Waterford- November 1784; a Frenchmans view

The Marquis de Bombells visited Waterford in November 1784, and over a week, made some observations on the area which he probably would not have had the time for, except that he was waiting on a ship to take him away.  Similar indeed, to another foreign visitor we have met previously, Arthur Young. Marc de Bombells was a young French aristocrat who entered the diplomatic corp and would later become an emissary on behalf of his country’s king, Louis XVI

accessed 24.11.16 via

He arrived in Waterford on the 14th November taking, it is believed, the ferry at Grannagh. Here he tells us it was his good fortune to take a small rowboat across, the main ferry being full of pigs. The weather was atrocious and they had to nearly use violence, to prevent others from boarding the ferry and I presume risk it being overloaded.

Due to the weather, no ships can sail and he becomes the guest of Lord Waterford for the next week, visiting the city and environs.  On the 19th of November, he received news of a potential sailing via Passage East to Swansea in the Bristol channel.  He immediately set out for the village to look over the ship.

Passage we are told is a little town covering a small beach between the river and the steep rocks which threaten the roofs of many of the houses.  It affords an excellent anchorage, and the place is populated almost entirely with customs officers.  At anchor is a kings man-o-war, and two naval cutters who he is told are constantly on station to combat smugglers.  de Bombells is less than impressed with the character of the ship’s captain offering him a berth to England however, and the ridiculously high price sealed the decision to remain.

On the 20th of November he drove to Ballycanvan to visit with a man we have often referred to here, Cornelius Bolton.  At the time, Bolton is laying the foundations to a fine mansion, (the now Faithlegg House Hotel) which we are told will be a good location for all the enterprises currently taking place at Cheekpoint.  During the day he calls to the village where the harbour is under construction, in anticipation of the basing of the official second mail route between Ireland and England.

The Inn which Bolton has established we are told is already profitable with an abundance of passengers in what he describes as excellent lodgings. Very much at variance to the many reviews that would be published in later years!  Mind you the Marquis didn’t sleep overnight.

Later in the afternoon he visits New Geneva, for which he has as a venture, very little positive to say. I wonder did he share his opinion with Bolton, who was one of the sponsors of the scheme.  From his vantage point overlooking the harbour he espies the incoming Mail Packet, and when he later speaks to the Captain, he’s assured of a next day sailing.

Accessed 25.11.16 via http://500years.royalmailgroup.com/features/

At Midday on November 21st Mr Bolton drove his guest to Cheekpoint where he boarded the Mail Packet which departed in beautiful weather at 2.30pm.  There’s an interesting aside in that as they approach Passage, another passenger joins the ship. Although he does not say whether the packet calls to the quay or that the lady is rowed out to the ship, I’m assuming the latter.

Further downriver he passes under the cannon of Duncannon Fort, an old castle which, we are told, is kept by invalids.  Then the Duncannon bar, the only obstacle to the harbour; “at low tide, there is only 13ft of water, but at high water, any ship can pass with safety”.  Whilst here another three ships of the king of England pass.

His companions are two ladies and four gentlemen.  None have good sea legs, alas and when the ship gets becalmed in the night in the Irish sea, he is surrounded by groans and vomiting of his companions as the ship wallows. At 6am on the 22nd, the wind gets up and later that morning they put into Milford Haven.

His writing was done as a journal of his travels and was never, apparently intended as a book at all. As such he is less guarded in what he writes and perhaps a little non PC.  If you can read French it’s free via google books, and if you prefer the print version it’s at amazon starting at £38.

Reflecting on de Bombelles work, it’s clear that although he’s opinionated, pompous, and judgemental in parts the writing is very informative and instructive of Waterford at the time.  Another thought is that he seems to have a very specific interest in recording military strengths or points of strategic importance.  I wonder if given the role of emissary included being something of a spy, was his journal as much an aid to memory in reporting the strengths or deficiencies of the forces of the English crown.

This piece is based on an article written by Béatrice Payat and Donnachadh Ó Ceallacháin in the Journal of the Waterford Archaeolgical and Historical Society, Decies #55 entitled “As others saw us: A French visitor’s impression of Waterford 1784 pp17-26.  Back issues of Decies is available on PDF via the Waterford City and County Libraries and also in the Waterford Room of Central Library

My first season of herring fishing 1983

I’d imagine that for as long as humans have lived in the harbour of
Waterford, men and women have gone to fish. 
Perhaps one of the most common and dependable species was the Herring.  My first experience of the fishery was as a
boy washing fish boxes and running errands for the men who salted and barreled
at Cheekpoint quay.  But catching them
was an altogether harder job, especially when using a driftnet, something I was first introduced to in the winter
of 1983.
I set out on the Reaper that winter, with Jim and Denis Doherty.  The other boats in Cheekpoint village was Robert
Fergusons Boy Alan, Dick Mason skippered the St Agnes, Ned Power had the
Colleen II and Mickey Duffin skippered the Maid of the West
As the Reaper and the other Cheekpoint boats proceeded downriver, we
were joined by the Passage and Ballyhack men. 
I heard family names associated with the boats such as Whitty, Connors,
Pepper and Bolger from Passage and from Ballyhack Foley, Roche and Myler.  Together we formed a convoy of decked and
half decked motor boats of varying size and power and a multitude of
the Cheekpoint fleet from around this time
Photo courtesy of Anthony Rogers
Arriving in the lower harbour, the boats fanned out, hungrily
searching the deep waters for signs of herring shoals.  Some boats were
close in to the shore, beneath Loftus Hall and further down towards the Hook. Others
stretched as far as Creaden Head.  Boats took various courses,
and many zig zagged amongst each other, keen to “mark” a herring shoal on the
fish finder and establish a pattern of where to “shoot” the nets.  Dunmore
boats skippered by Paul Power, Napper Kelly and Mick Sheen would be sounding as
they came across to meet us.
Herring barrels at Cheekpoint in the 1970s
Photo via Tomás Sullivan

As the gloom of the evening gathered and the sun set over the Commeraghs
away to the west, the frenzy grew.  Boats were eager to set the nets in
daylight, to better see where others were setting nets, and also because the
herring tended to rise with the dusk and skippers felt they would miss their
chance of a decent haul if they left it too late.

Many a night the shoals could not be found.  It was generally
obvious from a lack of bird activity, the tell-tale signs of gulls wheeling
overhead, or divers such as the majestic and gigantic gannets plunging from a hundred feet or more
into the freezing seas and emerging with a beak full of silver meat.  On
these nights the boats tended to be well spread out and the VHF radio was
Other nights were different, thankfully.  The seas were alive with
birds and seals.  A slick of oil, released from the herring on the sea
bed, which Denis said you could smell and taste in your mouth, something I
never manged to do.  The radio was buzzing with sightings and at times Jim
would call us in to look at the fish finder marking a herring shoal, the extent
of it mapped out on the grey blue paper as a stylus etched the fish below.
Once satisfied that the herring were abundant enough the winkie[1] was turned on and cast
over, followed by the nets.  I looked after the lead rope initially, not
trusted as yet with the head rope and ensuring that the cans were paid out
clear of the nets and set to the correct depth[2].  Generally all the
nets were set, but occasionally, Jim might heave too, concerned by the markings
on the fish finder and the extent of the shoal.  When you hit the herring
in large quantities a couple of nets could fill the boat, and the last thing
you needed was extra work.  Once set, the nets were tied via a hauling
rope to the bow of the boat we hung from them.  
This was a signal to get the tea on, and the grub bag out. The kettle was boiled on a gas stove and the tea
bags were added as the kettle started to sing.  Hot and sweet, tea with a sandwich never tasted any better.  
Hauling was a tough affair when the nets were full.  Here’s an interesting
 from Northern Ireland.  But at least a net hauler
made the work easier.  Generations of fishermen had used their bare
hands.  Once ready to commence, the rope
was hauled in to the gunwale and opened from the net.  Then the head and
lead ropes were gathered up and placed over the hauler drum.  The
hydraulics engaged and the nets were then pulled on and helped in over the
Anthony Rogers photo of the Cheekpoint boats early 1980s

While Jim kept the boat up to the nets, Denis hauled the ropes and I
gathered up the nets as they fell to the deck and dragged them to the stowing
area.  When the catch was light this was easy enough, but on nights with a
big catch, this was hard arduous work.  The netting coming in over the
drum could be three feet wide and it was all I could do to help Denis and Jim
at the hauler and then stagger away under the weight of the nets to stow them
on the boats deck. 

Having hauled a big catch, there was always a sense of euphoria
aboard. Once you had a market, it meant a decent wage that
week, and in the weeks coming up to Christmas, or indeed after it, such a catch
was always welcome.  As we headed home, you took a break for a time, but
in truth the nights work was just beginning, the fish had to be cleared, and thereafter
boxed and sold.  None of which was
I wrote a series of accounts of the Herring fishing previously. These include

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[1] A
flashing light that was used to mark the nets. 
Battery operated it only worked in the dark, and when not in use it was
unscrewed to break the connection and so keep the batteries.
[2] I
was raised with drift nets, but although we used the same method for herring
fishing, the nets were deeper, longer, with smaller mashes.  The other difference was that plastic cans
with a fathom or two of rope was used to allow the nets sink to reach the
herring.  The length required was altered
as required.

Naming the harbour

Waterford harbour, hasn’t always be known as such. Historically there have been several names, some of them very colourful and descriptive. Of course many others must be lost to us in the pre-history of the nation.
Patrick Power in his History of Waterford, City & County[i] tells us that an early Gaelic
name associated with the harbour was Loch-dá-Chaoích, which he translates as
either the lake of the two blind (ones), or perhaps, breasts.  I favour the Lake of the Two Breasts.  It suggests, as Power explains, a seafarers view of the harbour from out to sea, and the custom (still employed by fishermen) of taking marks from the land to give a position.  The “Breasts” in this case would have been Tory Hill and Sliabh Coiltia.
Sliabh Coiltia from the Hurthill, looking upriver

At some point I’ve read that the harbour was also known as Cuan-na-dTri-Uisce.  The harbour of the three waters or rivers.  I can’t locate the reference to this.  Too fond of reading, and showing my lack of historical/academic training I’m afraid (poor note taker!)*.  Another was Cuan-na-Greinne, the harbour of the Sun.  This however I did manage to trace.  It, or rather a version of it is located in Rylands work[ii]. Cuan-na-Grioth is the name he associates it with, dating it to the pagan times and offering a very
interesting story of locals proceeding to Tory Hill to worship the sun (pp109-111).  I find that a fascinating concept and love the connection to the Power’s thoughts above.

an old postcard of the meeting of the three sisters

These geographical descriptions of course also inform the Irish language version of the
name, Port Lairge. Port (Loch or lake to some) Lairge (tigh).  Again some interesting perspectives, some claiming it to be the port of a chap named Lairge, including some speculations on our national loganim site. Most online sources say it’s a descriptive term of the shape of river and land at the city and its similarity to a persons thigh.

With the coming of the Norse men we again see a change and it brings us to the modern English name, Waterford derived from Vadrefjordr. For the Vikings when they arrived recognised in the harbour a refuge or haven from storms (Vedr = weather) and (fiord = haven).  According to Arnoldus Hille[iii] when the Normans arrived the adopted the Norse name as it was closer to their own tongue than the Gaelic, but it became corrupted in the translation, Vadre becoming Water and Fjorde becomes ford.
Weather haven becomes Waterford haven in the Norman times then and I’m not sure at what point we loose the haven but it was still in use when William Petty oversaw the mapping of the area for the Down Survey following the Cromwellian invasion.

Down Survey map 1655/56
sourced from Niall Byrne’s Book The Irish Crusade
For online version see the link above

I’m sorry to have lost the Haven.  But of course it’s worth reminding ourselves that it might never have been known as it is now at all. Named for the city and its dynamic port, had the intentions of Marshall and his competing project of the port of New Ross bested Waterford,the harbour may have been named for its shipping rival.

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 tidesntales@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
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[i] Power.P.C.
History of Waterford City & County.
1990. Mercier Press. Dublin
Ryland. R.H. The History Topography and Antiquities of the County & City of
Waterford.  1982 Wellbrook Press.  Kilkenny
Hille. A.  The Making of Waterford.  Decies #5.
1977.  Accessed from Waterford
Library Service.
* Following publication Frank Murphy, a great assistance to me on many levels, passed along the following reference for the name. Collectanea de rebus hibernicis: Volume 5
1 January 1790
“Cumar na tri uisce, the much water of the three rivers, a place so called at the meeting of the rivers rivers Suir, Noir, and Barrow”

Echoes of medieval fishing in Waterford harbour

As a child growing up in Cheekpoint, there
were a number of curious features off the main quay known as Eel boxes.
 The Eels which were fished from the village were placed into the boxes to
be kept alive, and when the buyers came the eels were removed, weighed and
placed aboard a truck with aeriated tanks. When I started fishing eels commercially
in the early 80’s, the boxes had gone.  Only recently I realised that they
probably represented a medieval method of keeping fish, and possibly quite
common in the harbour.

The eel boxes at
Cheekpoint were a basic construct.  A rectangular box made of sturdy
timbers, with holes bored into the sides, to allow river water to circulate.
 The boxes were placed into the river in the late spring and the tops
floated just above the water line.  They were fixed in place and eels were
deposited after fishing through a top side hatch.  Once the summer ended,
the boxes were placed on Cheekpoint quay, the green and the Rookery where they dried out
for the following season.  It never occurred to me to ask, but I’d imagine
no one could have told me just how old they were. As for a photo, alas, I have
never seen one.
Recently I came
across an old book on seafaring on the English east coast[i], and was surprised, if not
shocked to find mention of just such boxes, and employed from medieval times in
the keeping of fish for markets.
The boxes in
question had many local names including chests, boxes, Corf, Corves, Korb and Koff.
Surprisingly to me I managed to find an online link to one such phrase.
 The Corf or Koff words derive from Germany or Holland and are taken from the Latin Corbis for a basket.
The boxes were
used to keep fish fresh for market, and not just hardy creatures such as eel.
 Flats, sole and turbot are mentioned, as were haddock and cod.  In
some cases the boxes were housed locally for storage, but they were also towed
astern of sailing craft, to bring fish to market. 
I’m speculating
that it was a progression on the practice when boats developed to incorporate
the boxes.  Over time it seems that boats of various local names but
commonly referred to as well boats, i.e. a well was created inboard for the
storage of live fish, developed. At their more sophisticated these well boats were used to
bring live Cod from Iceland to England and in particular the London market, and led to the curious practice known, and sometimes assigned to the boats as Cod Bangers!
A common
destination it seems was the fish chests of Gravesend on the Thames in London.
Apparently at Gravesend a vast quantity of fish chests were kept to supply
fresh fish to the city of London, and this included (at least) shellfish from the Irish
coast including oysters, whelks, cockles and periwinkles.  The Thames
became too polluted by the mid 1800’s and the practice was moved onto the
coast, but by then trains and steam boats led to faster delivery times in any case.
Accessed from Wikipedia
I can’t say I ever
heard, or read about craft such as well boats operating from the harbour, but
isn’t it conceivable that they did. And perhaps the eel boxes at
Cheekpoint suggest that the practices on the English coast did operate on the Irish
coast and harbours too? The eel boxes at Cheekpoint died out in the late
seventies because locally it was found that hand stitched bags were much easier
when it came to storing and handling eel. But the practice still exists
in the keeping of lobster and crab, albeit in much smaller boxes. And if you think the well boats are extinct, google Livewell. You can even buy the technology on ebay!

[i] Benham.
H.  Once upon a tide. 1955. Harrap.

Many thanks to Peter O’Connor for a link to the Zuider Zee Botter, a Dutch well boat

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:  
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