Oiche Samhain

As a child, Halloween was a lot simpler and cheaper.  There again in the mid 1970’s with one TV channel and limited radio, the ability of advertisers or foreign TV shows to influence our daily lives was much less than today.  Although they are very different countries between then and now, perhaps the most striking change is in how we celebrate Oiche Samhain.

Oiche Samhain comes apparently from the old Irish word for end of summer, marking the move from light into the darkness of winter.  It also marked the end of the harvest.  Halloween apparently is of Scottish origin, a shortening of the term All Hallows Evening – Hallows relating to saints – the evening before all saints day on Nov 1st.  At home we were told that on Oiche Samhain the souls of the dead came out to visit. We should dress up and cover our faces when going out so as to confuse them and not risk being taken away with them.

For me the first sign of Halloween was not an add on TV but would have been making our mask in the week before it in Faithlegg NS, as part of our arts and crafts activities.  Corn flakes boxes would have been the primary source of cardboard (we always thought anyone with Rice Krispies were posh because our mother refused to buy them!).  The process was simple.  The scholar made out their design on the inside of the cereal box, cut out the eyes and coloured the mask to their own preferences.  The more artistic might add horns or pointy ears, and a piece of elastic or string finished the piece so that it would hang in front of you face.  If memory serves it would take the whole week and as we went home for the midterm break, the mask would be worn home.

On Halloween night the mask along with an old coat or a big sack would be thrown over us and we went out to the bonfire.  I don’t recall going Trick or Treating as it would be known now, though I do remember going to a few houses on occasion. You would knock on the door and would be expected to entertain with a song generally.  In those times you got an apple and some nuts…No sweets, no money, no crisps, no drinks!  Given that we had loads of apples at home and bags of nuts, getting more hadn’t a great appeal. 

Home was always busy on Halloween.  Mind you houses weren’t decked out in the way we decorate for the event now.  The day passed slowly as a child, as you had to wait for dark for the festivities to begin.  Barmbrack would be eaten, my mother hadn’t always the time to be baking and she sometimes got a brack from Portlaw bakeries who delivered to Ellen’s shop in the village. The brack would have a coin, a stick and a ring.  I always wanted the coin needless to say.  My father would make up a snap apple with two pieces of timber crossed over with pointed ends with apples pushed on.  It was suspended by string and it was a difficult balancing act to get right.  We then stood with hands behind our backs and tried to catch an apple in our mouth, always mindful of not biting on others spit-filled fruit.

The other activity was the money coin in a water filled basin.  Again hands behind your back you had to submerge your head into the water and try get the coin off the bottom of the basin.  Generally impossible, but given how scarce money was, worth almost drowning yourself .

The fruit and nuts would have secured from Gerry Welsh the Saturday prior to Halloween.  Gerry the veg as he was universally known came out from town to Cheekpoint every Saturday into the late 1980’s and he stopped at various points around the village.  His stop in the Mount was at Mrs Barry’s and all the neighbours would gather round to take turns and have the chat.  Gerry would have all the news from the previous day in Passage and he always had sports news for us boys.

The big thrill at Halloween was the Coconut.  My father made a big thing out of it.  He would use the reddened poker to burn a hole in the top and out of which the milk was poured.  He told us it was healthier for us, and how he had climbed palm trees in the south seas as a sailor to pick his own.  A great man for a story! I can’t remember that milk ever being drank.  The nut was then cracked open with a hammer and we got to eat some of the flesh.  Again, it was mostly hung up for the birds to feed on in the days following.

I don’t remember any pumpkins but I can remember trying to carve out a turnip on occasion and the pain in our hands from the time it took.  Apparently when the Irish emigrated to America the tradition of carving a turnip went with them.  However, it was replaced when the local pumpkin proved to be much easier to hollow out and carve.  The turnip below certainly looks more malevolent.

Carved Pumpkin
accessed from: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/asenseofplace/2013/10/oiche-na-sprideanna-approaches/

The big part of the night of course was the fire.  In those days the bonfire happened in the Knock behind the Mount and so we could wait until we saw the night sky light up before we went over, particularly if it was raining.  The fire was magical and we danced round it as children, not realising we were celebrating and re-enacting an ancient tradition.  Although there was always complaints about the smell of smoke, that was as much part of it as the games.

The following morning was All Souls, a holy day of obligation, and an important festival to mark also.  That was probably why my mother complained about the smoke and the smell.  She would have to ensure we were scrubbed before we headed to mass. 

All told it was a much more simpler time.  Very different from the commercial affair that marks the night now.  But it’s interesting to note, than although commercialised and Americanised to an extent, it’s still a ancient celtic festival to which we have a deep connection

If the wind will not serve, take to the oars

As a young boy fishing in the river, the one thing I hated more than anything, was keeping up to the nets with an oar.  Pity the boy that let his mind wander and the boat blow off the nets, or worse, onto the mud on the flood tide on the coolagh (cool ya) mud.

I first began regular fishing in 1979, finishing first year in secondary school.  The holidays coincided with the Peal run, when the salmon men reduced the driftnet net mesh size to catch the smaller, younger salmon entering the rivers.  I’d fished before this, but only occasionally.  Maybe a drift of a summer evening, or a few tides, doing little more than watching from the bow twart. 

To be asked to fish was a big thrill.  It meant long hours, hard work, plenty of wettings and plenty of excitement.  It also meant some cash in your pocket, and my father always said unless you could jingle a few coins in your pocket that you had earned for yourself, we weren’t yet a man.  But it was also an education…a real education after the excuse of a one I had suffered over the winter.  We learned the nets, tides, weather, river, fish and hard work.  But of all of it, it was the oars that caused me the most hardship.  It wasn’t so bad if you were part of a younger man’s boat like Pat Moran or Anthony Fortune.  He wasn’t wedded to the oul ways…but if you happened to be fishing with his fathers generation, or my fathers, the best ways were the old ways which included many hours at the oars. The week started at 6am on the Monday morning and ran for the week, 24hrs up to the 6am on the Saturday.

In the past the oars had been the only method of propulsion for the punts in the area, apart from the use of sail, which was not a common method and something I never saw used.  It would remain so until the introduction of outboard motors after the second world war. 

A modern styled rowlock

The oars used were of red deal and generally fitted into the punt to allow for secure stowage.  The oar was made from 6″x’6″ red deal timber plank.  It was made from one piece for strength.  It had a carved handle, which allowed for the palm of the hand to cover it, a counterbalance, which meant that the oar was easier to manage when being used singlehanded.  A collar of leather was fitted where the oar fitted into the rowlocks.  This meant that the rubbing of timber on timber didn’t happen as it would quickly wear away.  When using the oars in dry weather you’d have to use the bailer to throw water over the collar or the sqweeking of it would drive you mad.  The shaft of the oar tapered off to the blade which was again the width of the plank and allowed the rower to catch a good piece of water to drive the boat forward.

The rowlocks on the punt were carved from oak and shaped to allow the oar fit nicely in place.  The Rowlocks were bolted to the gunwhale and two Thole Pins (pronounced Towel here) were hammer into 1″ drilled holes on either side of the oar.  Ash was commonly used as it was a durable timber.  I once used Hazel as it was nice and straight and I thought it looked smart.  But when rowing hard on the mud the thole pin snapped and I went head and arse into the bow, so never again.

An old oar in a sunken punt

There were particular points to be learned about rowing.  One was when you were told to row, you rowed, if you were told to “row hard” you really put your back into it.  “Back” was another command, and if your mind had wandered, or you weren’t paying attention you could be in real trouble.  “Pulling” when you were supposed to be “backing” could mean loosing a fish – a cardinal sin, and one to be reminded of time and again.

After leaving the shoreline or the quay we would “steam” (use an outboard) to the start of the particular drift.  This could mean a wait or perhaps we could set straight away, determined by the time of tide and the particular drift.  Waiting  with other punts was usually fun, as you would hear all manner of yarn.  The nets would be set with the engine and once set we would “out oars” and for the remainder to the drift would row to “keep up with the nets”.  The skipper would be on the aft oar the boy on the bow or for’ad oar.

Row hard(ish) Chris Doherty Bow oar & Mick Murphy

On some drifts only part of the nets were set, like flood tide on the Coolagh mud or ebb tide on the point.  You would keep up to the nets for a particular place and then would set the rest.  The older men preferred setting the remainder with the oars, meaning you had to keep on rowing on the bow oar while the skipper rowed with one hand and set the nets with the other.

After a winter sitting at a school desk your hands would be soft.  As a consequence those first few days at the oars would be hell.  The welts would rise within a few minutes.  By the half hour mark they would be black and blue and swollen.  You might think putting them in the water would ease the pain, but it was of no benefit.  There was a partial ease when the welts burst but then the when the salt water leaked in it stung like hell.  There was also the muscles in your arms that would be aching and the back to which you could find little ease.  Of course by the end of the summer these would be only memories, but to be relived the following summer.  

Tom Fergison (bow oar) Michael Ferguson, “keeping up to the nets”
Photo credit: Tomas Sullivan

Hauling the nets also required the skipper using the oars to keep the punt “on the nets”  As you hauled the skipper stayed midships and the boy went astern and each took a rope.  As you hauled the punt would either drift across or off the nets and with the momentum of the haul the skipper could put out either the aft or for’ad oar to bring the boat back in or out off the nets.

Once aboard it was time to set again and if you were lucky, the boy got to lower the outboard and steam back to the start of the next drift.  If you were really lucky you might get to set the nets with the engine…a real step up.

Over time the use of the oars diminished and in recent times, up to the closure of the Salmon driftnet fishery in 2006, many punts would not have even carried an oar.  The outboard which had become more dependable and men more skilled in their use, took over in many aspects of the fishery practice.  Today if you look around the quays you will see few enough timber punts and fewer oars.  Something that diminishes the village in my opinion. 

In case anyone thinks I’m complaining about the work we had to do let me offer you this quote by the American comedian George Carlin on a definition of hard work; “hard work is a misleading term. physical effort & long hours do not constitute hard work. hard work is when someone pays you to do something you’d rather not be doing. anytime you’d rather be doing something other than the thing you’re doing…you’re doing hard work.”  

The Reading Rooms Cheekpoint

Pat Murphy of the Green always told me that according to Aggie Power of Daisy Bank House (Susan Jacobs Grandmother) the Reading Room was built in 1895, the year a horse called The Wild Man of Borneo won the Grand National. Mrs Adelaide Blake, (originally Adelaide Power – Faithlegg House), who then resided at Fairy Mount had it built as a free library for the people of the area. I always wondered what it would have looked like in this era, with the pot bellied stove sitting in the middle of the floor and people sitting around in it reading a paper or a book or playing cards and chatting. 

At some point in my teens I read D.H Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers.  In the story the central character, Paul Morel, struggled to move away from his working class mining roots in Wales through, in part, his visits to the mining unions sponsored Reading Rooms.  In it were stocked lines of books and a supply of current newspapers, that the miners and their families could be better informed and have broader horizons.  Had this been Adelaide’s intention? The
Reading Room has always been a feature in our lives in Cheekpoint.  For social, health, community matters and education, it has played a continuous role.  For some it was probably a tentative role, an occasional visit but to me it was always central, important and respected.

Jim Duffin playing “the Box” 1990’s
Photo credit Bridgid Power

One of my earliest memories was queuing to attend a sale of work coming up to Christmas time.  Doors opening, we rushed in to buy a comic, book or some toy or other. Home baking was also part of the day and if lucky we might get to share with others in a bag of homemade buns or biscuits and a fizzy lemonade.  Whatever few bob we had would be quickly spent, but I could always rely on my Grandmother for an extra dig out.

At the end of the day we might pick up some pieces that no one else would buy, as the place was cleaned up and I recall Martin Nugent (and later Jim Duffin) burning some magazines and other odds and ends outside by the back door.  In those days a tall hedge blocked the “Hall” as we sometimes called it, from the road and all around was a mixture of grass and mud.

The Hall in the past was a simple affair.  No toilet, a small porch, the large room that could be divided in two by sliding doors and the stage area and back door which was an addition in the early 1950’s.  Tommy Sullivan’s father Chris had taken on the job, with the help of local volunteers.  The Hall had been originally made of a timber framework with corrugated iron walls and roof and internally was panelled by wooden lathes.  The “insulation” was horsehair and there was many the night that we huddled around an old Superser gas heater trying to keep warm.

Sunday morning social gathering 1940’s

The stage at the rear of the hall was used for concerts and as a musical stage and in our own times as the space where the DJ’s of the youth club discos spun their vinyl discs.  Principal DJ was Philip Duffin and deputy was Michael “bugsy” Moran.  Philip preferred disco, Bugsy was rock and it was always a bone of contention.  I can still remember Bugsy stripping wires with his teeth in an effort to add an extra speaker to “burst some eardrums”.  My first and last appearance on the stage was a mid 70’s concert where I performed “Little Boy Blue”, not my finest hour!

Ray McGrath regales the villagers at a recent Heritage week event

There was also a brown wardrobe which gave the hall its other function this was the Dispensary.  I’m a little in the dark about the origins of it, but in our day it was where you went on a Tuesday to see the doctor and the wardrobe was unlocked and swung back to reveal an array of medications, timber spatulas for depressing your toung and worst of all – syringes.  At some point in the 1980’s the wardrobe disappeared and locally it was known that there was some issues about medications being stored in “inappropriate places”  It was only a few years back in Dungarvan that a local man told me how he and friends used to travel around the rural dispensaries in a search for drugs, he joked about how easy it was to break into these cabinets and to both medicate yourself and provide an income boost from supplying others! 

John Jacob entertaining the Thursday Club 1990’s
Photo Credit; Bridgid Power

I’ve written before about how important it was as a venue for civil defence.  But it was also a space for community meetings and social gatherings for young and old.  It was the need to improve conditions for all members of the community that spurred voluntary efforts in the 1980’s and many years after to improve the hall to the standards it is at now.  Details of those many volunteers were captured in a 2009 publication “Cheekpoint & Faithlegg; Through the Ages” via the Development Group

My Aunts Margaret O Leary and Ellen Doherty (RIP) at last years craft fair
photo credit Becky Cunningham – Cheekpoint FB page

I’ve often heard remarks about the Hall being unfit for modern purposes.  And to be honest, it probably is a bit modest compared to some of the venues that are on offer in the area and that citizens might be used to availing of.  But for me the Reading Room is a special place, filled with memories, fulfilling a modest useful purpose and a testament to the vision and probably the hopes for the community of Adelaide Power. Ar dheis Dé a anam Adelaide

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The Minaun

We have never had a visitor to the house that we haven’t brought to the Minaun.  If it was good enough for Cornelius Bolton who brought Arthur Young to the summit during his tour of Ireland in the 16th Century, it should be good enough for anyone else.

Young wrote; “…rode with Mr Bolton Jun. to Faithlegghill, which commands one of the best views I have seen in Ireland” he then goes on to give a detailed geographical description which you can read online if you wish (page 409 to be specific).  Returning after two years he again “…visited this enchanting hill, and walked to it, day after day, from Ballycanavan, and with increasing pleasure.”  I often thought that Young’s view would have been very similar to the photo below which Brendan Grogan took when he was part of the De La Salle Scouts in 1970.

Photo; Brendan Grogan

As children the Minaun was a regular play space, particularly on Sunday days out with our mother.  I can recall with clarity walking up to the summit and rambling all over the rocks.  There were several spots that we visited and my own favourite was the round piece of stone, where local tradition had it that the Knights of the round table met.  We would play at King Arthur, with swords and shields and talk in regal tones. 

Another rock feature was shaped like a loaf of bread or other times we called it a grave, one of the knights that had fallen in battle.  Strange to read as an adult another tale of a prince’s grave on the Minaun.  T.F. O’Sullivan in his book Goodly Barrow  relates how according to legend the Fianna used the Minaun in their defence of Lenister and so important was it to their leader Fionn Mac Cumhaill that he deputised a son Cainche Corcardhearg to wait in watch as protector of his realm.  Apparently he lives below the ground…lying in wait! 

The other feature of note was reputed to be Cromwell’s Rock, from whence the puritan marauder espied Waterford harbour and the approach to Waterford and planned his campaign for the siege and taking of the city.  Possibly a fiction…but possibly true, who can say with any conviction?  It was certainly a perfect spot to reconsider his option of taking Ireland by “Hook or by Crooke”

As we headed down from the Minaun we came to the old stump which was all that remained of a cross.  My mother knew the story well.  Her Uncle Christy Moran and his wife (the driving force) Katie Doherty had asked Chris Sullivan to make the cross.  I was always told it was done to mark the Marian Year.  However the cross was erected in 1950, and the Marian Year was in 1954, so I will have to do a bit more research into that.  Katie went door to door to pay for the timber and although people had little enough they paid what they could. 

My father told me about the day it was brought up.  The boys of the area had been rounded up by Katie and no excuses would be heard.  She had them hoist the cross onto their backs and then encouraged and cajoled them up the road from Coolbunnia to where the school now is, then up onto the Minaun to the summit.  My father often joked that the only difference between themselves and Jesus was that Katie spared them the crown of thorns.  In recent years my brother Robert has been talking about replacing the cross, which might be a nice idea, though I’d prefer a more inclusive symbol myself.

Photo via Sean Doherty from the Cheekoint Cooolbunia Facebook page

One of the big differences now, to when I was a child, is the lack of the clear views. Then you could have a full 360 view from the summit including Waterford, South Tipp, Kilkenny, Wexford and Carlow.  But alas the trees that were planted have now totally obscured the view.  The photo below gives a good sense of the panorama, taken in the early 1950’s just after the cross was erected.

Moran family early 1950’s
From Ann Moran via her son Brian (USA)

Speaking with Elsie Murphy recently she was able to date the selling of the Minaun by the Land Commission to the Forestry Commission as 1958.  The forestry was subsequently planted in 1968/9 we think.  For the last number of years, a certain person has been working tirelessly to keep the walkways open and establish some new paths over the Minaun.  Given that the property is owned by Coillte I wont name names.  But the idea that the Minaun should be open to public use is a worthy one.  Use it or loose it as the saying goes.  It could have been lost in the past when unsightly masts were erected, and perhaps could be lost in the future unless actions are taking by our present generation to retain this vital piece of recreational infrastructure.  We could/should probably add the Deerpark and Glazing Wood to that list too.  Coillte seems to care little enough for the ground, and having attempted to sell four acres last year, who knows what else they might do.

Arthur Young.  “A Tour in Ireland 1776-1779”  reprinted 1970.  Irish University Press Shannon
TF O’Sullivan.  “Goodly Barrow, A Voyage on an Irish River” 2001 Lilliput Press Dublin

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
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The Suirway Bus

Where would we have been without the Suirway bus?  In the Cheekpoint of the 1960’s to the 80’s when cars were scarce and escape from the village was required the choices were few; shanks mare, boat or the Suirway bus!

Suirway Bus has been serving the area since 1928 when the Lynch family of Parkswood established it from a site at Knockroe which is still the base.  As a child I remember Seamus Lynch was the manager/owner, who would sometimes step in to drive a bus.  The present owner is his son Brian.

One of my first memories of the bus was the sunday morning service.  Each Sunday morning, and holy day of obligation, it came over from Passage East and picked us up and dropped us at the gate to Faithlegg Church for 9am mass.  It was an amazing service in that Willie Elliott the local bus driver attended mass too, so it went at the time mass ended, not to any bus schedule and this included an extra 45 minutes for a funeral, if such happened on a Sunday morning.  Not many bus companies could/would offer that.

Another early memory was the trip to town.  We were living in Coolbunnia at the time and the bus stopped at the side of the road just by the Reservoir.  It was a big thing to be sitting up the front, where you could see everything at its best and the highlight for us was passing Willie & Carmel Hartley’s who had yet to develop Jack Meades from a local pub into its present form.  At the time they had an agricultural contractor business with dozens of tractors and all manner of machinery which we feasted our eyes on from off the bus.  How we wished it would go more slowly, they more we would see!

This service ran on a Friday and Saturday from Cheekpoint.  The Friday run left the village at 9.30am and returned from the quay in town at 3pm departing from down by Dooleys Hotel.  Saturday had a few more runs.  9.30am, 12noon and 3.30 from the village returning from the quay at 11.30am, 3pm and finally 6pm.  And it wasn’t just a transport service, it was also a major social event as people caught up with each other, shared news, found out what was happening in neighbouring villages as they chatted at the bus stop.  But I think it might also have been unique from another perspective.

Our mother did her grocery shopping in Darrers Stores, long an institution in the town, and it was situated where McDonalds and Argos now reside.  One of the services the store offered was the dropping of the grocery shopping to the busses leaving town.  The names of the families were written on the bags and these were stacked at the end of the cashiers desk awaiting collection.  On Saturdays that pile grew very large with shoppers from Portlaw, South Kilkenny and Passage, Woodstown and Dunmore East also availing of the service. At bus times a driver and helper dropped them down in a car and lifted them onto the busses.  Many was the time we were told to be waiting for the 3pm bus and the driver would hand out our bags only to be told our mother had gotten off at the hospital or the church or would be home on the 6pm bus…Darrers and Suirway were ahead of Tesco home delivery by 30 years at least!

A Darrers Bag, very faded unlike my memories of the store

The drivers I remember best were Willie Elliott of course, Aitsey and Percy Hutchinson, Gerry Kane Roggie MaGrath and for years our school bus driver Jimmy Brown.

The worst part about the busses of course was the school bus service.  Once we hit secondary school age, we had to take the bus to town.  Given that we were only 20 minutes away this should not have been a problem, however, the bus we took was also doing a second school run and so departed from the Cross Roads at 7.30am which meant we were in the De La Salle at least an hour earlier than most everyone else!  The only advantage to the bus leaving from the Cross Roads was that you could dawdle your way up and “miss the bus” on occasion.  As there were so few cars travelling the route, it sometimes meant you could get a day off school.

For some reason we seemed to get the worst busses in the service for going to school.  Older, ricketier sometimes damp or downright wet.  I think the most bizarre event I remember was an evening returning from school when we broke down on Redmonds Hill after dropping Margaret Doyle and Caroline Mahon at Woodlands road.  Our driver that evening was Roggie McGrath.  Roggie had a bit of a reputation for grinding the gears.  Anyway this particular evening he stood up and announced that we could go nowhere unless he could get the engine started and back into gear.  However in order to do this, for some reason he had to let off the hand-break!  Now given our position on one of the steepest hills in the parish this was a bit of a conundrum.  So Roggie called for volunteers to stand behind the bus and to hold her in place whilst he attempted this engineering feat.

Banter and blackguarding aside, I think we all thought it a bit risky as we took up position at the back of the 10 ton bus, probably a little heavier as the less foolhardy refused to move from their seats.  Roggie shouted to ready ourselves which was relayed back.  As we took the weight I wondered briefly what would happen if we couldn’t hold it, where would we jump, would it roll right over us.

As the weight came on, there was a brief moment of panic and then the bus coughed into life and started to roll…forwards up the hill!  But then it was a case of running, as Roggie couldn’t stop again and the only way to rejoin the bus was to leap on as she climbed up the hill.  To be honest I think my mother thought I was making it up when I told her over the dinner.

If I recall right the first of the services to be disbanded was the Friday town bus, followed by the various Saturday runs.  Sunday mass followed, but the school bus still runs, and still at 7.30am.  Mind you given the homes and resulting traffic on Dunmore Road this is probably of necessity now.  I guess in time the car replaced the necessity of taking the busses to town.  The relocation of stores out to larger shopping complexes certainly didn’t help to attract the country folk into the heart of the town either of course.  But the bus was about more than transport, it was a vital social link too.

Thankfully a new bus service started the Friday to town route in the Spring of 2009 and this was later extended to Wednesdays too  Operated by Deise Link for the Rural Bus Service it runs a minibus which is often full which shows there’s still an appetite for communal transport in the area.  Transport is after all only one element of the local bus!

If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at tidesntales@gmail.com to receive the blog to email.
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