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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to receive the blog every week.
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