Mark “ships out”

This month, I’m indebted to my good friend Mark Fenton for a story to bring a smile to people’s faces. Mark like myself was reared in a home where the sea was in our blood and we wanted nothing more than to sail away into the wild blue wonder. Maybe thats why we got on so well when we first met in a factory in Waterford. Friends ever since, he sent this story on to me recently of his maiden voyage. Just the antidote to the present Corona virus crisis.

When I was a child, all I wanted to do when I grow up was drive lorries or go to sea. The motivation for the lorries, was that my uncles in Cork drove regular runs to the continent or were hauling beet and molasses to and from the sugar factory in Mallow. But the sea was my first love, because my father Sean, God rest him, was a seaman. Not a sailor, not a weekend yachtsman but a true, deep-sea-going, bulk tanker, smelling of diesel and Old Spice, hard-working, hard-living and drinking seaman. He was, as it would turn out to be, one of the last of a breed and the likes of which is unlikely to be seen again on these shores. He was at home among the local band of salty characters, some of whom had exotic nick names like ‘Moochy Machi’, ‘Three-dog Kayting’ and ‘The Dinger’. Everyone either knew my father or knew of him and they knew he went to sea, and I the young me was determined to follow him.

Tea break (Smoko) on the Irish Sycamore 1966. Sean Fenton from Waterford, and Chippy Cormac Lowth.
Photo courtesy of Cormac Lowth

We grew up at the end of the Rock shire Road in Ferrybank, Waterford. Our house was practically in the yard of the then fledgling Bell Lines, which grew to be a major container shipping operation. The skyscraping flour mills of R and H Hall was another neighbor on the North Wharf where ships came and went twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Our weekends and holidays were spent walking the river wharves and banks from Redmond Bridge to the Barrow Bridge, along the now defunct Rosslare railway line, dodging the boat trains, counting wagons on sugar beet trains and waving to the crew of passing ships heading in and out of Waterford City. Bell Boats, Rock Boats, B+I Boats, Purcell cattle boats, tramp boats and coasters carrying livestock, soya, coal, timber and combine harvesters…. we knew all the names, ‘Racer’, ‘Rover’, ‘Ranger’, ‘Skellig Rock’, ’Livestock Express’,  ‘Miranda’, ‘Wakfuji Maru’… the list goes on. Global trade and transport were all around us. The ports of Rosenberg, Radicatel, London, Abudabi, Dubai, Karachi, Newark and New York were as familiar names to us as Kilmacow, Tramore or Wexford. And I dreamed of one day being at helm of one of them big ships traveling the oceans of the world.

Crew MV Bell Racer at Kagoshima Japan 30-3-1977. Sean Fenton Bosun. Photo courtesy of Mark Fenton

It was clear to me then that there was no point staying on in school until I was eighteen when I could get away to sea at fifteen. From the 1950s right up until the early ’Eighties, this career path was possible and I had no reason to believe it would be a problem for me. However, the harsh economic realities of the time combined with a decade long dock strike in Waterford port, conspired to ensure that 1982 to 1985 were probably the worst time in Irish maritime history to attempt to embark on a seafaring career in my home town. The R and H hall boats were sold, Arklow Shipping had a reduced fleet, Bell Lines was struggling, opportunities on the cattle boats didn’t arise for an inexperienced 16 year old, it was a grim time on the quay side, the only boats going in and out of Waterford were few and far between, and foreign.

I had taken what was probably one of the last deckhand apprentice exams for Irish Shipping Ltd but by the time that competition was finalized, Irish Shipping had disappeared from the world’s oceans. In desperation, I applied to the Navy, my heart wasn’t in it and I held small hope of success.  With my dreams on hold for the moment, I took a position in a supermarket and spent my days stacking peas and beans while wishing I was instead ploughing the ocean wave.

But I never really gave up hope and one day, out of the blue, I received a call from a shipping agency based in Cork. They had a vessel due in Waterford in a couple of days and needed a crewman ASAP. My enthusiasm made up for my lack of experience and I was offered the job. I handed in my notice at the shop, put my love life on hold and packed my bag in preparation for my first signing on. The night before the big day, my mates and I rallied in Jordan’s ‘American Bar, a traditional seaman’s pub on the quays in Waterford, to toast my luck and to wish me ‘bon voyage’. Wasn’t I the proud sailor next morning as I stood on the aft deck, heartily waving to the lads on the pier as the ship slipped her moorings and pulled away?  I wondered where my first exotic destination was going to be?

But my beaming smile was quickly disappearing as I realized something was terribly wrong. The ship was turning about in the broad basin of the river and was heading inland towards the open span of the Redmond Bridge. Horror of horrors for a would be Waterford salty sea-dog, it dawned on me that , my first port of call could only bet a place called Fiddown, a little village 14 miles upriver in County Kilkenny not far from Kildalton,  the biggest farming college in Ireland.  My face was frozen as it dawned on me that I was probably the first person in my seafaring family to head away to sea and to end up in a village in the heartland of Irish agriculture. It took us about four hours to plough our way up there (pun intended) and when we tied up at the little quay, I swiftly secured a lift home from a Michael O’Brien and was sitting at my mother’s table in time for tea. My father told nobody – it would have been unpardonable for a Fenton to head to sea and end up in the middle of Co Kilkenny.

Dredger Lake Lothing. Heading downriver through Redmon Bridge. Courtesy of Michael Butch Power

Unperturbed by this little hiccup I rejoined the vessel later that night and next morning we set sail for the port of Swansea, I held my breath as the ship slipped under the centre span of the city bridge and I waved up at the people looking down on us.

By the time we dropped the pilot at Passage East I was on the bridge and as the vessel made open sea between Dunmore and Hook head I couldn’t help but feel a little bit nervous, particularly as I noticed that  all the trawlers were steaming towards the shelter of Dunmore. I was wise enough to know that those men would go out in any kind of weather and seeing them heading for shelter had to be a bad omen. We spent two days and two nights between the lights of Dunmore and the beacon of Hook Head, bow into the storm without making any headway. When we eventually arrived in Swansea I thought I couldn’t possibly have been more ill. I had never been to Swansea before and probably because I was so ill, found it to be a rather depressing place full of coal and electricity pylons. Here we loaded coke for St Helier in the Channel Islands and with a quick turn-around we were gone. The trip down to the Channel Islands was uneventful although quite rough, particularly around The Needles and Lands End.  Arriving safely in port, I was a bit more upbeat about prospects. Which was just as well because things were about to take a turn much for the worse.

The first sign of disaster was when the ‘Old Man’ informed me that I was to take over the duties of cook. My culinary skills at this stage in my young life were confined to making toast. The second sign was when it became evident we were running out of food and water soon after leaving St Helier for Dieppe. The old man felt we would make it but the weather had other ideas. I still have nightmares about the nights between the lights of Phare de Cap Levi and Phare de Getteville on the Pointe de Barfleur in North West Brittany; I saw visions of death as the elements hammered our little vessel like a pencil in a swimming pool. Every now and then we would rise up on the crest of a massive wave only to find ourselves at the top with no support, to fall with a sickening slap, lights out, propeller spinning uselessly in the air and stalling on entering the sea again where the lights would go out. But we survived. The storm passed and we arrived in Dieppe.

But not before I learned something new about myself. Each morning the captain, the first mate and the chief engineer had a rasher, a sausage, and an egg for breakfast while the crew ate only cereal. This particular morning I was faced with the following dilemma: I had no bacon or sausages and just one egg. So who was to get the egg – the old man, the chief or the mate? I boiled it up and ate it with toast, before calling everyone else to a cereal breakfast. There was muttering but no mutiny.

SS Kattegat. At R&H Halls, North Quays Waterford in 1937.
Courtesy of Michael Butch Power

In Dieppe, we were to load soya for Belfast, but here too was another dockers’ strike. By now, the shine was wearing off my dreams of a life at sea and as we were heading to Belfast I thought, I’d call it a day there. As they old sea-dogs say, after many other adventures, I arrived home on Christmas Eve, my mother was delighted to see me and never asked any questions. Neither were any explanations offered. Since then, my career path has not strayed from terra firma but I still get a great laugh from recollections of my short but sharp seafaring adventure.

My thanks to Mark Fenton, who shared this lovely, humorous, account of his first and final shipping out. He made it further than I ever did! Livig through these unprecedented times with the Corona Virus shutdown, we need every and any oppotunity to smile. I’m indebted to Mark for just such a tonic. If you want to pass on any comments to Mark, if you email tidesntales@gmail.com i will happily pass them on.

“Hail Glorious St Patrick”

Today is a historic and unprecedented first I believe. Due to the spreading pandemic of Corona Virus, the national Irish holiday of St Patricks Day is effectively cancelled. No parades, the pubs where people traditionally “wet the shamrock” are closed and people are asked not to gather at house parties. And shock of all shocks, even the churches are closed. So this year, I thought I’d reshare an old story of mine on my childhood memories of the day.

On St Patrick’s Day my thoughts often wander back to the “wearing of the Green” of my childhood, and particularly the 9am mass at Faithlegg Church. I suppose the mass stands out, as in those days before the day became a “festival” it was much simpler of an affair. As we didn’t have a car we rarely got to see a parade, except on television. But it was a day off, which like so many others was spent out rambling the strand and the Minaun. However if we were unlucky and it rained we probably had to re-sit a re-run of Darby O Gill and the Little People or, my mothers favourite, the Quiet Man.

One of my earliest memories is of coming home from school with a hand made badge with a saftypin stuck on the back with sellotape and a drawing of a harp and plenty of green white and gold. I understand that the badge went back to the Irish soldiers that fought in the trenches in World War I. We could look forward to a break from school, and also a break from lent. Lent then generally meant no chocolate, sweets, or my favourites -Tayto crisps. But on this one daywe were allowed to relent the fast and I remember one Paddy’s Day being almost sick after gorging myself on bags of Cheese & Onion.


via www.voskrese.info/spl/Xpatric-ire.html

Church was very important in our home growing up, and Patricks morning was a major occasion. The main difference on this morning of course was the obligatory bit of shamrock, splashed across the left lapel of the coat on us boys, and affixing it always happened just as we were about to go out the door- this in case it would wilt before we got to mass.


There were mornings of course when the shamrock had not been sourced due to scarcity. Those were even better, as we were dispatched across the strand and up to Nanny’s in the Russianside. Nanny, like many of the older citizens, took a marked pride in the display of the trinity leaf.

Whereas at home my mother or father first adorned their own attire and we got the scraps, Nanny’s was different. Nanny would have a bowl, fully laden, and as we crashed in atop of her, she would line us up and fuss and bother (in a way my mother didn’t have the time to with five to divide her time) by picking a nice piece and then pin it in place with an eye to detail.

Her own attire on the day always had a lot of green, and could include in part, and sometimes in total blouse, cardigan, head scarf and coat. The coat would have a spread of Shamrock that would have fed a sheep. On then we went, up to the cross roads with her, to board the Suirway bus.


Accessed from www.millstreet.ie

The Suirway bus of course was a trial. This local service ran for Sunday mass and on holy days of obligation, and was crammed with mass goers of all ages. The old lads blackguarding accusing your shamrock of all manner of insult. Some would say it was wilted, others that it looked scrawny whilst others, and perhaps the worst insult of all would call it a “a bit of oul clover” At the church the unspoken competition would be in full swing for the most impressive display, but I can never remember anyone besting Matt “Mucha” Doherty. The spray of shamrock would be emblazoned across the left side of his chest, like the mane of a lion. You could only marvel at how he managed to keep it fresh looking.

The ceremony on that day always appealed to me. I loved the stories associated with Patrick, but most of all I loved the singing. Songs in the church were generally the preserve of Jim “Lofty” Duffin. Jim would stand up in the centre of the congregation and from his hymnbook, sing solo. It didn’t feel right to accompany him, and generally people didn’t. But there were days during the church year that the congregation shook itself free and one of these was St Patricks morning.

It’s as if we dropped our reserve on those days, and, generally led off by Jim, first the women and then all but the most impervious of men joined in and as we all stood, the mass ended is a crescendo of a community event. For me, I think the day meant a lot to us as a community in a nationalistic kind of way, a day that celebrated something that made us proud to be Irish in a country that at the time, probably didn’t have a lot to be proud of. And in standing to sing, it was almost like singing the national anthem. For several years it was the central meaning of the day for me.

After more than fifty years, I can hear the singing yet…Hail, Glorious St Patrick

Hail, glorious Saint Patrick, dear saint of our Isle,
On us thy poor children bestow a sweet smile;
And now thou art high in the mansions above,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.

On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green valleys,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.

Hail, glorious Saint Patrick, thy words were once strong
Against Satan’s wiles and an infidel throng;
Not less is thy might where in heaven thou art;
O, come to our aid, in our battle take part.

On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green valleys,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.

In the war against sin, in the fight for the faith,
Dear saint, may thy children resist unto death;
May their strength be in meekness, in penance, their prayer,
Their banner the cross which they glory to bear.

On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green valleys,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.

Thy people, now exiles on many a shore,
Shall love and revere thee till time be no more;
And the fire thou hast kindled shall ever burn bright,
Its warmth undiminished, undying its light.

On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green valleys,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.

Ever bless and defend the sweet land of our birth,
Where the shamrock still blooms as when thou wert on earth,
And our hearts shall yet burn, wherever we roam,
For God and Saint Patrick, and our native home.

On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green valleys,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.

Warm memories for me now, made more so this year by the required isolation of social distancing. But we can still celebrate the day. The flags are up, food is in, a few drinks on the sideboard are ready to be poured. I wish everyone who reads this a happy “La Le Feile Padraig” and will keep in mind all those who won’t have the time to celebrate today, as they will be working on the frontline to keep us all healthy and safe.

Ghost Ship Maury

The appearance of a ghost ship on the Cork coastline during the recent Storm Dennis raised many eyebrows and prompted a flood of questions.  The vessel was the cargo ship MV Alta abandoned in the mid-Atlantic in 2018 when ten crew members were rescued from the ship by the American coastguard.  Floating freely since she appears to have washed up unnoticed. But ghostships have a long tradition in seafaring communities including Waterford.

On the 8th February 1886 the iron built sailing ship County of Kinross (1878) was sailing off the south coast of Ireland having only just commenced her long sea journey from Cardiff to Bombay with a cargo of coal.

County of Kinross Accessed from https://www.clydeships.co.uk/

In the early hours the watch spotted an unlit vessel wallowing in the Atlantics heavy seas, her masts and rigging in disarray.  No response was received from signals, and fearing some tragedy or mysterious event, they “lay to” until dawn and then lowered a boat and the first mate and four seamen headed towards the sailing ship which proved to be a Norweigan barque the Maury. 

Boarding the wooden sailing ship, the damage was obvious to the seamen and there was evidence of a collision as her port side bulwarks was smashed in and much of her spars and rigging was lying on the deck, she was also taking water.  A quick search proved there was no life aboard which left the sailors with a dilemma. 

Despite the damage, the vessel was at the time seaworthy, had a full cargo in her holds and was within a days sailing of Waterford (if the weather was favourable).  She was, therefore, a valuable salvage prize which the seamen could hardly spurn.  After consultation with their captain, the ships carpenter came across to make temporary repairs, before he returned to the County of Kinross, which continued on her journey,. The scratch crew of the first mate and four sailors then began the trip to Waterford. 

By some good fortune they later managed to engaged the services of a Liverpool steam tug Great Britain which was passing, and with the assistance of the pilot cutter managed to reach and anchor at Passage East on Tuesday, February 9th at 3pm.

Their prize was the Maury(1866), a Barque rigged three masted sailing vessel, built at Arendal, Norway in the shipyard of Ananias Christopher Hansen Dekke. She had departed from New York on January 13th under Captain Hansen with a crew of 12, destined for Waterford with 3,475 barrels of paraffin oil for the company of George White & Sons on the junction of O’Connell St/Thomas St Waterford. 

Maury Accessed from https://digitaltmuseum.no/021176796121/maury-1866

In a subsequent newspaper interview the Chief Officer described the trip across the Atlantic as uneventful.  However as they approached the Irish coast on Sunday 7th the weather became thick with reduced visibility and heavy seas.  They decided to reduce sail, set a starboard tack and maintain a watch.  At a later stage a fog horn was heard, and sometime later they spotted a ship heading directly towards them, but so close there was no time to avoid a collision. The Maury was struck on her port side and the Chief Officer believed that they were almost cut in two.  As the other ship was embedded in their side, and fearing imminent sinking, the crew abandoned ship, but later returned to the Maury to try locate a missing crewman.  This man (named Paul Kostal or Rostal) was eventually located and removed from under the fallen spars, rigging and sails. 

The other ship was the Sir Henry Lawrence, an iron built, barque rigged sailing ship on a trip from Liverpool to Calcutta with a cargo of salt.  Although the two ships eventually disentangled and separated, the Sir Henry Lawrence stayed at the scene. At daylight there was no sign of the Maury, and they presumed she had sunk in the darkness. It was decided to make for Cork where the crew of the Maury were landed.  Despite medical attention, the injured crewman who had sustained damage to both legs, later died.

As a small aside, the Cork Examiner reported the incident in full, and I’m sure there was heightend expectation along the cork coastline, as the paper speculated that given the damage to the side of the Maury, that on sinking, the thousands of barrals of oil must surely float onto the cork coast! Alas

Meanwhile at Waterford the legal niceties of salvage were progressed and the cargo of paraffin was unloaded, most probably via lighter and hence to the city and the intended destination of George White and Sons.

George White & Sons advert from Waterford Standard Dec 14th 1901

Paraffin: Although lamps have been used since the earliest times it was not until the industrial revolution that the technology of lamp light developed substantially.  James Young discovered the potential of a liquid in a seam in a Derbyshire coalfield which he named Paraffin.  Although in short supply it had clear uses in lighting lamps.  Petroleum oil began commercial production in Pennsylvania in 1859 and this would become the worldwide source of paraffin for many years to come.  The increased availability led to an explosion, if you’’ pardon the pun, in lamp design and dare I say refinement!  Many of these lamps were still in evidence in kitchens when I was growing up in Cheekpoint, and indeed storm lamps were often to be seen hanging in sheds. 

At a subsequent court case where the matter of salvage was decided the following is an account that I located via a newspaper report of the time:  The Maury and her cargo were valued at £1,743 and the judge in the case, Judge Townsend fixed salvage £1.700. The salvage money was allocated as follows:  The owners of the County of Kinross Messrs Robert and John Craig (Glasgow), £300; The ships master, Captain Barry £220; James Broadfoot. first mate, who took charge of the Maury, £300; and to George Thompson. John McGillivery, James Pulett, and Henry Hett, the four seamen who went with him. £120 each; Peter Cameron. carpenter £30; and to three seamen who bad assisted him £10 each ; to Thomas, second mate of iron ship, and to the second mate and other officers and of the County of Kinross, £300.

The Maury was owned by E. Dedekam from 1866-93 and having been sold, she was renovated under the ownership of Hans H. Pettersen in 1894 and went on to sail for many years later, until finally sold to a Swedish owner in 1915. I’m not sure what happened to the ship after that.

The appearance of the MV Alta then is no great surprise in the historical context of shipping. There have been many amazing happenings on the sea. But I think the grounding, apparently out of the blue is a matter of some concern. This certainly might have been understandable in the 19th century, but hard to credit, and actually a little embarrasing, in this modern era.

I’m indebted to Eoin Robson who generously helped me with queries and translations from Norway. I also want to thank Anna Helgø, Collection manager at the Maritime Museum of Stavanger, Norway.

My new book will be published in September 2020. Its available for pre-order from the History Press

My Quarantine story featured on Sunday Miscellany

I’m delighted to be featuring on the RTE Radio 1 Sunday Miscellany radio show again this week. It will be broadcast Sunday morning, 23rd February 2020 after the 9am news.

This is my second appearance on the show, and unlike my previous appearance with “Steamboat” which was live from the Theatre Royal, Waterford this is a pre-recorded studio broadcast which was taped in the RTE studio in Waterford during the week. 

My debut in a recording studio, photographed by my daughter Ellen

My topic is Quarantine, a topical piece in light of the continuing concern with the spread of Corona Virus.  I won’t need to link this as it is on almost every news programme and indeed was trending again on twitter yesterday after riots in Ukraine specifically over quarantine concerns, a prison outbreak in China and the first death reported in Italy amid a spike in reported infections.

The Italian connection fits nicely into my piece, as I do mention that the word Quarantine comes from the Italian, ‘quaranta- giorni’, meaning ‘forty days’ a reference to a 40-day isolation period for ships originating during the Black Death, which wiped out an estimated 30 per cent of Europe’s population in the 14th Century.  The phrase Giorni really caught me out in the broadcast, but the producer, Sarah Binchy managed to straighten me out.  In fact she showed patience throughout as she coached me in the art of transforming the written word into spoken presentation.

A quarantine guardship Rhin, protecting the harbour entrance at Sheerness. Source: National Maritime Museum of Greenwich, London

My piece, needless to say, also looks at the practices of Quarantine in a historical context and focuses on the provision of a hospital at Passage East when the normal means of transport was by ship. Air travel is a little more challenging to curtail.

The line up for the show includes

Too Fruity For Words, by Mary Dowey 

Try, Try Again, by Dónal Hayes;

The Waiting Room, by Mary O’Malley;

Quarantine, by Andrew Doherty;

and Waiting For Beckett, by Grace Neville

On a another note, RTE Nationwide will do a three night special on the Three Sister Rivers network this coming week. On RTE 1 Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7pm. Here’s a promo to whet the appetite

The Royal Navy comes a calling

This months blog started with an intriguing photograph of an unidentified naval vessel anchored at Passage East at the start of the last century. With help, my research led to her likely identity and the purpose of her visit; recruitment of young men from the area into the navy.

The photo that started this story, from Hore’s History of Wexford . The ship is seen anchored between Passage East, Co Waterford and Ballyhack Co Wexford.

Last year following a loan of Hore’s History of Wexford from John Flynn of Ballycullane, Co Wexford I came across an intriguing photograph of an unnamed naval vessel anchored at Passage East.  As normal with such queries, I posed it online, and knew that a trusty crew of die hards would soon be on the case.  There was a time when naming these individuals was straightforward, but at this point the network has grown so vast that I am best to not even try.  Initially we thought that the ship might be HMS Calypso (If I recall rightly it was Paul O’Farrell who first identified the similarities) one of two ships in the Calypso class of corvettes built for protecting trade routes and colonial police work.  Both she and her sister ship had the distinction of being the last two sailing corvettes built for the Royal Navy.  The Calypso had a solid career including survey and salvage work before becoming a training ship.  In 1902 she transferred to Newfoundland.   However apart from speculating that she might have been part of the naval manoeuvres which I had blogged about previously, I could not find much more information about her. And if she was present with such a large flotilla why was there not a greater number of ships in the vicinity?

After a bit more digging a more likely candidate emerged, her sister ship HMS Calliope, which my cousin James Doherty discovered had been in the harbour on a recruitment drive.

A newspaper clipping which James Doherty sent along to me.

The Calliope was a perfect vessel for recruitment purposes as she had a heroic reputation. This was earned when her Irish born captain (later Admiral) Henry Kane (another positive from the perspective of potential Irish recruits surely??) had daringly escaped a tropical cyclone in Samoa in 1889, an incident that passed into naval folklore. Whilst trapped between a coral reef and other anchored vessels Kane commanded his crew in making a dash for the open sea, and against all odds the Calliope escaped, whilst many of the other ships were damaged or destroyed. As an aside there were two Cork men aboard on that fateful occassion; Michale Finnie and David O’Mahoney.

The Calliope then was a celebrity and as such was an easy story to sell to the newspapers of the time, and indeed there were many articles that mentioned this.  It would be easy to imagine the heroic tale stirring the blood of young lads looking for a career or a way out of the hard grind of the fishing trade. 

Calliope under sail and with a shorter funnell. It must have been subsquently raised as I’ve seen a multitude of images of her with a higher stack. Photo courtesy of the State Library of Victoria

The Munster Express of late August 1904 described the visit thus:  “H.M.S. Calliope left Waterford on Thursday morning, after a stay of a fortnight. The training ship was decidedly successful in obtaining recruits, close on fifty boys being accepted from among those who presented themselves for enlistment. A scratch local football team, collected and captained by Mr T. J. Kennedy, played the sailors at Christendom (Ferrybank, Waterford) on Wednesday afternoon. . The match resulted in a win for Waterford by five goals to three.”[1]

However a national paper gave a conflicting and negative account, raising a recurring bugbear of the Irish Catholic Hirearchy – religious practice, referring to her visit to Waterford it explained that “Her presence in the city has given rise to no little commotion, and has revived the resolution passed some time ago by the Irish Hierarchy appealing to Irish boys and Irish parents to abstain from aiding the ranks of the navy till such time as the Government would place Catholics on the same terms as Protestants respecting the presence of chaplains on board the vessels. A copy of the resolution was extensively placarded over the city and district, and it is satisfactory to be in a position to remark here that but a very limited number of toys affianced themselves to the condition of things existing to-day on board of his majesty’s ships. On the opening days of the recruiting fully 60 candidates presented themselves for examination, and it was expected that the strength of the navy would at that rate be considerably augmented if it was to continue so.  Then the poster appeared, Catholic parents were warned, and Catholic boys were appealed to not to join. The Hierarchy make no point of the recruiting on political grounds, they speak only on the broad issue of religious equality. The “operations” from the appearance of the poster received a check, and as a sum total of all the energy displayed by the Admiralty in their desire to obtain recruits, and taking into account the fact that the Calliopo remained over the best part of a week to forward the “prospects,” only a grand total of 32 boys could be found to join the Royal Navy during the long Sojourn in the Suir. Let there be no mistaking these figures. It has been said that 85 recruits resulted from the “operations,” It was no such figure, 32. and 32 only was the sum, and all of the “operations and “prospectus” associated with the recruiting.”[2]

My grandfather left with fellow Cheekpoint native John Scurry. They are pictured at Gallipoli, my grandfather a merchant seaman probably on a supply ship, Scurry in his navy uniform. One question that intrigued me was if had joined on the Calliope visits. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it’s a question I have still to answer. Photo with thanks to James Doherty

In relation to the identity in the photo, there was one issue with this and the information I had found on the 1904 recruitment; the first edition copy of Hore’s History that John had lent to me was published in 1901 which led me to speculate on whether there was a previous visit.  A wider search revealed an earlier recruitment drive of 1900; several articles from the time discuss her visit and she was reported as calling at Belfast, Greenore, Kingstown and Dunmore East (one article stating that she was estimated to reach Dunmore of the Wednesday, 5th September, 1900). The Calliope was crewed at the time by 13 officers, 202 men and 183 boys.  A report from the Irish Times[3] goes on to describe the large numbers who came aboard at Kingstown to visit the ship and enjoy the entertainments put on for their amusement including an exhibition by the crew of their duties.

A later poster for WWI accessed from: https://www.google.com/search?biw=1366&bih=608&tbm=isch&sxsrf=ACYBGNSD2tE4ZWSEY3P79MM48weFLa2dZg%3A1579778324411&sa=1&ei=FIEpXtXgGIaO8gKy7Jpg&q=royal+navy+recruitment+posters+1800s&oq=royal+navy+recruitment+posters+1800s&gs_l=img.3…38495.45448..45813…0.0..0.163.1997.35j1……0….1..gws-wiz-img…….35i39.ODvtueqiBk8&ved=0ahUKEwjVuubuzJnnAhUGh1wKHTK2BgwQ4dUDCAc&uact=5#imgrc=nsvDvlrbZDxikM:

In June 1900 the Belfast Newsletter[4] carried an article advising parents of the importance of their sons physical health if they wanted to secure a position in the Royal Navy.  The surgeon of the Calliope,  Dr Keogh, described the three main issues that went against those presenting for positions: Poor sight, chest measurement under regulation and irregular teeth.  With the exception of chest size which might be helped with exercise and a good diet, its hard to imagine what the poor parent could do with the other issues.


Illustrated London News for 27 April 1889; artist’s conception of HMS Calliope being cheered on by the crew of USS Trenton as Calliope escapes from Apia Harbour. Calliope actually passed to Trenton’s port side. It would be easy to see how such an image and story would appeal to young men seeking adventure. Accessed from wikipedia – Public Domain images

Disappointingly I could find nothing in the Waterford papers of the 1900 visit, this despite going through the reports page by page for the month of September.  It’s as if the ship never arrived at all.    The photo tends to suggest it did.  But there again it could have been a different event, we could be wrong about the actual vessel, or I might just have been unlucky in the papers I scanned.

There were many points I had hoped to develop as part of this months research, but I’m afraid the death of my sister Eileen took priority.  To be honest, I found it even hard to find the time and energy to put this together, and my apologies to regular readers if it comes across a bit higgledy-piggledy .  The outstanding elements was to explore the startegies used by RN recruiters in the era, to look at the life of a recruit at the time, I was keen to try locate any record of who was recruited and something of their career. Unfortunately any search options I tried in the UK National Archive gave me no results. The question of the dispute with the clergy was of interest to me too, and although I could only give it a paragraph, its a question that I would have liked to be clearer on.  Another element I meant to explore was a nugget of information that William Power Snr of Dunmore gave me previously of the provisioning of such ships at Dunmore and the quantity of beer consumed by sailors on their trips ashore. There must be similar information in related to Passage East and Ballyhack.   All for another time, hopefully. 

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