Christmas 2019: Going Back

Since I started blogging in 2014 I have set aside a blog for Christmas. It’s a break from my normal fare, but isn’t Christmas a break from routine too! At least for those of us lucky enough to have a job that doesn’t involve pulling a shift over it. So for this year I wanted to reflect back on an advert from my youth and the sentiments it evoked

There was a popular Christmas  advert on TV growing up which unlike many ads on RTE at the time, contained a powerful story line. It featured a dad (I presumed) collecting his son from the train at Christmas, whilst the ad cut between what the son saw as they drove to his brightly lit home, where his mother (again a presumption) prepared for his arrival by turning on every conceivable electrical device imaginable.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, It was for the Electricity Supply Board and featured a song by Dusty Springfield called Going Back. 

I’ve no doubt but the popularity of the advert is that if Christmas evokes anything it’s an equal measure of nostalgia for things of the past and a yearning for family, to have them close and part of our lives. 

The advert stuck a chord at home because we were reared with stories of emigration and separation.  My mother often spoke of the journey back from London at Christmas on the boat train, the meeting of friends and neighbours on the long, tiring journey and the excitement of spotting Cheekpoint for the first time in six months from the train, as it came across the Barrow Bridge.  Although it was a short visit, with not a lot by way of extravagance, every moment of it was squeezed for enjoyment and celebration before the hard slog of the return loomed within a week.

She often recounted the visit of 1963 when the forecast was so bleak they were not even sure if the ship, St David, (or it could have been the St Andrew) would sail from Fishguard to Rosslare.  But it did, and on making it home on Christmas eve, the snow started to fall.  It snowed for much of the Christmas, but it was the return that would prove the most difficult.  Firstly the snow was so bad on the ground that cars couldn’t travel, and on reaching Rosslare a NW gale was blowing so hard, the ferry needed anchors to claw her way out of port.  After a horrible passage, they boarded an unheated train only to get trapped for the night in a snowdrift somewhere on the line.  The bright lights of London lost their appeal after that.

the third St David to operate on the route between 1947-1969: Accessed from
http://www.simplonpc.co.uk/GWR1.html#anchor1457599

My father had other memories, ones we only heard of much later.  Having left home to go to sea from the age of 19 many of his Christmas’ were spent in the company of fellow seafarers in distant ports, or on the ocean wave, where the only difference between that day and all the others was that the duties were reduced to the essentials and the stewards and cook made sure there was ample food for all. 

One yarn that we heard much later on was of an apparent Christmas in Spain where after the crew went on the batter ashore, they ended up in jail.  Next morning they appeared before the judge and when my fathers name was called the judge asked if it was an Irish surname.  “It is your honour” my father replied.  “What part of the country are you from” asked the judge.  “Waterford yer honour sir” he replied.  “You’re not one of the Doherty’s from Cheekpoint are you Bob?”  “The very same yer honour” “Case dismissed” cried the judge, continuing “Hope you will stand me a round the next time I visit the Suir Inn”  

Given the role of emigration in the country at the time, I’m certain that the ESB advert struck a chord with most Irish homes, and that’s probably the reason it became so popular.  It was aired for many years and it is still talked about on radio and TV shows to this day, particularly at Christmas time.

Over the years that advert has come to represent something deeper for me however; loss.  Those that are no longer with us, the distance between the memories and the present, where people like my grandmother who was so central to everything in our lives is no longer present, a once central element to the ritual that was Christmas.

My earliest memory of this was walking down the Russianside lane with our new toys in hand, eagerly waiting to show them off.  The smell of the fry from her kitchen, the warmth from the fire in the living room and the excitement of unwrapping her gifts to us.  Its telling, I suppose, that I remember nothing of the gifts we recieved, only her presence and her home.

Nanny never had a Christmas tree (until much later when we as teenagers insisted on getting it for her), her decorations were more traditional and centered around holly and ivy which was placed on the mantle and the glass case, and mixed with the faded blessed palm behind the pictures on the wall.  Her crib was a plastic drawing that she sellotaped to the wallpaper underneath the sacred heart lamp.  A red candle stood on her window sill and would be lit each night of the Christmas.

There was one particular feature of the house that seemed to mean more than anything else to her however, Christmas cards. These came from all over the world, and stood on the glass case, the mantle and on a string set under the mantle that sometimes went over and back twice or three times to accommodate the number, and ensure each could be seen.  As she got older the cards diminished as those who could send them were no longer living, but the ritual of opening, reading and displaying never diminished for her, nor did the sharing of the information that they contained.  And although at times it became a chore to me as she reread a message for the umpteenth time, it never lost the magic for her. 

Late 1990’s in the Russianside on Christmas morning…with the first of the next generation

As we grew from children to teenagers and into adulthood and we ourselves had children, the tradition could not be broken, and each year until her last, the house expanded to absorb the growing families of each of my siblings, and of course mine.

When she finally left us in 2002 it was as if a chain had been shattered and we were set adrift.   But families are resilient, and new traditions are born or adapted and so the gathering fell on the open door of my parents.  And although my father is no longer part of the ritual either, it’s well to remember that the gatherings on Christmas morning are creating the memories and the rituals that our children will carry into their adult lives.  When I asked my daughter Ellen what was the best part of Christmas day this year, she didn’t hesitate or have to think twice, it was joining her cousins in Nanny Mary’s on Christmas morning.

It probably won’t be Dusty Springfield or an advert for the ESB, but there will be some present happening that will create the nostalgia of the future for the present generation.  The world may change and trends will come and go, but I firmly believe the central element of family will remain at the core.  And family is not just about those that are present, it’s about those that are miles away, or indeed no longer living.  For me, that’s what that ESB ad evoked, in the imagery but most particularly in the lyrics and the haunting sound of Dusty Springfields voice: 

I think I’m goin’ back
To the things I learned so well in my youth
I think I’m returning to
Those days when I was young enough to know the truth

Now there are no games
To only pass the time
No more coloring books
No Christmas bells to chime
But thinking young and growing older is no sin
And I can play the game of life to win

I can recall a time,
When I wasn’t ashamed to reach out to a friend
And now I think I’ve got
A lot more than a skipping rope to lift

Now there’s more to do
Than watch my sailboat glide
And everyday can be my magic carpet ride
And I can play hide and seek with my fears
And live my days instead of counting my years

Let everyone debate the true reality,
I’d rather see the world the way it used to be
A little bit of freedom’s all we’re lack
So catch me if you can
I’m goin’ back

Songwriters: Carole King / Gerry Goffin

Goin’ Back lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Songtrust Ave

Happy Christmas 2019

I would like to wish all my readers a happy and peaceful Christmas and hope everyone will have a healthy, prosperous and productive 2020. Looking forward to more blogs and of course the publication of my second book in April. Take care for now.

Mino – “As rotten a ship as ever put to Sea”

Whites & Penrose slipways, Waterford. Andy Kelly Collection

On Saturday morning, 30th October 1875 the schooner Mino of Cheekpoint, Co Waterford was run ashore on the Wexford shore by her captain and crew.  Aground on the sandy shoreline the first wave to break over her stern carried the timbers away and this was quickly followed by her afterdeck.  As locals rushed to the scene, the crew who were huddled in the bow, were assisted ashore with the help of ropes and cared for in local homes.  The crew of the Mino were fortunate to have survived, but was this a case of bad weather, poor seamanship or something more sinister?

The strand at Ballyhealy – with thanks to Kev Somers. Erosion is a real problem in the area and we must assume that the Mino grounded further out from the present shoreline.
Ballyhealy on the map, located between Kilmore Quay and Carnsore Point

The Mino, was a 180 ton, two masted schooner, built in Prince Edward Island in 1858.   The schooner was advertised for sale in Liverpool in May of 1862 and was subsquently bought by Captain Thomas White of Cheekpoint, Co Waterford for £229.  In an advert of the time the Mino was described as “…a most remarkable vessel;  carries 140 tons, on 9 feet water; sails without ballast; takes the ground; is well  found in stores, and quite ready for immediate employment. This vessel is admirably adapted for the coasting trade, and sold in consequence of being too small for present owner’s use. Dimensions: Length 73 feet, breadth 20 feet , depth 9 feet ”[1]

White became the vessels master and used the ship in the coastal trade that she was so suited to, carrying cargo such as wheat and pit props from Waterford and returning with such staples as coal.  In 1872 it would appear that White stood down from his position and Captain Pat Brien of Wexford took command, followed by Captain Crotty, Captain Michael Barry of Cheekpoint and lastly, Whites brother in Law, Edward Kavanagh.[2]

Small promo here for Brian and Jacks new book. The launch will take place on Thursday Dec.12th at the Wexford Library at 7pm. The Book is a hardback cover 450+ pages with 300+ images,many in colour. A must for my Christmas stocking if anyone is looking for ideas!

According to Kavanagh the Mino departed Waterford (20th September 1875) for Cardiff with pit props and then to Newport to take on a 125 tons of coal.[1]  The departure was delayed for sometime due to weather and eventually they sailed on the 16th October for their stated destination, Cheekpoint, Co Waterford.  They put into Milford Haven on the 23rd due to “stress of weather”.  When they again set sail on the 29th October they again ran into heavy weather off the Smalls.  The Mino started to take water and although two pumps were manned, the water gained on them and the ship became unmanageable.  At 5am on the morning of the 30th October Kavanagh ran the Mino ashore on Ballyhealy strand.  Thanks to local assistance, himself and his crew were saved.[2]

Later that morning the scene was visited by William Coughlan the Collector of Taxes and Reciever of Wrecks at Wexford.  Members of the coastguard were also present and the condition of the wreck was immediately obvious to them.  The Mino had practically fallen apart and it would seem that Coughlan was determined to get to the bottom of it.  A shipwright from the Board of Trade was summoned and from the 6th-7th of November Robert Bell surveyed the wreck. He confirmed what most onlookers could determine for themselves, that many of the Mino’s timbers were in a rotten state.[3]

An advert from the front page of the Wexford People – Saturday 27th November 1875

 The wreck was eventually auctioned off but I could find no reference to the cargo of coal which was destined originally for a Mr Davis of Waterford.  If the schooners owner, Captain White, was feeling the loss of his ship and income, things were only going to go from bad to worse. 

Just after Christmas 1875 Captain White was summoned to appear at a preliminary hearing at the Callaghane Petty Sessions to explain why he should not be prosecuted under a charge of sending men to sea in an unseaworthy ship. The shipowner faced stiff questioning before the presiding magistrates—Hon Dudley Fortescue, chairman ; Sir R J Paul, Bart: Capt Armstrong, Capt Coughlan, P Fitzgerald, Esq, and G I Goold, Esq, R.M [1] 

I’m not aware of any photo of the Callaghane courthouse, but as we can see from this old OSI map, the building was located beside the RIC barracks after the present pub on the main Dunmore East – Waterford road.

It was decided that White had questions to answer and in March 1876 he appeared before Judge Barry in the Waterford Azzies where over two days he was tried by a jury of his peers.  The evidence was overwhelmingly against the man.  Both the coastguard and Receiver of Wrecks were clear as to the condition of the craft, his ex captain, Michael Barry explained how a Board of Trade official in Wales had cautioned of the ships unseaworthiness and that he had communicated this to White, prior to leaving the ship.  The master of the Mino Edward Kavanagh deposed that he thought the ship was fine up to the storm in the Irish Sea, but his evidience was undermined when it was revealed that he was a brother in law to White. Two other crew, the mate Michael Power, and a sailor named John Milton, stated they were unaware of any issues as regards the craft. Their evidence was all the more strange because arguably the most convincing prosecution evidence shown in court was parts of the ships timbers.[2]

In his own defence White gave a good account of himself, stating that he had skippered the ship up to four years previously when ill health caused him to withdraw. He had regularly had the ship overhauled on the Penrose Graving Bank in Waterford and had spent large sums to maintain the ship.  However, he could only provide three receipts for small repairs totalling £12 for the years 1873/4.  And he could offer no witnesses to vouch for the claimed work, despite the fact that they were supposed to take place in the city.  The judge, perhaps in frustration, asked White if he had a bad memory to which White replied “A very bad one”!  Two local businessmen spoke up on Whites behalf; Shipping agent Downey and corn merchant Thomas Quigley![3] 

Whites & Penrose slipways, Waterford.  Andy Kelly Collection
Whites & Penrose slipways, Waterford (Part of what is now the city’s North Quays. Andy Kelly Collection. On balance I would think this is the most likely location of the graving bank mentioned .
The Graving Bank I am most familar with in the city was located where the present Bus Station is based. Basically this was a portion of the shoreline that dried out when the tide ebbed and allowed workmen to overhaul a ship. Photo courtesy of Damien McLellan.
A ship in the graving bank in Waterford, listing in and allowing access to the hull

The jury retired but quickly returned with a guilty verdict.  Judge Barry sentenced Captain White to two months in jail and was reported to have stated that the Mino was as rotten a ship as ever put to sea!.  The irony was that if Kavanagh had not managed to ground the ship and save his crew, White would probably have never been prosecuted.  The Mino would be just another statistic of wrecks on the Wexford shore.

Postscript:

But that is not the end to my story.  I grew up with stories of Captain White and his extended family who lived in Dobbyn’s House, Cheekpoint.  The family had a strong connection with the sea, and as is often the case, were no strangers to tragedy. For example I was told that a son of the family died at Cheekpoint quay following a fall from a mast of their ship.  I can’t say that this was Thomas Whites son, or that the fall was from the Mino.  I have yet to find any proof.  But I did find one very sad and curious event that might change the readers opinion of this account.  For four years previously, a twenty year old sailor on the Mino was drowned in the Barrow following a boating accident.  His name was John White and he was described as the Captain of the Mino’s son. [4]   In the court case White stated that he had stood down as Captain four years before. Was this event the cause of his retirement as master? Ultimately was this the reason for his ill health?  In the modern era such an event would be considered important as regards the Captains mental health, and would almost certainly be used in his defence as a contributory factor. 

The Anderson/White/Hill family plot in Faithlegg

Thanks for dropping by and reading. If you have any observations, questions or extra information I would be delighted to recieve them, in the comments section below or by email to tidesntales@gmail.com. I publish a new story on the maritime heritage of Waterford harbour on the last Friday of each month. I also post daily updates on Facebook and Twitter. Andrew Doherty

Steamboat! – My Radio Debut

I’m delighted to be featuring on the RTE Radio 1 Sunday Miscellany raido show. It will be bradcast Sunday morning, 17th November 2019 after the 9am news.

This was my second attempt to submit a story to the very popular RTE Radio 1 show, now in its fiftieth year. My story is titled Steamboat, and through it I give a sense of what it was like to be a driftnet fisherman at Cheekpoint in the 1980’s, including an insight into local traditions and how deep they ran.

It features myself and a friend, Paul Duffin, as young fishermen. Because we grew up on the river we instinctively know its rules, one of which is that when drifting across the channel, steamboats have to be avoided. Sometimes that means you loose your drift. Drifts were hard won at times, and no fisheman wanted such an outcome.

Paul and I in the centre flanked by my father Bob on left, and brother Robert on right. My younger brother Chris is holding the salmons tail.

Here’s the lineup on the morning:

Friendly Front Door at University Hospital Waterford, by Lani O’Hanlon;

Steamboat, by Andrew Doherty;

Baby Clothes, a poem by AM Cousins;

Learning to Drive, by Ian Maleney;

Those Summer Nights of Long Ago at the Céilí, by Catherine Foley.

Music:

You’ve Got A Friend, by Carole King, performed by the Kalimbas: Cathy Forristal and Clíodhna Gahan on vocals and Damien Kehoe on guitar and vocals;

The Steam Packet and Miss McLeod’s Reel, played on uileann pipes by David Power;

A Stór Mo Chroí, played on tin whistle also by David Power;

Living in Yesterday, composed and performed by the Kalimbas;

And The Drops of Brandy, a slip jig, played by David Power on uileann pipes with Benny McCarthy on button accordion, Brendan Clancy on fiddle and Dónal Clancy on guitar.

A shot courtesy of RTE of the stage. I’m in the background, shaking it out

As elated as I was to have a piece chosen for the show, it became a case of be careful what you wish for. For I was very nervous on the day and I didn’t stop shaking throughout the performance. Hopefully this doesn’t come through. It certainly didn’t put me off however, as I’m already working on another submission. Its a story of how the river speakes to fishemen, well to fishermen who are fully present in its company. If you miss the show on Sunday, or if you are abroad, the podcast will be available on the Sunday Miscellany website.

Here is the subsequent Podcast for the show.

Passagemens daring rescue

On a dark November night in storm force winds and driving rain an Arklow schooner scurried up Waterford harbour in search of shelter.  Within sight of the Spit Light below Passage East the ship healed over stuck fast in the sand and her crew took to the rigging to flash lights in the hope of salvation.  Luckily for them, their signals were answered and four men departed Passage East in a fishing yawl.  But the odds were against them and nothing but expertise and luck would ensure a positive outcome.

Passage East, Co Waterford
Passage East, Co Waterford via Tommy Deegan Waterford History Group

The Arklow schooner France Jane was built in 1858 in Nova Scotia, Canada.  Her Arklow owners were Anne and Thomas J.Troy and she weighed 87 tonnes.[i]  She was on a run with corn from Belfast to Courtmacsherry under Captain Furlong.

Like many schooners at the time, the Frances Jane would take any opportunities for cargo that were available, competing as they were with the more dependable and regular steam ships.  Bulk cargos were a staple freight, or bagged or barrelled produce, anything that didn’t have a crucial delivery date. trips to smaller ports and out of the way locations were also a means of making freight. Earlier in the summer she had been tied up in Arklow with a cargo of coal which was advertised at knockdown prices in an attempt to clear her hold.[ii] In another sailing in September coal was again her cargo into her home port.

The run to Courtmacsherry was cut short by a strengthening gale of south east wind, by far the worst to meet off the Hook, and in an effort to make shelter the schooner made her way into the harbour.  As the rain came down and the winds strengthened she beat her way further in, until she ran aground on the Drumroe Bank.

1787 map of the harbour entitled “An actual survey of the harbour and river of Waterfor and of the bay of Tramore” by Robert Sayer (1724?-1794). Accessed from Bibliothèque nationale de France (Public Domain)
To access a higher resolution go to https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b53011020p/f1.item.r=tramore
A close up of Sayer’s chart showing the Drumroe Bank, outside of Passage Strand. Note the spit light has yet to be built and a light perch marks the bank instead.

Once stuck fast on the hard sands, her fate was sealed. With no other options, the crew took to the rigging to escape the surging seas breaking over her side and shone lamps in the hopes of a rescue.  Fortunately their lights were seen, and on Passage East quay four fishermen prepared their small open fishing boat to meet the challenge.

James Hearne, the skipper, had three other men with him, James Pepper, Richard Galvin and Michael Sheehy.  All the men are listed in the 1901 census as living in Passage East and all are married with family.  Hearne (age 36, fisherman) is married to Mary, a dressmaker.  They have four children, the two eldest William and Ellen were born in Liverpool.  Pepper (40, fisherman) is married to Statia and they have five children at the time.  Richard Galvin (37, sailor) is married to Ellen, they are living with his mother in law, Catherine Daley.  They have five children and a niece is also living with them.  Patrick Sheehan (40, sailor) is married to Kate, and they have two teenage children. 

Their small yawl was well used to facing the weather of the harbour and their experience would have told them that in the conditions, the closer they got to the stricken vessel the greater the danger they would face.  As they pushed away from the quay they laid out the sweeps (oars) and bent to their task.  Rowing hard against the wind and rain, the men, who had no time to gather oilsikins, were quickly soaked to their skin and the cold must have penetrated their jerseys despite the exertions.  At one stage an oar was lost, on another it snapped in two against the force of the seas.  But on they battled with the two oars and eventually came alongside the Frances Jane.

A similar yawl as described in the piece, taken at Ballyhack, Co Wexford.
NLI, Lawrence Collection. Robert French Photo

Hearne jumped aboard the stricken schooner and helped each of the sailors into the the outstretched hands of his crewmates in the yawl. No details are given of the compelxities of this, but I’m sure they would have come in uder her leeward side (if the tidal conditional allowed) and in the shelter provided make the transfer. Again nothing is made of the men going below to gather any valuables etc, mind you it was probably little enough they would have had. I also have no information on the names of Captain Furlongs crew that night. Eventually a sail was hoisted to bring them home, the sails filling with the now helpful wind, and soon they were at Passage East quay where the sailors and the fishermen alike were cared for with the attention that only a fishing and sailing village would know instinctively.[iii]

After the storm comes the calm its said, and indeed such was the case in the days that followed.  The schooner was seen wrecked and forlorn, but it was hoped that if the weather  stayed calm she might be got off.  Her cargo of wheat was salvaged and was later advertised for sale.   “Mr. Patrick Bolger, auctioneer, New Ross, announces a very important sale of 260 barrels of fine Australian wheat, the salvaged cargo of the schooner Frances Jane, which recently came to grief in the harbour”[iv]

The schooner was not so fortunate however, as the weather worsened and she became a total loss. I don’t know the ultimate fate of the crew thereafter, but I’m sure after a good nights sleep, they were probably looking for a new berth to make their living from and would have shipped out at the earliest opportunity. 

The rescue was widely reported and the skill and bravery displayed that night was eventually recognised.  On Friday 30th January 1903 at the Waterford City Petty Sessions a publich ceremony was conducted at which the four men were recognised by the Royal National Lifeboat Institute . Mr Wardell, secretary of the Tramore Lifeboat Committee, and Mr Edward Jacob, Lloyd’s agent in Waterford, introduced the men and their feat before asking that the magistrates present them with the certificates.  Jacob explained that it was “…only common justice to the men that the attention of the Institution should have been called to their heroic action. The Institution considered the deed they had done was an act of the greatest bravery, and when the great risk that the men had run of losing their own lives was pointed out to them they could scarcely credit it. They even wrote for further particulars, and when finally satisfied they very handsomely rewarded men an act of downright actual courage and bravery, and would long be remembered”

All four received a velum certificate from the RNLI and £2 each.  James Hearne and Richard Galvin were there to receive the award in person.  Kate Sheehan and Statia Pepper attended instead of their husbands. The article gives no explanation for this, but most likely they were both at sea?)[v] Hearne received an extra acknowledgement for the damage caused to his vessel of 55 shillings. (the damage included the sweeps, gunwales and sails)

An advert from the front page of the New Ross Standard – Friday 05 December 1902. Accessed from British Newspapers Archive.

The wreck was an annoyance to fishermen and boatmen, but not to the normal traffic of the ports.  An article in the Passage notes of February 1903 rails against this injustice rightly pointing out that the wreck is an impediment to salmon fishermen and a risk to local boatmen, making a specific reference by description to the hobbler trade, though not be name.  The author articulates the view that because the wreck does not impinge on “…the grand electric lit steamers…” or the “…gondoliers…of the wealthy…” that it has been ignored by the Harbour Commissioners.[ii] But I’m sure that after a few weeks the fishermen and sailors adapted, it is afterall in their nature. Marks would have been taken and soon by day or night the position was identifiable by sighting hills, trees, spires and other buildings along both shores of the harbour. Indeed the children of Passage helped too, as there was one account I came across that mentions them hacking and sawing away on the wrecks timbers.

It was not until the summer of 1951 that the wreck was finally removed warranting a few lines in the Munster Express:  “The Remains of the wreck of the Frances Jane, mentioned in this column last week, was removed from the Spit Bank by orders of the Harbour Commissioners during the week…”[iii] Sad to think the names of the men involved didn’t get a mention, especially when you consider their bravery that night in the rescue of the crew of the Frances Jane.  At that stage all those men would have been dead of course and would be recalled only by family and by the village elders who rarley let such memories die. A brave deed worthy of remembering.

There is several gaps in the story which I tried over the last month to piece together. I have some extra information on Captain Thomas Troy of Arklow which I could not include due to time. Unfortunately I have no further details on the Passage East men named, or the velum scrolls they recieved. I also can find no specific information on the crew of the Frances Jane or an image of the vessel. If anyone would like to offer any further information you could comment on the blog or correspond via tidesntales@gmail.com


I’m indebted to Brian at www.arklowmaritimeheritage.ie for the information I have inculded on the schooner Frances Jane. Thanks also to Fintan Walsh who had first shared an account of the men and which got me interested in the story.

Im delighted to say that I’m appearing in the Theatre Royal tomorrow morning to do a reading of a story I wrote called Steamboat. Its for a live recording of the Sunday Miscellany show which will be broadcast on RTE Radio 1 later this year. For more information or to book you can check out the following link
https://www.theatreroyal.ie/events/sunday-miscellany