“Running” the Salmon

I recently recalled the selling of Salmon in Cheekpoint.  In conclusion of that piece, I mentioned the practice of running fish, a means of earning a bit of extra cash for some of life’s pleasures, which invariably meant drink and cigarettes.

Because the existence of fishermen, then as now, is so precarious, it was common practice at the start of each Salmon fishing season for the fish buyers to provide credit towards the cost of fishing.  This would go towards nets, corks, lead and roping twine etc, or in some cases these were actually supplied. Over the course of the season to August 15th, a percentage from each fish sold went back to the buyer, until the debt was repaid. In years when fishing was good, this could be paid off quickly. But a bad year meant a boat could be hard pressed to make the repayment.

My Uncle John (RIP), Uncle Sonny and Grandfather Andy (RIP)
Thanks to Sean Doherty for the photo

As each fish lost a percentage to the buyer, it wasn’t uncommon to hold a fish back and “run it” as we called it locally.  Selling it to another buyer of course was out of the question, at least directly.  But there was always a willing buyer locally for a fine fish, including the pubs.  Of course it wasn’t just the buyers that were sometimes hoodwinked.

A common enough practice was that a boat and gear might be worked on behalf of an owner.  In this case, the shares (which were always divided by 3) were 1/3 for the owner and the 1/3 each to the two men fishing the boat.

Tom & Michael Ferguson (RIP) drifting for Salmon
Thanks to Tomás Sullivan for the photo.

I recall myself and my brother Robert being challenged one morning on our return from fishing the flood tide by the owner of the boat.  Aboard we had three peal (small salmon).
“Is that all ye have?”
“Shure isn’t it well to have it”
“The Garriger said he saw ye taking in a pig of a salmon”
“Shure there wasn’t a salmon caught by anyone over there this morning, we bagged the biggest one of them, twas a right struggle to get him aboard”
“Garriger said he was 20lb at least, are ye sure ye don’t have him hidden under those nets!”
“Well if you can’t see him from there, he mustn’t have been much of a fish”

The owner was well in his rights to ask, and it was always the large fish that were run.  In this case, it was our Uncle Sonny and he was blackguarding us, but we’d heard many similar challenges.  The big fish were run because they raised more money and as the saying goes, you may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.  But if you were going to run one, you would be sure to avoid being seen bringing the fish in over the side.  It was also as well not to return to the village with it.

Many was the fish that was landed at Watty Byrnes in Ballyhack as boats drifted downriver on the ebb tide.  You would wait until nearing low water and then steam across to the quay and in to the pub to sell your fish. Watty always did well from it.  A good price for the fish, and you invariably dropped plenty of it behind the bar as you left with a few bottles of beer, or other items from his shop.

On one particular occasion, I was boy in the boat with another young man from the village.  His skipper was attending a funeral, and I’d been asked to fish with him for that day.  Anyway, a fine fish was caught on the ebb tide, and we proceeded down river by setting them at Seedes bank and letting them drift down to Ballyhack.  When the tide slowed we steamed to Watty’s.  Although, there would invariably be someone from Cheekpoint in the pub, you never had to worry. As Martin Mahon (RIP) said to us that day as he tapped the side of his nose with a nicotine stained finger, “What happens in the pub, stays in the pub!”

Paul Duffin and myself early 90’s

Of course even when men were fishing their own boat fish were sometimes run.  I recall a friend sharing the story from home one evening after his mother challenged his dad when he returned from fishing with no fish and barely able to put his legs under him.
“Have ye no fish?”
“A watery haul”
“Watery was it, pity you didn’t put more water in the whisky”
“Where’s me dinner, woman”
“Arrah, it’s where you should be, on the back of the fire!”

In the nineties, when I was finally fishing my own boat, I’d occasionally be asked to take a fish from younger lads,  They were fishing on behalf of others and in time honored fashion, were keen to make a few extra bob.  It was a bit more awkward passing a fish off as your own, and in some cases selling it on their behalf.  Either way, when it came to handing over the money, you were looked after.  It was the early days of Jack Meades, and many was the great night was had on the “windy stools” on the back of “running the Salmon”

If you’d like to know more about village life and the history and heritage of Cheekpoint, join us for a free guided walk this coming Bank Holiday Monday.  Walk departs from Cheekpoint Quay at 5pm and is an easy going stroll.

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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110th anniversary of the Barrow Bridge opening- An acknowledgement

This week marks the 110 anniversary of the opening of the Barrow Railway Viaduct, 21st July 1906. Built to connect Waterford with Rosslare, the bridge crosses the Rivers Barrow & Nore at Drumdowney in Kilkenny and Great Island in Wexford.  The event was officiated by the the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Lord Aberdeen.  He with the other guests, estimated at 500, traveled on a special event train that departed from Dublin via Waterford before crossing the new bridge where they stopped to admire the meeting of the three sisters.

The train then continued on its way to Rosslare, where the three masted schooner Czarina lay at anchor and the steamship Pembroke was at the pier, having sailed earlier from Fishguard with invited guests.  As it crossed into Rosslare a 21 gun salute was fired by the local coastguard.  The new service was inaugurated from the pier by the Lord Lieutenant. The freight rail service was the first to start running on the line, followed by a passenger service which came into operation on August 1st 1906 and the first cross channel ferry passengers left Rosslare on Fri 24th August 1906, sailing on the St Patrick.

Of course the bridge might never have been constructed.  An earlier plan which would have seen a railway line from the city to Passage East and a bridge or rail ferry crossing to connect with Wexford got as far as a company being formed and the commencement of some structural works like the bridge at Jack Meades.
The option of crossing the Barrow was a controversial decision however.  The New Ross Harbour Commissioners had every right to fear disruption of trade.  It was not until provisions were made to the plans of Sir Benjamin Barker including a
swivel opening span to allow entry and egress, that the go ahead was received.
Work commenced in June 1902 after a tender of £109, 347 was won by Sir William Arrol & Co of Glasgow. The initial stages of the work went well.  However the twin pillars onto which the spans were placed had to be laid on a foundation of the river bedrock.  As they proceeded out into the Barrow the depths got ever deeper and in some cases workers had to dig to 108 feet below the mean water level. Such extra work added a cost of £12,000 to the bridge.

Once completed the bridge was 2131 feet long, consisting of 13 fixed spans
mounted on twin 8 foot diameter cast iron cylinders filled with concrete.
11 spans are 148 feet long and the two closest the opening are 144 feet.
The bridge is 25 feet above high water on the spring tides. The railway is a single track steel line, built within the protective casing of a mild steel girder frame with cross trusses to provide stability.

One of the more detailed and trickiest engineering elements was the opening.  This span was constructed on 4 pillars and originally turned with an electric motor (now mains), situated on the pontoon around the pillars.  The opening pivots with an 80 Foot clearance allowing ships to pass.
The bridge saw several closures down the years, possibly the most exciting being
the incident with a floating mine in 1947, and which I’ve covered before in my
piece a century of Barrow Bridge incidents.
But the one closure it could not overcome was the economic arguments of CIE and
the final train crossed the bridge in September 2010.
We’ve seen trains pass occasionally since then, and perhaps in the future more
enlightened public transport policy or a tourism based initiative may see the
line re-opened.  I for one would dearly love to see it reinstated.  Its a train journey I never took, and regret it deeply.
I want to acknowledge
the following sources:
Jack O’Neill, A Waterford Miscellany. 2004.  Rectory Press
Ernie Shepard – The South Wexford Line.  Journal of the Bannow Historical Society (2013)
John Power – A Maritime History of County Wexford Vol 1(2011)
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The legacy of the schooner B.I. Waterford 1937

Being from Cheekpoint, I’ve often met people both at home and abroad with positive memories about the village or its inhabitants. Its usually a connection with an individual but also recollections of views from the Minaun, the meeting of the three sisters, or a meal in the Suir Inn.  So on first meeting a lady in Kilkenny some years back at a picnic lunch, I was taken aback, when on hearing my birthplace, she remarked “oh the people who pillaged the schooner B.I.!”

Lying alongside the Strand Rd, Cheekpoint
Photo via Tomás Sullivan

All of us knew of the BI growing up.  The schooner was then a wreck on the strand road, directly opposite a garage owned by Jim “Dypse” Doherty.  We would also know her story, retold often through a poem, written by Bill O’Dwyer.  I recall no better recitation than that of Matt “Mucha” Doherty, which would have easily graced the stage of the Theater Royal.

I’ll sing you of a gallant ship that sailed
o’er the western seas,
Whose flag has braved for seventy years the
battle and the breeze.
She was built in 1867 when Parnell was just
a boy,
She was christened at first the Sarah Anne,
but later renamed the BI
She tramped the Atlantic far and wide, and
sailed the Pacific too.
She has seen many weathers and many a gale
and many a cargo and crew.
But though long the day the night must come
and ships and mortals must die.
But the storm at Christmas sealed the doom
of that of that gallant schooner BI

She sailed from Arklow, this gallant ship,
bound down for the English shore.
But she sprang a leek outside Rosslare, and
was stranded just near Dunmore.
She was towed from Passage to Cheekpoint
quay, now her hold is no longer dry.
Battered fore and aft that stately craft,
that was once the schooner BI
With an ugly list on her starboard bow,
with her mainsail gone and her boom.
Now her guardian angel is Captain Burns,
with Darkie as non-de-plume.
She was auctioned as scrap and a Tramore
man, her trappings and all did buy.
He promised the Darkie ten shillings a week
to watch over the schooner BI.
While the Captain slept one cloudy night,
some fellows came in a boat,
Went aboard the schooner and stole some
rope they needed to fetter a goat.
When the Captain found the loss next day he
raised a terrible cry.
He was scared of what the owner would say
of the theft from the schooner BI.
When the owner came and heard the news a
wrathful man was he.
He told the Darkie he was no use, he knew
nothing of ships or the sea.
He cursed like hell and said “well well, my
information I’ll buy
Five pounds I’ll give to arrest the thief
that raided the schooner BI”.
Now Captain Burns was an honest man and he
resented the owners remarks.
He said “Since I took charge of your hulk
I’m working from dawn to dark.
I’ve welts on me feet from walking the deck
so pay me my wages my boy.
And I’ll bid you farewell you may go to
hell, yourself and the schooner BI”.
The BI in prouder days
Photo via Tomás Sullivan

The poem may have had a Cheekpoint bias and my Father when asked, would shrug and say they were hard times.  When pushed he would regale us with stories of “Captain” Burns, who seems to have been a real “character” and perhaps not the first choice for a watchman.

Boats such as the BI had a proud, workman like tradition and went where they were required, and carried what was available. Schooners originated in America and by the start of the 19th C had spread to the Europe.  They were ideally suited to sailing in coastal waters where winds changed constantly and shallow drafts were common. Certainly there are a few mentions of her in the Irish papers of the era, and she seems to have worked out of Youghal for many years. In 1917 the then Cork Examiner carries details of a court case where damages are sought against Youghal Urban District Council, “by reason of a foul berth”.  In September of 1925 the BI is up for sale in a notice in the Irish Independent, her captain retiring, and details can be had from a D.Donovan of Youghal.  The Donegal News of August 1931 in their Ballybofey and district notes, welcomes the BI with a cargo of coal, which were are told was a welcome site at Ramelton quay serving as a “reminiscence of the shipping in the past”

Her last days are recorded for posterity by the man who captained her for the last time; Bob Roberts. Roberts was a seaman, journalist, storyteller and musician and in his own words tells of her last voyage, which I have edited significantly here:

Having departed Wexford Town for Falmouth on Christmas Day with only myself and the mate for crew, (the crew had refused to sail we’re told) the BI ran into serious weather.  Carrying only ballast, she sprung her timbers and we battled for 48 hrs manning the pumps as much as the wheel or the rigging.  Realising our journey, not to say investment and lives were in serious peril, we turned to leeward and made for Waterford harbour.

We spotted the hook in the early hours and with some difficulty, and a lot of trepidation, rounded and headed into the harbour.  The ship at this point was dangerously full of water and we were in unfamiliar waters and unsure if this was indeed the harbour or the feared Tramore Bay. Eventually we found ourselves in shelter and at daybreak, with the assistance of two hobblers, stranded the BI at Passage East.

There our luck turned, as we were reported by a “busy body country custom official” to the Board of Trade.  A survey was required and what might have been a quick repair job turned into a financial nightmare. We were broke and the BI had to be auctioned.
From a piece titled “To earn a living under sail”Yacht and Yachting magazine. December 11 1964 (1)

The Cork Examiner carried the notice on 9th January 1937 saying the “Topsail Schooner BI” would be sold by public auction on Tuesday 19th January at 12 noon.  Locally it was said she was purchased by a man from Tramore who had some plans to make her sea worthy again but he ended up selling what he could from her deck and hold and left the hulk to rot.

aground at Strand Rd. Photo via Tomás Sullivan

As regards the pillaging piece, I suppose I can understand the feelings of Roberts.  Having invested his savings in a joint venture to return the schooner to England, he must have felt cheated.  The crew, weather and eventually the ship turned on him.  The “busy body” custom official and the price of a proper refit must have sealed his opinion of a pretty disastrous venture.  In such a light his badmouthing of the area is probably understandable, but at least he went on to future, and more successful, adventures.

Locally however the reputation of Captain Burns and the BI is well protected. They live on through the folk memory and the telling of the poem to succeeding generations.  I wonder when Jim Doherty recorded it in the Irish Folklore Commissions School Project, not long after it was first written, could he have foreseen that the BI would still be recited today and his words be there for succeeding generations to enjoy.  I sincerely doubt it.  I’d love to know if Bob Roberts knew of it too! Certainly, I made sure my acquaintance that day in Kilkenny did.

(1) The article was passed on to me by William Doherty and was received from another villager who lives abroad, Pat O’Gorman.  My thanks to them both.

Bob Roberts wrote several books.  Some titles here at Amazon.

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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Childhood memories of the Cheekpoint pilot boat

A picture paints a thousand words they say, and that was
proven yet again recently when Catherine Heffernan posted to the Cheekpoint
Faithlegg and Coolbunnia Facebook page. 
The photo was of the Morning Star II, the pilot boat that operated from
Cheekpoint when we were children and it brought the memories flooding back.

Morning Star II photo from Catherine Heffernan White

My Uncle Sonny returned from sea in the early 1970’s and
took up the role of pilot boat officer from the village, servicing the port of New Ross.  His boat the Morning Star II was
a familiar feature, and it was rare that you wouldn’t find Sonny standing on
the quayside waiting for a boat, or in my Aunt Ellen’s house having a cup of tea in between boats.

The Cheekpoint pilot boat serviced ships entering or leaving
New Ross. Because of our location at the point where the three sisters meet, the Barrow, Nore and Suir, and the junction to the two port, Cheekpoint was a logical choice for such activities.  I can’t say I have yet discovered when the practice started but I do recall a photo, below, which depicts a pilot officer house, where pilots waited on ships from the late 1800’s, and I’m guessing it was at least for most of that century.  Hobblers would have been to the fore prior to that.

Pilot House in the left corner of photo, AH Poole

New Ross pilots
departed outgoing ships at Cheekpoint, or joined incoming ships to pilot the
ships up through the Barrow Bridge to New Ross. I’ve blogged about the difficulties caused by the bridge before.  It also marked the point where the Waterford
pilots took over.  Hence a Waterford pilot relieved his New Ross counterpart and took the ship to the mouth of the
harbour, and was then relived of his duty and taken to Dunmore by the Betty
Breen.  They also obviously performed the
reverse role.

Of the pilots themselves I can only remember a few.  The New Ross pilots of the time were my Uncle John of course, and Mickey Duffin, Kevin Barry of Fethard and a Dutchman who I can only recall a smiling face and a smell of cigars.  Of the Waterford pilots  Willie Hearne, Pat Rodgers, John Whitty and the Walsh brothers and come to mind.

What made the whole affair so memorable was that Sonny would regularly take us children aboard the Morning Star II when he was going out to a ship.  We’d be hanging around the quay, fishing for flats
with sprat bait, or playing rounders or soccer on the village green.  Sonny would give the nod and we would
carefully hop aboard and sit on a small midship deck that housed the inboard
engine.  The Morning Star was no more
than 22 feet long, but beamy, and a whole gang of us could easily sit in
Local and visitor alike were taken aboard and away the whole
party went.  We were always the happier if the pilot was coming from Ross and had to
be dropped to the Island Quay, at Great Island. 
It made for a longer trip.  Or
other times the Waterford pilot might be put on an outgoing ship, the New Ross pilot come
aboard, and then away to an incoming ship, which he re-boarded to take to New

Pilot boat Crofter working at Cheekpoint this week

The scene was familiar to
me from an early age.  Ship sited at
Ballinlaw, coming towards the Barrow Bridge. 
Sonny would slip the painter from the ladder at the quay, negotiate the salmon
punts moored at the quay, cursing a floating anchor rope.  As the ship came though the Bridge, Sonny
would get into position, lining up with the bow of the ship and approaching at
an angle to close the gap.  As we neared there was always
a flutter in my belly, the ship which looked small at the distance, rearing up
and glaring down upon us the nearer we approached.  Always a curious smell, particular
to ships a mixture of food, diesel oil and cargo such as fertiliser, oil or

The ladder was down at the ships
side, two deckhands waiting at the gunwale of the ship.  We come alongside, Sonny gunning the engine
to maintain position with the ship, the pilot deftly hops upon the jacob ladder and
ascends, something none of us would probably ever choose to do.  Sonny casually looking
around, seemingly oblivious to the anxiety we felt, would he fall away from the
ship coming close if not under the churning propeller astern, would we be
sucked beneath the side.  Then having being relived
in the wheelhouse, the New Ross pilot would be seen sauntering down the side of
the ship, leg out over and onto the ladder, and waved off by the crew.  Once he had a foot aboard, Sonny with a deft
touch on the wheel effortlessly drew the Morning Star II away and departed from
the ship.

Pilot climbing the Jacob ladder
via: newsfromthebow.wordpress.com

My preference was for going alongside tankers, which rather
than a high side, had a railing and you could see much more of the ship and her
fittings. The NO SMOKING sign seemed strangely out of place on a ship, as
everyone I associated with ships and pilotage smoked, well, with the exception
of Sonny. 

All in all a magical era.  A time when health and safety and all manner
of regulation were yet to be devised and jobs to oversee them yet to be created.  In some ways it was a bad time for children.  We know that from the various scandals that
have come to light.  But it was also a
great time to be a child, when we had freedom, were left to create our own entertainment,
when parental fears, screen time and mobile devices were yet to suck up so much of children’s time and

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The travelling fish buyer

As a salmon fishing village, Cheekpoint, like all the others in the harbour, had to have a means of selling their fish.  In our case we either had to travel to sell them.  Or, when we were children in the 1970’s, the buyers traveled around to collect the fish.  They were a familiar and welcome addition to our growing up, and the smell of the salmon that they brought, was one that I welcomed as a sign of local prosperity.  

I’ve mentioned before about the significant export trade in Salmon in the past.  In my Grandmothers early days they brought the fish by foot or by donkey
to town (7 miles distance), and occasionally by boat.  She
told me once of an incident that had a deep impact on her.  Nanny and her mother were walking to town with a fine fish.  They were stopped by a
gentleman at Ballinakill (now a suburb of Waterford City) who asked if they would sell him the salmon, which her
mother agreed to.  My grandmother remembered her mother being pleased, money in her pocket and only half a journey.  However, when they returned home she recalled her father being angry, claiming that the buyers knew everything that happened in the harbour. The next time her mother went to the
buyer, he cautioned her, and warned that if she ever sold a fish behind his
back again he would blacken her from selling to any of the buyers in town.

The excitement of a fine catch

“Big Patsy” Doherty (RIP) told me that his brother Jimmy “Tailstones” (RIP) met his
wife Nellie O’Brien as she used to travel around with her mother buying fish in
a pony and trap in the 1940’s.  Jimmy and Nellie went
on to have a fish shop in Patrick St in Waterford that is trading to this day
under Jim Jnr.

As children
I recall the trucks of Michael O Neill(RIP) and Flanagan’s calling out to the village to buy salmon.  They called to the quay or to homes.  Each house had their own preferred
buyer.  Michael O’Neill always called to
our Uncle Paddy in the Mount, whereas my father, when fishing, sold to Flanagan’s.  When he wanted the buyer to stop, his signal
was a conch shell at the gate of the house, each fisherman had their own

When the
buyer pulled up you’d gather the fish and carry them out.  Depending on size, the peal (smaller salmon
up to 5lb and pronounced pale locally) might be weighed together and the larger salmon weighed individually.  The process was the same.  The tarpaulin pulled back, releasing a mass of fly’s and blue bottles, exposing boxes segregating fish by size, which had been bought previously.  (We were expected to take it all in and feed
back to our father, but if he was present he would chat away trying to find out
exactly who had caught what and where)

An “ouncel” as we called it, handy gauge of the weight

If I recall rightly Flanagan’s had a metal arm which would be fitted, or swung out from the van, and the scales attached.  (Michael O’Neill had a weighing scales of an old type which used the old weights to measure it up) Then the fish were hoisted onto it, or an
individual salmon would be threaded via the gills onto the weighing hook and
then left to hang while the scales balanced. 
We paid close attention to the weight, particularly of big fish, as it
was always a topic of debate and excitement, particularly with a very big
fish.  News of which would travel around
the harbour. We had our own “ouncel” as we called it to weigh the fish, but it was what was on the buyers scales that mattered. There was often tales of putting pebbles, or lead, down the salmons mouth to increase the weight.  I can only say that we never tried it.

everything was weighed the fish were sorted into the boxes on the back of the
van and then covered.  Then the docket
book came out, and the weight and price were noted and the total value made
up.  It was calculated on price per pound, Salmon being more expensive than Peal.  A copy of this, along with the money
was then handed over (at times you might have to wait for the weekend for this
to be settled up) Of course the benefit of being from a fishing family is that you had access to fish at any time for the table.  One of my most lasting memories of my childhood was the taste of the freshly cooked salmon at home, boiled on the hob, with a pot of my fathers freshly dug potatoes.  Heaven on earth.

As the summer progressed the prices tended to drop, and I recall many disgruntled fishermen by the time August came round.  Increased fishing along the coast depressed the price and in years to come, would actually belittle the price paid to fishermen.  And that was before the menace of farmed salmon. The only antidote to the lower prices was to try sell locally to homes or the pubs. In that regard McAlpins Suir Inn were to the fore.  “Mr Mac” as everyone called him, paid premium prices for large Salmon all through the season and was highly regarded for his fairness.  That said my father refused to either drink in the pub or sell to it.  The Tynan’s had the West end pub, known as the Jolly Sailor at the time.  They too were providing food, but their prices for fish were not considered as good,

Two dockets showing the drop in prices between two years

Each year
that the season started in February, a bit of new fishing gear would need to be
purchased.  Nets, ropes, corks or lead
would then be roped up for the new year. 
In many cases fishing families could not afford this, and as a
consequence, fishmongers would either give you the money towards it, or
provide the gear.  In these cases, the
money was paid back as a percentage of the fish you sold.  It made good business sense, and guaranteed to
a fishmonger a supply of fish.  But it
also led to, or rather added to, a practice of running the fish, something I’ll return to.

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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