Buttermilk Castle, Co Wexford

While out walking in the early morning sunlight last week, I spotted something that I haven’t seen as clear and obvious ever before. The remains of what was once the Norman era tower house that is Buttermilk Castle. I’ve written about it before

But here’s the photo I’m referring to from last Friday morning as seen from the Russianside, Cheekpoint. Taken at about 5.45am. I’ve added the arrow as it might not be so obvious to everyone.

And here’s some other photos taken from the site itself when rowing around the river which is about all an ex fisherman can do anymore around here!

looking at it from the river, facing west
looking at it towards the east

Hope you enjoyed this little visual tour. Next time I might try shoot some video.

Book II – a chink of light

Its been a hectic week since my first blog last Friday in the new monthly format. Readership was well down, perhaps because people were out of the habit after a four week layoff. I don’t know. Will definitely try whet the appetites before the next last Friday in July – a story of people dying on the river and roadside at Passage from Cholera.

As I had also said recently I have the new book to sort out. Funding to self publish wasn’t forthcoming from a grant application I made so I have had to rethink. I received some good suggestions about how to proceed, and I even got a cheque from one long time blog reader (thanks Mark) who suggested I write some letters to see if I could raise further sponsorship. A lovely gesture, followed by a pledge from Carmel & David to support me also. And I might still try it. But for now I have put away Mark’s cheque in the hope that it won’t be needed.

I put last weekend aside to start the long hard struggle to try find a publisher. Following publication of the blog on Friday I set to work on another long arduous process of researching and writing . I had a couple of pleasant interludes however. On Saturday we headed down to the Beat The Ferryman swim in the kayaks, and provided some on water support to the swimmers. One of which was uur youngest Ellen, who was entering for the first time, and finished strongly in just under 17 mins for the 600 meters.

Standing by for the off l-r my son Joel, nephew Keelan and my co-pilot niece Moya

On Sunday I had another lovely interlude, a trip to the Wexford Maritime Heritage event held on the quays, and a wonderful catch up with Brian and John Boyce and Brian Cleare of the Rosslare Maritime Heritage Centre. My only disappointment was missing the model maker Johnnie Walker, whose work I admire, and which feature prominently in the museum.

Brian Cleare (left) and model maker supreme -Johnnie Walker. Photo courtesy of Brian Boyce.

So between these fun events I did a lot of work on the book project. I revisited my old list of publishers that I had researched over Christmas. Strangely enough only 3 of the 9 were open to submissions at this stage and so I dug a little deeper and came up with a list of 5 more making 8 potential publishers. 6 in Ireland, one in UK and one in NI.

The submissions were very disparate. Some wanted the whole book (something that put me off previously) but of the newer ones I found some wanted as little as a paragraph on my bio and a paragraph on the concept! Others wanted a cover letter, a synopsis and a selection of chapters. Some wanted the chapters numbered, some wanted a header or footer with my contact details, some were open to email others by post…ONLY…but if you don’t supply an email, they won’t contact you back….WTF!

For coaching I went to you tube and google and found some good resources. In fairness the writers.ie site was probably my best friend for the few days. I didn’t count the hours, but lets just say that by Sunday night I had submitted four and had three to post by mid week. The downside is that I could be waiting from 6 weeks to 6 months to hear anything. Which is a real bummer.

And so I promised myself that this weekend coming I would look at other options. Andrew Haworth at Lettertec had already sent me a revised quote for a scaled down self publishing option via a sponsorship route. And while at Wexford Brian Cleare told me about a possible option to print in China. Another suggestion was from Tony Babb, who’s new book on WWI salvage (and includes to Dunmore account of UC 44) is wonderful by the way, to check out Amazon and do a print by order system. Now I have to say that I fundamentally disagree with either concept, but it won’t hurt to explore.

But then Tuesday something interesting happened. A publisher (which requested the two paragraphs) replied back on email and a “Submissions Editor” requested a sample chapter. I was on lunch, in work and only had my phone. So I managed to edit a three chapter down to one on the phone. The only issue was that it was a google docs file. Not as straightforward to access as a word file. Jesus, would I be better to wait I wondered. Yet my gut said strike while the iron was hot. Five minutes later she came back and said she liked it, it was different. Would I fill out an Authors Questionnaire which she could bring to a meeting with the publishers sales and marketing team?…

If this keeps going I’ll need to get a colour in my hair

Well the 8 page questionnaire had to wait till I got home. I spent all of yesterday (Thursday) from 6.35am – 4.05 pm, with a breakfast in between, working to finalise the submission. The historical fiction author, Ruadh Butler, generously offered to look over the piece when finished. If the sales and marketing people like it, it will still need to go to an acquisition meeting. I still might end up a dead end. But at least I’m trying.

Anyway, stay tuned, who knows what twists and turns are coming my way. I’ll try not to bore people about it. In fact what I intend to do is to set up a new page on the blog for Book II.  If people are interested they can check in that way.

Hell Hole Horror – wreck of the SS Kinsale

On Saturday evening, 23rd November 1872 the SS Kinsale grounded on the Wexford side of Waterford harbour at a spot known locally as the Hell Hole. It was an appropriate name for the events that were to follow and it resulted in one of the largest losses of life in the harbour. But it made headlines for an altogether different reason, a very untruthful one.

On Friday 22nd November 1872 the steamer SS Kinsale slipped her moorings in Cork and sailed out the River Lee on her return trip to her home port of Glasgow.  Already the weather was turning contrary and her regular 20 man crew realised it was going to be a rough passage early on, at least until the rounded the Tuskar, and more than one of them felt sorry for their 8 passengers, particularly the only lady, now huddled in a corner of the saloon.

SS Kinsale. Used with kind permission of Brian Cleare

The Kinsale was a ship of 383 tons, over 197 ft long and had been launched in 1865 in the Glasgow shipyard of Henderson, Coulborn & Co, Renfrew. She was registered in that city to the Glasgow, Cork & Waterford Steam Navigation Co. Her crew were regulars mostly from her home port and they knew the journey very well.  Although rigged with sails, she rarely used them, preferring instead her reliable and powerful engine lovingly maintained by her chief engineer, Edward Cooke.  Aboard she carried a general cargo including agricultural products such as butter, bacon, sacks of flour and casks of beer.

Once they rounded Roches Point at the eastern tip of Cork harbour the seas broke across her decks and struggled to clear the scuppers before the next wave crashed aboard.  As she continued along the southern Irish coast during that night the weather deteriorated further.  When off the Wexford coast the chief engineer came on deck and advised Captain Stephen Anderson that they needed to find shelter as his engines could not take much more punishment.[ 

Seaman Angus Nicholson reported on deck for his watch at about 3pm on Saturday 23rd and took the helm.  The Kinsale was handling badly and over the howling gale he struggled to hear the orders of Captain Anderson, who directed him to make for Waterford harbour to seek shelter. The navigation was well known to them as Waterford was on their regular three way route and the crew had only left Waterford on the 20th for Cork. Together on the open bridge they struggled to keep the salt spray from their eyes and to pick out the light of the Hook Lighthouse.  They were joined momentarily by the Chief Engineer who communicated hurriedly with the Captain, parts of which were clear to the seaman and did little to provide reassurance.  The engineer had a worried look on his face and although he had tried to nurse the engine as long as possible, it now needed urgent repairs.

By 4pm they had entered the harbour but the sailors could take little solace in his.  Known as the graveyard of a thousand ships, every man aboard knew there was still a way to go, and plenty of danger still.  Almost within line of Creaden Head, where the sight of Duncannon gave a hint of the welcoming safety of the upper reaches there was a sickening crash from below, as her propeller shaft finally succumbed to the tons of pressure forced on it by the sea.  The ship slowly dropped her forward momentum and wallowed in the heaving seas.  By then they were out of sight of Dunmore East and Duncannon was still a distance.

Captain Anderson must have been cursing his luck. He was not due to be aboard at all, his regular ship was in dry dock and he agreed to take command of the steamer on a temporary basis. Now he ordered his men to set the sails, and realising the dangers they rushed to their stations, but each time they tried to fix the canvas in place the sails were ripped away by the unrelenting gale.  It was blowing from the SSW and added to their troubles darkness was coming on.  Each sailor was soaked to the skin, freezing cold and acutely aware of their predicament as the seas and wind carried them relentlessly towards the Wexford shore.

A map of the lower harbour area

In desperation Captain Anderson ordered that the anchor be dropped and simultaneously he ordered the main mast to be cut away, in the hopes of easing the pressure on the anchor chain.  Alas they were still chopping when the chain parted, necessitating the second anchor to be readied.  At this point they were nearly upon the shore.  With the second anchor away and the mast about to drop the men had a moment of hope that there battle with the elements might have ended with victory.  Whether the anchor dragged or the chain parted will never be known, but the short respite was quickly ended as the stern of the Kinsale struck the rocks and the wind and waves quickly hastened her broadside and ashore.  Captain Anderson was seen clutching the rail surveying his doomed ship, resigned to his fate.

Although it was now each man and woman for himself, they were in a practically hopeless situation.  They were aground under a steep cliff on the Wexford shoreline known locally as the “Hell Hole” at Broom Hill.  Each surging sea shook the ship to her core and washed a mountainous sea over them and the cliff face.  To stay aboard wasn’t an option, but the shore held no cover.  In desperation many jumped more in helplessness than in hope, which others tried to negotiate ropes and fallen stays in the hope of reaching the rocks and a sheltered crevice.  Many were washed away in those early minutes.  Depending on where others made it ashore they faced a sheer cliff of rock or a wet and slippery vertical grassy climb, neither option was favourable, but it was better than the sea.  Perhaps they could hope that help was on its way.

Just a sample of the weekends fun in Wexford

Although the ship had been sighted earlier, her fate was not clear to many.  A duty coastguard stationed at the lookout at Dunmore East named Daniel Sullivan had spotted the ship earlier but as the ship was then making her way upriver he didn’t notice anything amiss.  As the Kinsale went further up she was lost in the storm and the gathering gloom.  Soldiers on duty at Duncannon Fort also spotted the ship but reported no concerns for the ship below them in the harbour.  But two local men at Harrylock on the Hook realised the danger the ship was in and one, John Ronan, left on horseback to alert the Coastguard at Fethard.

Other locals also ran to the scene in an attempt to give what assistance they could, but without the necessary equipment they could do little more that act as witnesses to the unfolding tragedy below them on the rocks.  In the dark and fearsome gale, getting soaked by waves and sea spray they reached out with their bare hands and offered what rope they could find in an attempt to assist the people below. 

SS Kinsale aground in the Hell Hole. Used with kind permission of Brian Cleare

The local parish priest described it as follows: “…the poor people of the locality; men, women, and children—risked their lives to save the ill-fated crew and passengers. The men were trying to fish them with whatever bits of rope they could find in the hurry of the moment, but they were found to be useless—too short and too rotten. Men and women leaned over the awful precipice, white with the foam, and drenched with the spray of the angry waves in hope of being able to save some of the sufferers at the manifest and imminent peril of their own lives….”

Realising that their fate was in their own hands, many of the shipwrecked men started to climb the cliff face, reaching out and finding in their desperation some foot hold or crevice in the rock to cling too. Ironically, for perhaps the first time that long day, the gale now played a positive role.  For the force of it, pressed their wearied bodies to the cliff.  In the dark it was impossible to know where each man was or at what point men lost their grip, their foothold or just the energy to keep going.

Three sailors managed to reach below the top of the cliff and found help in the hands of a local woman, Mary Lannon.  She managed to get two over the edge, before being joined by a married couple; Margaret and John O’Shea.  Margaret helped to get the third man over, while John ran for rope which he tried to throw over the cliff.  This was in vain, the force of wind drove it back, and so he unhitched a gate and tied it as a weight.  The rope however, was too short to reach the bottom.  The three sailors were brought to Byrnes farmhouse nearby and several errands were run to the local shop and neighbours houses to try make the men warm and comfortable with clothing and food.

Meanwhile the coastguard arrived on the scene, they had been slowed by a lack of a suitable carriage (it had been damaged previously, reported, but no repairs were forthcoming).  Their equipment was unloaded and efforts were made, but despite this only one other man made it to safety, Angus Nicholson, the man that had come on duty just as the ship turned to Waterford harbour in the hope of safety. He had a broken arm, and had managed to find shelter in a crevice. He reached the clifftop having been hauled up while he held on to a rope ladder.

The four men were reunited in Byrnes home where they were provided with every comfort. It was not until an officer of the Arthurstown Coastguard arrived to interview them that they learned that they were the sole survivors and that it was highly unlikely that any others had made it ashore – at least alive.

In subsequent days the loss of the SS Kinsale became an international sensation.  Despite the efforts of the ordinary people on the Hook that evening, the Freemans’ Journal although acknowledging a lone female, rounded on all the others in an accusation of being wreckers – that they did little to help, being too busy plundering the ship and that for days after were drunk on the spoils of beer casks that washed in on the tide. 

FEARFUL WRECK ON THE IRISH COAST. GREAT LOSS OF LIFE. DISGRACEFUL SCENES OF PILLAGE AND INTOXICATION. GALLANT CONDUCT OF A GIRL.[

Headline from the Freeman’s Journal

A local curate Rev Doyle PP of Ramsgrange took up the pen in response and countered the claims.  But anyone thinking he was just rushing to the defence of his parishioners would have been silenced by the subsequent inquiry held under the commissioners of the Board of Trade.  Witness after witness deposed as to the exemplary conduct of the local population, and their self-sacrifice on the night of the tragedy.

Then as now however, the media had a powerful role to play.  And that initial headline in the Freeman’s Journal created a seed.  Slanderous and damning, it fostered an image of the wreckers, a damnable label oft used by the powerful to pigeonhole the coastal dwellers who looked to the sea for their bounty and thought in natural to collect what washed in, as a gift of fate.  The wreckers of the coast was used to describe many the coastal community in 19th Century Ireland including on the Wexford and Waterford coast.  But that, as they say, is another story.

Several people have suggested over a long period of time that some of my blog readers would like to support my research costs. I don’t know that it’s feasible but I put together a short survey, totally anonymous, which I’d love you to consider completing.  The system I’m researching is an online platform called Patreon, which allows patrons to make a monthly donation to an artist, writer, etc that they enjoy. A patrons donation can be discontinued at any point, the amount reduced or increased. The survey is to help me decide if its worth researching the option and can be accessed via the link below

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TKG9H79h

This piece this morning is based on contemporary new articles, online searches and written material including: Waterford Chronicle Wed 18th Dec 1872 pp 2-3
Power. John. A Maritime History of County Wexford. Vol 1 1859-1910. P 148-152 Cork Constitution – Wednesday 04 December 1872; page 3 Freeman’s Journal – Monday 25 November 1872; page 3 Wexford People – Saturday 07 December 1872; page 6 Dublin Weekly Nation – Saturday 28 December 1872; page 5 Cork Examiner – Wednesday November 27th 1872; page 3 Freemans Journal – Saturday December 16th 1872; page 3

New Book announcement

I started 2019 with a pledge to publish a new book. Well I’m a lot of the way there, but there’s been a hiccup and I wanted to give a brief update.

As I said in January my working title was Stories from the Aft Oar and my chapters were based on stories I had heard while fishing, principally from the skipper of the boat who was always on the aft oar. But every time I mentioned the title I ended up having to explain myself. Several offered other suggestions but it was Carrick on Suir poet, Michael Coady, who really set it out for me recently and offered an opinion that I thought made a lot of sense. Since my blog name is now so recognisable and does exactly what it says on the tin, why not use it as the title. I had to agree.

Changing the title meant a slight rewrite of the chapters and I needed to tweak the introduction; and at this point I think it reads very well. I have twenty three chapters and the lay out is as follows

Although the time and effort that is going into the writing is the biggest challenge, another stumbling block has been the location of original photos. I have secured several from the National Library of Ireland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historic Monuments of Scotland. Brendan Grogan, Andy Kelly and Brian Cleare have also come to my aid. I had hoped to secure some others but the costs were prohibitive.

One real boost was a call from John O’Connor who was able to supply me with an original Annie Brophy image of the Spit/Spider Light at Passage East, and subsequently Charley McCarthy sent me on a copy of the blueprint of the structure which nearly blew me away. Its probably too large to include in the book but I must try to get it displayed, perhaps for heritage week.

The cover has caused some problems too. I had originally opted for a smashing photo by local photographer Tomás Sullivan who did so much great work to support my first book. The feedback was not positive however, as it was thought it would be too similar to the first book and cause confusion. I had considered a wonderful black & white image of the Portlairge by Brendan, but as the publisher recommended colour I may go with an image of the Alfred D Snow supplied by Brian Cleare.

All these issues were surmountable with time and energy and good will. But the one issue I could not beat was funds.

I had hoped to get some funding towards self publishing the book; about €4,000 for the costs of photos, proofing, printing and launch. I thought I’d made a fairly good submission to the Creative Waterford fund and looked forward to a welcome boost to the project this week. Alas it was not to be. I already knew that our maritime heritage was fairly low on the agenda nationally, let alone locally, but I had hoped that given the cultural value of it to a port city I might have made the grade. I was surprised at how heavy the rejection hit me, but with a good nights sleep i’m past it, and on to plan B or perhaps C.

Plan B is to try secure an established publisher such as Penguin or O’Brien Press etc. I had tried this earlier on and got one rejection from Mercier. But the real reason I held off sending any more was not fear of rejection but rather a requirement from the others that the book be completed. It will be by this weekend, after Deena has helped me with another proof read (make that about four!)

Plan C, if required, is to basically strip everything back in terms of scale and try self finance. I was doing the numbers today and although I had planned for 800 copies I could reduce this to 500 perhaps, although this saves relatively little. I could reduce the number of photos…a real disappointment, and forgo the professional proof reading. Another hit could a proper placename map. The version on Before the Tide Went Out was a self effort and fairly crude. I had also some ideas for the launch, that in hindsight were just frills that can be done without.

But for now unfortunately, it’s back to watching this space. I’ll get there eventually, and it will feel all the more sweet when I do.

Tides n Tales moves to a monthly format

In May I came to the difficult decision to change my weekly martime blog to a monthly publication.  Several people have asked me why and so I thought it best to set out my thoughts and reasons. 

I first started blogging when in college as a mature student studying community education and development.  Journaling was a personal development tool used on the course, allowing students to reflect and intertwine theories and concepts used, into the everyday language and practice of the student. It also provided a space where a tutor can see that assimilation. I tended to write copious notes, and delighted in rewriting these into what I hoped was a cohesive narrative.

A print of Waterford looking westwards from Dunmore Road area dated to circa 1831. Its an engraving by W. Taylor from a print by W.H. Bartlett and I understand it comes origially from a publication called Ireland Illustrated.

When I commenced with the tour guiding of Russianside Tours I decided to continue the practice, seeing in it a valuable way to record the information, knowledge and skills I had gained over my years in the locality.  It came as a complete surprise when I shared these on social media and got a positive reaction. Eventually this grew to include the wider community of the rivers and its villages. In embracing the wider communities, I moved to Waterford Harbour Tides & Tales. Late last year, with the support of Ronan Cleary of Eagle Dreams, I self funded a new website.  Who was I to start researching and writing this I thought, yet who better?  No one else seems minded to.

In those four years I have, along with those guest blogs, contributed 277 stories (so far) to showcase the areas rich maritime heritage traveling the lengths of the Suir and Barrow and as long as Kilmore on the Wexford shore and Bunmahon on the Waterford coast.  Some stories had thousands of viewers, some hundreds, but I have enjoyed putting each and every one of them together.

An old advert, of an old website, I managed somehow to create myself

The fulfilling part is knowing that many people enjoy the stories as much as I do, the feedback is gratifying and the offers of extra information and access to peoples private documents is, at times, humbling.  This week alone I received emails from America, South Africa, Australia and the UK.  Visited people in New Ross, Great Island, Dunmore and took trips to Lismore and Clonmel.  The kindest offer this week was an opportunity to take a boat trip around the Amsterdam canal system whenever I get to visit. 

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of course is the friendships and the support along the way. All those who have liked, commented and shared a story are supporting me in a very real way. And then of course there are those who are regularly available with IT advice and information. Too many to mention personally, but I have to acknowledge people like Frank Murphy, Brendan Grogan, Andy Kelly, David O’Carroll, Maurice Power, Brian Boyce, Tomás Sullivan, Brian Cleare, Paul O’Farrell and John Flynn who go out of their way to help me source information at a personal cost to themselves in terms of their time. Then there’s my cousin Jim Doherty, who doesn’t let a week pass without a call and some advice or other on a particular story or lead.

If I had one reaction to readers who don’t know me personally, when meeting me for the first time, its surprise.  In general they thought I must be retired to be putting so much obvious time and energy into the stories.  (It’s why I started putting my photo on some of them in recent months – it wasn’t vanity!!) Truth is I work a three day week and although I had hoped I might develop an income from my obvious passion, the opposite has occurred…Its costing me actual money and hours per week. I know it’s a passion, and it’s worthwhile, and if you do what you love you will never work a day in your life and all those memes you see on facebook but…!

so much time, energy and enthusiasm…

So over the last few months I’ve explored how I might retain what I love doing but pay the bills.  Not just that but allow me to grow what I do.  I have a few ideas, all of them based on the maritime heritage of my area, mostly from the perspective of enhancing not just my situation, but the situation of others in the harbour villages.  My deep fear is that I will start down a path that will just cost me more, but if I don’t start down the path I’ll never know if I can make a real difference in terms of the harbours rich cultural heritage. 

I’m also working on a chapter for a forthcoming history book for the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society, hope to contribute a chapter to this years Deice’s, am part of the editorial team supporting David Carroll on a history of the Dunmore East Lifeboat and am up to my oxters with the local development group in trying to enhance the local community, and an officer on the committee of the local boat owners assoc. in trying to provide pontoon access at Cheekpoint for river craft.

Stay tuned, my new blog format commences Friday 28th June…a story of a ship wreck in the harbour that made national headlines for all the wrong reasons.  Oh and my new book.  I’m currently finalising the photographs, and trying to get some sponsorship to help with costs.  Come hell or high water I’m launching September 2019. 

Not vanity! How could I be vain with a head like that!!