May Day Maritime History quiz

As we enter another bank holiday weekend in lockdown, David Carroll has put together this maritime history quiz of the SE area to give you a bit of a distraction. The questions have a maritime/historical basis and any of my regular blog readers will have a good understanding of them already. But for others it’s multiple choice so a one in three chance of being right. David will post the answers here on Monday. So hope you enjoy it.

Brendan Grogan image of Ballyhack in the ealry 1970’s
  1. Ballyhack Castle is thought to have been built c 1450 by which great military order? A: Knights Hospitallers of St John, B: Knights Templars or C: Teutonic Knights
  2. Dollar Bay acquired its name from a cargo of 250 sacks of Spanish milled gold dollars, ingots and gold dust that were buried there by pirates in 1765. The ship from which it was stolen had departed from Tenerife, in the Canaries, for passage to London.
    The ship was called? A: Earl of Wessex, B: Earl of Sandwich or C: Earl of Pembroke
  3. “At Geneva Barracks that young man died
    And at Passage they have his body laid
    Good people who live in peace and joy
    Breathe a prayer, shed a tear for the Croppy Boy”
    Originally built to accommodate Swiss artisans, valued for their knowledge and skills, who were fleeing that country. A site was acquired for their anticipated arrival and was named New Geneva, after the country of origin of the new settlers. The Government believed that such body of skilled merchants would give impetus to trade and commerce in Waterford city and the nation. The experiment, however, failed and the building was subsequently used for military purposes, including the infamy of 1798.
    A famous architect was commissioned to draw up plans for the original town. Was it? A: John Roberts, B: James Gandon or C: Richard Cassells
  4. A saint is said to have to have come to the Hook from Wales in 452 AD and established a monastery on the site of the lighthouse. He is said to have lit the first warning beacon for ships shortly after his arrival. The beacon was maintained by the monks for seven hundred years until the lighthouse was built.
    What was he called? A: Dewi, B: Dyfrig or C: Dubhán
  5. What was the surname of the Arthur who built Dunbrody Park and the village of Arthurstown in the first quarter of the 1800s and provided the village with its name?
    Was it? A: Chichester, B: Rochester or C: Winchester
  6. Legend has it that the fleet of King Henry II, arriving in October 1171, numbered 600 ships and one of the merchants who donated to the flotilla was a Bristol merchant. He was handsomely rewarded with the granting of 7,000 acres of land centred in Faithlegg. This family ruled the area for five hundred years until they were dispossessed in 1649 by the armies of Oliver Cromwell.
    What was this family called? A: Aylward, B: Power or C: Devereux
  7. Duncannon Fort as it is to-day mostly dates from 1588, when it was constructed on a promontory in Waterford Harbour as a defence against an expected attack from the Spanish Armada. In 1645, Duncannon Fort was in control of Parliamentary Forces and Cromwell sent four ships to relieve the fort. The Confederates, who were besieging the fort, attacked the ships. Three of the ships managed to get away but the flagship was caught up in bad currents and tide and could not move. She came under heavy fire which broke her masts. She drifted out into the main channel where she sank on January 26th, 1645.
    The ship was called? A: Great Britain, B: Great Lewis or C: Great Eastern
  8. “Of shipwrecks and disasters we’ve read and seen a deal
    But now the coast of Wexford must tell a dreadful tale
    On the 4th day of January the wind in a gale did blow
    And four and twenty hands were lost of the Alfred D. Snow
    From the port of San Francisco she sailed across the main
    Bound for the port of Liverpool her cargo it was grain
    On a happy day she sailed away to cross the stormy foam
    There’s not a soul alive today to bring the tidings home.”
    The Snow was lost on the 4th of January in year? A: 1888, B: 1878 or C: 1898
  9. In the 1650s, the Loftus family, who were English Planters as part of the Cromwellian conquest were given what we now call Loftus Hall. What was the Hall called prior to that time?
    Was it? A: Hook Hall, B: Redmond Hallor C: Ely Hall
  10. In 1814, Dunmore was a small fishing village nestling in a sheltered cove, when it was chosen by the Post Office to be the Irish terminal of a new Mail Packet route from Milford Haven. The Post Office engaged an Engineer, called Alexander Nimmo, to design and build the new harbour.
    Where was Nimmo born? A: Wales, B: England or C: Scotland
  11. According to local tradition, a track steeped in legend runs from the ‘Forty Steps’ at Creadan Head to Fornaght beach and from there on over Knockavelish to Harristown Hill where a late Neolithic passage grave crowns the hilltop.
    One popular interpretation makes it a slave route or possibly likely to be a smugglers route or even a ceremonial route linking Creadan Head to the Harristown passage grave.
    What is the track called? A: Bóithrín na mBan Gorm, B: Bóithrín na mBan Buí or C: Bóithrín na mBan Bán
  12. Having served as a major in the Royal Marines during the Second World War, Major Cholmeley-Harrison moved to Ireland in 1945 and bought Woodstown House, a Regency villa. It was previously the home of Lady Carew, who had been at the Duchess of Richmond’s celebrated ball on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo and lived until 1903.
    In the summer of what year did Cholmeley-Harrison rent Woodstown to Mrs Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of the assassinated US president?
    Was it: A: 1965, B: 1967 or C: 1969
  13. On August 23, 1170, ‘Strongbow’ landed at Passage with at least 200 knights and 1,000 soldiers.
    What was Strongbow’s real name? Was it? A: Raymond Fitzgerald, B: Miles De Cogan or C: Richard De Clare
  14. In what year was the Barrow Bridge opened to connect Waterford to the newly developed port of Rosslare by rail?
    Stretching from Co Kilkenny to Co Wexford, where the Suir, Barrow and Nore meet, it is 2,131 feet in length and up to the 1990s was the longest railway viaduct in the country.
    Was it? A: 1896, B: 1906 or C: 1916

And so for the answers via David Carroll. Over to you David:

  Q   Answer
  1   A: Knights Hospitallers of St John  
  2   B: Earl of Sandwich  
  3   B: James Gandon  
  4   C: Dubhán  
  5   A:  Chichester  
  6   A: Aylward  
  7   B: Great Lewis  
    8     A: 1888
  9   B: Redmond Hall  
  10   C: Scotland
  11   A: Bóithrín na mBan Gorm  
  12     B: 1967
  13   C: Richard De Clare
  14         B: 1906  

Thank you to everyone who took part in the quiz.  I hope that you found it interesting and that it helped pass some time during these unusual times.

Thank you for all the comments that were posted.

I hope that many of you learned something new about the wonderful heritage and history of Waterford Harbour that Andrew brings to is each day through his social media platforms.

For anyone new, perhaps, to ‘Waterford Harbour’, I hope you interest has been whetted and that you curiosity will encourage to read and research more into the wonderful heritage and history that we are privileged to enjoy.

  1. Ballyhack Castle is thought to have been built c 1450 by which great military order?

        A: Knights Hospitallers of St John

“Ballyhack Castle is a large tower house thought to have been built c. 1450 by the Knights Hospitallers of St. John, one of the two great military orders founded at the beginning of the 12th century at the time of the Crusades.”

https://www.discoverireland.ie/Arts-Culture-Heritage/ballyhack-castle/442
  • Dollar Bay acquired its name from a cargo of 250 sacks of Spanish milled gold dollars, ingots and gold dust that were buried there by pirates in 1765. The ship from which it was stolen had departed from Tenerife, in the Canaries, for passage to London.

                                        B: Earl of Sandwich

http://tramoreshippwrecks.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-earl-of-sandwich-30-november-1765.html
  • “At Geneva Barracks that young man died
    And at Passage they have his body laid
    Good people who live in peace and joy
    Breathe a prayer, shed a tear for the Croppy Boy”

Originally built to accommodate Swiss artisans, valued for their knowledge and skills, who were fleeing that country. A site was acquired for their anticipated arrival and was named New Geneva, after the country of origin of the new settlers. The Government believed that such body of skilled merchants would give impetus to trade and commerce in Waterford city and the nation. The experiment, however, failed and the building was subsequently used for military purposes, including the infamy of 1798.

A famous architect was commissioned to draw up plans for the original town.

                                        B: James Gandon

“New Geneva Barracks was identified as the proposed site for a planned colony for artisan and intellectual Genevan settlers, who had become refugees following a failed rebellion against a French and Swiss government in the city. Ireland had been granted a parliament separate from London in 1782 and it was thought that the creation of the colony would stimulate new economic trade with the continent. James Gandon, who designed the Custom House, was commissioned to create a masterplan for the site overlooking the Waterford Estuary. The plans for the colony eventually collapsed, however, when the Genevans insisted that they should be represented in the Irish parliament but govern themselves under their own Genevan laws. It then became a barracks following the United Irishmen Rebellion in 1798.”                 

https://www.antaisce.org/buildingsatrisk/new-geneva-barracks-passage-east

Watch Catherine Foley read from her book:

  • A saint is said to have to have come to the Hook from Wales in 452 AD and established a monastery on the site of the lighthouse. He is said to have lit the first warning beacon for ships shortly after his arrival. The beacon was maintained by the monks for seven hundred years until the lighthouse was built.

                                                C: Dubhán


“Saint Dubhán is said to have lit the first warning beacon for ships at Hook Head shortly after his arrival. This beacon was maintained by the monks for 700 years until the lighthouse was built.

Saint Dubhán built a church and soon the whole peninsula was known as Rinn Dubháin. The name Dubhán can be translated into English as a ‘fishing hook’ and so, it is said, the peninsula became known as Hook Head.”

http://www.patrickcomerford.com/2019/03/saint-dubhan-and-hook-church-are-part.html
  • What was the surname of the Arthur who built Dunbrody Park and the village of Arthurstown in the first quarter of the 1800s and provided the village with its name?

         A:  Chichester

“During the first quarter of the 1800s, Arthur Chichester built the estate village of Arthurstown on the Dundrody estate which became a focal point for the surrounding areas. The village had a hospital, a coast guard station, a police barracks and a courthouse. The pier in Arthurstown was built in 1829.”

  • Legend has it that the fleet of King Henry II, arriving in October 1171, numbered 600 ships and one of the merchants who donated to the flotilla was a Bristol merchant.  He was handsomely rewarded with the granting of 7,000 acres of land centred in Faithlegg. This family ruled the area for five hundred years until they were dispossessed in 1649 by the armies of Oliver Cromwell. 

                             A: Aylward

“A Norman named Strongbow landed in the harbour in 1170 and this was followed by the arrival of Henry II in October 1171.  Legend has it that Henry’s fleet numbered 600 ships and one of the merchants who donated to the flotilla was a Bristol merchant named Aylward.  He was handsomely rewarded with the granting of 7000 acres of land centred in Faithlegg. The family lived originally in a Motte and Baily enclosure the remains of which is still to be seen.  This was followed by Faithlegg Castle and the 13th century church in the grounds of the present Faithlegg church dates from their era too. The family ruled the area for 500 years until they were dispossessed in 1649 by the armies of Oliver Cromwell.  The property was subsequently granted to a Cromwellian solider, Captain William Bolton.”                            

https://www.faithlegg.com/history-of-faithlegg.html
  • Duncannon Fort as it is to-day mostly dates from 1588, when it was constructed on a promontory in Waterford Harbour as a defence against an expected attack from the Spanish Armada.

In 1645, Duncannon Fort was in control of Parliamentary Forces and Cromwell sent four ships to relieve the fort.  The Confederates, who were besieging the fort, attacked the ships.  Three of the ships managed to get away but the flagship was caught up in bad currents and tide and could not move.  She came under heavy fire which broke her masts.  She drifted out into the main channel where she sank on January 26th, 1645.

                                    B: Great Lewis

    https://russianside.blogspot.com/2018/05/duncannon-siege.html                             http://www.waterfordinyourpocket.com/the-great-lewis/

  • “Of shipwrecks and disasters we’ve read and seen a deal
    But now the coast of Wexford must tell a dreadful tale
    On the 4th day of January the wind in a gale did blow
    And four and twenty hands were lost of the Alfred D. Snow

From the port of San Francisco she sailed across the main
Bound for the port of Liverpool her cargo it was grain
On a happy day she sailed away to cross the stormy foam
There’s not a soul alive today to bring the tidings home.”

        The Alfred D Snow was lost on the 4th of January in what year?

                                        A: 1888

  • In the 1650s, the Loftus family, who were English Planters as part of the Cromwellian conquest were given what we now call Loftus Hall. What was the Hall called prior to that time?

                                        B: Redmond Hall

https://www.loftushall.ie/about
  1. In 1814, Dunmore was a small fishing village nestling in a sheltered cove, when it was chosen by the Post Office to be the Irish terminal of a new Mail Packet route from Milford Haven. The Post Office engaged an Engineer, called Alexander Nimmo, to design and build the new harbour.

Where was Nimmo born?

                                       C: Scotland

  1. According to local tradition, a track steeped in legend runs from the ‘Forty Steps’ at Creadan Head to Fornaght beach and from there on over Knockavelish to Harristown Hill where a late Neolithic passage grave crowns the hilltop.

One popular interpretation makes it a slave route or possibly likely to be a smugglers route or even a ceremonial route linking Creadan Head to the Harristown passage grave.  

What is the track called?

                                A: Bóithrín na mBan Gorm

  1. Having served as a major in the Royal Marines during the Second World War, Major Cholmeley-Harrison moved to Ireland in 1945 and bought Woodstown House, a Regency villa. It was previously the home of Lady Carew, who had been at the Duchess of Richmond’s celebrated ball on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo and lived until 1903.

In the summer of what year did Cholmeley-Harrison rent Woodstown to Mrs Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of the assassinated US president?

                                        B: 1967

13.    On August 23, 1170, ‘Strongbow’ landed at Passage with at least 200 knights and 1,000 soldiers.

What was Strongbow’s real name?        

                                        C: Richard De Clare

https://www.libraryireland.com/biography/RichardDeClareStrongbow.php
  1. In what year was the Barrow Bridge opened to connect Waterford to the newly developed port of Rosslare by rail?

Stretching from Co Kilkenny to Co Wexford, where the Suir, Barrow and Nore meet, it is 2,131 feet in length and up to the 1990s was the longest railway viaduct in the country.

                               B: 1906

Recalling Geneva Barracks

Deena and myself have found many ways to endure the Covid 19 lockdown, good food, plenty of exercise and some other daily habits such as watching the 9pm news to be informed and remembering to keep in touch with family and friends to break the isolation. One daily ritual that has emerged specifically during the lock down is an evening reading by Catherine Foley from her book Beyond the Breakwater. A chapter each day as been a welcome distraction as is her witty, heartfelt and often melodious memories of life in the area that we call home. One that stood out was her reading of Geneva Barracks and the colour and drama of a sports day from the 1960’s held in the grounds there.

Catherine reads Chapter 15 – Geneva Barracks. Filmed by her sister RoseAnn

Now I always thought that Geneva Barracks must sound almost exotic to anyone who has never heard of its history. And the childhood memories of Catherine certainly paint a vibrant and dynamic community scene. I had never been to events there however, but It brought to mind recollections from the late 1970’s walking with others from Cheekpoint to Lynches farm at Parkswood and a newly mown field filled with stalls, people, animals, running races and all manner of entertainment.

Fintan Walsh explained to me yesterday by email, that events had a long association with the Barracks.  “Since the early part of the 20th century lots of sporting and musical activities took place there including Feis’s with singing and dancing, bands came out from Waterford, games of football  and hurling would be included, football between Dunmore  and Wexford teams, between Passage and Kilkenny teams and billed as Inter Provincial games.  My father told me these would be packed from all over the South East.  When Passage Hurling club was formed in 1935 they used Geneva for most of their matches until 1950 or so and Gaultier also used it for football games.  In the 1940’s Passage Hurling Club organised sports with many events there.  I remember being in Geneva for horse racing in the late 1940’s, I remember a Passage youth riding a horse called Movita. Woodstown played many soccer games there in the fifties.  The sports you mention were organised by a local Parish Committee in the 60’s up to the very early 70’s.”

Catherine Foley with her mother at the sports day

Catherine also sings in that reading a song entitled “the Croppy Boy” a song synonymous with the 1798 rebellion and the dark side of Geneva Barracks – An Internment camp.  According to Jim Hegarty a fort had been established on the site in 1790.  He describes it as an enclosed 14 acre site surrounded by 18ft walls and with four look out bastions on the corners with gun loops.  A Chavaux-de-frise was built to guard the front entrance which was built to accommodate 1500 troops. 

A hand drawing of what the Barracks looked like

After the 1798 rebellion the Barracks was used as an internment camp where the conditions were described by one, Colonel Thomas Cloney, as “The filthiest and most damp and loathsome prison, devoid of any comfort.”   Abuse was frequent, torture, whippings and executions.  Those that survived had a few options, none of which were very pleasant.  Press ganged to the navy, service with the army or to face transportation for life to Australia or the West Indies. 

A few years back at a Barony of Gaultier walk in the area, Richard Corcoran explained that the troops stationed at the Barracks were despised in the area due to their viciousness and violence towards locals.  In fact many of the homes of that era didn’t have windows that opened onto the road, so common was it that troops would fire musket shot at homes.

the bottom left look out bastion (based on the sketch above) as it looks presently
South Facing wall today

Richard also explained how the prisoners were marched down the Passage Road under musket and bayonet guard to be filed onto ships at transhipped to Cork for deep sea ships and transportation.  Jim Hegarty mentions three different battalions of troops – The Devon and Cornwall Fencibles, the Dumbarton Highlanders and German Hessians. Paul M Kerrigan in Decies 28 remarks on a Royal Navy 64 gun ship named the Admiral de Vieres that arrived in Passage East in February of 1799 to provide escort to troops who were embarking from New Geneva for Ebgland aboard commercial sailing ships. No mention is made of the regiment however.

I could find little more about the barracks and its military use.  According to my cousin James Doherty  one of the reasons for the siting on the Barracks was that ‘…British authorities ( rightly as it would turn out ) feared that Ireland would be used as a stepping stone to Britain by the French, these fears became reality when the French landed in Bantry in 1796.  Earlier in the same year a senior British engineer had inspected the Irish defences and had commented on the strategic importance of Geneva Barracks but its lack of strength, Charles Vallancy noted ” Geneva only mounts two 12 pounder cannon ” and recommended the strengthening of the garrison.’

Obviously the insurrection of the united Irishmen of 1798 changed its focus.  But as James points out ‘…The battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and the complete defeat of the French Navy would see a move away from coastal defences with the military focusing towards  large central barracks in the population centres.”  According to Jim Hegarty plans were drawn up to convert it to a military hospital which never came to pass.  According to Patrick C Power it was abandoned in 1824.

But why the name Geneva Barracks?  Well that as they say is a whole other story but briefly it goes back to the year 1783 when the Irish Parliament of the time provided money towards the relocation of Swiss artisans to the Waterford harbour area.  The plan was a grande one which was to see the making of watches on the site, along with accommodation, a university and associated industries to support the work.  It came to nothing but I can’t help by think that the scene as captured by Catherine in her story and Fintan in his recollection gives a small indication of what could have been – a vibrant, bustling and lively location filled with drama, laughter and shouts of joy. 

  • References used:
  • Jim Hegarty. Time and Tide.  A short history of Passage East
  • Catherine Foley. Beyond the Breakwater. Mercier Press
  • Decies #28 Spring 1985. Paul M Kerrigan. P 5
  • Patrick C Power. History of Waterford City & County. 1998, Dungarvan

For the readings by Catherine Foley you can use this link to RoseAnn Foleys You Tube Channel. You can also subscribe for notification of the daily uploads . And she can be contacted for copies of her book by email to: catherinefol@gmail.com
The book costs €15 and the postage is added to that – in Ireland it is €3.40. It’s €5.70 to the UK and it’s €7 to Australia.

Great Island Power Station Demolishing Commences

In recent weeks planning permission was sought by SSE Airtricity to begin the process of removing the old heavy oil producing power plant located on Great Island Co Wexford.

In older times before decommisioning and construction of the new gas fired station. Courtesy of Brendan Grogan

The decommissioned power station had long been a thorn in the side of Cheekpoint residents, Co Waterford, due to the noise that emenated from the plant. In recent years this has been added to with the construction of a new gas fired power station adjoining the old site. However the plans to remove the old plant and its 300 foot chimneys was not met with widespread support. Many in the community expressed a wish to see the chimneys retained and recently a scheduled meeting to begin a campaign had to be cancelled due to the Corona Virus social distancing rules. Foremost in the critics of the plan was noted historian Julian Walton who pointed out the heritage value. The local development group had pointed out the similar plans for the Dublin based poolbeg chimneys had led to a successful national campaign for their retention.

the recent notice about planning permission, posted on the local notice board by Paddy Lebowski

Locals on both the Waterford and Wexford sides however, were taken aback when workers moved in on the site this week and already one chimney has been knocked with the assistance of explosives. No damage was caused locally, but it is understood that some windows were blown in at Great Island, Ballykerough and Campile.

the view of the site this morning 🙁 apologies for the quality, taken by my phone suspended from a balloon floating over the site

Speaking on behalf of Cheekpoint residents Paddy Lebowski expressed the disgust felt by many at this sneaky act of architectural vandalism. Paddy went on to question the social distancing rules which appear to be not in evidence on the site. However due to the 2km rule imposed on newspapers and media in general it is feared that the site will be completely cleared before any attention is brought to bare on the situation.

Thanks to Sean O Briain for technical assistance with the ariel shot used

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 . Photo of the late Johnny and Lena O’Keeffe, Main Street, Millstreet. With thanks to Paudie Creedon for the information,

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.