John Seymour – Godfather of self sufficency

We celebrated the Waterford Harvest Festival recently which had a significant input from the local Grow it Yourself GIY project.  Its a philosophy that I have subscribed to with my wife Deena for many years, and I have my grandmothers generation to thank for that.  But another influence was John Seymour (1914-2004) who has been called the “Godfather of Self Sufficiency” and was the author of the “Bible of Self Sufficiency”.  What many apparently didn’t know, was that he lived locally here in the harbour.

A one man rowed prong on Ryans Shore 

My first introduction to John was as a teenager standing on Cheekpoint Quay with my Father in autumn time.  We stood watching as a Prong approached from Great Island.  It was skillfully handled and because of such expertise, it gracefully entered the harbour in the village.  My father went forward to take the bow line, which was thrown from out of the Prong, and up onto the quay popped an older man, but how old I could not guess. He had a craggy face, tufty white hair with a flat cap covering a balded dome and a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

“How are you Bob?” was his first words, and although he nodded towards me by way of a hello, he paid no interest in me but continued a wide ranging chat with my father on his spuds, the weather, local fishing and international shipping.  I always marveled at my fathers ability to match anyone for discussion on a topic.

Seymour in later years

Born in England into a wealthy family he got a first class education but “turned his back on it” in favor of agriculture.  At 20 he emigrated to Africa where he tried his hand at various ventures and served in WWII. He returned to England after the war, but was said to be appalled at how farming was becoming an industrial process and he rebelled against it, turning to writing and journalism to give voice to his opinions.  He started a family in the mid fifties and to sustain them, he set up farming again, but on his own terms and under the principals he held dear.  The concepts he espoused were articulated in over 40 books during his lifetime, but I think he is probably best known for his book “The Complete book of Self Sufficency” and here’s a you tube review.  It’s claimed the book was an influence for the 70’s BBC comedy series called “The good life”

It was the first book of his that I read, and I’ve read a few since.  (A full list here) If I was to try and capture the essence of what he had to say it was probably that you need to live in harmony with nature, and turn it to being your ally in the way you work.  Something that is as true for fishing as it is for farming. There were some concepts that I didn’t like, for example he seemed to take a hard line with children in the garden, no messing about, which I would find to be essential.  But even if you didn’t like the concept, or the have any interest in the practices, the book itself is remarkable for the images and drawings used, and for capturing a way of life that is now almost extinct.

John came to Kilowen, on the River Barrow (which is just above Great Island on the Wexford side) in 1981 and there he set up another smallholding from where he ran courses and basically lived the good life.  He continued to write and make appearances (for example Michael Bance from Woodstwon did a number of pieces with him for Nationwide).  But he is perhaps best known at this time for his court appearance with the “Arthurstown Seven”

In 1999, in a direct action response to the growing of genetically modified sugar beet in Wexford, John led a protest against a Monsanto product being trialed in fields near to his home.  It was the first of a number of actions.  When challenged in court he shrugged his shoulders, tilted his head and quipped – “t’was the fairy’s your honour”.  Somehow, I don’t think I’d get away with that defense.

My knowledge of him, his books and the events with Monsanto was yet to come.  As we walked to the top of the quay, Seymour headed towards the Suir Inn for a pint and I think he was disappointed we couldn’t join him.  Once alone I asked my father the inevitable question, to which my father simply replied “a Brit living the good life”.  On further prying they had met whilst sinking a weir up the Barrow and Seymour had rowed across to ask about the process.  Walking home that evening what I had yet to realise was that by Seymours terms, we were already living the good life.  In many ways including growing our own potatoes and veg, catching and eating our own fish, able to freely gather driftwood to keep the home fires burning.

I would come to live through times that would see that all turned on its head.  When as a country we would know the price of everything and the value of nothing.  I can only speculate that Seymore came here because he could sense that the life he thought possible, still existed in Waterford harbour.  In fighting Monsanto he showed his resolve to try and protect his adopted country.  Too bad, those who were born and reared here could not have done likewise.

If you have yet to read Seymour here’s a lovely flavor of his work, titled the Age of Healing

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The emigrants return – Condon Family reunion, Cheekpoint 2016

Last weekend there was a homecoming of sorts to Cheekpoint.  Members of the extended Condon family, the offspring of Mary Doherty and Larry Condon who married in the first
decade of the last century, had a gathering in the village.  I was asked to come to one event and lead a
walk onto the Minaun and to the old school house.  It
culminated in a party on Cheekpoint Green where Mary was born and
it was a weekend the village will surely remember for many years to come.
My Father Bob, in the 1950’s.  The Doherty homestead is on the
green surrounded by a low whitewashed wall

Mary Doherty was one of 10 children (that I know of)
born to Bill Doherty and Bridget (nee Heffernan) on the Green in
Cheekpoint.  She worked as a ladies maid in
Faithlegg House for many a year, and it was this that probably gave her the
love she had of company and entertaining visitors to her home.  Larry was from the Old Road, his home now
demolished was close to Cassin’s.  His parents were James and Ellen. Larry
was a sailor who originally went to sea before the mast, and stories about his
exploits were legion. One I told on
the day went as follows.

Larry, middle row on left, circa 1930’s
Photo: Anthony Rogers

Paddy (Batty, I believe) Doherty went to sea, and he
travelled to Wales and wound up in Newport or Cardiff going agent to agent
looking for a berth.  At the end of a
disappointing day he washed up in a café where he had only the money for a cup
of tea.  As he went to find a seat he was
hailed by a sea captain who asked where he came from.  “Waterford Sir” Paddy replied.  “City or County” he was asked.  “Cheekpoint, Sir” he replied.  “Do you know Larry Condon?” was the next
question.  “I do of course”  “Are you looking for a berth?, sit down here, ye need look no further” came the welcome response.

As a young sailor the now Captain, was part of a crew on an Atlantic run. 
In a ferocious storm the spar on the main mast broke away, but remained
connected to the ship via some of the rigging. 
Pitching and rolling in heavy seas, every time the ship healed to port
the spar careered into the starboard and with each impact the timbers weakened.  The captain and crew looked on
helplessly.  To climb the rigging in such
seas was madness, and yet unless the spar was cut away, it would breach the
side and in the conditions they wouldn’t remain afloat.  Suddenly Larry ran for’ad and leaped from the ship onto the rigging and slid down along it to the
tangled spar. 
While Larry hacked away at the ropes with his knife, he watched for
the crashing waves and the inevitable collision against the ships side.  With each impact he had to cease work and
grasp the spar with both hands.  Several
times his ship mates thought he was crushed, or washed away, but each time he
emerged, his determination showing no ceasing. 
Finally the ropes were cut away, but as the spar was swept astern, with
it went Larry into the depths of the surging Atlantic. As he disappeared astern a length of ships rope, thrown by the captain, landed atop of him.  Miraculously he managed to catch it and hold it, and with it the
crew hauled their saviour aboard.
Mary and Larry set up home at number 3 the cottages (in the
past some called it the street)   Indeed
it’s worth recalling that the six cottages that run down to the village quay
would probably not be even there if it were not for the couple.  When Mary was to be married she went to her
employer and asked if he would build them a house which they would then repay
via a weekly rent.  Pat Power, the then
landlord at Faithlegg agreed.  Land
belonging to Larry at the cross roads was earmarked, but on work commencing,
several others approached the landlord with a similar request.  He went back to Mary to explain, and told her
that to accommodate everyone, he would build a line of houses, but that she
could have the first choice.  As far as I’m aware they had 6 children.  2 girls, Eily and Bessie and 4 boys; Liam, Larry, Jimmy and Christy.

The six cottages, probably the 40’s or 50’s

Eily and Bessie lived locally.  Larry died aboard ship in the Indian Ocean in 1950.  Jimmy, who anyone in the area will know was a crewman on our beloved Portlairge, also went to sea.  Jimmy was passing through the Panama Canal one day when he spotted his fathers ship coming against him.  He sang out to inquire if Larry Condon was aboard, that it was his son was asking.  A deckhand was seen running and moments later his father arrived at the ships side.  They had a brief chat to catch up, both walking towards the stern no doubt, to maintain this fleeting encounter.  They hadn’t seen each other in two years, and it would be another year before they actually met each other in Cheekpoint. 

Eily (left) and Bessie (Rt) with Kathy Barry in the centre
early 1990’s on a Thursday Club outing to Mellery
Photo: Bridget Power

The most poignant story I heard at the weekend was the
leaving of their son Christy and family in 1955.  The 50’s were a hungry and bleak time
nationally (I heard it called locally the black decade, a recent book called it the lost decade).  Economic stagnation and loss of confidence was everywhere in De Va Lara’s Ireland and in Cheekpoint even the
fish seemed to have abandoned us. 
Without fish the only option in the climate was a long absences away at
sea or emigration.  Christy chose the
boat to England, but he left his wife May and the children (I believe it was eight
children at the time) at home.

Christy was set up in the job by his brother Laim.  Liam had come in from a cold, wet and fruitless night of fishing with my grandfather in 1946 and spotted an advertisement in a local paper for a new engineering firm British Timken in Northampton.  He was interviewed in a hotel in Waterford and was given the job on the spot,  He was foreman by the fifties and he helped Christy find his feet in the same company, and with the job he kept the family fed and earned enough to put a deposit on a home.

In the summer of 1955 he returned and the family readied
themselves for the journey.  They were
living at the time where the cottage bistro is now situated.  The children were all part of the community,
went to school, to mass, played on the village green, swam off the quay.  Steps of stairs, they were part of the
vitality of the community.  The decision to
leave was a huge wrench.  But as big as
it was for the family, it’s often those that are left behind that perhaps feel it more.
Christy in later years, chatting to Jim Doherty on left and
big Patsy Doherty on right.  Photo: Anthony Rogers

The evening they sailed down from Waterford on the Great
Western the village turned out to wave them away.  Fires were lit from the Rookery to the Mount
and the Rogers family (Eily was married at that stage to John Joe Rogers) lit a fire at Passage
East.  Tom Sullivan told me that he was a
deckhand on her that evening, and he overheard one person saying that if only
she would sink now passing the village, the children could swim ashore, and
never have to leave.

The Great Western, inbound to Waterford from the
Russianside 1950’s

I think the extended Condon family were a little surprised
by the welcome they got to Cheekpoint last weekend.  Ben Power had up his welcome to Cheekpoint
banner.  William Doherty had the village
festooned in bunting.   The Development
Group had the green cut, Clem Jacob had a fine marquee to protect them from
the rain and Eamon Duffin with his wife Diane, and son Jim was on hand to provide the music. The sun shone, the tide came in and Cheekpoint looked at its
best.  I didn’t manage to count the crowd
there on Saturday, but it was as good a crowd as at any village fun day.  The only shame was that so many who would have
loved it, could not have come as they’re gone to their eternal rest.

a small section of the gathering 17/9/2016

I’ve written before about the scourge of emigration as it visited the Moran family, but I reflected there that it was those who were left
behind to carry on, who seem to feel the pain of it more.  In speaking with the Condon family the sense
I got was that although they missed, and often returned to Cheekpoint, that the
move to England provided opportunities that Ireland at the time never could. Christy and May wanted nothing but to provide
the best for their children.  As a
country we’d do well to remember that with all those who have come to Ireland
in the last number of years, searching for the very same.

My thanks to Larry Condon, Pat Condon and Anthony Rogers and his sister Rosalind in compiling this article. All errors & omissions are my own.

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The “Divil” and the Captains Coffin

In 1932, a Hungarian sea captain, Rudolph Udvardy, who was master of the MV Honved,was in the port of Waterford with a cargo of Maize. To free up berth space, the Honved dropped down to Cheekpoint, where she anchored while the ship waited for an outgoing cargo.  (Following the Market crash there was a shipping slump, and ships struggled to find cargo)  Captain Udvardy was already ill when entering port.  So he continued to receive medical attention when at anchor off the Russsianside, Cheekpoint. The doctor traveled over from Dunmore East, and was regularly rowed out from Moran’s poles to the ship by my Grandmothers brothers, who also waited to return him to shore.

gathering at Faithlegg church gates
Alas, the Captain died on Friday 2nd September 1932.  And he was removed next day to Faithlegg on a beautiful sunny afternoon. Later that night the chapel-woman went to lock the church door.  As she was about to close it out she noticed a silhouette near to the altar. Moving slightly closer she could hear a low mumbling sound.  Terrified, she turned on her heals and ran to her home – The lodge at Faithlegg gates.  There she explained what she had witnessed to her husband and another man who was there playing cards.  There was a lot of talk about the devil coming for the captain, there was a lot of winking amongst the men too.
The captain’s body leaving his ship for the last time aboard the
“Point Lass” with Billy & Denny Doherty (The Green)

They agreed to accompany her back to the church.  Strolling in, they had a light step, but this froze at the back of the church when they too heard sounds.  More cautious now, they scooped up some holy water and began to inch forward, splashing it as they went, hoping t’wud be enough to keep any evil away.  In the darkness nothing could be seen, but as they inched forward, the mumbling could be discerned to words, strange and foreign words.  Panic was rising amongst the three and the holy water was being splashed with abandon when one of them stumbled and emitted a cry.  All went silent, no mumbling could be heard, and then a whisper came from the area where the Captains coffin stood. Someone was asking who was there, in broken English and in a strange tongue, but human undoubtedly.

Moving forward the protectors of the Captains coffin were confronted with the Arab crew,  They did not understand the Christian custom of leaving the coffin on its own in the Church overnight.  Their custom, they explained, was to remain. The chapel was left open that night and next morning the Captain’s body was committed to foreign soil.  The grave was surrounded by his officers and crew. And there was a huge turnout from the area, a turnout as befitted a sailor who died so far away from his family, something well known to the village of Cheekpoint.

The graveside, bedecked in local flowers

The ship remained for a few more weeks, and finally with a new Captain sailed out the harbour. His wife would later sent a small plant in a pot, asking that it be planted to mark her husbands grave. She need not have worried however.  His grave was originally marked by a very distinctive metal plaque (John Sullivan could tell me that this was made by Jimmy Shanahan (RIP)) and when this finally disintegrated, a local benefactor provided the headstone that now marks his last resting place.  Flowers still appear on the grave from time to time,  A reflection of how deep the connection to the events that autumn in 1932 went.

Udvardy Rezso: Elt So Evet, Szept 2 1932. Beke Hamvaria.
Sea Captain Honved, Nationality Hungarian. Died aboard Ship Honved at Cheekpoint

Photo credit:  I took copies of the three photos above from an article by John O’Connor in the Munster Express a few years back.  My grandmother had a full set of photos, as did many others in the village, but these are no longer at home.  One of the ships officers had a camera and took several photos in the village at the time.  He made several copies and posted them back, I’m guessing in some token of appreciation for the kindness shown.

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The Dunmore East lighthouse

Comparisons, it’s said, is the thief of joy.  So when it comes to the two lighthouses at either side of the mouth of the harbour, I would suggest that it is silly to choose one over the other. Hook light is much better known as the oldest working lighthouse in Europe, but its Dunmore counterpart has an interesting story in itself and for me its one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture we have in
East Waterford.
Dunmore (Dun Mhor, the big fort) has probably always been a fishing village, or at least those who landed up there, took part of their food supply from the waters thereabouts.  But its first harbour development of any merit was the work to facilitate the Mail Packet Station.

The Packets as they were called, (because mail in those days tended to be bulky packages of official correspondence) had been in use since Tudor times but the Waterford run was unofficial and thus an unreliable service.  The official Mail Packet Station was established at Cheekpoint in 1787. The service utilised small fast cutters which sailed between the harbour and Milford Haven and carried mail, freight and passengers. Seven ships worked a 6 day sailing schedule.  But the location at Cheekpoint led to complaints, as having sailed from England the boats had to negotiate strong tides and were at the mercy of contrary winds.

In 1813 the service was moved to Passage East as an interim measure but plans were already afoot to create a purpose built pier at Dunmore East to facilitate the packets.  Under the exacting eye of Alexander Nimmo (1783-1832) work commenced at Dunmore in 1814 and the packets started sailing from there in 1818 (sources differ on this).  However the lighthouse seems to have been an afterthought and a temporary light was installed whilst Nimmo set to work on what was his first and, from what I have read, only such building. Work commenced about 1820 and was completed by 1824 and became operational in 1825.

The tower is made of Granite, which contrasts beautifully against the old red sandstone that predominates in the breakwater and surrounding cliffs.  The tower is a fluted doric column which
stands 16 meters tall including the lantern. Initially the tower was whitewashed, but thankfully this was discontinued over a century ago.

Although the stone work is
beautiful, the cast iron lattice balcony also deserves attention.  This is of forged steel and is one of only two such examples in the country, but apparently follows the practice of other Scottish lighthouse builders like Robert Stevenson.  The lantern is constructed of metal with square windows and a weather vane completes it.

The light can be seen for 17 nautical
miles.  It was initially fueled by oil lamps and reflectors but this was replaced by acetylene in 1922 and it was electrified in 1964 using batteries and since 1981 it’s run off mains power, with a back up generator.

Via Jamie Malone 

In 1824 there was a report that the lighthouse keeper and his family were living locally because the accommodation at the tower was uninhabitable due to damp.  I’m unsure if this was at the tower itself, or in the square building that makes up what I always heard called the storehouse; the flat roofed building that is built around the seaward side.  The lighthouse keeper position was removed in 1922 and was replaced by an attendant.

Although Dunmore pier and lighthouse was built to accommodate the Mail Packet, the irony was that by 1824 steam powered vessels were already in use on the route.  As a consequence of the ability of such ships to journey against the tides and winds, campaigning began to move the packet once more, this time to the city and this occurred in 1835.  Dunmore reverted back into a fishing harbour and in Victorian times a tourist destination.    

Via Brendan Grogan

Perhaps because it is now integrated into the storm wall, or that a flat roofed store house surrounds the tower, the Dunmore lighthouse does not have the stoic isolated feel of other houses such as Hook.  But it’s a remarkable piece of architecture
and a testament to the vision and craftsmanship of Nimmo and his team.  Local photographers such as Jamie Malone and Brendan Grogan appreciate it. The Barony of Gaultier Historical Society use it on their Facebook page as a cover photo. And the Buildings of Ireland think highly of it too.  So if you havn’t already done so, next time you get a chance take a stroll along the breakwater and take a closer look.

I took information on the lighthouse from:

Information on the packets via:
Antell. R.  The mails between South West Wales and Southern Ireland: The Milford-Waterford packet 1600-1850.  2011.  Welsh Philatelic Society.
Copies can be ordered directly by contacting the Welsh Philatelic Society, contact details on their website at

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SS Irish Willow’s mercy mission to Dunmore East

On the 1st September 1942, the SS Irish Willow rounded Hook Head and steamed for Dunmore East. With her destination Waterford port, it was a familiar course. But rather than being met by the pilot boat, this time she was intercepted by the local life boat Annie BlancheSmith.  For not alone had she a cargo of wheat for Halls Flour Mills in the city, she also had 47 souls clutched from the Atlantic, the crew of the torpedoed SS Empire Breeze.

The Irish Willow (1941-46) was originally built in America in 1917 as part of that country’s emergency fleet expansion to cope with the extra demands for shipping during WWI.  In 1941 she was chartered to the newly founded Irish Shipping Co., in an attempt to keep supply lines open to Ireland. She had departed Cork in June and via Wales for bunkers had taken on a cargo of wheat at St Johns NB and was en route to Waterford.

Irish Willow 1946  via Frank Cheevers WHG 2013

The Empire Breeze departed Liverpool on August 15th as part of convoy ON 122.  On August 25th the convoy was attacked by German U Boats and both U-176 and U-438 fired torpedoes in the direction of the Empire Breeze.  It was later clarified that U-176 fired the fatal shots, the other sub’s missile having missed their target.

The crew took to the lifeboats and rowed away from their stricken ship, but not before an SOS was sent.  However the rules about stopping in convoy were well understood by her crew and as a dense fog fell, they were left on their own in the middle of the Atlantic.  Two ships did try to locate them, but the fog was too dense and they were passed off.  When the crew spotted their stricken vessel still afloat, it was decided to return and temporarily board her from where hot drinks and extra supplies were sourced and a further distress call sent.

This signal was picked up by the SS Irish Willow, they immediately responded.  However, the decision was not without a lot of risk to the neutral vessel.  They had a fix on the ship using dead reckoning, in other words, they knew the direction the men were in, but not the distance.  In a situation of thick dense fog, by traveling too fast they could collide with the stricken ship and risk their own.  They could also risk colliding with the life boats.  But they also risked the arrival of another U Boat, determined to finish off the job.  As they sailed towards the survivors, all these thoughts must have been with the crew.  Those not on watch were posted on deck as extra lookouts, and every two minutes whistles were blown as a signal to the stricken sailors.

Fishermen’s Hall, Dunmore East

Eventually, the wreck site was reached and the men rescued, and the Irish Willow made the crew as comfortable as possible while making haste towards home.  A message was sent forward to alert the Irish government of the situation and the local Red Cross began to make preparations at the Fisherman’s Hall in Dunmore East.  A reception centre was set up with food, clothing, beds, and medicines.

At 1.30pm the Annie BlancheSmith put to sea, with doctors and ambulance men on board to meet up with the Irish Willow. In two trips the lifeboat landed the 47 survivors and returned to her station at 3.45pm.* Two of the wounded were transferred to the Waterford City & County Infirmary.

Original Painting of the event
posted by Brian Cleare to WMH page Sept 2015

Apparently, coal was in so short a supply in the country at this stage, that the trains were no longer running.  As a consequence, Sean Lemass (Minister for Supplies) had to authorise two buses to be dispatched to bring the crew to Dublin.**  I’m sure from there they were returned to England, and just like my story of Pat Hanlon, were back at sea within days.

The SS Irish Willow continued to Waterford where she was discharged and continued to keep the country fed for the rest of the war.  I know there was most likely Waterford men aboard, but don’t know any of the names I’m afraid.  Bill Gunnip (RIP) who was our neighbour sailed with the company and did the Duffin family and I know the Heffernans, Hearnes and Walsh’s of Passage East were with the company too. Paddy Roche mentioned in a comment that his Grandfather Jim Roche of Ballyhack was aboard the Willow, but was not sure if it was at the same time.  My own grandfather was at sea too.  I’ve read recently that Irish ships saved the lives of 521 sailors of all nationalities and neutral Irish ships were attacked (by both sides) 41 times.  149 Irishmen died and 38 were injured, many permanently.*** That does not include those that sailed under other flags.

Growing up, my war hero’s were gleamed from comics and movies and tended to be military men who managed against all odds to do the impossible, and usually with a lot of gunfire.  But as an adult you see things a little differently. The crews of such ships as the Irish Willow could only turn into danger on hearing an SOS, but that neither diminishes nor fully explains their decision to do so.  They could do no other, but that in itself is very often heroic, especially when the sea is involved.

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* Taken from “The Story of the Dunmore East Lifeboats” Brendan and Mary Glody made a present of a copy of it to me during the week.
**McShane. M.  Neutral Shores.  Ireland and the battle of the Atlantic.  2012.  Mercier press.  Cork
*** Bolger. D. The Lonely Sea and Sky.  2016.  New island. Dublin