

"The lads were coming down the barrow from fishing eels when they spotted the mine, a remnant of the just finished WW II, floating towards the Barrow Bridge.  As they rowed around the mine, they realised that the tide was taking it towards the opening span wharf and that if it hit it, the whole bridge could go.  Well as they debated it, they heard the noise of an approaching train. In a flash they fashioned a lasso out of some rope aboard, and getting as close they dared, they managed after a few attempts to get the line around the mine and then rowed it away." "Jesus" said someone, "that was close one". "Close" said me father, "As the train came across the bridge the driver blew the whistle the whole way to the tunnel, several passengers fainted, while the other roared and cheered"
The opening span of the Barrow Bridge allowing access and egress
from the port of New Ross
Lassos were all the rage after that, and it was all we could talk about for weeks. I often heard the story retold, but my fathers version of course bet all. Needless to say as an adult it became a more sober telling, and there are several contemporary versions in the newspapers, including the Munster Express, Kilkenny People, Irish Independent and Cork Examiner.

The men of course were Jack Heffernan and Jack O'Connor, both of the Rookery, Cheekpoint.  The year was 1946 and the second world war (or Emergency as we called it) had just finished.  As a consequence many dangerous experiences were had with floating mines.  What we can gleam from the newspapers (which contain several accounts of the same story) is that the men spotted the mine, and managed to alert the Guards at Passage.  It doesn't say how.  And I can't say whether they managed to call from the phone box in Molly Doherty's shop at the cross roads, or if that was not there at the time did they run to Passage itself. The authorities alerted, a bomb disposal unit from the Curragh Camp was dispatched.
Barrow Bridge, the mine was located to the left at Drumdowney
Meanwhile 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. I can't say if this was by the same duo or not.  But whoever done it, it was a risky act, but it proved essential in containing the issue. Although the boat train departed from Waterford that evening, it was decided to close off the bridge to rail and shipping on the Saturday and both the morning train to Waterford (6.50am) and the 9.40am market train from Waterford stopped and departed from Campile Station in Co Wexford. Bus transfers were used to get around the situation.  
A sense of what the mine may have looked like
The bomb disposal unit, under Comdt. Fynes, 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, allowing the 5.30pm boat train depart Waterford in safety.

Although the facts in these cases are all important, I presume the younger reader would still enjoy my fathers telling even more.

Why not join us on Monday for our free bank holiday ramble departing Faithlegg House at 11am, where these and other stories will make up part of our walk.

Other stories about mines or the barrow bridge you might enjoy.


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, 7 April 2017

Attack on USS Cassin- Waterford coast 1917

I like anniversaries.  It's an opportunity to remember, and a chance to cast our minds back to how life was at a specific time in the past. This week marks the 100 anniversary of the Americans joining the First World War.  It was only in recent years I realised that it had a direct bearing on us here in Waterford as the ships of her navy used our harbour and port, patrolled off our coastline and engaged their enemy in deadly confrontations. One of the stories that caught my eye concerned a engagement off Mine Head in West Waterford that would see the naval vessel saved but a crew man die, but ultimately make his own piece of history.  The rescue mission happened as the ship drifted helplessly to the Hook. 
USN subcahser SC 272  at anchor at Passage East
circa 1918 with thanks to Paul O 'Farrell
World War one was a bloody and brutal conflict, but I was generally unaware until recent years of its proximity to us here in Waterford. The southern approach to England was of course just off the Waterford coast and was known as one of the "killing lanes" by the German Navy.  Having traveled the relative safety of a broad Atlantic, as allied or neutral ships approached the continent they faced the narrow access channels to English ports.

As ships approached the Irish coast they could encounter torpedo or deck gun attack from subs. Meanwhile entering port the threat of mines was every present.  The British however were severely stretched, and their commander of the Southern Command, Admiral Bayly was hard pressed to get extra resources or indeed for his superiors to recognise the threat faced by the U Boat menace.

The American declaration of war could not have come at a more important time. Germany had announced an "unrestricted U Boat campaign" in February of 1917 conscious as they were of the balance of the war and the belief that if supply lanes could be cut to the English, the war would swing to the German side.

Six destroyers of the Eight Division sailed from New York on the 24th April 1917 arriving to Cork ten days later on Friday 4th May.  Within days they would be patrolling the Irish coast, picking up ships, troop carriers, cargo boats or other neutral craft and escorting them towards the English coast or in reverse; to the relative safety of the Atlantic. Over time the flotilla grew to include Destroyers, Cruisers, Submarines and Anti-Submarine boats. Although their activities were primarily based out of Cobh or Bearhaven in west Cork the fleet became a regular feature along the coast including Waterford and Wexford.
USS Cassin at Queenstown (now Cobh) Co Cork
accessed from http://destroyerhistory.org/early/usscassin/
Such work naturally gave rise to many run ins and close calls.  One such events was the attack on the USS Cassin. The Cassin was on patrol off Mine Head in Co Waterford when she spotted a U boat running on the surface and engaged her.  When a torpedo was spotted running towards the ship. Gunners Mate Osmond Kelly Ingram realised that given the track of the torpedo, that it was liable to strike the depth charges on the stern of his ship. and that if that occurred the whole ship would probably explode.  Consequently he raced aft and facing certain death, he proceeded to release the ordnance into the sea. As he worked the torpedo struck and in the ensuing explosion he was blown overboard, his body never retrieved.  Despite his efforts almost thirty feet was blown from the stern of the ship and 9 crew were injured. The ship however remained afloat, and without a rudder drifted helplessly in a SW gale up the Waterford coast towards the rocks of Hook head.

The U boat in question was U 61.  Having disabled her quarry the u Boat followed to complete the job.  She had used her last torpedo in the attack, and was probably hoping to finish the job with her deck gun.  The Cassin may have been disabled, but her guns were functioning and when fired on, the U Boat dived and disappeared.
Osmond Kelly Ingram accessed from
 http://www.navsource.org/archives/05/255.htm
With their communications down and their vessel barely afloat the Cassin crew worked to raise the alarm and a makeshift antennae was mounted and a SOS sent.  The first ship to assist was the USS Porter, joined later by the British ships HMS Jessamine and HMS Tamarisk.  The Cassin at this stage was dangerously close to the rocks of Hook head and with a gale blowing and direct rescue attempt was impossible.  Tow lines were cast but could not reach.  Eventually an Australian volunteer on the HMS Tamarisk, was sent off in a ships boat with a tow line attached and in total darkness and heavy seas managed to reach the Cassin.  The tow line secured she was pulled away from the rocks and following refurbishment, eventually returned to service.
The damaged section of the USS Cassin accessed from
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Cassin_(DD-43)
As far as I am aware Ingram was the first enlisted American sailor to die in the war, giving us a distinction that we probably do not want.  But for his selfless efforts, Osmond Ingram was awarded the Medal of Honour and was the first ever enlisted man to have a naval ship named after him: USS Osmond Ingram.


Much of the specifics of the USS Cassin story were taken directly from:
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