SS Valdura – a lucky escape

SS Valdura

On Tuesday 12th January 1926 the SS Valdura ran headlong onto the rocks east of Kilmore Quay at a spot appropriately known as The Forlorn.  She had sailed from Baltimore on December 29th and was bound for Liverpool. [1] Her holds were filled with maize (Indian Corn).  The Valdura (1910) was a steel screw steamer of 5,507 registered tonnage and owned by the Valdura Steamship Co. Ltd., of Glasgow.

SS Valdura aground at the Forlorn, Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford.
Photo via Brian Cleare

She grounded under the rocket station and the coast guard and lifeboat were quickly on the scene.  However, the ship was wedged on the rocks, with a falling tide, in a light enough breeze and the crew were considered to be at no immediate risk.  The lifeboat stood down.[2]

On Wednesday 13th the powerful tug Morsecock left Cobh in response to the distress signals sent by the ship.  The plan was that a refloating attempt would be made. [3]  However this was a failure and was reported on later in the week “Plans to refloat  her on high tide yesterday proved futile. Mr. T. Casement, inspector of the Life saving service, has superintended the putting of life saving lines on the vessel with a view to rescuing the crew should it become necessary. The crew of the Kilmore Quay station are standing by for this purpose” [4]

A sense of the location of both the wreck and her position ref the Saltee Islands.
Buttermilk is close by the home tab. via Google Maps
The Forlorn, or St Patricks Bridge. At high water the glacial deposit that once stretched to the Saltee Islands is below water. But the breaking seas are an ominous sight.

Professional assistance was called in and the Liverpool and Glasgow Salvage Association were engaged and attempted a refloat on the next Spring Tides.  However this was not a success, and with strengthening winds some of her tanks were flooded with seawater to hold her down and a decision was taken to await the next spring tides. At least no damage was reported beyond the initial grounding. [5]

In an effort to lighten the vessel it was decided to remove part of her cargo and to sell this to try recouping some of the loss.  It would appear the locals were employed to effectively dump the cargo over the side and onto the beach which was then bought by locals, and perhaps not only locals at auction.  For example here’s an advertisement from the Wicklow People[6]:

Maize as it lies on beach is now for Sale at 5s per 16 size corn sack, buyers to bring own sacks and to fill same. Persons buying quickly can get corn clean and free from sand. Terms—Cash. Mr. Thomas Sutton, The Hotel, Kilmore Quay, will give purchasers an order for corn on above terms, or same can he had from WALSH AND Corish MMIA, Auctioneers, Wexford and Taghmon.

With the ship now lighter and tides being right another attempt was made on removing the ship off the rocks in early March and she was reported as having entered Waterford harbour on Saturday March 13th 1926 under tow of tug Ranger.[7] 

A similar fate befell The Earl of Beaconsfield in 1884. She grounded close to Kilmore, was salvaged and towed to Buttermilk for emergency repairs. Seen here at Buttermilk, across from Cheekpoint.
Photo courtesy of Tomás Sullivan

I’m not sure about the next part of the process, but we do know that she was grounded at Passage East on purpose so that her hull could be checked and temporary repairs made.  I presume this happened before she was put to anchor at Buttermilk Castle where the remainder of her cargo was removed.  This appears to have taken some time, and again I’m presuming it was either trans-shipped to other vessels or to lighters, and perhaps both.  The next mention of the ship was in late April when she was spotted passing east of the Lizard being towed by the tugs Poolza and Hudson presumably to a shipyard for repairs[8].

Interestingly the last advertisement I could find for the sale of her cargo dates to April:  Seventh Sale. To Be Sold by Auction.  On 12th April, at 11 o’clock, at Kilmore Quay, Co. Wexford, 350 lots of Damaged Maize, in lots, as usual.   Terms–Strict Cash at Sale. WALSH AND CORISH, Auctioneers. It would appear the auctions were so regular at that point that there was no need for extra details to be supplied.  Of course this may have been a double edged sword.  Much of the maize was carted to Wexford town where the kilns of Staffords on the Customs House Quay was used to dry the grain.  However the smell was atrocious and local residents made complaints, but the County Medical Officer passed the grain as fit to use![9]


Found the following link to a modern day salvage which might suggest the techniques used to re-float the Valdura haven’t changed much

What I found most astonishing about the fate of the Valdura however, is that the weather stayed settled for as long as it did, 60 days. Another interesting mystery was a very obvious question of what the ship was doing inside the Coningbeg lightship and the Saltee Islands, considerably off her route. The answer to that seems to have been kept by the master.

No doubt her owners were relieved to have the ship back in action and the first mention I could find of her in operation again was October when she was discharging ten thousand tons of American coal at the Cattedown Wharves, in Plymouth.[10]

The owners sold her the following year and she survived until October 1942, when on route from Newfoundland in ballast to Australia she was wrecked in St. Mary’s Bay near Cape English, Nova Scotia.

As regular readers know, the blog is supported by a wide range of people who help me with various queries. This mornings would not have been possible without the help of Brian Boyce and his crew mates at the Rosslare Harbour Maritime Heritage Centre and particularly Brian Cleare for the image used of the grounded Valdura. For another account on the incident see John Powers Maritime History of County Wexford Vol II 1911-1969. Johns book and a wealth of other maritime titles are available to buy at the Heritage Centre. Open every Saturday afternoon, or other times by appointment


[1] Western Morning News – Wednesday 27 January 1926 p2

[2] Evening Herald (Dublin) – Wednesday 13 January 1926 p 1

[3] Ibid

[4] Evening Herald (Dublin) – Friday 15 January 1926 p 1

[5] New Ross Standard – Friday 19 February 1926 p 10

[6] Wicklow People – Saturday 27 March 1926 p 1

[7] The Scotsman – Monday 15 March 1926 p 4

[8] Western Daily Press – Saturday 24 April 1926 p4

[9]Roche. R. Tales of the Wexford Coast.  1993. Duffry Press.  Enniscorthy.

[10] Western Morning News – Friday 15 October 1926 p 8

Nuke; an Iron Age Promontory Fort

Living beside a river, your neighbours often include those on the opposite bank.  As rivers tend to be natural boundaries, these neighbours can be in different counties or indeed provinces and so it was between my grandmother in the Russianside Cheekpoint, Co Waterford and her neighbours of Nuke in Co Wexford.  She sometimes knew more about them than she did about her fellow villagers, as they were in view out her window.  If she saw a light on in Mrs Murphys at night she would worry that someone was sick, or when Josie Whitty had the fire lit early of a winter’s morning, she would be all praise for her activity. 

Nuke itself is an odd location.  It’s tucked away in a small, but well sheltered bay and is really only visible from the opposite shore. The road down runs off a back road between Ballyhack and Campile, down a steep, narrow and winding lane that looks more like a persons driveway. It would be natural to think that the name is associated with a nook; defined as a crevice, hollow bay, recess, opening or a gap.  Indeed for many years I spelled the name as I had seen it in some history books and charts as Nook, however a few years back Deena and I were in Ballyhack looking for a gravestone and I noticed many of the locals spelled it Nuke. 

Du Noyer sketch of St Catherines. JK&SEIAS

Now blog regulars will know how much I value the local knowledge over written text, and as it turns out the locals have a sound footing in their choice of spelling.  For according to Hore the placename has nothing to do with its geographic situation, but it is named for St Inicke (also spelled Inioque & Iniogue) who probably had a cell on the tip of the small headland to the south of the bay in the early Christian era. The Bay of Nuke coincidentally was also recorded as St Inick’s Bay.[1]  I’ve read numerous different spellings of the name I must admit, and in recent times Nook is the most prevelant. And although St Inicke was a new one on me, I’ve also seen Nugg, Nugge, Neuke, Le Newge. 

The history of the site however goes further back than early Christian, for it is recorded as a fortified promontory fort by Thomas Johnson Westropp[2] He dated it to the Iron Age (from 500BC – 400AD depending on what you read). Westropp was a pioneer of identifying and recording such forts and between 1898 and 1922 he recorded 195 sites. 

Promontory forts are attributed various functions. Among the suggestions are that they may have been used as landing places for seagoing invaders and temporary refuges during inland attack. They have also been proposed as trading bases, ceremonial enclosures, observation posts, and livestock pounds. Obviously from my perspective any suggestion of landing spaces or trading bases between Irish Celts and their European cousins would be music to my ears. The sites were also associated with fishing, a vital source of food for the settlers.

A view from Nuke towards Cheekpoint and Great Island

Of the site Westropp states that: “The headland, though fenced to the north and west by cliffs, has only a steep grassy slope to the east.  At the foot of this are low, marshy fields, with a stream and a shore flooded at high tide, as we found it after our visit. One can see that it was a shallow creek, gradually filled by the backwash of the great rivers, and in a lesser degree by its stream, probably once much larger and stronger. This formed the “nook,” from which the present name is derived, and was a safe place for old flat-bottomed ships to lie…

The fosse and rampart run across the crown of the ridge, but no trace remains down the very steep slope; perhaps it was palisaded, or even had dry-stone walls, which could easily be removed, like so much of the rampart, for building material…

The works run in a bold curve across the saddle of the ridge and down the western slope to the cliff. The fort is largely made of the small shaly stones…The mound is 21 to 24 feet thick, and rises 12 to 15 feet over the fosse and 6 to 8 over the field. The fosse is much filled up to the east of the laneway, and a house in ruins stands in it. To the west it is cut for the most part into the shaly rock, and served as a quarry for the wall. It is at most 5 to 6 feet deep at the cutting and 15 feet wide. From it there is a fine view of the new railway bridge across the Barrow, and the broad confluence, the curve of the Suir, the rising grounds in Kilkenny and Waterford, and the distant mountains from the blue Comeraghs eastward. Dunbrody Abbey, though near, is hidden by the plateau…”

Nuke is perhaps best known however for the fortified church of St Catherine dating to the Norman era and the building of Dunbrody Abbey, which George Victor Du Noyer, the noted antiquarian, dated to the mid 14th Century[3].  Du Noyer was an artist and geologist who over the course of a half century, travelled the length and breadth of Ireland, sketching and recording as he went, including many local scenes of our area.  St Catherine’s had a fortified tower to protect the monks, but also had living quarters suggesting it was a space for the management of the river and commercial enterprises.  In my own mind I would think this suggests activities such as the weirs, fish curing and possibly tolls or other controls on vessels at anchor and those using the Port of St Mary Dunbrody.  St Catherine’s Bay stretched down river towards another fortification, Buttermilk Castle.

The Bay of Nuke or St Inick’s Bay when we visited last September. The promontory is on the left.

The most fascinating aspect of the church for me however is this; “On the exterior of the wall, to the left of this doorway near the springing of its arch, and at the height of about six feet from the ground, there is a small tricusped niche, which, from its peculiar position, would lead one to suppose that it was intended to receive a lantern to act as a beacon to vessels passing over the neighbouring portion of the Waterford estuary.”[4]

The small tricusped niche to the left of the doorway. An early navigational light in the harbour? Du Noyer JK&SEIAS

My own memories of Nuke are more to do with the Whitty family and the salmon driftnets set out in the bay as John (“Be God the man” his favourite phrase as I recall it and always associated with any story of him) and his family sat in the evening summer sun watching the corks as they lay out on the grassy bank of the headland, poised to jump into the punts to go immediately if they spotted a fish touching the nets. But in recent years we have tried to ensure our own children know it well too, visiting in the punt, or paddling across in the kayaks, and explaining the history of the site.

It’s to be hoped that the work of Noel McDonagh at Creaden Head  on the Waterford side of the harbour further down towards Dunmore East will create a greater interest in the older period of history in the harbour area, the ancient traders of the past and vital artery that the rivers were. It might foster a bit more interest in the rest of the harbour and rivers too. But it is a warming thought indeed for me to think that amongst those who used the early promontory fort were fishermen and that they possibly sat out in the evening sun watching their nets, or fish baskets, in much the same way that I remember the Whitty’s doing.


[1] Hore.P.H.  History of the Town & County of Wexford. Dunbrody Abbey, The Great Island, Ballyhack etc. 1901 London.  Page 251 (I’m again indebted to John Flynn for the loan of his copy)

[2] Five large earthworks in the Barony of Shelburne, Co Wexford.  Westropp T.J. 1918 JRSAI vol XLVIII Part 1

[3] Ibid

[4] Notes on some peculiarities in ancient and medieval Irish ecclesiastical architecture.  By Noyer G.V. The Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society, NewSeries, Vol. 5, No. 1 (1864), pp. 27-40 [1] Ibid pp 32-33

The unchristianlike crew

Following the death of their captain, the men of the barquentine Herbina were described as an “unchristianlike” crew.  The judgement was passed at an inquiry while the ship lay at anchor off Passage East in February 1892. But was it fair, or even accurate?  I will leave that to you to decide.

Over Christmas the brother in law, Bernard Cunningham, asked had I ever noticed the foreign captain’s grave in Crook, and wondered if I knew the reason he was buried there.  Funnily enough I had photographed it previously, as you do!, but had never followed up on the research. 

The grave belonged to Petro Valeiste (Velcich on his grave marker) , sea captain and part owner of the Herbina, a three masted barquentine of the port of Trieste (then part of the Austro- Hungarian empire).  The ship was sailing from Liverpool to Buenos Aires with a cargo of coal.  She departed from Liverpool on Thursday 18th February but ran into a storm on the afternoon of the following day and while the crew struggled to manage the sails, and a hired pilot kept the ship on course, the captain slumped to the deck and died. 

The Herbina was one of 11 ships that entered Waterford harbour following the storm and the Munster Express gave a vivid description of the scene with ships in a sinking state, the pilot boat and pilots run ragged in providing their services and the Dunmore East lifeboat on duty in case of emergency.[1]

When the Herbina was finally safe at anchor the local police barracks at Passage received news (presumably from a pilot) that the captain of the vessel was dead, and Dr Jackman from Dunmore East was summoned and went onboard.  Dr Jackman, however was not prepared for the strange sight that greeted him. For the captain lay where he fell and not a crew man would come near the body, and he had to place a shroud over the body and lift it into a coffin without a hand being lifted to help by the crew.  As the body was lowered down into a waiting hobbler craft, again the crew would not help.  News of the crew’s behaviour must have quickly spread.

Mercator
Barquentine Mercator by Yasmina. Accessed from Wikipedia (public domain)

A follow up inquest was held in Passage East on Tuesday 23rd February.  It was overseen by Mr E Power, Coroner, and the following made up the sworn jury; Capt Kelly (foreman),P  Hanlon, J Kennedy, W Power, J Kavanagh, M Hanlon, Thomas Ryan, J Donnelly, James Rogers, P Cashin, M Kavanagh & John Barrett.

The first evidence was supplied by the Channel Pilot* Philip Barrio who explained that on Tuesday 16th February he was engaged by the dead captain to assist in the navigation down the Irish Sea.  However as the weather was stormy, they delayed departure until Thursday 18th.  By the late Friday afternoon of the next day the weather again turned against them.  The captain consulted with the pilot on his decision to take a reef in the top sail, but to this the pilot objected suggesting he needed to reduce his sail considerably more.  Two men were already aloft and the captain decided to order all his remaining crew aloft.  Even as they climbed the rigging some of the sail was torn away by the wind.

As the crew worked diligently aloft, the pilot took the wheel.  However at some point he noticed the captain grab his chest and stagger away towards his cabin.   He explained that he was too occupied to take much notice of the man, but at one point noticed him slumped and thought he may be asleep.  On being challenged by his apparent lack of concern for the captain, the pilot explained that he had seemed to be in the best of health and it had not occurred to him that he was unwell.  He was also much absorbed in ensuring the safety of the ship and her crew, as the weather was so bad.

An obviously perplexed jury put question after question to the pilot.  Had the captain been in dispute with the crew?  Were angry words spoke?  Had he been ill?  Had he drink taken?  To all the pilot stated in the negative. A doubtful jurist also expressed surprise that the pilot was given the wheel. Rogers went so far as to say he was not satisfied with what he was hearing, but was overruled by the coroner.

First mate Gorgurevich Natals was then called to give evidence and he explained how on fulfilling his earlier instructions he descended to the deck to get further orders.  He came aft and noticed the captain slumped over.  He perceived that he was not breathing but felt warmth over his heart and called to the cook to bring some alcohol.  This was rubbed into the chest of the dead man, but did not revive him.  The jury, through questions ascertained that it was his first trip under the captain, that he was too preoccupied in the rigging to have seen what was happening on the deck and that he had heard the captain say he had been unwell prior to his joining the ship but he was in the best of health since the mate had signed on.

It was Dr Jackmans evidence of the behaviours of the crew towards their skipper which elicited the most surprise at the inquiry, actions, or more accurately lack of actions, which led the coroner to observe “This was certainly very inhuman conduct on the part of the crew” and later “scandalous conduct..l never heard of anything worse…disgraceful in the extreme”.  Mr Kennedy probably captured the mood of the jury when he described the actions as “Most unchristianlike”

Whatever transpired on the Herbina on that fateful voyage many members of the jury remained unconvinced that they were hearing the full truth, but the coroner seemed satisfied and ruled that on the evidence given that the captain had died from natural causes, heart failure.   

Later on in the day the remains were interred in the graveyard in Crook.  No further details are given.  Perhaps his crew went to pay their respects, maybe flowers were laid, maybe nothing at all apart from a priest and the gravediggers.  I have found no other mention of the ship or the crew.  Presumably she sailed once a replacement captain was found.  Given how superstitious sailors could be, we might consider him a brave man indeed to sail with the men labelled as the “unchristianlike” crew.

The majority of details are taken from a report in the Waterford Mirror and Tramore Visitor. – Thursday Feb 25th 1892 Page 3

[1] Munster Express Sat Feb 27th 1892 Page 7

*I had hoped to find a link to describe the work of a channel pilot, but couldn’t find a specific description, if anyone could direct me to same I’d appreciate it.

Three terrible days, Jan 1862

Over a three-day period of January 22nd, 23rd and 24th 1862, a large number of shipwrecks and loss of life took place in Waterford Harbour and along the County Waterford coastline, making it probably one of the most catastrophic events in the maritime history of Waterford.

The ferocity of the weather was best demonstrated from a report that the Coningbeg light-ship dragging her anchor for a distance of four and a half miles, when it had held firm in other recent storms*.

The Daily Express of Monday January 27th 1862 reported that “at Dunmore, the sea rolled clear over the Pier Head, and rushed with great violence up a considerable part of the town.”

Meanwhile the Waterford Mail on the same day reported: “We have had a succession of storms such as we have not had to record for many years. “Old Ocean” has been in one of his rough moods, and has strewn our coast with shipwrecks. The gale of Wednesday was sufficient to alarm the heart of every one who had a single relative or connection with the water. A lull took place on Thursday, but it was followed, on Friday morning, by one of the most terrific hurricanes we remember, and the casualties have been terrible to record….”

SS Royal Charter lost at Angelsea 1859. Wikipedia (Public Domain)
A sense of the scene. SS Royal Charter lost at Angelsea 1859. source: Wikipedia (Public Domain)

What follows is a full account of the local losses over those three terrible days

1        ‘Active’

 “The storm of Wednesday caught the little schooner Active of Cork, supposed to have been laden with coals, off the coast of Annestown, and the captain evidently finding that he could not weather the gale, tried to beach the ship in Annestown bay, and in doing so a tremendous sea caught her, and dashed her to pieces against the rock. Five persons were seen on her deck, none of whom were saved, and it supposed that her crew consisted of nine persons – None of the bodies have been washed ashore. While the coastguards were engaged in watching the goods washed ashore from the Active, they were alarmed to hear of the loss of another, a large vessel, in the same locality.” (1)

2      ‘Indian Ocean’ was the large vessel, the story of which has an interesting twist.

“Supposed Loss of an Emigrant Ship and all on board, – At five o’clock on yesterday (Friday) morning a large emigrant ship was beat to pieces at Annestown. Her deck was crowded with crew and passengers. It is much to be apprehended every one of them perished. From a paper washed ashore the vessel is believed to be the ‘Indian Ocean’, which sailed from Liverpool for Sydney, New South Wales, last Monday.  She was laden with a valuable cargo, of general assortment, with which the coast is strewn. The paper is a printed form, signed for W.Nichol and Co., dated 2nd January 1861, at Bombay, directing the commanding officer of the ‘Indian Ocean’ to receive fifty bales of cotton, and give a bill of lading.” (2)

 “Wreck on the Coast of Ireland.- The large vessel lost off the coast of Ireland on Friday, is now fully ascertained, was the Indian Ocean of Liverpool. With the confirmation of the fact of her loss, comes the welcome intelligence that the captain and crew of twenty-five persons, supposed to have gone down with the wreck, were all saved by the timely arrival of the ‘Europa’, which took them off the vessel before she drifted ashore. The ‘Europa’ was on her voyage from St. John’s to Liverpool, and landed the whole of the rescued men at the latter port on Saturday. (3)

3       ‘Queen of Commerce’

“A little to the west of Dunmore lies a little bay called Ballymacaw, and into was driven a very fine vessel bound from Antwerp to Liverpool, where she was chartered as a passenger ship. The captain availed himself of the idea of which had been put out respecting wind kites. He tied a line to a hencoop, and flung it overboard; it was found to be too light and did not float ashore as could be wished, and was drawn on board, and the line attached to a lifebuoy, which was washed ashore and gladly secured by the coast-guard. A rope of sufficient strength was then sent ashore, and taken up from the beach to the cliff where it was made fast and thus the entire crew, 23 in number were rescued from the waves.” (4) 

The author David Carroll on rt, his wife Pauline and Michael Farrell chair Barony of Gaultier Historical Society on a recent trip to Brownstown
Brownstown head, in more settled weather.

4       ‘Nairne’

“The Nairne, Captain Ness, of Leith, and bound for Havannah with coals, was caught by the storm off Brownstown Head at the western shore of Tramore bay. The haze and rain prevented the captain or crew from thinking they were so near the coast; suddenly the mist cleared and they saw the ominous towers on Brownstown Head, just at the same moment a sea struck the vessel and washed the man at the wheel overboard, and almost instantaneously the vessel struck with such violence that the masts went by the board. Fortunately, they fell towards the land, and formed a bridge from the vessel to the cliff. The captain and crew immediately clambered up the perilous ascent, some of them almost without clothes, and just as the last man reached terra firma the ship was engulphed in the waves, and masts and spars were floating in the ocean.  The captain and crew were immediately taken charge of by Mr. Thomas Walsh, who acts as sub-agent for Mr. Barnes, the representative of the Shipwrecked Mariner’s Society, and they were provided with the necessaries which they required. Some of them have reached Waterford, but others have been unable to be removed from Brownstown. (5)

5       ‘Tiger’

The Tiger, of Bath, N.S., bound from Liverpool for Boston, with a general cargo, was on Wednesday, driven near Creden Head. Two of the sailors tried to get ashore with a line, but the boat swamped, and they were thrown into the foaming surge. The captain and those on board, tried to aid them, by flinging ropes, life bouys etc., to them, but they drifted away, and the men were both lost. The vessel held together until the weather moderated, when the rest of the crew- 23 in number-were brought by Mr. Boyse, sub-agent to Josiah Williams, Esq. Lloyd’s agent of this port. They reached this on Friday morning in the Tintern. The Tiger has since become a total wreck”.  (6)

Loss of the SS Central America National Maritime Museum London (Public Domain)
Loss of the SS Central America. source: National Maritime Museum London (Public Domain)
Although again not a local depiction I thought it gave an accurate if frightening sense of the scenes depicted by David

6      ‘Loss of a Schooner, and all hands’

“A very fine schooner was also seen running for this harbour. She made her way most gallantly until, when in the act of cutting a sea, she was struck with violence on her quarter; she was seen to stagger from the force of the blow, and before she could recover, another large wave struck her and capsized her. She went down with all hands. “ (7)

From my reading of the books written by Edward J. Bourke, this schooner was lost at Red Head, close to Dunmore.

7     ‘The Sarah Anne’

“This fine schooner, the property of Capt. Curran, was lost on Wednesday in Dungarvan bay. She was laden with coals, and bound from Cardiff for Waterford. She was blown past our harbour and lost near Ballynacourty on 22nd inst. Her master, John McCarthy, her mate, Thomas Connery, and also Thos. Dowse, seaman, and Maurice Connery, boy, were natives of this city.” (8)

8       ‘Loss of an Austrian Ship, and all hands.’

“A fine vessel supposed to have been an Austrian, which was seen from Dunmore on Friday, inside Hook Tower, was struck by an awful surge, and went down, and not a soul has been saved.”  (9)

9       ‘The Sophia’

 “The vessel, belonging to Mr. Bellord, of this city, laden with coals, from Cardiff, was while running into this harbour, struck by a sea, near Creden Head, with such violence that her wheel was broken and she became almost unmanageable. The captain (Barry) succeeded in getting her inside Creden Head, and beached her in comparatively still water. The crew was brought off by the pilot cutter Gannet.” (10)

10     ‘The Angelica’

During the gale on Monday, the Angelica, of Genoa, Domina master, from New York, with grain, which had called into Queenstown for orders and taken a Cork pilot on board was, while on her voyage to Newcastle, driven into our harbour. (The wind blowing strong from the south west.) She was unable to bear up for Passage, and struck on Creden Bay bank, close to the Sophia. The Duncannon and City of Paris steamers tried yesterday evening to tow her off, but failed in their attempt, though the vessel was lightened by throwing some of the wheat overboard. The crew are all safe.”  (11)

The inclusion of the Angelica, brings the list of vessels lost to ten, which is what the main headline in the Waterford Mail stated.  Disaster, was not confined to the County Waterford coastline. Other parts of the country were also witness to tragic losses and Waterford ships were casualties of the severe weather elsewhere. Further reading of newspapers of the time record that the stern portion of the Martha of Wexford was washed ashore near Waterford with no news of her crew.

The Waterford Mail also reported on January 27th as follows:

 “It is our melancholy duty to report the total loss of this fine schooner on the south-west coast. Her master (Thomas) and three of her crew have also been lost. The Prudence (148 tons register) was built of oak at Bedford, and owned by Messrs. White Brothers of this city. She was laden with oats and bound from Limerick to London. We are sorry to hear that was uninsured.”

The paper also reported that the S.S. Diana of Waterford from London for Rotterdam was reported on shore at Brielle. (South Holland.) Amongst all the sad and poignant reports of vessels and crews being lost, it was pleasing to see recorded that the steamer Vesta arrived safely to Waterford:

SAFE ARRIVAL OF THE VESTA

“The arrival of the Vesta steamer from Liverpool created quite a sensation in this city on Saturday. She had sailed on Wednesday, and faced both terrific storms of Wednesday night and Friday morning. She had a terrific conflict with the elements; but owing to the good seamanship of Captain Coffey and the crew, she made her voyage with less loss than might have been anticipated. During her passage the storm was so great that the man at the helm was lashed to the wheel to prevent him being washed over-board and the mate was with him to steer the vessel………..” (12) 

Both S.S. Diana and S.S. Vesta were part of the large fleet of ships owned by the Malcomson family.  Both vessels had been built in Govan, Glasgow and not in their own Neptune iron shipyard in Waterford.  

Well thats 2019 off to a great guest blogging start! I am indebted to David Carroll for this excellent report, giving as it does not just an historical record but a clear sense of the danger and difficulties posed to 19th Century sailors. It brings the value of the modern meteorological service into sharp focus. Perhaps those who would like to criticise forecasters for weather warnings and trying to keep people safe should dwell a moment or two on events such as these and how fortunate we now are

If you would like to submit a guest blog I would be delighted to receive it. Its an opportunity for anyone to contribute to telling the story of the area on the last Friday of the month. It needs to be something in relation to the maritime history of the three sister rivers, harbour or our coastline, about 1200 words, word doc format and submitted to tidesntales@gmail.com

In next months guest blog Roy Dooney brings us the story of the building of Dunmore Harbour. And its a beauty.

If you want further information/a different perspective on the events of the day, I published a story previously sourced from the News & Star

References:

(1)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(2)          Dublin Evening Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(3)          Derbyshire Courier, February 1, 1862

(4)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(5)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(6)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(7)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(8)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(9)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(10)       Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(11)       Waterford Mirror and Tramore Visiter, January 30, 1862

(12)       Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

See also ‘Shipwreck of the Irish Coast’ Vol. 3 by Edward J. Bourke

*According to John Power “A maritime history of Co Wexford” Vol I, (2011) p 66 what saved the Coningbeg lightship (Seagull) was the hard work of her master and crew, who deployed a standby anchor which fortunately held. A news report I read ststed she was back on her station by the Sunday.

The ancient Ballinlaw Ferry

Andy Kelly Image

Introduction

My blog this week is different to the norm.  Firstly it’s a long form article, almost three times the length of my usual stories.  I had toyed with the idea of breaking it up, but decided to let it run.  Secondly I have had a significant amount of help with the story and two men in particular have favored me with their time, resources and assistance; John Flynn and Paul Grant.

The Ballinlaw Ferry has an ancient history.  It ran in various forms, probably from the early Christian era to the early 1960’s and must have transported tens of thousands of people in that time from the most exalted to the most humble and I’m confident that we will never really know the true extent of it.  A ferry crossing was an important part of the transport infrastructure to our fore bearers allowing as it did for short cuts to be taken before the engineering ability existed to construct bridges to ford rivers.   As such they played a role in defense, commerce, social cohesion and wellbeing, a good example being the present Passage East Ferry further down the harbour.

The Ferry Point on Great Island and the stretch of water across to Ballinlaw, taken from Ballinlaw Castle
Photo by Paul Grant. For more great photos and information on the area check out slieverue.com

Earliest ownership

My own, and probably anyone else’s educated guess about the age of the Ballinlaw Ferry is that it surely dates at least to the foundation of a monastery on the road to the ferry on Great Island (Inis Teimle) at Kilmokea.  At least when the island was picked by Herve de Montmorency as his base of operations after the Norman conquest we are told that it was chosen because of its strategic position on the Wexford – Waterford road, suggesting, if not confirming the pre-existence of the ferry.  The Island was passed over to William Marshall on his death in 1205 and remained as an important trading centre until it was eclipsed in favour of New Ross.[1]  

The first official record of the ferry operating on the Wexford side is 1282 when the provost of the local burgh (village, which was probably close but not in the Kilmokea early Christian settlement, but actually associated with a tidal salt water mill and associated farm, buildings etc close to the islands causway) was paying rent on actually two ferries on the island, Colkery and Portilash[2]

Kilmokea graveyard, alongside the ferry road

The historian Hore speculates that the “vestiges of two intrenchments by some supposed to have been thrown up by the Danes to defend the pass to Ballinlaw ferry”[3]

Elsewhere he claims three ferrys are operating on or associated with the Great Island; Of these Hore speculates that Colkery is associated with a weir- after the Gaelic word Coraidh[4] and although not stated I understand from as careful a reading as I can manage, that it was close to Dollar Point, upriver from the Island,[5] 

The next has a number of variations in the spelling including Porsyllach, Portilash, Portillagh, Portculagh and finally Kylmuke – so this perhaps is what we comonly know as Ballinlaw Ferry, there being a very obvious relationship with the last name and with Kilmokea.[7]

The third crossing point is a bit of a mystery, but Hore is of the opinion that it crosses to Cheekpoint. For example he states that in one case it is located past Loughtown and Newtown[8] later a mention of a ferry at Le Crook, which he discounts as being the placename further out the harbour but rather a geographic description of Cheekpoint[9] and finally a mention of a ferry from Kennock (Kilmannock) worth 2s 6d per year [10]

Various amounts of rent are given for the ferrys, but the Kilmokea/Ballinlaw operation pays the most; consistently in the 13thC 5-6s.  Farms are associated with the operation, perhaps as a means of sustenance, or (and I think more likely) as a description of the operation, ie that revenue was farmed from the operation of the ferry.  Interestingly the income dropped from the Island after a terrific storm occurred on August 1st 1284[11].  The mill and much of the farm were destroyed by floods and strong tides and damage was caused to fishing weirs.  It would suggest that there was a vibrant trade on the island that was badly impacted by the weather.

Perhaps as a measure of the ferrys importance, the rent for Kilmokea ferry is on par with the rent to operate the ferry in New Ross (5s), which is equal to the rent paid by burgesses (villages).[12]

In later years the ferry’s are less prominent in the accounts, and it is hard to judge if they were operating at all.  For example in 1397 “Richard II granted to Roger Codde the custody of the towne of Ross together with the mills, meadows, fisheries and ferries and the town of Dubarresilaund and everything belonging to it”[13]  Dubarresilaund referes to Great Island, when it was leased by John Durbaro de Llond who exported herring from the area to England.  However, as you can see there is no direct mention to the ferry operation.*

Ballinlaw Co Kilkenny. Photo Paul Grant
Much reference is made to the Waterford side, this is just a common phrase connecting the ferry with its destination, Waterford

The operation

Looking more closely now at the Ferry of Ballinlaw as regards the operation I have been told that two boats operated on the route, one for foot passengers the other for animals and that this appears to have been the case until at least the start of the 20th Century.  From local sources the preferred passenger transport seems to have been the locally abundant and popular Prong.  However a larger craft was required for animals.  One description was of a boat propelled by two long oars that rowed the vessel across the water.  This brings to mind a lighter, but perhaps it was just a large punt or other vessel (Prongs of great size were also built).  I was also told that within living memory horses were guided across by a boat as they swam the river.  The operation, no doubt, conducted when the tidal conditions were favourable.

In all cases the departure point from Great Island seems to have been the end point of the present roadway which we always called when fishing, the Ferry Point.  Two opinions were offered locally on the landing point of the ferry on the Kilkenny side.  One, that it was close to the present road as it meets the water at Ballinlaw, the other that it was further downriver at a larger quay.  Evidence of the historic maps series tends to prove both in fact to be right.  The 6inch of 1837-42 has it close to the present road, the 25inch map of 1888-1913 positions the landing point further down closer to Hennerbrys/O’Briens, perhaps as a consequence of the ending of the official route.

I found no information on the cost to patrons for a trip. However as the rent was similar for New Ross and the Kilmokea ferry it’s plausible at least, that the rates were similar. The New Ross Corporation book stated that the prices were as follows; ½d for every man and woman, 1d for every horse, cow or bullock, ¼d for every sheep or goat, ¼d for every stone of wool and ½d for each barrel of corn. [14] 

A fascinating account of connecting with the river paddle steamer Ida is worth quoting.  “But the most exciting experience of all was at Ballinlaw, when the ponderous ferry-boat with passengers and farm produce from the Great Island made contact with the Ida as she lay to mid stream.  To get the passengers safely aboard by means of a companion ladder involved considerable risk in rough weather.  But the Ballinlaw boatmen knew their job, and no accident occurred in living memory” [15]

 Another perspective is dated from 1786; “This is a very good horse ferry, but not so for carriages.  It is by much the most convenient way for travellers coming from Waterford, as the boat is on that side of the river; and for this reason you are subject to great delays if you come this way from New Ross – The other road is then recommended” [16]

A lighter being rowed in New Ross…a bit too big perhaps for the Ballinlaw animal ferry?
Via Myles Courtney New Ross Street Focus
Thought to be the Little Island Ferry on the Suir and perhaps a more likely similarity to Ballinlaw. Photo via Andy Kelly

What the papers say

A Headline[17] of UNRESERVED AUCTION OF HIGHLY-BRED DAIRY COWS appeared in the papers of 1863, from the Executors of the late John G.Ussher, at LANDSCAPE (2 miles from New Ross, 15 from Wexford and nine miles from Waterford via Ballinlaw Ferry.  Which I think highlights the benefit as seen by using the ferry instead of the road to New Ross.  The piece goes on to mention of the Ferry Inn, Ballinlaw, Slieverue, on the old stagecoach route.  This notion of a stagecoach route seems to tally with local stories I have heard, but I have nothing concrete to draw on as yet.

Underlining its use as a horse ferry I found this piece.  “Saturday morning a melancholy accident happened near the ferry Ballinlaw.—As Mr. Lumsden, Fethard, was riding towards Waterford, for the purpose of meeting his daughters, who were going from that city on a visit him, he was thrown from his horse and killed on the spot.—He was so much disfigured by the fall, that, although perfectly known in the neighbourhood when living, persons could not discover whom, or where he belonged, until his daughters arrived to the fatal spot, who were the first that made the melancholy discovery.”[18]

And it wasn’t just horses! This from an election of 1830 “A fine bullock donated by James Esmonde Esq. for the support of the Freeholders belonging to the Independent interest  during the approaching contest brought in triumph into town (Waterford) decorated with green ribbons, green boughs, laurel, and orange ribbons being attached to the extremity of the tail and the feet, on which the animal trampled. Mr Esmonde had him landed at Ballinlaw Ferry.  Numbers went from town, met him, and marched him on in regular procession.”[19]  Meeting objectors on Timbertoes, they finally entered the city after the procession was forced through.

And of course it wasn’t just law abiding citizens who traversed the waters. A Waterford city man named Patrick Goggins, described as a tramp, who was on the run in Wexford having attacked General Napper, used the ferry to make his freedom.  He “…crossed into Sutton’s Parish, going towards the Great Island, where he knew there a regular ferry across the river at Ballinlaw. A short distance outside the village of Campile, he met a policeman, who was on the look-out for him… and deliberately walked up and asked for a match. Of course the constable never imagined that Goggins would be so cheeky, and leaving the policeman, he passed on into the village, got a drink and a bun in one of the shops, and then set out for the Great Island district. Here he lay in concealment for some hours…crossed over in the ferry-boat. They crossed too, but could get no trace of him. As to his course on reaching the Kilkenny shore there are many stories told. One is to the effect that he walked through Mooncoin to Carrick-on-Suir and … to county Waterford from which he passed on to his native city, where among the lanes and slums of Waterford be has been since able to evade the police of the city…”[20]

And there were women trying to evade capture too! In a piece titled “The Adventuress in New Ross” [21] we learn of a Kilkenny lady named Keating, well known to the local constabulary of that city as a con artist.  She had spent several days in the town of New Ross and the outlying area tricking people out of their money.  “…she is known to have driven in a covered car from Waterford on the following day out to the Kilkenny side of Ballinlaw Ferry, and crossed over to the county of Wexford from which place all trace of her is lost completely. Where she has gone to, or where she is at the present moment, is now a mystery, but if the police had any grounds to go upon—or if any of the victims cared to make an information there is not much doubt but that the adventuress would soon be in ‘durance vile’ awaiting the sentence of the court. As it is, however, those who have been victimised are not inclined to go before the public and prosecute.”

And of course the weather impacted the ferry too.  In 1838 a S.E. gale washed out the causeway linking Great Island to the Wexford mainland, and also the ferry.  The condition of the causeway was described as “…been intersected several deep and wide chasms, and rendered impassable…” causing problems enough for the island, but impacting travel between Waterford Kilkenny and Wexford via the ferry”.  The article demands a more secure and better engineered causeway for the future of transport security.[22]

20th Century and closure

In terms of later years I have heard that the Barden family ran two boats until at least 1906, or the building of the Barrow Bridge.  I suppose it would be no surprise to anyone that the railways had a significant impact on it.  However locally I was told a service, unofficial perhaps, but a service nonetheless ran until the 1960s.

A member of the Shalloe family did kindly correspond with me recently with some family memories which I think are valuable and deserve recording.  “My granny was a Shalloe from the ferry / Ballinlaw…We were told the Hannigans and Heneberrys ran the ferry from the Waterford side…and that a few of the Shalloes ran it from Wexford side in the early 1900’s anyway ( Ned/ Markie/Michael). They all used prongs as it was very muddy on the Wexford side and you could pull up on the mud with the prong. My greatgrandfather Michael Shalloe ran a prong across. He told stories of dropping lads in under Snowhill who were on the run from the black and tans…The Lannons may have been involved in the 1800’s and the Shalloe/ Lannon families did inter marry”

In some sense the work of Jim Walsh[24] tallies with the family memories above. In it we read that the Barden family (who lived in what I believe was a coaching Inn on the Ballinlaw side)ran a licenced[25] ferry using two boats, one for animals, another for passengers.  Mail was transported, but was collected by horse drawn mail coaches (this seems to confirm that there was no system to carry coaches already suggested).  The last two ferrymen who lived on the Wexford side were said to be Larry Lennon and Markie Shalloe; Larry retired in the 1920’s, Markie retired circa 1963.  The last ferrymen on the Kilkenny side were said to be Neddy and Pat Doyle.

While walking around Ballinlaw last week I met Joe Malone who was happy to share some memories of the Ferry.  His thoughts of course tallied with my own in terms of these area and how close the communities were.  Joe recalled taking a group of Dutch cyclists across not so many years back as a favour.  They had come to Ballinlaw from Waterford thinking the ferry still ran.  They intended cycling onto Arthurstown where a youth hostel was to be their bed for the night.  Rather than show them the road to New Ross, he piled them and their bikes into his boat and dropped them across.  

I’m sure he or others like him would think nothing of doing likewise today.  Or at least they would if boats such as prongs, and those skilled in handling them were are numerous as heretofore.  Those days are fading fast of course and I think I will leave the final say on the men and their qualities to T.F. O’Sullivan[26]: “The test of a good boatman…was to negociate…the river bend at Ballinlaw, on a moonless night. The river at Ballinlaw is known as Paul Gauls, after a pub that stood on the shore there.** I never saw the name written down before I wrote it down myself, because old boatmen are not all that good at writing; but I have spelled it as I think an old boatman would, if he could.  Writing is another skill, to be sure, and no harm to those who have some use for it; but if you were rash enough to challenge a Barrow boatman’s skill the least you might expect as a reply is the proud boast of the Barrow Boys: ‘I’d steer down Paul Gaul’s if the moon was tarred”

Acknowledgements

I have a regular crew of helpers who come to my aid with links, contacts, books, opinions and advice and on this trip Frank Murphy, Jim Doherty and Michael Farrell were to the fore. But as I could find little in my usual resources on this topic I did something unusual, I put it out on social media in the hope of other leads. I had an overwhelming response, and too many to thank individually. But John Flynn not alone gave freely of his time, he also trusted me with his books and other materials which I am deeply grateful for. Paul Grant, likewise, could not have done enough to help me both in terms of time and resources and I am indebted to him for many of the images that I have used. Joe Malone was also very generous with both his time and his knowledge. I also would like to expressly thank Brian Forristal and Martha Bolger for information which is contained within the piece. I also received some worthwhile links and information from the local research section of Kilkenny Co Library. My thanks there especially to Nuala.

Lastly can I just say that I hope I have neither offended or misrepresented anyone’s information in the article. Any errors, omissions or inaccuracies are mine and mine alone and are based on my mis-judgement or mishearing/reading of material supplied. Happy to correct or amend as required. Please leave me a comment below or contact me at tidesntales@gmail.com

A piece recently recorded by Waterford Youth Arts on the boats in the Barrow and a short piece on the actual ferry

[1] William Marshall and Ireland.  John Bradley, Cóilin Ó Drisceoil & Michael Potterton, editors.  2016 Four Courts Press, Dublin (From a chapter by Billy Colfer, William Marshalls Settlement Startegy in Wexford (pp 260-261) via John Flynn

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

[3] Ibid p 198 & see also A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland Vol II), Samuel Lewis (1837):

[4] Irish for weir according to Hore p 205

[5] Ibid p 205

[6] I mention this here because in discussing the position of a ferry crossing to Cheekpoint the south side had three fishing weirs of note, one at Kents Point, the other at Culletons and a third at what we call the White Stone. This appears to be at variance with Hore’s later opinions on the Cheekpoint weir, but I mention it as i think there might be some merit in at least highlighting it.

[7] Hore.P.H History of the Town & County of Wexford. Dunbrody Abbey, The Great Island, Ballyhack etc. 1901 London pp 205-213

[8] Ibid p 205

[9] Ibid p 213

[10] Ibid p 219

[11] Ibid p 210

[12] New Ross Rosponte Ros Mhic Treoin An Anthology Celebrating 800 years.  Tom Dunne Ed., 2007. Wexford County Council Public Library Service p 216

[13] Hore.P.H History of the Town & County of Wexford. Dunbrody Abbey, The Great Island, Ballyhack etc. 1901 London pp 205-213p 223

[14] New Ross Rosponte Ros Mhic Treoin An Anthology Celebrating 800 years.  Tom Dunne Ed., 2007. Wexford County Council Public Library Service. p 216

[15] Quote from Jogging my Memory, The Monks School New Ross in the 1880’s.  Mark Canon O’Byrne.  From The Past: The organ of the Uí Cinsealaigh Historical Society. No 18 (1992) pp 55-74

[16] Quoted from “The Post-chaise Companion: Or, Travellers’ Directory Through Ireland”. William Wilson 1786 Dublin and accessed as a free ebook via Google Books

[17] Waterford News and Star Friday, July 03, 1863 Page: 1

[18]Hampshire Chronicle – Saturday 21 April 1798  page 2

[19] Waterford Chronicle – Saturday 20 February 1830 page 1

[20] Wexford People – Saturday 21 July 1894 page 4

[21] Wexford People – Saturday 07 October 1893 page 5

[22] Wexford Conservative – Wednesday 05 December 1838 page 3

[23] Email communication received over Christmas from Yvonne Uí Chuanacháin

[24] Sliabh Rua: a history of its people and places / compiled  by Jim Walsh.

[Publication- Ireland: The Jubilee and Bi-Centenary sub-committee  of Slieverue Parish Pastoral Council, 2011]

[25] As said earlier in the piece, I am unclear about the ownership/charter employing the ferry throughout much of its history.  From a conversation with my cousin James Doherty who is employed in Kilkenny Castle, it seems that the Butlers may have held this.  How they came to have it, or when requires further investigation.

[26] O’Sullivan TF.  Goodly Barrow, A Voyage on an Irish River.  2001.  Lilliput Press.  Dublin

*Paul Grant first mentioned the name of the ferry to me as Camnock, from the Irish suggesting the steep road of the knock, giving a very accurate geographic description of Ballinlaw even today. Jim Walsh records that in 1407 the ferry was leased for the sum total of 20 pence . In 1427 it is leased to a Richard Fitz John by the Earl of Ormond The Earl was reputed to have built Ballinlaw Castle as a defensive structure for the protection of the ferry Suggesting an important investment, and tallying with a similar investment at Grannagh.

**Poll Gaul was a lady, who ran the pub at Ballinlaw with her husband a man named Lyons. It was later taken over by the Halligan family, and later still (and to this day although no longer a pub) the Malones when Aggie Halligan married a Malone. Via Paul Grant