Arming the IRA – BGHS Talk

Arming the IRA – Running guns into Waterford Harbour 1921

By early summer of 1921, the IRA was facing a crisis in its conflict with British forces – a severe shortage of arms and ammunition.  This shortage was threatening to curtail operations by the active units and to hinder plans to extend the conflict to other, less active areas.  In June 1921 the combined Waterford Brigades had a rollcall of 232 officers and 2,044 men.  The total numbers of arms available to them was 56 rifles and 45 revolvers. Tom Barry estimated that there were only about 100 rifles available to his men in the Cork No. 3 Brigade, the most successful in the country, and it was this shortage of weapons that limited his operations, not a shortage of volunteers. It was the same in every other part of the country – weapons not men were the key factor.  This shortage was getting worse as British forces became more successful at locating and seizing arms dumps.  It is no wonder then that the thoughts of Michael Collins and other members of the IRA GHQ staff turned to the possibility of a large-scale operation that would bring in hundreds of weapons and transform the military situation. Three such operations were planned, from America, from Italy and from Germany. Only the one from Germany was successful. It landed arms in Waterford Harbour in November 1921.

Join us next Thursday 28th October in the Woodlands Hotel for this fascinating lecture

In the comings weeks I hope to have a guest blog on the story from Conor Donegan. If time allows I also hope to do a piece on some research I have done into the specific location of the arms landing.

Henry II, Crooke 1171 Recalled

Henry II, Crooke 1171 Recalled  is a two day event that the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society is hosting on the 23rd and 24th of October 2021. 

We had previously planned to hold it a week earlier on the 17th October 2021, which is the 850th anniversary of when Henry II first landed in the Barony of Gaultier, Waterford. We went a week later as Covid restrictions are to be relaxed.

Three great speakers and a very experienced chair

We are having a Panel Discussion in the Community Hall, Passage East at 3pm on Saturday 23 October. It will be chaired by Ray McGrath and the speakers and topics are;
Michael Fewer – The landing of Henry II with 4,500 knights and soldiers.
John Burke – The Knights Templar in the Barony of Gaultier.
Julian Walton – The Aylward Family of Faithlegg.

Booking is essential to attend this Panel Discussion. To book email BGHS at this address: baronyofgaultierhistorical@gmail.com

Numbers for the event are limited to an attendance of one hundred and will be given strictly on a first come basis. The event is free but donations would be welcome to offset costs.

Should be a wonderful walk, expect plenty of stops and historical inputs

On Sunday 24 October we will have our walk on the route that Henry took into Waterford. It is 14.25 Kms in distance and for those who wish to only take part in a small section of the walk, there is a free shuttle bus service. The Mayor of Waterford Cllr. Joe Kelly will open the event on Saturday 23 October at 3pm in the Community Centre, Passage East.

To book email society chair, Michael Farrell, at this address:  baronyofgaultierhistorical@gmail.com

Loss of the Gannet – an unholy row

On a dark December night off the coast of Dunmore East, the pilot boat Gannet spotted an incoming steamer and sailed on a line upriver to intercept.  The action would lead to the loss of the pilot boat and an unholy row in Waterford that would see the court of public opinion brought to the fore.  But that was still to come, our story starts on that winter night.

Pilot boat Gannet was built at Whites shipyard in 1856.  She was 40 ton 58ft cx16ftx 9 feet on what are now the city’s North Quays.  A predecessor, the Falcon, had been deemed unfit by the board.  The Gannet however had served faithfully alongside another vessel, the Seagull.

At 5.30 pm on December 3rd, 1863 the Gannet was on duty off the coast of Dunmore East, sailing around in anticipation of inbound ships requiring a pilot.  Captained by a Pilot Master, and when with a full compliment, 6 pilots aboard, she would respond to a raised flag in daylight or show a light in darkness from ships requiring pilotage. 

As the Gannet proceeded upriver towards Creaden Head, lights were exchanged with the ship, which later claimed in showed no signal for a pilot.  The ship was the SS Beta (built 1861; 747 gross tons, 220ftx30x17) of the Malcomson lines Waterford Steamship Company (WSCo).  The Beta was on a regular run between the port and London ( several reports state that she was calling to Waterford having sailed from Belfast for London).  The Captain had a Board of Trade Masters certificate for Waterford, exempting him from taking on a pilot, the regularity of sailing, and his experience having been determined that he was exempt.  In a later newspaper report that year Captain Upton was named as Master, but no Captain was named on the night of the incident in the reports I have found.

From later newspaper accounts, the Gannet hove-to above Creaden Head and three pilots got into the small boat that was used to board the pilots.  As they did so, they noticed the Beta change direction to pass astern to the pilot boat, and at this point, the Gannet came about to again intercept.  With no time to change course, the Beta rammed the hull of the pilot boat. [I]

Pilot cutter Seagull – with thanks to Richard Woodley, the cutter was a contemporary of the Gannet and may have looked somewhat similar

The cutter was struck on the port side, abaft the mast, and sank immediately.  The Pilot master with three pilots – Glody, Diggins, and Delaney managed to get aboard the steamer.  Their three colleagues, Butler, Power, and Ryan, were towed in the small punt to Passage East. [ii]

At the next meeting of the Board a discussion into the loss of the Pilot Cutter and whether to lease another.  There was a lot of upset as the master of the Beta had been quoted as telling the Pilot cutter captain that “He knew damn well he didn’t need a pilot”.  Members wondered if maybe ships should be required to signal a specific light that a pilot was not required!  A unanimous decision was taken to write to the Board of Trade to request an inquiry.[iii]

Creaden Head on a glorious Summers day, the area of river above it is where the incident happened

At the last Harbour Board meeting in December, a letter was read from the Committee of Privy Council for Trade in a response to a request from the commissioners asking for an inquiry into the case of the collision.  The response was not what the Board had hoped for, but they were of the opinion that since this was a case of a collision it was not of a character in which they usually interfered and therefore they declined to get involved.   However, after a discussion, it was decided that as the “Merchant Shipping Act stated that when a steamer met a sailing vessel it should keep out of her way and in this case the Beta did not, that the Board would request that the Board of Trade revisit their decision” [iv]

Given the earlier description of what had occurred…it’s difficult to understand how the Harbour Board came up with that decision.  But ask they did and refused again they were; receiving what was described as “a very definite and negative response from the Board of Trade”.  Somewhere amidst all this toing and froing one William Malcomson (WSCo & member of the Harbour Board) let it be known that he was happy to enter into arbitration to try to resolve the matter to the satisfaction of both parties. This was agreed to after a prolonged and rather fractious debate that went on long into the night.[v]

William Malcomson after Bill Irish

However, at some point in the following weeks, it seems that the Harbour Board took a decision to revisit this decision and made a request that the arbitration be overseen by Queens Advocate from Dublin.  This was interpreted by some as kicking the arbitration into a legal sphere.  And it provoked an unholy row.

A WSCo advert from June 1863 (and below) Waterford Mail – Wednesday 17 June 1863; page 1
It would seem that the ships normally came in to Waterford on the Thursday from Belfast, and sailed again on the Friday for London

Part of the problem seems connected to a letter written by the Steamship Company to the Harbour Board, that was overlooked at the monthly Board meeting.  However, the letter found its way into the papers, and not just in Waterford.  The response was explosive.  The court of public opinion cared little for the navigation laws of shipping.  The Malcomson family was then a huge employer in Waterford, and with an internationally good name in business and shipping circles.  A very long and detailed analysis of the matter was contained in the Waterford Mail, which excoriated the Board, pointed out Malcomson’s support for Waterford, the Board, and notable charitable good works, and questioned the very purpose of the Board.  The actions of the board were considered petty and unjust.  Malcomson’s position was that this was an expensive way to do business.  His position was that both sides should enter the arbitration in good faith and see if an agreement could be reached.  If there were points that were disputed, then these could be judged by the Advocate.  A much cheaper solution he believed.[vi]

The Harbour Commissioners offices were located in this building on Gladstone St at the time

At the Board meeting of March, Alderman Denny took the floor of what I can only assume was a very unsettled assembly.  He addressed the controversy and acknowledged the public disquiet in the city and how the matter had been handled.  He went on to extol the virtues of William Malcomson and the Waterford Steamship Company and also to discuss the current action believing it would have been better: “to have asked for reasonable compensation for the loss of the Gannet. The original cost of that boat was £1,150, and she was 7 years at sea, exposed to very trying and severe weather all seasons so that it is not too much to say that she lost 5% of her original value (PA obviously though not mentioned in the report) thus leaving her value at £757 or thereabouts.  If we make up our minds that the crew the Gannet was in no way to blame in the matter, then we are entitled to about £750, and more in fairness. If, on the other hand, it can be shown that the Gannet was wrong and that the fault did not lie with the Beta, are not entitled to a single farthing.”[vii]

Councillor Walsh rebutted this pointing out that it was right and proper that the Harbour Board take legal proceedings against Malcomson and WSCo.  At issue he felt was the livelihoods and property of the 7 pilots who were aboard the Gannet that night, and who were out of work since.[viii]

After much acrimony, a proposal was put forward from Mr Jacob saying that legal proceedings should be halted and that a request for a settlement of £600 be put to the WSCo.  This was seconded and eventually agreed to.  In what must have seemed like a very melodramatic twist, at this point, Mr. Jacob held up a letter from the WSCo stating that they would be happy to settle the matter for £600.  Game set and match to Mr. Malcomson it would appear.[ix] 

Members of the Harbour Board were insistent that an inquiry was required into the actions of the Pilot Master that night in the harbour.  Questions were raised about his fitness to operate, and the judgment of all the pilots on the night.  However, there were also pragmatic concerns.  What if the Board found that the pilots were in error?  Would the £600 be forfeit, would they come out the worse.  It seems that a subcommittee was formed to look into the matter, but I could find no report in the papers of the time as to any findings.[x]  I’d imagine that the vast majority of people had already heard too much about the incident.

But what of the Gannet?  Whatever the acrimony within the offices of the Harbour Board, the matter still existed of a sunken vessel and one less pilot boat to meet the needs of the port.   A wreck buoy was stationed directly over the vessel and a notice contained in papers as early as the day after the event. Subsequently, the wreck was raised, as it was an impediment to shipping.  My guess is that the damage was so bad, the pilot boat was dragged closer to the Wexford shore and dropped to the bottom.  Walter Foley told me previously that the salmon driftnet fishermen had a foul mark off Broomhill called the Pilot Boat.  It’s the only one that I am aware of that fits the bill.

The following notice appeared in local papers

Interestingly, the Gannet was not replaced.  Newspaper accounts later that year point to a drop in shipping and a struggle to meet the wages of pilots due to the resulting loss in revenue to the port.   Although other boats were employed at Passage, and an occasional replacement at Dunmore, the Seagull carried out the duties on her own at Dunmore East until she was replaced at some point in the early 1930s by the Elsie J.


Dunmore East RNLI receives €31,050 from sales of the book ‘Dauntless Courage’

I wanted to acknowledge this wonderful achievement by a blog regular, David Carroll. David wrote his first guest blog for us in January 2017 and has been a firm favourite since. In that story, Memories of a Harbour Boy, David recalled growing up in Dunmore East including the comings and goings of the lifeboat and crew. His obvious love of place and subject has been one of the most significant elements I think, in the success of his book on the Dunmore East Station. But the wonderful achievement of raising over €31k in the challenging covid times, bears testament to not just his engaging writing style or attention to detail, but also to the genuine respect and high regard the lifeboat crew and wider volunteers are held. I have already shared the news via my usual social media channels, this post is specifically aimed at the tides and tales community who subscribe by email and who may have missed the details. Andrew Doherty. The official communication starts from here:

Dunmore East RNLI was delighted to receive monies raised from the sales of the book Dauntless Courage by author David Carroll.

‘Dauntless Courage’: Celebrating the History of the Dunmore East RNLI, their crews and the Maritime Heritage of the Local Community, was written, published and sold out during lockdown. Restrictions and lockdowns made it impossible for author David Carroll to be in Dunmore East while writing his book but, thankfully, David and his family were able to visit the Dunmore Lifeboat station recently, where he was wholeheartedly welcomed by the volunteers of Dunmore East RNLI.

Dunmore East RNLI volunteers with author David Carroll and his family. Photo credit – Dunmore East RNLI

David Carroll the son of Captain Desmond Carroll, a former Harbour Master in Dunmore wrote a book on the history of the Dunmore East RNLI Lifeboats and the community from which the crews are drawn. David grew up in Dunmore East and whilst moving from the village in his 20s to pursue a career he has always retained a great love for the maritime heritage he inherited growing up in the village.

After several years of researching and writing, it has been a labour of love for author David Carroll to produce such a fine book, with all proceeds going to the RNLI. A publishing committee was formed and consisted of members of Dunmore East RNLI and a total of 66 businesses contributed to the cost of printing, therefore 100% of the price of the book is going to the RNLI. Recently David was finally able to hand over the huge cheque to the very appreciative volunteers of Dunmore East RNLI.

Dunmore East RNLI Volunteers watch on as Fundraising Branch Treasurer Ann Sheehan receives the cheque from author David Carroll. Photo credit – Dunmore East RNLI (also photographed are Neville Murphy crew member on left who has been very generous to me with photos in the past, and on right Brendan Dunne who is a valuable source of information to me)

David Carroll, author of Dauntless Courage said: ‘I felt very privileged to have been invited to write a history of the Dunmore East Lifeboats. I enjoyed every single minute carrying out the necessary research and writing the various chapters, but the success of the book is down to all the volunteers and the great team, organised by Brendan Dunne who promoted, packaged, and distributed the book in difficult circumstances. A special word of thanks is due to all who gave us permission to use their interesting photographs and wonderful paintings. Our printers, DVF Print and Graphic Solutions, designed and produced a magnificent book that we all can be proud of and will be a fitting testament to all who served in the station since the Henry Dodd first arrived in Dunmore East.

Dunmore East RNLI Crew member Brendan Dunne and author David Carroll. Photo credit – Dunmore East RNLI

Brendan Dunne, Dunmore East RNLI Crewmember, said: ‘As volunteer crew of the Dunmore East lifeboat we are delighted with David’s book Dauntless Courage and grateful for such a significant amount being raised for our charity. The book itself is well written and researched. It truly captures the legacy of those that have crewed the lifeboats here since 1884 and of the lifesaving and maritime heritage of the village. It ensures their contribution to saving lives at sea in all weather conditions will not be forgotten’.

Well done to all involved.

Dauntless Courage, Celebrating the History of the RNLI Lifeboats, their crews and the Maritime Heritage of the Dunmore East Community is still available but only a few copies remain and are available from the project website or from outlets such as the Book Centre in Waterford.

Penny wise, Pound foolish: A further threat to the Barrow Railway Bridge

This coming September marks the 11th anniversary of the last passenger train to use the SW Wexford railway line and the Barrow Railway Viaduct.  The bridge is Irelands longest rail bridge but it would appear that this September may see another regressive step taken on the railway line – plans are afoot to close off the bridge and allow a span for shipping to remain open.

The Barrow Railway Viaduct crosses the river Barrow between Drumdowney in Co Kilkenny and Great Island in Co Wexford, a distance of 2131 feet.  The bridge which opened in July 1906 was the final piece that connected the railway lines of the South of Ireland via Waterford to Rosslare Harbour and the cross channel ferry service.

The opening span and the bridge nearing completion

Plans for the bridge were drawn up by Sir Benjamin Barker and work commenced in 1902 after a tender of £109, 347 was won by Sir William Arrol & Co of Glasgow. The initial stages of the work went well.  However, the twin pillars onto which the spans were placed had to be laid on a foundation of the river bedrock.  As they proceeded out into the Barrow (from the Great Island side) the depths they had to dig to reach bedrock got ever deeper and in some cases workers had to dig to 108 feet below the mean water level. Such extra work added a cost of £12,000 to the bridge

A ship transiting through on the way up to New Ross. The opening mechanism is housed in the building at the top of the swivel section, and operated by an operator using techniques very similar to changing tracks on a rail line.

Due to the needs of New Ross Harbour Commissioners, a swivel opening span was created to allow entry and egress to the inland port. This span was constructed on 4 pillars and originally turned with an electric motor (now mains), situated on the pontoon around the pillars.  The opening pivots with an 80 foot clearance allowing ships to pass.

On completion, the bridge was 2131 feet long. It consisted 13 fixed spans mounted on twin 8-foot diameter cast iron cylinders filled with concrete. 11 spans are 148 feet long and the two closest to the opening are 144 feet. The bridge is 25 feet above high water on the spring tides. The railway is a single-track steel line, built within the protective casing of a mild steel girder frame with cross trusses to provide stability.

On the 18th of September 2010, a final special event train traveled the line before closure. The end of the sugar beet trade spelled the end, passenger numbers were already low. Many argued at the time that it was the timetable that was the issue. In the intervening years, a plan was put forward to turn the line into a greenway to try to mirror the success of other areas, not least in Waterford. Another group South East On Track has argued that there are compelling reasons to maintain the line for rail.

However recently I read that I read with disappointment an exchange between Wexford TD Verona Murphy and Minister of State Colm Brophy on the Barrow Railway Bridge, and specifically the opening span. It would appear that for pragmatic reasons the span is to be left in the opening position as a means of reducing costs on Iarnród Éireann.  Subsequent to an all Island of Ireland rail review, this may be reversed.  However, my concern is that this is misguided as a cost-saving measure for the following reasons:

Sundown on the Barrow Bridge, but hopefully not literally

1.  The opening apparatus is virtually unchanged from the system first employed in the construction in 1906.  To my mind, notwithstanding how clever such engineers were, and how remarkably resilient the turning mechanism is, will the lack of use of this may lead to its decay?  If this were to happen the cost would surely be significant, perhaps outweighing any perceived savings.

2. The opening span was never designed to be left open.  When closed it is securely fastened or locked into position on either side to the existing bridge, ensuring the optimum position for holding it in place.  If allowed open the weight will no longer be displaced but directed downwards onto the foundation, and also leaving it at the mercy of tides and wind.  Again, any shift in this swinging arm, will incur a massive cost to repair.  Has there been any independent engineering assessment of this? And if it proceeds could not some extra support be provided to each side of the track to hold it in place securely?

A recent video I shot of the ships Rose and later Eems Exe passing through the opening span of the Barrow Railway Bridge on a journey up to New Ross Port.

Barrow Bridge is still a fully functioning piece of transport infrastructure, an architectural gem, and a heritage feature. But as a country that seems to be awash with money for the right kind of project, have we progressed so little as a state that a building such as this could be threatened with such an act of sheer vandalism because it saves a few quid? The Poolbeg chimneys in Dublin, built in the 1960s, are considered a treasure worth millions to preserve. Surely a unique and functional piece of transport infrastructure deserves more consideration by a state agency and its citizens. “Penny Wise, Pound Foolish” comes to mind.

Update post-publication. As of 10 am this morning 27/8/2021, IE staff are on the bridge installing gates on the Kilkenny side, also men with hi-viz jackets on the opening span and on the dolphins below.