Steamboat! – My Radio Debut

I’m delighted to be featuring on the RTE Radio 1 Sunday Miscellany raido show. It will be bradcast Sunday morning, 17th November 2019 after the 9am news.

This was my second attempt to submit a story to the very popular RTE Radio 1 show, now in its fiftieth year. My story is titled Steamboat, and through it I give a sense of what it was like to be a driftnet fisherman at Cheekpoint in the 1980’s, including an insight into local traditions and how deep they ran.

It features myself and a friend, Paul Duffin, as young fishermen. Because we grew up on the river we instinctively know its rules, one of which is that when drifting across the channel, steamboats have to be avoided. Sometimes that means you loose your drift. Drifts were hard won at times, and no fisheman wanted such an outcome.

Paul and I in the centre flanked by my father Bob on left, and brother Robert on right. My younger brother Chris is holding the salmons tail.

Here’s the lineup on the morning:

Friendly Front Door at University Hospital Waterford, by Lani O’Hanlon;

Steamboat, by Andrew Doherty;

Baby Clothes, a poem by AM Cousins;

Learning to Drive, by Ian Maleney;

Those Summer Nights of Long Ago at the Céilí, by Catherine Foley.

Music:

You’ve Got A Friend, by Carole King, performed by the Kalimbas: Cathy Forristal and Clíodhna Gahan on vocals and Damien Kehoe on guitar and vocals;

The Steam Packet and Miss McLeod’s Reel, played on uileann pipes by David Power;

A Stór Mo Chroí, played on tin whistle also by David Power;

Living in Yesterday, composed and performed by the Kalimbas;

And The Drops of Brandy, a slip jig, played by David Power on uileann pipes with Benny McCarthy on button accordion, Brendan Clancy on fiddle and Dónal Clancy on guitar.

A shot courtesy of RTE of the stage. I’m in the background, shaking it out

As elated as I was to have a piece chosen for the show, it became a case of be careful what you wish for. For I was very nervous on the day and I didn’t stop shaking throughout the performance. Hopefully this doesn’t come through. It certainly didn’t put me off however, as I’m already working on another submission. Its a story of how the river speakes to fishemen, well to fishermen who are fully present in its company. If you miss the show on Sunday, or if you are abroad, the podcast will be available on the Sunday Miscellany website.

Here is the subsequent Podcast for the show.

Passagemens daring rescue

On a dark November night in storm force winds and driving rain an Arklow schooner scurried up Waterford harbour in search of shelter.  Within sight of the Spit Light below Passage East the ship healed over stuck fast in the sand and her crew took to the rigging to flash lights in the hope of salvation.  Luckily for them, their signals were answered and four men departed Passage East in a fishing yawl.  But the odds were against them and nothing but expertise and luck would ensure a positive outcome.

Passage East, Co Waterford
Passage East, Co Waterford via Tommy Deegan Waterford History Group

The Arklow schooner France Jane was built in 1858 in Nova Scotia, Canada.  Her Arklow owners were Anne and Thomas J.Troy and she weighed 87 tonnes.[i]  She was on a run with corn from Belfast to Courtmacsherry under Captain Furlong.

Like many schooners at the time, the Frances Jane would take any opportunities for cargo that were available, competing as they were with the more dependable and regular steam ships.  Bulk cargos were a staple freight, or bagged or barrelled produce, anything that didn’t have a crucial delivery date. trips to smaller ports and out of the way locations were also a means of making freight. Earlier in the summer she had been tied up in Arklow with a cargo of coal which was advertised at knockdown prices in an attempt to clear her hold.[ii] In another sailing in September coal was again her cargo into her home port.

The run to Courtmacsherry was cut short by a strengthening gale of south east wind, by far the worst to meet off the Hook, and in an effort to make shelter the schooner made her way into the harbour.  As the rain came down and the winds strengthened she beat her way further in, until she ran aground on the Drumroe Bank.

1787 map of the harbour entitled “An actual survey of the harbour and river of Waterfor and of the bay of Tramore” by Robert Sayer (1724?-1794). Accessed from Bibliothèque nationale de France (Public Domain)
To access a higher resolution go to https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b53011020p/f1.item.r=tramore
A close up of Sayer’s chart showing the Drumroe Bank, outside of Passage Strand. Note the spit light has yet to be built and a light perch marks the bank instead.

Once stuck fast on the hard sands, her fate was sealed. With no other options, the crew took to the rigging to escape the surging seas breaking over her side and shone lamps in the hopes of a rescue.  Fortunately their lights were seen, and on Passage East quay four fishermen prepared their small open fishing boat to meet the challenge.

James Hearne, the skipper, had three other men with him, James Pepper, Richard Galvin and Michael Sheehy.  All the men are listed in the 1901 census as living in Passage East and all are married with family.  Hearne (age 36, fisherman) is married to Mary, a dressmaker.  They have four children, the two eldest William and Ellen were born in Liverpool.  Pepper (40, fisherman) is married to Statia and they have five children at the time.  Richard Galvin (37, sailor) is married to Ellen, they are living with his mother in law, Catherine Daley.  They have five children and a niece is also living with them.  Patrick Sheehan (40, sailor) is married to Kate, and they have two teenage children. 

Their small yawl was well used to facing the weather of the harbour and their experience would have told them that in the conditions, the closer they got to the stricken vessel the greater the danger they would face.  As they pushed away from the quay they laid out the sweeps (oars) and bent to their task.  Rowing hard against the wind and rain, the men, who had no time to gather oilsikins, were quickly soaked to their skin and the cold must have penetrated their jerseys despite the exertions.  At one stage an oar was lost, on another it snapped in two against the force of the seas.  But on they battled with the two oars and eventually came alongside the Frances Jane.

A similar yawl as described in the piece, taken at Ballyhack, Co Wexford.
NLI, Lawrence Collection. Robert French Photo

Hearne jumped aboard the stricken schooner and helped each of the sailors into the the outstretched hands of his crewmates in the yawl. No details are given of the compelxities of this, but I’m sure they would have come in uder her leeward side (if the tidal conditional allowed) and in the shelter provided make the transfer. Again nothing is made of the men going below to gather any valuables etc, mind you it was probably little enough they would have had. I also have no information on the names of Captain Furlongs crew that night. Eventually a sail was hoisted to bring them home, the sails filling with the now helpful wind, and soon they were at Passage East quay where the sailors and the fishermen alike were cared for with the attention that only a fishing and sailing village would know instinctively.[iii]

After the storm comes the calm its said, and indeed such was the case in the days that followed.  The schooner was seen wrecked and forlorn, but it was hoped that if the weather  stayed calm she might be got off.  Her cargo of wheat was salvaged and was later advertised for sale.   “Mr. Patrick Bolger, auctioneer, New Ross, announces a very important sale of 260 barrels of fine Australian wheat, the salvaged cargo of the schooner Frances Jane, which recently came to grief in the harbour”[iv]

The schooner was not so fortunate however, as the weather worsened and she became a total loss. I don’t know the ultimate fate of the crew thereafter, but I’m sure after a good nights sleep, they were probably looking for a new berth to make their living from and would have shipped out at the earliest opportunity. 

The rescue was widely reported and the skill and bravery displayed that night was eventually recognised.  On Friday 30th January 1903 at the Waterford City Petty Sessions a publich ceremony was conducted at which the four men were recognised by the Royal National Lifeboat Institute . Mr Wardell, secretary of the Tramore Lifeboat Committee, and Mr Edward Jacob, Lloyd’s agent in Waterford, introduced the men and their feat before asking that the magistrates present them with the certificates.  Jacob explained that it was “…only common justice to the men that the attention of the Institution should have been called to their heroic action. The Institution considered the deed they had done was an act of the greatest bravery, and when the great risk that the men had run of losing their own lives was pointed out to them they could scarcely credit it. They even wrote for further particulars, and when finally satisfied they very handsomely rewarded men an act of downright actual courage and bravery, and would long be remembered”

All four received a velum certificate from the RNLI and £2 each.  James Hearne and Richard Galvin were there to receive the award in person.  Kate Sheehan and Statia Pepper attended instead of their husbands. The article gives no explanation for this, but most likely they were both at sea?)[v] Hearne received an extra acknowledgement for the damage caused to his vessel of 55 shillings. (the damage included the sweeps, gunwales and sails)

An advert from the front page of the New Ross Standard – Friday 05 December 1902. Accessed from British Newspapers Archive.

The wreck was an annoyance to fishermen and boatmen, but not to the normal traffic of the ports.  An article in the Passage notes of February 1903 rails against this injustice rightly pointing out that the wreck is an impediment to salmon fishermen and a risk to local boatmen, making a specific reference by description to the hobbler trade, though not be name.  The author articulates the view that because the wreck does not impinge on “…the grand electric lit steamers…” or the “…gondoliers…of the wealthy…” that it has been ignored by the Harbour Commissioners.[ii] But I’m sure that after a few weeks the fishermen and sailors adapted, it is afterall in their nature. Marks would have been taken and soon by day or night the position was identifiable by sighting hills, trees, spires and other buildings along both shores of the harbour. Indeed the children of Passage helped too, as there was one account I came across that mentions them hacking and sawing away on the wrecks timbers.

It was not until the summer of 1951 that the wreck was finally removed warranting a few lines in the Munster Express:  “The Remains of the wreck of the Frances Jane, mentioned in this column last week, was removed from the Spit Bank by orders of the Harbour Commissioners during the week…”[iii] Sad to think the names of the men involved didn’t get a mention, especially when you consider their bravery that night in the rescue of the crew of the Frances Jane.  At that stage all those men would have been dead of course and would be recalled only by family and by the village elders who rarley let such memories die. A brave deed worthy of remembering.

There is several gaps in the story which I tried over the last month to piece together. I have some extra information on Captain Thomas Troy of Arklow which I could not include due to time. Unfortunately I have no further details on the Passage East men named, or the velum scrolls they recieved. I also can find no specific information on the crew of the Frances Jane or an image of the vessel. If anyone would like to offer any further information you could comment on the blog or correspond via tidesntales@gmail.com


I’m indebted to Brian at www.arklowmaritimeheritage.ie for the information I have inculded on the schooner Frances Jane. Thanks also to Fintan Walsh who had first shared an account of the men and which got me interested in the story.

Im delighted to say that I’m appearing in the Theatre Royal tomorrow morning to do a reading of a story I wrote called Steamboat. Its for a live recording of the Sunday Miscellany show which will be broadcast on RTE Radio 1 later this year. For more information or to book you can check out the following link
https://www.theatreroyal.ie/events/sunday-miscellany

Waterford’s Commander Mark Anthony

Mark Anthony was born in Waterford in 1786 and at fifteen joined the Royal Navy serving for close on twenty years until retiring to take up a post as harbour master at Dunmore East.  

Mark Anthony was born second in line to Joseph Anthony and his wife Juliet Lambert at Seafield House, Stradbally in 1786.  Like many second born sons, sure in the knowledge that he would inherit nothing of significance, he joined the navy as a midshipman in 1801 aged 15.  Regulars may recall a parallel with another second born Waterford lad, Henry Bolton.   

Young Mark travelled via the regular mail packet from Cheekpoint, joining his ship the HMS Hunter at Portsmouth on July 14th 1801. The Hunter (1801 – 18 guns) would later sail in convoy for the West Indies in an attempt to disrupt Spanish trade. In an action off Cuba in 1803 where 15 crewmen died he was promoted to master mate to the HMS Clorinade, apparently in recognition of his bravery and combat skills.

The Naiad towing the damaged Belleisle in Gibraltar. Public Domain photo accessed from
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Naiad_(1797)#/media/File:Naiad_and_Belleisle.jpg

In September 1804 he joined HMS Naiad (1797-38 guns) which was part of Nelsons fleet at the battle of Trafalgar. Again he distinguished himself as the crew came to the rescue of Belleisle (74 guns) which was in danger of grounding and in the rescue of 56 enemy sailors from the Achille.

While aboard Theseus (74 guns) he was promoted Lieutenant by commission dated 22nd April 1808 and was transferred to the Baltic station where he saw action against the Danes. He was First Lieutenant aboard the sloop Sarpen during the disastrous Walcheren campaign. In 1811 he was aboard Stately (64 guns) where he was employed in the defence of Cadiz and Tarifa. Other ships he had an association with include; Fury, Bomb, Orestes, Boyne and apparently his last ship Queen Charlotte (1810).

At this point Mark Anthony was a veteran of several campaigns and he had the scars to prove it.  He had a severe injury to his thigh from a gun recoil and had suffered an ankle dislocation, leaving him with a permanent limp.  He sought a shore job*  and leaving the service early, and without a pension, he took up a job as harbour master at the newly opened Dunmore Eastmail packet station in August of 1818.  He quickly became a recognisable figure to travellers coming and going from the quay where “…his cheery ways brought solace to many a nervous voyager…”  

Alas there were troubles ahead for Dunmore East, steam power was already being used elsewhere which would make the voyage to Waterford city more appealing.  But it would appear that it was the silting of the harbour at Dunmore that sealed its faith as a packet station.  In 1835** the station moved, and with it Mark Anthony was out of a job, and without a pension or any compensation. He was made a freeman of Waterford on October 15th 1835, and promoted  Commander in 1849.  He died while living with his sisters in Catherine St in the city on the 1st June 1867.  He was later buried with his family in Ballylaneen Church and graveyard Co Waterford.  

For daily events/updates https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  https://twitter.com/tidesntalesI also can be found on you tube

* Following the victory over the French there was a reduction in the number of vessels and therefore a shortage of positions and opportunities for promotion in the Navy. Perhaps this was a factor in Anthony’s decision. * *My own research gives me a date of 1835, but I’ve read several other years mentioned, both for the commencement and the closure. I have yet to properly research the mail packet at Dunmore and hopefully that will firm this up, for me at least.

Here’s a blog post on what life was like for an ordinary navy sailor in the era.

Today’s blog referred to the following:
An article on the Anthony family by Hubert Gallway, Decies #16 January 1981. Colclough.B & O’Neill.W Waterford & Thereabouts.  1993
Self published by Waterford Graphics, Waterford Hickey.T & Keane.J.
Stradbally na Déise. 2007. Stradbally Tourism & Enterprise group. Fewer. TN. Waterford people, A Biographical Dictionary.  2004.  Ballylough books, Waterford

Julian Walton also mentions Anthony as one of the Waterford men involved in the action at the Battle of Trafalgar in On This Day Vol II.

Waterford and the River Suir: A Family bond

Since I went to the monthly format I have stopped the very popular guest blog segment. However, as Cian Manning publishes his new book on Waterford I asked if he would consider sharing some memories of why the river and our maritime past means so much to him. Much like myself, it’s becuase of a deep family tradition.

Front cover of Cian’s new book

Ireland’s third longest river, the River Suir is 184 kilometres long and for centuries was a major artery bringing the life blood of trade and visitors to the island’s oldest city – Waterford. It has seen Norsemen traverse its waves to settle on its banks, Anglo-Norman mercenaries have travelled along its estuary, English kings have followed it as their entry point to Ireland and in later centuries would see many Irish leave the port of Waterford to explore the globe in search of opportunities and a better life not afforded to them in their homeland.

     The ebbing and flowing of the rivers tide represents the story of the city of Waterford from its early development as a Viking settlement to becoming a medieval walled enclave. The city was a place of intense religious devotion in the 13th century and would transform into a modern European city over the course of the 18th and 19th century as a hub of industry and commerce. This is reflected in the numerous shipyards that sprang up over the period. This was accelerated by the development of steamships and in June 1817 the Princess Charlotte was the first such vessel recorded on the Suir.

     A noteworthy shipyard is that of Pope & Co which constructed the SS Kilkenny in 1837, it was purchased by the East India Company and later renamed the Zenobia. The noted maritime historian Bill Irish stated that this vessel ‘was one of the first steamships to make the passage around the Cape of Good Hope to India.’ By 1841, Waterford and Cork accounted for 41% of ships built on the island of Ireland. Such demand led to the development of the Neptune Shipyard in 1843. Their steamship the SS Neptune was one of 40 ships built at the yard till 1882. It was one of the first steamers to regularly service the London-St. Petersburg route. On her journey up the River Neva, she was boarded by Tsar Nicholas I who decreed that whenever the Neptune was docked at Petersburg it did not have to pay its port tariffs.


SS Neptune. Illustrated London News.
Andy Kelly collection

     Sadly, the Neptune Shipyards demise was precipitated by the decline in the fortunes of the Malcolmson family who declared themselves bankrupt in 1877. The interests of the Malcolmson’s shipping empire were assumed by the Clyde Shipping Company, the oldest steamship company in the world. Originally in partnership with the Malcolmsons they operated services from Belfast to Plymouth and Waterford to London. Another successful route of the Clyde was the Waterford to Liverpool route in transporting travellers and cattle. Though the events of the First World War would cause some troubled times for the Clyde and tragic events for the people of Waterford that are still hard to quantify to this day.

     Just ten days before Christmas 1917, the SS Formby and SS Coningbeg were torpedoed by German submarine, U-62. Altogether 83 people perished aboard the vessels, sixty-seven of whom were from Waterford. The master of the U-boat, Ernest Hashagen details in his memoirs the stalking of the Coningbeg:

It is rather dreadful to be steaming thus alongside one’s victim knowing that she has only ten or perhaps twenty minutes to live, till fiery death leaps from the sea and blow her to pieces. A solemn mood possesses the few upon the bridge. The horror of war silences us. Every one of our orders, every moment, every turn of a wheel is bringing death nearer our opponent. All is exactly settled in advance. We, too, have become part of fate.

Only one body was recovered from the sinking of the two Waterford ships, that of Annie O’Callaghan, a stewardess on the Formby. My great-grandfather James Manning was one of the victims (a cattleman aboard the Formby) of the tragedy. Living at Roanmore Terrace in the city, James was the father of nine children. His widow was Mary, a Tipperary woman, aged 40 in 1917.

     My grandfather Michael was the third youngest of their children. Waterford must have been a very bleak place that Christmas as the families waited by the quayside for news of their loved ones. The uncertainty must have been heart wrenching. Hope is eternal but can be a very bitter pill to swallow as time passes with little reward in such faith. In 1924 a message in a bottle washed ashore with a note from a soul clearly resigned to their fate. The morsel which survived the ravages of the seas read “We will never reach the Hook” and signed “Jack”. The family were issued with a Memorial Plaque known as “Dead Man’s Penny” which has sadly been lost.

Monument to those lost on the steamers Coningbeg & Formby

     James’s son Michael went on to serve in the army (reaching the rank of Sergeant) of the Irish Free State and was a successful participant in the All-Army Championships winning the ‘Hop, Step, and Jump’ now known as the ‘Triple Jump’ at Croke Park in 1924. Michael was adept at signalling and undertook courses in ‘Chemical Warfare’ from October 1937 to January 1938. In concluding his career with the army in order to support his young family of four children, he followed in his father’s footsteps and worked as a docker for Clyde Shipping. It must have been a very difficult decision with the memory of his father’s death in mind. However, it was necessitated by the need to provide for his family. The memory of my grandfather Michael lives on in his children Terry, Oliver, Elizabeth and Bennie while my great-grandfather’s name is enshrined in stone on the wonderful monument located at Adelphi Quay erected in 1997 in honour of those who perished in 1917.

Michael with his fellow Clyde dockworker colleagues

     My connections to the River Suir and the sea are not only exclusive to my paternal side but also my mother’s side of the family. My maternal grandfather was Thomas ‘Tunney’ Murphy of Ferrybank. He was a keen hurler playing with the local club and later Erin’s Own. His own father William ‘Feehan’ Murphy numbered the Shamrocks side which won back to back county titles in 1915 and 1916. My grandfather Thomas served as a ‘fireman and trimmer’ with Irish Shipping in the latter part of the Emergency. He carried out the duties of cook ‘unofficially’ with his speciality being bacon and eggs. To add some variety to the menu he would re-package the meal as ‘rashers’ and eggs. Some of his notable voyages were on the Irish Ash with destinations including Montreal in Canada and North Africa in 1945 while he was aboard the Irish Rose which reached New York in 1946.

   His love of the water came from his own father as the family punt was passed from generation to generation. Thomas’s father and grandfather were carpenters with Hamilton’s. The punt was docked near the mud boat Portlairge which served in dredging the river Suir for decades. My mother was the youngest of three children and was ten years younger than her nearest sibling, her brother Raymond. Thomas Murphy died in April 1973 aged 49, ten days short of reaching a half-century. My mother was just eleven years old when he passed away. The memories and moments spent between my grandfather and my mother Miriam on the punt (painted in Corporation colours) are some of her most cherished of a relationship that cruelly ended too soon.

Thomas with his son Liam on the streets of Waterford 1950’s

     My brother Olin and I are still regaled by stories of salmon magically jumping into the punt (left by those our grandfather had done favours for in his later career as a Corporation worker) or to the hair-raising incident of when a ship nearly hit the boat with my grandfather and his daughter in it. Apparently he had drifted off, but Olin and I like to think it’s the rogue-ish sensibilities of playfulness (that we aim to continue) than that of nodding off carelessly.

     Such bittersweet moments are evoked in my uncle Liam Murphy’s poem about the funeral of his father Thomas titled ‘Donal Foley Played Hurling With My Father’ (published in Issue 3 of the Poetry Ireland Review) and the lines:

my fathers funeral stops outside theatre royal

beside corporation yard where he worked and died

near where we lived and laughed in my childhood

closeby on the river his boat floats

on a flood of memories

No further words can adequately conclude the story of my family and our relationship to the River Suir and the sea. The lyrics of Bruce Springsteen, the words of WB Yeats or the images revealed in this piece can not elevate the stories of the Manning and Murphy families to a way of life that is more alien to my brother and I, our boat trips have been as tourists along the Amstel, Seine and Liffey. To us a novelty was a way of life for centuries which we can just about cling to. The River Suir is the impetus behind the narrative of Waterford. The story of my family is an intrinsic part of that history like the stories of many a family of this city. Memories do not flood back unless they are told, I’m glad my parents shared a reservoir of them to me.

Cian’s new book was published yesterday by the History Press. It’s called Waterford City, A History.  I want to wish Cian the very best of success with it and hope he gets the support he deserves. The launch of ‘Waterford City: a history’ will take place on Friday 15th November at 18:30pm in the Book Centre. Donnchadh O Ceallachain, curator of the Medieval Museum, will speak at the event and will be accompanied by music from Waterford duo Deep Foxy Glow. 

You can contact Cian by email if you would like to wish him well, get more information, or find out about stockists camanning93@gmail.com

Rockabill & Tuskar; The last of the Clyde

To generations of locals, the Clyde boats were a by word for employment, trade, emigration and holidays and the final two that were often referred to at home were the Rockabill and the Tuskar.  Two very different ships, two different personalities but two ships that were part of the very fabric of a maritime port like Waterford.

The Clyde boats of my parents’ generation of course represented the last of the ships and a fine coasting tradition that spanned well over 100 years.  The Clyde Shipping company started out life, unsurprisingly I guess given the name, in Glasgow on the banks of the River Clyde in 1815. As the company prospered it entered the Irish market in 1856, initially to Cork but quickly to other ports such as Waterford.  It was a stalwart of the Irish goods trade, particularly in the South East, and Waterford as a result of its location was a pivotal hub. In 1912, the company further strengthened this link when it bought the rival Waterford Steamship Company.[i]

The old Clyde Shipping Co Offices
The old Clyde Shipping Co Offices, Waterford Quay

Down the years there have been many notable ships, none more so than the Coningbeg and Formby But two that are equally deserving of mention are the Rockabill and the Tuskar

The Rockabill(1931) was named like all the Clyde ships after a lighthouse (or lightships) around the coast of Ireland and the British Isles. She was built by D&W Henderson & Co on the Clyde.  Her maiden voyage took her from Liverpool to Waterford on the 5th February 1931.  She was primarily a cattle and cargo carrying ship but she had accommodation for 12 first class passengers on the starboard side of her upper deck and steerage passengers too.  Meals were provided but were not included in the cost, which was said to be very appealing to passengers, especially on rough crossings![ii]

Rockabill at Waterford. 29/10/1954 Shortall CQ.47. Andy Kelly Collection

She departed from Waterford quays between Reginalds and the Clock Tower and dropped cattle to the Wirral shore of the Mersey and later dropped her passengers to the West Waterloo Dock (east side)[iii]

Sailings continued during WWII until she was requisitioned for war duties in Liverpool on the 15th Sept 1943.   Sailings continued with relief ships on the route including the Skerries.  She finally returned to the route on the 4th May 1946 (at which point the Skerries was sold).[iv] 

After the war her routine was set at a fairly leisurely pace.  Her twenty hour (approx)  trip commenced on a Saturday from Liverpool arriving at Waterford on Sunday.  She left again on Tuesday arriving into Liverpool on Wednesday morning.  Sailing times were set to suite the tidal conditions. A cabin berth was £3 10s single or £6 return. Steerage was £2 single fare (Not many travelling in steerage would have the luxury of returning after all) Children between 1-14 were charged half fare.[v]

Some described the Rockabill as an unlucky ship and several accidents/incidents were recorded about her, perhaps because she lacked the power required in strong tidal conditions.  There’s a locally famous image of her across Redmond’s Bridge in Waterford on 15th December 1956 after she drifted into the bridge while turning.  Luckily both the bridge and the vessel  survived the incident as she floated away on the ebbing tide. Another incident occurred on 1st June 1942 – three miles east of Hook – when she ran aground but was fortunately towed to safety by the coaster Mayflower[vi]

The Rockabill against Redmond Bridge, Waterford. (L.M. 035 05) Andy Kelly Collection.

My aunt Margaret told me once that she first emigrated to Liverpool aboard the Rockabill in the 1950’s, extended members of the Doherty’s were fairly well established in the port at that stage, I imagine my father probably took the same route when he first went to sea on the Coast Line ships from that port too. As far as I can recall my grandfather actually sailed on her for a time too.

Rockabill last sailed into the port of Waterford in April 1962.  The Waterford News & Star of Friday 6th April[vii] recorded the event on the front page with a photo and headline ”Today a 31 year-old connection will be severed” and went on to outline her role in the port and the technical difficulties that hastened her demise.  Her final journey out the harbour brought her to Cork, and the breakers yard of Haulbowline industries Ltd.  It was an historic journey and worthy of recording.  She was the final steamer (coal burner) of the Clyde fleet and had proudly borne this mantel since 1953.  I’m guessing as such she was our last coastal trading steamer and so ended a chapter of our maritime history which started with the first steamers that operated such as the Mail Packet ships at Dunmore East (early 1820’s) or the Nora Creina in 1826.

Her replacement was a few months in coming on duty and when she did she was for a very different function. The Tuskar (1962) was built by Chas. Connell & Co as a motor vessel of 1,115 tons, launched on the 18th April 1962.  She was designed to carry cargo and containers however and her maiden voyage to Waterford was not until the 26th June 1962 (the MV Sanda covered the route in this time).  She worked the route until the 10th December 1968 before being sold to a Yogoslav company and renamed the Brioni.  She would be broken up in 1988.[viii]

Tuskar crew at Waterford. Any help identifying the men appreciated. Martin Tracey 1st man on left, Tommy Connors second from left, Des Hutchinson 6th from left and Tommy Cleere 7th. Davy Fardey 3rd from right. Photo courtesy of Demma Hutchinson (son of Des)

I suppose the reason that she was known so well to me was that my father sailed on her, for a time in 1968 after the new job he had come home to on the building of Great Island Power station was complete.  But maybe it’s also because, as was often the habit with the Clyde, that there was more than one vessel to have the name.

Although there were five ships that shared the name, the first I have information on is Tuskar (1890) which acted more in a relief capacity on the Waterford route from what I have read and was lost on the West Coast of Ireland during WWI. Tuskar (1920) was specifically built to accommodate the trade on the Waterford run and first sailed the route on the 1st September 1920.  She worked alongside the Rockabill for a time but after import duties started to take a toll on the company’s business she was sold to Swedish owners in 1937.  She would later be seized by Nazi Germany and her ultimate fate was to be sunk off the Greek coast in 1944.[ix]

SS Tuskar (1920) leaving Waterford. Andy Kelly Collection

The arrival of the MV Tuskar into Waterford was covered in many of the national papers of the time and according to the Cork Examiner[x] she arrived into Waterford on Monday 25th June.  On Tuesday a reception was held aboard and she was shown off to an invited audience. (although Des Griffin of the Waterford Maritime History Facebook page told me recently that although he was only a child he was able to go aboard and explore the ship from stem to stern) The guests included the following dignitaries: “Councillor John Griffen,  Mayor; Mr. Sean Gillen, City Manager; Mr. F. Cassin. Chairman of the Harbour Board; Mr P. Breen, President, Chamber of Commerce, were received on board yesterday. The attendance also included Captain Chestnut, Mr. William Logan, and Mr. A. Cuthbert. Glasgow, managing director and director of the company respectively, and Mr. W. D Sterling, a local manager.”

The article went on the describe the ship as a ; “1,597-ton vessel… a 15 ton and three five-ton cranes…equipped for the container traffic with accommodation for 450 cattle and a refrigerated hold for 100 tons of frozen cargo. Her speed is 14 knots.”  She departed on Wednesday with a general freight cargo and what was to be her mainstay on the route 370 cattle and 40 horses.

Her career was short-lived and there is little of the drama or excitement that would be connected to her forbearers.  The one tragedy with which she is associated in the papers was the drowning of a 16 year old apprentice at the L&N of Broad Street as it then was.  James Hanrahan of Morrison’s Road was lost down the side of the Tuskar when she berthed at the Clyde wharf in June 1966.  James was apparently cycling along the quay with his fishing rod when the bike swerved and James was thrown over the handlebars.  James’ body was later recovered by the Portlairge in September.

MV Tuskar, photo courtesy of Frank Cheevers

In 1967 she was reported as carrying up to 1000 live pigs, the largest consignment to leave the port since WWII, accumulated due to a bacon strike[xi].  While in 1968 the Munster Express[xii] carried a photo of a powdered milk shipment being loaded aboard, paid for by the Cork Rotary Club and bound for Liverpool and hence India to assist as famine relief.

But in December of 1968 the newspapers both national and local carried the story of the sale of the ship.  A company spokesman explained in the Irish Independent[xiii] that the sale was partly due to government policy to slaughter and process animals in Ireland.  Perhaps not surprisingly the Munster Express[xiv] was more concerned about the impact on jobs the route closure heralded and more generally in the position of the Port of Waterford in the overall scheme of maritime affairs in Ireland.

The sale of Tuskar was only another step in the sad decline of a once vital employer in the city of Waterford and her environs and although the company offices would remain open for another few years the writing was on the wall.  Today all that remains are the iconic offices on Customs House Quay, the sculpture to honour the crews of the Coningbeg and Formby and the fading memories of those that were lucky enough to see them sail into port. 

I’d like to thank Demma Hutchinson and Mark Fenton who helped me with this piece, both their dads also sailed on the Tuskar.  If anyone has any memories to share of crew or as passengers  I would be delighted to receive them for addition to this piece.


Sources used includes:

McElwee. R.  The Last Voyage of the Waterford Steamers.

[McRonald. M.  The Irish Boats. Vol II Liverpool to Cork and Waterford.  2006. Tempus. Stroud. Gloucestershire. Pp130-137