Oiche Samhain, 1970’s Cheekpoint

As a child, Halloween was a lot simpler.  There again in the early 1970’s with one TV channel (RTE 1), 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 derives 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.  The name Halloween 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.  As children 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 avoid capture.

The first sign of Halloween then was not an add on TV but the making of masks 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.  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 windfall 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 my aunt 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.

Another activity was the money 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 .  Of course there were also ghost stories and my father could always be relied upon to scare half the avenue with ghoulish tales, like the one I related last year about the Banshee at Coolbunnia.

I not sure when pumpkins became popular 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 Avenue council houses 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.

Next morning was All Souls, a holy day of obligation, and an important festival to mark also.  Our mother would be up earlier than usual to clean clothes and have us all scrubbed clean of smoke 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 much changes, it’s still a ancient Celtic festival to which we have a deep connection and hopefully continues to be part of out traditions.

This piece this morning is an edited and updated piece I first published on Oiche Samhain 2014.

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The Woodstown “Scotch” fishing weir

In the early decades of the 19th century traditional fishing
methods were turned on its head with the introduction of the Scotch Weir to
Ireland.  The origins are confirmed by the name, and the method of fishing
is typified by what remains of the Woodstown weir near the mouth of the
Waterford harbour.

Woodstown weir, circa 1960.  Sense of the size of it.
with thanks to Brendan Grogan
We’ve looked at the use of head weirs in
the harbour before
.  But weirs were not a distinct and uniform fishing
engine.  Weirs have been in use in various forms in Ireland since the 5th century.  The foremost expert
was Arthur Went who catalogued not just the methods
but the dispersal of them.  Many names
are associated with weirs including head weirs, fly weirs, bag weirs and
scotch/stake weirs.  And there is undoubtedly
many local variations and common names.  Waterford harbour was the foremost location,
and the head weirs, for which we should be very proud, were considered to date
from at least the arrival of the Normans.  The
remaining weirs form a unique, but unappreciated, fishery heritage treasure.[i]
But weirs such as
those at Woodstown were anything but “traditional” in an overall sense. Although the technology was centuries old, the traditional methods were a
more sustainable and controlled fishing practice, with some rules such as the
Queens (or Kings) pass (a gap allowing passage of fish up or down river) dating
in origins to the Magna
. The Scotch Weirs originated in a different time, and responded to an
improved method of using Ice to keep fish fresh.  The process was introduced from China by a man
called Dalrymple. [ii]
The new ice
preserving method resulted in the ability to transport fish over longer
distances.  As a result, the time honoured control
over the numbers of salmon caught were no longer necessary.  The Scotch
weir allowed for hundreds of fish to be taken at a time, and the nets could fish all
tides and all weathers (the weekend closure was still enforced however). The basic design was as depicted at Woodstown.
A sketch of a scotch weir.  note that local varations in design were common

A line of poles
ran perpendicular to the shoreline, as far and just beyond the
“spring” low water mark. To these poles was attached netting, which
guided or lead fish out to deep water.  At the end they entered a netting
box, with nooks into which the fish butted their heads.  Once trapped like
this, the fish rarely tried to extricate themselves, but remained to be
captured either via a dip net or by hand once the tide had dropped away at low

The scotch weirs
were generally instigated by the landed gentry, who realised the vast financial
killing to be made.  Although traditional
nets-men may have complained, initially the weirs were erected unopposed.
 However, the plight of the traditional nets-men, anglers and some
shipping and boating interests led to parliamentary committee hearings, and
court cases.
Some fishermen at work at Woodstown with the weir in the backgrond
with netting attached ot the leader.
Photo via Bill Irish collection in A Century of Trade & Enterprise in Ireland

Generally to no
avail however. for then (as now) the powers that be were either ambivalent or
wholly ignorant to the realities of the practice.  At hearings the landlords could call witness after
witness to say that weirs had been in use for millennia.  Laws, when they
came, were considered by many to be too little too late.  Some of the
weirs were removed whilst others were permitted to continue to fish, the
Woodstown weir operated into the 1960’s I’m told.  Two other weirs based
on a similar design, but much smaller in size, operated in the Kings Channel
into the 1990’s.
Today only a few
poles remain of the Woodstown Weir and beyond low water, some paraphernalia
remains of the netting box.  The site is now two centuries old and worthy
of interpretation at least.  
If you want some sense of the
weir fishing method practiced at Woodstown, heres a link of how it operates from present day Nova Scotia
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.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales

[i] Went.
AWJ. Notes upon the fixed engines for the capture of salmon used in Ireland since
1800.  The Journal of the Royal Society
of Antiquaries of Ireland.  Vol XCIII
[ii] Robertson.
I.A.  The Tay Salmon Fisheries since the 18th C. 1998. Cruithne Press.

Imagine arts festival walk 2016 – A big River

As part of this years Imagine Arts Festival, Deena and I were asked to lead a walk in our local community on a theme reflecting our heritage and arts.  To do this we thought about the many songs, stories, poetry and prose that surround our area and reflect our rich maritime heritage. So the walk that departs this morning from Faithlegg Church at 11am is a walk that celebrates the big river, or more accurately rivers ( Barrow, Nore and Suir), that inspire and continually enrich our lives.

Our history stretches long back into antiquity.  Gael, Viking, Norman and English have entered the harbour here and used it as a route to open up the entire country.  When Ptolmy drew a map of the known world in 2 AD he included Ireland, and a River Birgos, long considered the Barrow.  The parish of Faithlegg itself was gifted to a Bristol merchant named Aylward following the entry of King Henry II through Waterford this past week in 1171.  Those Bristol men played a significant role in the development of the port, as did the Norman knights and religious orders that followed.
The Aylwards managed to weather many political storms until the arrival of Cromwell put and end to their reign of the area, when it passed to the Bolton family.  The last Bolton, Cornelius left us Faithlegg House which he sold to the catholic Powers in 1816.  We have the powers to thank for the modern church.  Throughout these times Waterford continued to trade and prosper.
Accessed from;
A sense of where the area was at is reflected in this piece from a man we have heard from before on the blog. Arthur Young, and his Tour in Ireland 1776-79 from which we take the following:
“The number of people who go as passengers in the Newfoundland ships is amazing; from 60-80 ships and from 3000 to 5000 persons annually.  They come from most parts of Ireland; from Cork Kerry etc.  Experienced men will get £18 to £25 for the season, from March to November; a man who never went will have £5 to £7 and his passage, and others rise to £20, the passage out they get but pay home £2.  An industrious man in a year will will bring home £12 to £16 with him, and some more.  A great point for them is to be able to carry all their slops (work clothes)for everything there is extremely dear, 100 or 200% dearer than they can get them at home.  They are not allowed to take out any woollen goods but for their own use.  The ships go loaded with porrk, beef, butter, and some salt, and bring home passengers, or get freights when they can; sometimes rum.

The Waterford pork comes principally from the barony of Iverk in Kilkenny, where they fatten great numbers of hogs; for many weeks together they kill here 3000 to 4000 a week, the price 50s. to £4 each; goers chiefly to Newfoundland.  There is a foundry at Waterford for pots, kettles, weights and all common utensils; and a manufactory of anvils to anchors etc., which employs 40 hands.  There are two sugar houses, and many salt-houses…
There is a fishery upon the coast for a great variety of fish, herrings, particularly at the mouth of Waterford Harbour…There are some premium boats here…
The butter trade of Waterford has increased greatly for seven years past; it comes from Waterford principally , but much from Carlow…the slaughter trade has increased…Eighty ships of sail now belonging to the port, twenty years ago not thirty…
The finest object is the quay, which is unrivaled by any I have seen…”

So Waterford as a city and the rivers that formed her harbour were a busy and prosperous place at this point, and it would continue to flourish long into the following century. But a variety of circumstances began to undermine that prosperity and I’m probably guilty of a lot of nostalgia in what I write when I reflect weekly on where we are now, not just as a city, or a port but also our once rich fisheries.  When ever I hear the Jimmy Nail song Big River, it stops me in my tracks as I listen to his elegy for the hard work and vitality that was the River Tyne and its heavy industry.  I don’t get any sense of what the future of the Tyne is in it however (lyrics here).  But I do get a sense of a future in our rivers.
Faithlegg Churches 13th & 19th C
Our walk this morning is not meant to be nostalgic.  It’s meant to communicate the rich history and heritage imbued in the buildings, pathways and vistas that surround us.  Its meant to explore what they once meant and what the yet might become.  It is story, song, poetry and prose of a past, a present and hopefully a future.

The walk is free and booking is via the Imagine Arts Festival Office at 083 313 3273 or email imaginefest@gmail.com

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.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales

Henry II lands at Crooke

This coming week will see another significant historic anniversary.  For on the 16th of October 1171 Henry II launched his fleet which beached on the 17th at Crooke in Waterford Haven as the harbour was then known. As he stepped ashore he became the first foreign king to do so and it represented the loss of our country’s sovereignty which would endure for 750 years.

There are many intriguing political, religious and entrepreneurial reasons for the Norman invasion of Ireland that began in 1169 on the invitation of an Irish chieftain; Dermot McMurrough.  The upshot of it all was the arrival of Henry II, then king of England, Wales and northern France as a means of cementing his authority and control over his new dominion.  We would do well to also remember he had papal authority for his conquest in his back pocket!

Arrival of King Henry II in Waterford James William Edmund Doyle (1864)

It is speculated that 400 ships* were required to carry the king’s invaders, estimated at 4000**. Apart from the vista this number of ships must have been created in the harbour, it is fascinating to consider the logistics.  500 knights were said to be among them.  That would mean at least 500 horses (although it seems knights took at least two horses along, and then more for carrying, drawing carts etc).  The horses were transported which would have been beached and unloaded via the stern.  It’s likely that the capacity of the time was between 12-30 horses per ship called Taride.  There were the much-feared archers and foot soldiers also. Along with attendants, cooks, religious, servants and hangers-on.  I found this account to the invasion plan for the battle of Agincourt, which although two centuries later gives some sense of the headaches of organising such a campaign.

Horses and men being transported on the Bayeux Tapestry
via http://cruisereader.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Bayeux-Landing.jpg

The Pipe Rolls help provide an insight into the scale and costs associated with it.  This included the hire of ships; pay of masters, seamen, and artificers; payments for horses and their passage; and other provisions and implements such as; hogs, wheat, oats, beans, cheese, supplies of axes, hand-mills (presumably for milling the wheat) and ovens for baking their bread.  Implements included pre-fabricated wooden towers for assembling atop mottes, bridges for fording streams and spades, pick-axes, and nails to do the building work.

A rainy Passage East strand at high tide yesterday

Although the landscape at Passage East / Crooke has changed over the centuries, it’s most likely that a beach similar to what now exists, if less vast, was on hand.  It’s said that the whole landing took the day and that they camped overnight before departing for the city the following day.  In my own opinion, the route they took must have been through Faithlegg, based on the local placename, Strongbow Bridge, which is on the main Cheekpoint Waterford road, just before Jack Meades, at the junction with Carraiglea. Based on this I’d speculate (see map) Henry and his entourage came via Knockroe (A) or Kill St Nicholas(B) (and possibly both) and via Strongbows Bridge (C) in Carraiglea and on past Jack Meades and into Waterford. The present main road from Passage is marked in red and was a later construction

Some of the possible routes are marked in blue.

Henry arrived at the gates of Waterford on the Feast of St Luke, 18th October.  From there he took the subjugation of the Norman mercenaries, who had managed to sweep the Irish from power in the SE, and Irish chiefs led by Dermot McCarthy, prince of Desmond. Before leaving Waterford he dedicated a new church on the western side of the city to Thomas a Becket (on Thomas’ Hill) which will be subject to an article in the forthcoming History Ireland magazine by my good friend Damien McLellan.  Henry left from Wexford on Easter Monday 1172, never to return.  But many followed in his wake.  A topic I’ve covered previously in my piece A harbour fit for a King

* I’ve also seen a smaller figure of 240 mentioned but most sources quote 400.  I’ve read no analysis of the figures.
** Again 4,000 troops is mentioned as a minimum in almost every account. Some add 500 knights to it, others add attendants, squires etc.  It’s possible the 4,000 actually covers the entire entourage including ships captains and crews, which would diminish the actual invasion force considerably.

Byrne. N. The Irish Crusade.  2007.  Linden. Dublin
Power. P.C> History of Waterford. City & County.  1990. Mercier Press. Dublin

By Hook or by Crooke

Any walk we ever do that includes the Minaun and its stunning views, invariable leads to a mention of Oliver Cromwell and his vow to take Ireland by Hook or by Crooke.  Looking out the harbour we have the Hook peninsula in Co Wexford on the left and Crooke below Passage East Co Waterford on our right.  I’m regularly challenged by well informed walkers who opine that of course Cromwell was not the originator of the phrase at all. The fact is there are many different origin accounts, but not much agreement.

The popular view from the Minaun, from a point that some call Cromwells Rock

For example during the week I had a half hour to kill in Dungarvan and whilst in the local studies section read(1) that it was the invasion of Stronbow that created it.  The story, which is accurate in geographical terms, states that when he came to invade in August of 1170 he had to choose from meeting his pals already encamped at Baginbun, on the Hook Peninsula, or to actually land (which he did of course) at Crooke.  Yet another say it was a phrase coined by the Normans to illustrate that the two most acceptable landing points were via the land mark of the Hook or Crookhaven in Cork harbour.

Prior to Cromwell leaving England, the actual invasion plan for Ireland (his “Southern Design”) was to emulate the Normans. However before he departed Milford, intelligence reached him that the Dublin garrison, which was loyal to the parliamentarians, had secured a major victory.  Plans were hastily changed, a compliant and secure beachhead was always going to be more welcome than the risk of attack.(2)

accessed from http://all-that-is-interesting.com/five-lesser-known-genocides

The Wexford Waterford campaign was a mixed bag for Cromwell.  In late November 1649 Lieutenant General Jones first took Passage East Fort and then turned towards Faithlegg, where after a brief siege the castle fell and the Aylwards were hung from the trees in their own garden.  Cromwell was already at Waterford, but there is only the local lore that he came to Faithlegg, to offer terms to Aylward at Faithlegg Castle, and climbed on to the Minaun to view the harbour.

Most online (and written sources) claim that the phrase originated in the feudal times of Norman rule. The vast majority I have read claim that it was a right (Fire Bote) that allowed peasants take firewood from the kings forests. Effectively by using a bill hook, which would only cut small pieces of timber, or by a shepherds crook, ie that they could pull down and take what could be reached with the assistance of this stick.

A less popular account considers it the means of paying taxes, or tithes to the Manor.  You could pay through the growing and harvesting of crops or by raising and keeping animals.  In either case part of what you reaped with a hook, or made from the animals was forfeit to the manor.  As the essence of the phrase is that something will be done by any means necessary I personally lean towards this account.  But I don’t have much support in that.

The “scholars” on internet tend to agree that the phrase is an ancient one, and was used commonly by the 14th century as a expression with the same meaning as in modern usage.  As a consequence even if Cromwell didn’t coin it to describe his invasion plan it would be a difficult point for anyone to argue that he didn’t employ such a common phrase as an expression of intent.  And perhaps, or maybe even, surely, he reflected on the curious geographical similarity once he arrived.  I have a great meas on local lore!

(1) Mackey P By Hook or by Crooke; Six touring Routes, Fifty places to see. 1983 Bord Failte
(2) Walton J.  On this Day Vol 1.  pp100-101.  2013

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.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales