Farewell Madcap & Zayda

 On a bright but blustery dawn in June 1928 three vessels departed Waterford’s quays.  Leading the small convoy was a powerful tug, towing two old sailing ships.  Although the tug was a stranger to the city, the sailing ships were anything but.  To anyone looking on the scene must have proven ironic if not ignominious.  For these were the ports last sailing vessels; Zayda and the Madcap, and they had given over fifty years loyal and trusted service to the city, only to be made redundant by steam power. 

The story of these two sailing ships is also a story of Waterford and one man in particular, Geoffrey Spenser.  Spenser was the son of a local farmer, but not being first born had to make his own way.  He married into a coal merchant business at John Street (His wife was Catherine Lyons, daughter of a coal merchant, who later inherited the yard).

Madcap and Zayda moored off Coal Quay (just to the east of the Clock Tower) Photo via Michael O’Sullivan (Waterford History Site)

A coal merchant was at the mercy of all kinds of middle men unless the business could import its own coal and so Geoffrey bid on a decrepit old ship called the Oriental when it came up for auction in the city. The ship was so bad that his was the only bid.  With the profit from this first vessel, he reinvested in expanding his fleet and other ships followed including the Arrow, Caradoc and the Olga.  I read that he was also part owner in the SS Silkstone that sank in the river by Ferrybank and was a total wreck.  The Caradoc sank following a fire off the Coningbeg and the Olga grounded at Duncannon 20th April 1895 and was a total loss. I’ll need to do more digging into the others.

The Zayda was a schooner (I’ve also read her described as a brigantine) and was built at Bideford in 1869.  The Madcap was described as a brigantine and was built at Brixham in 1871.  As far as I can tell they were built specifically for Geoffrey Spenser and both entered into the coal trade.  Both ships would have been painted green which was the colour that Spenser chose for his ships. (a detail I’m indebted to Brian Cleare for) The norm was to bring pit props or other heavy cargo from Waterford to Wales and then return with coal.  The ships feature regularly in Lloyds list and seem to have made a steady income.

During the Great War both ships were requisitioned, armed and staffed with a naval crew.  There is one account that because the Madcap was so well known the admiralty fitted another ship out in her likeness to act as a Q ship and sunk five submarines in this role (Q ships were armed to the teeth, but disguised as ordinary merchantmen. U Boats didn’t like to waste torpedoes on them, so they surfaced and ordered the crew to evacuate the ship prior to sinking them with the deck gun. Q ships would take this opportunity, drop the deck disguise and fire upon the sub).

Although the regular sailing time between Cardiff and Waterford was given as 19 hours, in 1921 it took the Madcap just a bit longer!.  Under Captain Furness she departed the Cardiff Roads in February 1921.  She ran into her first difficulties at the Barrels and having shed her canvas limped into Fishguard.  Following repairs she departed, getting as far as the Tuskar before a hurricane of wind forced them to run ahead of it up the Irish Sea, eventually making shelter at Belfast Lough.  Her third trip was no better, this time managing to find shelter at Kingstown / Dun Laoighre.  It was April before she finally arrived back in her home port, two months later.

Zayda, a Poole photo originally via Michael O’Sullivan (Waterford History Site)

Madcap and Zayda were victims of progress however.  Ships such as these had to be loaded and emptied by hand, a slow and grueling job. Industrial techniques were advancing however and metal grab cranes could drop a bucket into the hold of a steel built ship and quickly and cheaply empty them. Joseph Spenser, Geoffrey’s heir , decided to tie the sailing ships to the quay (by the Clock Tower)  and there sat for several years and, like any unused craft, fell into decay.

At 5am on June 8th 1928 they finally left Waterford’s quays under tow by the tug Eastleigh of Bristol.  The ships had been sold to a ship breakers yard in Appledore. Behind the tug came the unmanned Zayda, and at the rear was the Madcap with a temporary crew of four under Captain Cox.  As if she had no wish to leave her natural home, almost immediately the Madcap started to make water and the crew had to man the pumps constantly to keep her afloat.  Although they crossed the Irish Sea, off the Welsh coast the winds freshened from the south’ard and the Madcap started to settle in the water and became unmanageable.  The crew struggled to maintain her, but an inspection below confirmed the worst, and using a small tender they got away just in time, and were fortunate the tug was nearby.

When the Madcaps temporary crew eventually arrived back to Appledore their families stood on the quayside waiting and prayers of thanks were offered by the local vicar for their safe return .  I’ve no doubt the people of Waterford were relieved to hear of the crews deliverance, but I’d imagine there was a certain satisfaction too, to think that the Madcap had went to the watery element, rather than being stripped and possibly hulked to end her days as a floating pontoon.

As I celebrate four years of blogging each Friday I am going to mark the occasion on June 8th, all welcome
  • I used several newsreports in todays blog. 
  • Waterford Standard – Saturday 05 December 1936 page 50-51
  • Western Morning News – Monday 11 June 1928 page 5
  • Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Friday 15 June 1928 page 14
  • I also used an article clipping by the Munster Express’ Michelle Clancy (It was cut from the paper and passed on to me several years back but with no page or date – I think it might have dated to the Tall Ships 2011)

Dunbrody Abbey

As a child growing up in Cheekpoint, Dunbrody Abbey loomed large in our lives.  It might have been in a different county, might have been separated by a fast lowing expanse of water, but it was a landmark that everyone knew, and I think, were proud of.  We learned about it in school of course, and our parents had stories of visiting it by boat, and it even found its way into newspapers and local poetry.  One that I still recall to this day was often recited by my grandmother.  The words were contained on a yellowed newspaper clipping that was folded into a decorative teapot that sat inside her glass case (the spot where all the treasures were kept, including her best china, our first curls and tatty ornaments we brought her back from school tours!) The poet was a local woman Kathy Leech and the poem went at follows:

Thankfully I typed this up years ago, although I have no year of publication or what local paper published it. Kathy was an elderly woman who loved in the High St in the village when I was a child. Reading the poem for the first time all those years back it struck me as strange that someone then so old was once young, vivacious and full of the joys of life.

The Abbey was founded after the required land was granted to a religious order by Herve de Montmorency (uncle of Strongbow), after the Norman invasion of Ireland. The first grant was to the monks of Bildewas in Shropshire, England.  However a monk (Alan) sent to scout the site found the area inhospitable and hurried home.  Actually he didn’t really put a tooth in it; “…the waste of the place, the sterility of the lands, and the wildness and ferocity of the neighbouring barbarians…We might incur no small damage or loss, if we should attempt to send any to those parts in order to inhabit and dwell.”[1]   Needless to say they decided against a move to the area, but eventually a sister abbey in Dublin, St Mary’s, accepted the ground and work got under way around 1182. It would become known as the Abbey of St. Mary le Portu (St Mary of refuge), although I have read that this refuge concerned Hervey’s wish of the establishment – to provide a sanctuary /refuge for travellers.  However Hore says that it refers to an earlier incident where ships in Strongows invasion fleet found shelter in the Pill[2]

The name Dunbrody is speculated by Hore to connect to a fort (dun) of a man named Brody and he speculates that the spot was an ideal location for an abbey. In contrast to Monk Alan’s report, he described it as sorrounded by fine Oak forest to the North and West, rich pastureland to the east and south (in Alan’s defence perhaps it was only potentially rich pastureland when he visited), fresh water flowing by, an abundant river of fish and a ready supply of wine through the port of New Ross.

An image of the Abbey and Campile Pill from Coolbunnia, Waterford (where I spent my first seven years) by our local photographer of note Tomás Sullivan. (Carraig Byrne in the distance)

One theory about such grants is that it was part of a settlement pattern of the English rulers, a way of managing the land and securing the strategically important harbour area.  The lands stretched from Dunbrody and Campile, along the river front to Duncannon and inland as far as Battlestown (Where the Deise and Ostmen of Waterford battled Raymond le Gros) and Sheilbaggen.  In all it totalled 40 caructaes or ploughlands the equivalent of 13,000 acres today.[3]

According to Billy Colfers judgement, and I certainly respect that, when completed it was one of the finest Cistercian abbeys in Ireland.[4]  Not alone was all this land put to productive use, but so too was the rivers with weirs for catching fish, the castle at Buttermilk, possibly for governing shipping, and St Catherines fortified church in the grange of Nuke.  But like everything the winds of change must blow and eventually the abbey was dissolved.  According to the website of the abbey visitor centre the demise started when its last abbot, Alexander Devereux, granted to the King, his heirs and successors, the Abbey and all its possessions circa 1542. The lands and Abbey subsequently became the property of the Etchingham family, and later through marriage it passed to the Chichester family, who own the lands to this day, although the site of the Abbey was handed over to the State in 1911 (not the Irish State at the time obviously)[5]

Berangers sketch of Dunbrody 1780 RIA from Hore

In my childhood and into my earlier days of fishing a trip to Dunbrody by boat was an annual occurrence. Landing as we did in those days from the Pill, the abbey was naturally the first facination, but over time I became less interested in it and more drawn to a small, ruined church, adjacent to the Pill.  Lost beneath ivy and adjacent to a tiny but well kept graveyard I would explore and try to imagine what life was like at the time this building was in use.  It always reminded me somewhat of the old church at Faithlegg, perhaps because of its size but also the carved dressed stone of its entrance door, contrasting nicely with the rougher cut stone of the walls. 

From Hore What he describes as a Water Gate – the church and graveyard are situated on the right.

In later years I would discover that this is probably in fact the first church built be the monks that came to the area.  It was customary to have a place of worship as the work progressed, and generally located beside an entrance gate, hence Cappella ad Portum – the chapel by the gate.  The monks would forsake this early church leaving it to commoners who worked the surrounding lands, or weary travellers seeking an intervention from on high to protect them on their journey.  The monks of course had their own place of worship, which was exclusively for their own use. It’s also interesting to me that when I was part of the four person voluntary committee led by Kevin Ryan (and included Pat Murphy and Damien McLellan) who worked to preserve old Faithlegg Church that some evidence of the construction at Faithlegg suggested that our church had possibly been constructed by monks from Dunbrody.

One of the best videos available on the ruins as they stand today, from Waterford’s Mark Power

Whether you are interested in history or not, a visit to Dunbrody is a marvel. Its open for the summer season at present and its certainly worth dropping by. I’ll leave the last words to a young Waterford lad returning from school in England named Thomas Francis Meagher who in a few brief words captured the essence of the site for me :”… the ruins of Dunbrody  Abbey – an old servant, with torn livery, at the gateway of the noble avenue.” 

To mark the fifth year of the blog I’ve organised an evening in the Reading Room Cheekpoint on Saturday 8th June form 7.30-9.30.  I’ve invited a few friends, neighbours and colleagues to share a specific blog, a memory prompted by a blog or something that has emerged from a blog.  I’m calling it Tide Line as it marks some changes to the future direction of the blog. Its open to all, free of charge and it promises to be a lively night, hopefully with plenty of laughter. 


[1] Colfer. B.  The Hook Peninsula. 2004. Cork University Press. Page 43

[2] Hore.P.H History of the Town & County of Wexford. Dunbrody Abbey, The Great Island, Ballyhack etc. 1901 London. Page 40 (I’m indebted to John Flynn for the loan of his copy)

[3] Colfer. B. The Hook Peninsula. 2004. Cork University Press p44

[4] Ibid p 66

[5] Accessed from http://www.dunbrodyabbey.com/abbey.htm  Sunday 12/5/2019

Time and Tide waits for no man

I started what has emerged into the tides and tales blog four years ago this month.  It began with stories that concentrated on my youth in Cheekpoint, themes of life, occupation and structures or local features such as the quay, church and limekilns. My favourite theme of course was the fishing and the first story I published was almost by way of an introduction to what was to come, as it featured the role of the tides in our lives, a role that although diminished, still has a place to this day.  It is no coincidence then that this would become the theme of my first book published in 2017; Before the Tide Went Out.

We all have particular clocks that we need to respond to. For new parents time is defined by the cries of a baby that needs tending too.  For farmers it’s generally the dawn, when it’s light enough to see what you are doing, stretching to the dusk. All in all a long day in the height of the summer, but is balanced by the dark of winter.

For factory workers it’s the clocking in machine, that no nonsense system that demands you be on time, or you won’t be paid. What I hated about this system when I worked on the weekend shift in Bausch & Lomb was that it never took account of day or night, snow or sunshine, just a continuous pattern or rhythm like Fords assembly line.

When it came to the fishermen in the harbour and its rivers the rhythm was the tides. As a child growing up in the harbour village of Cheekpoint the tides tripped off our tongues, even as children, and before we really knew what they meant. Tides change approximately every 6 hours and we get two high waters and two low waters in an average day. As a fisherman you followed these with a tenacity of any good hunter following his prey.

Eel fishing tended to happen when the tides are slowest, hence High and Low Tides, day or night. All the eel fisherman required was the eel to emerge from its winter slumber in the river mud.  It was similar for setting and hauling the weirs. But the salmon fishing was a bit more complex. The salmon had a season and a weekly close. So we started originally on February 1st and fished to August 15th and weekly we fished from 6am on Monday morning to 6am on the Saturday. The rest of Saturday was giving over to repairing nets and Sunday to rest. The drift net was used in Cheekpoint, employing two men to an open 18ft punt. . We used a set of 6 nets marked by buoys on either end. Originally punts were oar powered but outboards made things a lot easier in getting about to the drifts.

Local fishing placenames; Andrew Doherty

For simplicity let’s say that tides started with High Water. Thus the tide was at its highest on the banks of the river and along the shore. On neap tides high waters were something you could relax around, but on spring tides you needed to be cautious, the higher tides tended to bring weeds off the shore and you were at risk of filling your nets. Once the nets stood still in
the river it was High Water, and once they started to slip back down the river it was known as “First of Ebb”.

Following High water boats went ashore, and nets would not be set again in the area until the “Stripping of the Mud” about two hours after high water. The Strippin was a word we heard daily during the salmon season, and even as a child there was a recognition of its importance. The Strippin was a drift that was waited for in the Bathing Box below the Mount Quay. Boats would often go in to the bailing box to wait for two to three hours for the chance to be first boat to set on the Strippin. The wait was straightforward. First boat in, was first to set, as long as one of the two crew men stayed with the boat. If they left, their place was forfeit.

Launching my fishing punt in the 1990’s

Once the stripping boat set others could set at the same time from the Binglidies or Snow Hill or at the Point. The Stipping occurred when the mud on the Wexford shore (Shelburne Bank) was exposed by the outgoing tide. It also marked the tides being at their strongest. 

The ebb tide continued with punts drifting down as far as “The Castle” or “Buttermilk Point” on the eastern side of the estuary or to the Barn quay or Ryans Quay on the Western shore (Waterford side). When the drift ended the nets were hauled and the punt returned to the Bathing Box to await their turn to set once more, or set them in on the Point if there was a space. The drifting continued to “Low Water” although many punts went home depending on how catches were going, whilst others when they reached “The Castle” would haul and reset the nets on Seedes Bank and drift them down towards Passage East and Ballyhack.  

A local fishing weir

Low Water could be drifted from a number of points, but the favourite was “Low water on the mud”. This drift was waited for at “the Rock” and was started depending on the strength of tides or wind direction and indeed time of day and whether the sun was out. Again, the boat had to be manned and generally it allowed that one person could go home for a feed, while the other waited. They could use the time to repair nets and generally it was a great way to hear news as other boats passed by. Coming close to low water, a stick could be placed in the mud beside the dropping tide to gauge the time it was taking to drop. The stick would be moved to beside the river until the river stopped dropping, and actually started to “rise” on the stick. The rising tide meant that it would soon be low water ie the tide would stop running out of the river and start to run in again.


Another great measure of the tide was the stroke that would drift in onto the rock marking a change in the tide. When the punt and crew decided it was time to set for Low water, they set off for the Wexford side of the estuary and set the nets off from the mud at “Campile Pill” and then came back in and held the nets close to the mud as they drifted down, in order to “jam” a fish in the shallows, or prevent them getting round the inside end of the nets. Low water was determined when the nets stopped drifting down. This would be seen first with the outside buoy on the net “hanging back” or the corks going “slack” as the current slowed. “First of Flood” was marked by the nets starting to drift upriver again. As the tide strengthened this was called “Flood Tide”. 

The “Covering of the Mud” was another milestone in the day, as the mud on the Shelburne Bank (Wexford side) was covered once more by the inflowing river, and most boats were keen to have their nets in the water for this time of tide.  The flood tide then continued to High Water and the whole process was repeated.

To mark the fifth year of the blog I’ve organised an evening in the Reading Room Cheekpoint on Saturday 8th June form 7.30-9.30.  I’ve invited a few friends, neighbours and colleagues to share a specific blog, a memory prompted by a blog or something that has emerged from a blog.  I’m calling it Tide Line as it marks some changes to the future direction of the blog. Its open to all, free of charge and it promises to be a lively night, hopefully with plenty of laughter. 

Waterford’s Illuminated Fountain Clock

In 1864 Waterford finally had a new fully functioning landmark installed on its bustling quays. Construction had been a protracted, disjointed and often stormy affair as it was funded through an ongoing public subscription . The intention was to provide a clock that would be visible day and night to sailor and citizen alike in what was then Ireland’s busiest port. Perhaps reflecting the Victorian era, it was originally conceived as an Illuminated Fountain Clock. But to generations of Waterford people it became known as the Clock Tower.

An early coloured postcard via Michael O’Sullivan Waterford History Site

The Clock Tower was constructed in an era when time had become a crucial factor in shipping.  For centuries time and tide waited on no man.  But with the advent of steam power, ships now ruled the tides, arriving and departing to a set schedule.  Julian Walton states that it was built to a design of Charles Tarrant and described the motivation thus: “It was vital that everyone should know exactly what the right time was- ship’s crews and masters, merchants buying or selling their wares, drovers bringing animals to or from the quay and the carters loading and unloading cargoes” [1]

1894 image via Michael O’Sullivan Waterford History Site. Jarveys took paying passengers from the location, replaced in modern times by bus

But the reality of the construction phase was far from straightforward and the whole project was not without its challenges.  Certainly the first mention I could find didn’t auger well.  This was in December 1859 when members of the corporation were asked to vote on a motion of providing £150 from the water bailiffs fee for the purpose of providing the city quays with “an illuminated clock for the benefit of shipping”.  The motion was controversial however, many members felt the city could not afford it.  The motion was eventually passed by a vote of 19 councillors for, 9 against.

In May of 1861 it was announced that John Murphy had been appointed contractor for “the erection of the clock tower and fountain at the end of Barronstrand Street” In July the papers expressed relief that the first stage of the building had been completed, and a mound of stone had been removed. It appears that the initial foundations were not firm enough to cater for the soft mud and weak soil that lay beneath the chosen location.  In an effort to ensure a solid base it appears that tons of rocks were piled high on the spot and not until these had settled was the remainder removed and foundations undertaken.  (As I’m not an engineer, I’m open to correction on this interpretation)

In November another local paper article gave a list of subscribers who made donations to support the building project.  It confirms the struggle to raise funds which was by way of public subscriptions (an early form of crowd funding!): “…received the following subscriptions to the Clock Tower on the Quay:—Messrs. Cherry, Brothers £1; John Phelan, Quay 10s; Mr. Lenehan, Quay 10s; Mr. Thompson, High-street I0s; Dr. Condell 10s; Messrs Doherty and Clampert 10s; Mr. Locke, Quay 5s; Dr Scott 5s; Mr. Kelly, Little George’s-street 2s 6d; P. K. Reid 5s; Mr. Ross, Quay 2s Mr. Sullivan 2s 6 ; Mr. Behm 2s. Mr. John Phelan, Mr. Lenehan, and Mr. Locke, additional subscriptions”. 

In June 1862 the scaffolding around the building was wearing thin on the patience of locals, provoking comment and questions relating to the ever lengthening completion date.  In September relief was expressed when a weather vane had been placed atop and the scaffolding taken down.  Unfortunately it didn’t end the saga however, as a wish is expressed that the clock would be next to be put in place! By October one paper described it as a “useless monument” while another, perhaps in an effort towards optimism, reported that the Harbour Commissioners were helping out the funding appeal by donating £50 to the construction costs and £12 towards the clock itself.

It was as late as two years later before some good news was reported – “The appearance of this building is much improved the erection of a pinnacle over each of the four dials. Mr. Mosley (a local clock maker) is engaged in putting up the clock, which will have four transparent dials, each of which will be illuminated by four gas jets. The interior of the tower is rather small, and there will be much difficulty in winding and regulating the clock, in consequence of the contracted space in the interior.”[2]

The pinnacles as they look today. I’d imagine it was part of the original design, as they fit seamlessly into the structure.

The lighting of the clock seems to have proved another challenge and at various times there are reports of the gas being turned off due to a non payment of fuel fees.  The last mention I found about this was 1897.

Hobbit like access door (north side)

The fountain element of the Clock is also a bit of a mystery to me.  I presume this worked from the outset.  The features still exist to the present (on three sides), though not now in use.  The intention was that humans and horses could drink of the water.  However, one account from 1871, explains how a debate at the Harbour Commissioners monthly meeting received a deputation to lobby about watering cattle.  The water at the fountains was claimed to be unfit for human use, and that it could be redirected to troughs to provide for cattle stating it– “…was much wanted for the poor famished cattle…and their erection would not only prevent a great waste of water, but confer a great boon on the brute creation in the city.”  In the case of all great decisions – the matter was referred to the Quay Committee, who we are assured had “power to act”[3]

The twentieth century seems to have been more kindly towards the building, at least in the reportage.  The building settled into the built fabric of the city. Its newsworthiness is as a backdrop, it’s regularly a meeting place, a departure point for political rallies, union marches and religious processions.  It also features very regularly in the 1950’s newspapers for car accidents. 

My father in law, Vic Bible, recalled that in the early fifites you were either early or late for the pictures depending on which direction you approached the clock. A report of the time explains that “…for some time past the four faces of the present clock, grown old and querulous, have been unable to agree, and an independent referee —in this case Waterford Corporation—has decided that the only way to restore harmony is to retire the old and install a new timekeeper. Work on the change-over will, it is hoped, begin early in May. The Corporation proposes to install a modern auto-wound timepiece with four skeleton cast dials, backed with opal, to replace the existing movement in the tower, which is now more than 90 years old and completely run down. The firm engaged to do the work, Messrs. Potts, Marshall, Mills, of Leeds. It is also intended to clean and overhaul the stonework of the Tower at the same time.”[4]

If memory serves the building got a cleaning in recent years, possibly for the Tall Ships. To be fair it has stood the test of time, has served its original function quite well, and is certainly a venerable city institution. The Clock Tower is a building that deserves closer scrutiny, with some fascinating architectural features. It’s humbling to think of the struggles the city had in raising the funds to complete it, but for me it was certainly a struggle that paid dividends.


[1] Walton. J. O’Donoghue.F. On This Day Vol 1. (2013) Waterford.

[2] Waterford Mail – Monday 31 October 1864

[3] Waterford Standard – Wednesday 14 June 1871; page 3

[4] Waterford Standard – Saturday 25 April 1953; page 2

Rochestown roots, an Irish Homestead

This months guest blog is brought to us by Brian Forristal who remembers his ancestors in a small cottage in Rochestown, Co Kilkenny beside the fast flowing River Barrow. A family of boatmen and farm labourers, Brian’s recollections are set in the context of a walk, a few years back through the Rochestown townland. He stopped for a while outside the family homestead which prompted a flood of memories. Over to you Brian.

The zinc roofed cottage signifies the birth of the Forristal family from my perspective, as it was where my grandfather and great grandfather originated.  Looking in on it now, its position emanates ‘homestead’ and I can feel the pull of my roots back to this hallowed spot.  Passing by there on Saturday 17th October 2015, I could still sense very strongly the serenity and tranquility of the place, as I peered through the gates and cast my eyes across the remnants of family history. My grandfather, Thomas Forristal was born on 23rd June 1886 in the cottage in Rochestown, to the union of John and Mary Forristal nee Reddy.  He was the fourth of five children. 

His father is listed on his birth cert as a farm labourer, but on the 1901 census he was a boatman.  This coincides with the stories of him working as a ferryman on the river, probably seasonal work, and more likely he worked for the local farmers during the winter months.  Thomas is not listed on the 1911 census, which may infer that he was either out of the parish on that night, or had by then moved to Waterford city for work.

Brian’s hand drawn map of the area and the hunting ground of local fishermen

The five children born in the cottage include Thomas’ brothers James, Patrick, Jack and the eldest, a sister, named Bridget.  When the then owner, Jimmy Walsh showed me and my dad around the cottage in the 1990’s (Dad’s first visit since its new occupants)we were amazed at how small the interior looked.  What I found very interesting was where the fold down table was positioned; you could still see the brackets, a great space saver.  There were hollows in the wall which held the pails of water, so you had to be very economical with the little space that was available.  There was a small loft upstairs, which was a bedroom, and a room/shed next door was used for the same – which raises the question of where everyone slept?

Fishing and boating was in their blood and they fished on the Barrow.  My grandfather and his brother Jack took part in many regattas over the years and were very competitive; I have a copy of a programme from a Waterford regatta from 1925 in which they were both listed along with other men from Glenmore and Slieverue, and I know from talking to people around the parish that Jack in particular was feared by many crews in competition.

Their brother James is listed at home in the 1901census but by 1911 he is in Clonmel where he is a boarder at house #4 in Gladstone Street.  He is listed as 31 years of age and working as a clerk in a coal yard; he had joined the Irish Volunteers and was out in 1916.  During the War of Independence he joined the 3rd Tipperary Brigade and fought throughout that conflict, but played no part during the civil War.  He died on 29th May 1961 aged 78, and is buried in St Patricks Graveyard in Clonmel.

Landing place in the lower Barrow where boats were moored and a place of work, leisure and storytelling
Brian Forristal

John or Jack as he was more commonly known is also listed as a boatman in the 1901 census and may well have worked with his father during that period; he is listed as being 17 years old.  He also worked in various labouring jobs around the townland, but is best remembered for his rowing prowess on both the Suir and Barrow rivers.  Tommy Connolly (who Brian has introduced to us on the blog before) once said of him “By Christ, he was an oarsman” and in the only photograph I have of him he looks the part; tall, broad shoulders, wearing a cap and under his nose a sweeping moustache, fashionable at the time.  Unfortunately Jack died a young man from peritonitis in the city infirmary here in Waterford city on 19th July 1939 aged 55 years.  Quickly and without warning, as a burst appendix does, a silent and deadly killer that stripped Rochestown of one of its favourite sons.  At the present I am a year older now, than he was when he died, and that puts things into perspective.

A traditional boat of the lower Barrow, a prong with draft net ready to set on her stern. Brian Forristal

Paddy was by all accounts the quiet one of the family, I don’t know.  He was the last of the family to live in the cottage, and in old age moved in with my Grandmother and grandfather in Morgan Street.  I have a photograph taken with my grandfather and himself in the yard behind the house, in which he looks like he is smiling, and on the other hand grandad looks deadly serious.  He was also supposed to be very curious in appearance, and liked to dress well and look after his clothes.  Which brings me to Tommy Connolly telling me that if paddy walked down the mud to give a hand pulling a prong ashore, he would stroll back up onto the bank and there would not be a speck of mud on him.  When I put it to Tommy that would not be unusual if he had wellington boots on, he retorted that that he was talking about when he had his shoes on!  Surely impossible, but not according to Tommy, who stated that mud and dirt evaded him and he always looked clean and polished.  I have no idea of what paddy worked at all his life, a farm labourer no doubt, dad did not mention it, and now in the mists of time I realise I should have asked him more details.

Paddy remained a bachelor, just like Jack, and died on the 11th march 1953, aged 64 years, again laid to rest in the family plot in the Big Glen.

Glenmore Church

 My grandfather Thomas moved into Waterford city to work, and from family recollections he worked on the Clyde wharf as a docker/checker.  We found out that he was previously married before my grandmother came on the scene, and this was intriguing to me as I sought out this elusive woman, and what had happened to her.

Her headstone, at the back of the chapel in Glenmore, records her name as Catherine Roche, and she was from the townland of Scartnamore, not far from Rochestown.  She was born in 1886, and died in 1923 at the age of 37 years.  Family history tells me that she died whilst 7 months pregnant on their first child which was very sad.  The following appeared in the Waterford Evening News on Saturday March 3rd 1923.  Death of mrs K Forristal, (37)  We regret to announce the death, which took place yesterday at her residence, Morgan Street, of mrs Kate Forristal, wife of Thomas Forristal.  The funeral will take place tomorrow in Glenmore.

What a sad time this was for granddad, to lose the love of his life so young and so tragically.  Some years ago on one of our walks, dad and I went to Scartnamore, and we met Pat Grace who was able to  show us the ruins of the house that Catherine once lived in.  It was at one time a fine two storey country house set in off the lane in a medium sized haggard.  The ruin is now down to one level and overgrown.  It is situated near the end of the lane that comes in from the High Road and that runs towards Kilcolumn graveyard.  So it was a very remote setting brimming with peace and quiet, and having only a couple of cottages around them.

I often think of that day, March 4th 1923 with granddad standing at the graveside in Glenmore, a cold March wind in his face, and having to lay to rest the two most important people in his life.  Life throws up many unfair challenges to everyone, but he probably thought ‘why did I get the cruelest of them all?’  What if they had survived?  We would not be here today, and be able to talk about them and remember them.  His life then took another journey when he met my grandmother Sarah Foran.  He was working on the docks and she was employed in a shop in Patrick’s Street, over which she lived.  They married and had five children and the story went on from there, and here we are.  When I am in Glenmore graveyard paying my respects, I go to Catherine’s grave and say a prayer for her and her baby.  I feel I owe that to granddad at least.  Thomas Forristal died on the 29th April 1955 aged 68 years.

Clyde Wharf, where Thomas was employed, viewed from the North Quays via Brendan Grogan

As a tail end to the above I managed to get copies if the 1901 and 1911 census returns and we find Catherine aged 14, and registered as Kate in the 1901 census, living with her father and mother in Scartnemore-Rathinure.  Her parents John (farmer) and Kate Roche, her two brothers and two sisters.  Interestingly they had on the night four lodgers who were all navvy’s presumably working on the construction of the Waterford to new Ross railway line.  In the 1911 census she was still at home and aged 22?  One has to be very careful about some of the entries as the ages sometimes do not add up. The navvy’s were long gone from the house at this time.

And so, last but not least, we come to the only sister to inhabit that household, my father’s aunt Bridget.

The only image I have seen of her was a photocopy of a print that Billy Forristal gave me many years ago.  It shows Bridget standing outside the cottage, proudly wearing her hat, and overhead a magnificent canopy of reed thatch covering the roof.  To her side a bicycle stands against the wall.  All that I have been told of her by dad was that she was a lovely woman, proud and hardworking, who looked after the menfolk of the house, with diligence, family love and devotion, above and beyond the call.  She never married and lived all her life there in Rochestown.  Tommy Connolly told me a snippet of information about her, and that was that on the 1st may every year she would go out into the yard, and having cut a bough of hawthorn, she would place it on the top of the dung heap or tie it to the nearest tree, and then set about decorating it in honour of our lady for the duration of the month.  And so Bridget fades into the mists of time like so many others, and the faint memories leave their trace around the cross roads of Rochestown……and now we take to the road again…

Brians writing underscores the deep and lasting connection a sense of place creates. Its something I’m sometimes lucky enough to share with visitors to my own area. To see the old homestead, a grave, where a family member worked or went to school creates a deep bond with an area, a connection that seems to transcend time and place. But I’m also very conscious of those who are not remembered, who left no trace, not even the stones of their mud cabins remaining. Which brings to mindthe English poet Edward Thomas, and some specific lines from his poem Roads (1916)
“Roads go on
While we forget, and are
Forgotten like a star
That shoots and is gone.”

Next month Maurice Power takes us to Carrick On Suir where we meet a working boat and boat man, that in the fullness of time has almost become iconic.  That of course is my view, next month you can decide

Submit a guest blog

If anyone reading this has a blog that they would like to submit for consideration they can email me at tidesntales@gmail.com to discuss. The blog should relate to the areas maritime heritage be 1200 words approximately. I’m always delighted to get new material, and would love to hear from younger readers too, who might have ideas to share.  The purpose of the guest blog is to widen the scope and allow other  local voices to emerge from around the harbour, coast or the rivers of the three sisters