Andrew Doherty Interview for People Places and Passions – Ireland’s Ancient East

I was recently contacted by Mark Power, who has filmed me previously as part of tourism skills course run by Dunhill Multi Education Centre.

Mark had a new concept he and a colleague Derek Walsh wanted to discuss with me, to showcase individuals who are working in local areas to bring alive the stories and traditions that give our communities their uniqueness and character.

The guys at work

The series is entitled People Places and Passions and I was thrilled to be asked.  Mark and Derek hope that the idea will help to enhance and develop the new tourism venture that has seen the East coast of Ireland marketed as Ireland’s Ancient East.

I was blown away by the final product. You can see it too, here.

Mark and Derek can be found through their website at Red Iron Productions 
Mark prepares the drone for take off

I am open to doing pre-arranged tours.  Please contact me for further details at

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Smuggling in the Suir Estuary

This months guest blog is provided by James Doherty. It takes a look at the incidence of smuggling in the harbour from a historical perspective. Its a very exciting topic, and one that has not received much attention in the past. I sincerely hope people enjoy reading it as much as I have.
One of the first instances of formal taxation dates to the reign of King John I, when in 1203 he ordered a tax placed on woollen goods leaving his jurisdiction for the continent. Inevitably as soon as rulers sought to levy taxes men sought ways to avoid such taxes. The history of smuggling is intricately linked with the history of taxation.
Smuggling in its
simplest form is the movement of goods from one jurisdiction to another with the
express purpose of avoiding taxation or levies. The non-payment of duties owed
makes the smugglers goods considerably cheaper than his legitimate competitors
whilst still offering substantial financial return.
By its nature
smuggling is a difficult subject to research; the most successful smugglers are
the ones that no one has ever heard of. The level of detection is low and
primary sources are scarce. The majority of historical evidence comes from the
perspective of the people trying to catch the smugglers. This article hopes to
provide a brief explanation of the factors that influenced the growth and
decline of smuggling, the type of goods smuggled and provide some local
examples of this clandestine trade.
Revenue cutter pursuing a suspect circa 1830
Source: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Generally when
people think of historic smuggling the image that comes to mind is teams of men
unloading casks of brandy or gin, however a wide range of products were smuggled.
In addition to premium items such as spirits a  wide range of other  items were moved such as tea, wool, salt, playing cards, banned publications (such as
bibles during the penal times) and people
leaving Ireland as fugitives.

Being relatively light and highly taxed
spirits, tea and tobacco were a popular choice for smugglers. However the
earliest large scale smuggling in Ireland revolved around more mundane items
like wool and salt. Wool and salt provide two good examples of the two main
external factors that influenced Irish smuggling namely taxation and trade
To pay for his
military campaigns King William III introduced a tax on domestic salt
production in England in 1693[i].
However this tax did not apply in Ireland which had the unintended consequence
of leading to an explosion of smuggling from Ireland into England. This
smuggling was carried out on such a scale as to decimate the traditional salt
industry on the coast of England[ii].
Throughout a
large portion of its history England followed the economic theory of mercantilism.
The basic tenant of this theory is that imports into the empire had a negative
effect whilst exports were positive. During the 17th and 18th
century parliament in Westminster passed several acts that were designed to
restrict Irish and benefit English trade. In 1663 the Cattle Acts prohibited
the export of cattle to England this encouraged Irish farmers to switch to wool
production. When the Irish wool trade flourished it threatened manufacture in England.
As a consequence of this perceived threat to industry the taxes on wool imports
into England (which already were subject to duty) were greatly increased with
the Woollen Acts of 1699. A novel feature of this act stated that it was
illegal to be buried in a shroud made of Irish wool (unless you were a victim
of plague). Effectively excluded from the English market these trade
restrictions greatly increased the scale of wool smuggling from Ireland into
France where the price of wool remained high and the markets open[iii].
Example of a medieval burial shroud
accessed from:

One of the
earliest recorded local mentions of the clandestine trade dates from October
1594 when Sir William Russel Lord Deputy of Ireland “granted a commission to
search in Wexford, Rosse, and Waterford for prohibited wares to pass for France[iv]”.
The Lord Deputy didn’t state what wares his men were looking for but wool would
have been likely.

The high-water
mark of smuggling was from the period of 1750- 1850. This period saw high
taxation as England fought a series of wars with France. It was also a time of
high consumer demand for luxury products which were smuggled into the Ireland
such as tea, spirits and tobacco. The beginning of the 19th century
would also see increased preventative measures with revenue cruisers patrolling
Irish waters and the formation of the Coastguard.
Waterford would
play a key role in the war on smuggling, when seven permanent cruiser stations
were established in Ireland one of the locations chosen was Dunmore East[v].
The successes and failures of the Dunmore based cruisers such as The Hound or The Pygmy was covered extensively by the local papers[vi].
The often substantial seizures by these cutters gives an idea of the scale of
smuggling being carried out along the Irish Coast during this time period.
1822 would see
the formation of the Coastguard which was an amalgamation of several services
and ended the piecemeal approach to combating smuggling. As a series of
station houses and accommodation for the Coastguard was established, private
houses were rented as a temporary measure.  The only area along the coast where this rental
caused difficulty was Ballymacaw Co. Waterford. The Inspector General of the
newly established force Sir James Dombrain noted that all available houses where owned by a local merchant with
smuggling connections. In the same report Dombrain stated that the smuggling in
this part of the coast was being carried on to an extent “that almost exceeded
The smuggling
sloop Isis provides a good example of
the activity Sir James Dombrain lamented in his report. In September of the
same year that the Coastguard was established the revenue cutter Richmond seized the sloop Isis after a 6 hour chase which had
started  near the Saltee Islands.  A modest 18 kegs of gin were discovered on-board
after the sloop was inspected at Waterford Quay. Its prime cargo however was
tobacco, the Isis contained 300 bales
of tobacco weighing over 13000 kilos. Although the Isis had sailed from Holland it was revealed that a local man from
Tramore was part of the crew. When earlier in the same week a similar vessel
was seized its cargo was valued at between 6 and 7 thousand pounds[viii]
(worth nearly a million euro in modern terms).
An artistic impression of gin smuggling
Accessed from:

The Isis was a dedicated smuggler whose
success relied on evading the authorities. Another tactic employed was that of
deception. Smugglers would hide contraband cargo amongst legitimate cargoes in
a very similar way to how a lot of modern smuggling is carried out. The covert
hiding of tobacco became more popular as the number of seizures mounted
throughout the 1820’s. A couple of weeks before the seizure of the Isis members of the Coastguard inspected
the schooner Nelson. Hidden amongst
the cargo of apples and potatoes lay a large amount of tobacco[ix].
The following years would similar levels
of activity with the local papers reporting in 1825 that Waterford Gaol held 33
men on smuggling charges with three ships captains out on bail[x]

Ships like the Nelson and the Isis primary cargo was contraband tobacco with their crews taking a
calculated risk with the hope of earning a tidy profit. Opportunistic smuggling
was also widespread throughout the first half of the 19th century.
Sailors returning from countries where tobacco was cheap often brought smaller
amounts of tobacco with them with the view to supplementing their wages. In
1825 the Morning Register newspaper reported that two ships recently returned
from Quebec were being held on the quay in Waterford as tobacco had been found
on board. In this case the paper reported that one young “lad” had been
convicted of smuggling[xi].
It is unlikely that a young man perhaps on his first voyage would take it upon
himself to engage in smuggling so the reasons why he was convicted over his
shipmates can only be guessed at.
An advert to twart the smugglers
Accessed from:

A darker side to
smuggling existed and as preventative measures increased the smugglers often
resorted to brute force or the threat of violence. The reports of smuggling
seizures and chases mentioned if the smuggler was armed or not and the level of
force used by the revenue cutters to seize vessels.  An early violent encounter occurred in December
1792 when the Waterford Herald reported on two incidents of smuggling the first
was a seizure of 320 kilos of tobacco at Bunmahon and the second was an armed
confrontation between an unnamed ship  and two revenue cruisers.  It was reported that one of the cruisers sent
a boat to board the smuggler which was fired upon by the smuggling crew. Despite
the best efforts of the two revenue ships in this case the smuggler escaped[xii].

preventative measures would force smugglers to change their tactics it was a
change in economic policy that would lead to the eventual decline of smuggling.
From the 1840’s on the British would start to move towards a policy of free trade which saw the removal of import duties and the lessening of taxes. This
policy made smuggling less profitable and the practice gradually died out.
It is very
difficult to measure the size of smuggling activity along the Irish coast with
some estimates saying that half of all tobacco consumed in Ireland was
contraband during parts of the 18th and 19th century. It
is evident however that large scale smuggling occurred along the Irish coast
and was organised on an impressive scale.
This is the third or our guest blogs. The intention is to offer a platform to others who are writing about the maritime heritage of Waterford harbour an opportunity to publish their stories. If you would like to contribute a piece, please email me at The only criteria is that it needs to have a maritime connection to the harbour and a maximum word count of 1200 words. I will format, source the photos if required and add in the hyperlinks. Guest blogs will be published on the last Friday of each month. Our next guest blog is scheduled for Friday 31st March and comes from Brendan Grogan. Its a piece about his Grandfather, Captain Farrell who went to sea at age 16 in 1878 and went on to become a master mariner and harbour master of Waterford. I can’t wait to share the story with you.
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[ii] Ibid
[iii] History of the Commercial and Financial
Relations between England and Ireland from the Period of the Restoration
[iv]Journal of Sir William Russell, Lord Deputy. From 24 June 1594 to 27
May 1597.
[v] King’s Cutters and
Smugglers 1700-1855, by E. Keble Chatterton
[vi] Example :  Waterford Mirror
[vii] Sir James Dombrain and the Coastguard
[viii]  Waterford Mirror : 25/09/1822
[ix] Waterford Mirror : 30/08/1822
[x] Waterford Mirror : 01/12/1825
[xi] Morning Register :19/07/1825
[xii] Waterford Herald :13/09/1825

The Altmark incident – escaping the “Hell ship”

On the 16th February 1940 naval history was made and a major diplomatic incident was triggered when the Royal Navy boarded a ship in Norwegian waters. It led to the freedom of 300 merchant sailors, one of whom was a Waterford sailor from Cheekpoint named Pat Hanlon.

Admiral Graff Spee

What became known as the Altmark incident began with the pride of the German naval fleet, the Admiral Graff Spee. At the commencement of World War II she was dispatched to the South Atlantic under the command of Captain Hans Langsdorff.  Langsdorff was an old fashioned sailor, and sought to try protect the lives of fellow seamen.  As a consequence the Graff Spee modus operandi was to approach allied shipping with the French flag at her stern, and once alongside run up her colours and put a crack boarding party aboard the allied ship.  The crew were then transferred, or if close to land, were given the option of rowing to shore in their ships lifeboats.  Charges were then set and the ships sent to the bottom.  As a consequence, he probably sank less ships than would have been possible, but of the nine he did sink, no crew man died.

SS Newton Beech

The SS Newton Beech of Newcastle-Upon Tyne was built in Sunderland by the Pickersgill & sons shipyard in 1925. She was an average sized tramp of her day (4615 GRT) owned by Tyneside Line with a crew of 21 Tynesiders and 14 from other areas including Cheekpoint. She was under the command of Captain Jack Robinson and had departed Cape Town on September 7th heading home with a cargo of Maize.  Her last resting place is recorded here.
SS Newton Beech
Photo via Pat O’Gorman
Aboard that fateful morning was Pat Hanlon one of the eleven children born to fisherman Martin Hanlon and his wife Margaret nee Murphy who was originally from Mooncoin. They lived in Coolbunnia on the main road into Cheekpoint.  Pat like so many from the area “went to sea” to earn a living.
Pat Hanlons home Coolbunnia, Faithlegg, Waterford
Hanlon homestead in Coolbunnia today

MV Altmark

As sinkings escalated the numbers of prisoners grew and they were transferred to the Graff Spee’s supply vessel the tanker MV Altmark who shadowed the battleship and hid under a Norwegian flag and fake name SS Sogne.  As the allied net closed on the Graff Spee and her ultimate fate, it was decided that the Altmark would break away from the scene and return to Germany.  Working hard to avoid capture her Captain, Heinrich Dau, headed northwards towards the Arctic and nursed her towards the Norwegian coast.

Aboard conditions were tough, but apparently fair. The Altmark was a large ship of 20858 GRT and prisoners were held in various sections, Pat being unlucky to be 25 feet down in one of the holds.  It was dark, cold and very uncomfortable. At one stage Pat got in trouble as he tried to send an SOS in a tin over the side, in the hope of raising an alarm. He need not have worried.
MV Altmark following the rescue
MV Altmark
Accessed from

HMS Cossack to the rescue

British naval intelligence was aware that prisoners had been taken and were busy trying to track likely vessels. As the Altmark approached Norwegian waters, the navy demanded she be searched. Despite three boarding parties of Norwegian navy personnel on three separate occasions, nothing was discovered. British suspicions were obviously aroused however and she was tracked down by a spotter plane.  The Altmark was confronted by HMS Cossack, a destroyer and challenged whilst still in Norwegian waters. The resulting diplomatic incident became so heated that none other than Winston Churchill, gave the order to intercept and board the Altmark. She ran aground in a fjord and was subsequently boarded by the Navy where hand to hand combat was used, in case gun shot would harm any prisoners.

HMS Cossack attacks the MV Altmark
A print from the original by Norman Wilkinson
National Maritime Museum Greenwich

When the hold containing Pat Hanlon was thrown open, with a call of “The Navy’s here” he was first out of it, and risked falling back off the ladder such was the surge from below. The call would later become the catch cry taken up by the press and media as a symbol of naval potency. All the freed “Prisoners of war” were taken aboard the HMS Cossack and she departed for Leith the following day. The newsreels rolled and the opportunity for propaganda was not missed as this footage highlights.

The repercussions

The incident created history in that it was the last naval boarding undertaken by the British navy.  It also led directly to the invasion two months later by Hitler of Denmark and Norway, as he determined that the Norwegians were not prepared to stand up to the British on matters of neutrality.  The incident was widely reported in the media and Pat found himself on the pages of several newspapers including the Irish Independent and the local Munster Express.

Despite his experiences Pat returned to sea not long afterwards and he along with hundreds of fellow Waterford men and thousands of Irishmen plied their trade with the merchant navy all through the horrors of the war. Unfortunately the consideration of Captain Langsdorff was uncommon and tens of thousands of merchant men died, one piece I read put it at 50,000, some of whom were from Cheekpoint and many more from Waterford and the rest of Ireland. Its worth remembering they put to sea in ships with little or no way of defending themselves and were unsung hero’s in a war where they played a crucial part, and got little by way of recognition for their bravery.
Thankfully, Pat survived the ravages of the war and afterwards got married and started a family in Liverpool and continued to work as a seaman. He died in Liverpool in 1994 at the age of 89 and his ashes were scattered on the Mersey.

This piece is an excerpt from an original piece I wrote in 2015
Here’s a story of what another Waterford man endured.

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Passage East Quarantine Hospital

The quarantine station at Passage East was used in the past as a place where sick sailors could be held under observation, to ensure that the ports of Waterford and New Ross were protected from diseases such as Cholera.  I first heard of it as a child when fishing, as it was often mentioned as a placename, when we drifted downriver for salmon. The site is above the village of Passage on the Waterford side and it was little more than a step on the rivers edge in those days.  But the story had the power to scare, and I never once went near the location for fear of catching the plague!
OSI Historic map excerpt of the hospital
The stories I heard were of ships calling to the harbour being held at Passage and Ballyhack until they were cleared by customs to continue upriver to Waterford and New Ross. Captains were required to report the health of the ships company, and any sick sailors were expected to be declared, either to the custom officials directly or by the hoisting of a flag (the yellow jack) which led to a punt being rowed out to the vessel and the sailor, or sailors being taken ashore to the hospital. The ship was then anchored away from others to await news of the sailor in an area designated as “quarantine grounds”. In some cases it appears that ships coming from ports where illnesses had been reported, could expect to be detained. They would anchor away from others, and I had heard there was an actual spot near Buttermilk for excluding ships.

Passage Hospital via Paul O’Farrell and from an original via NLI
panoramic album photos circa 1907/8.

Quarantine has a long history, most probably originating with the black death in Europe in the 14th Century where it took millions of lives. The concerns for ship borne diseases grew and from the early 1700’s laws were enacted in the UK and Ireland to protect ports and citizenry. In some cases ships were used to guard harbours, here’s an example from Liverpool. Evidence about the local hospital however is scarce, and apart from the local folklore (always in my experience containing many grains of truth) little seems to be written about the building or its history. Online sources deal with the issue of quarantine in general, and highlight just how prevalent it was at all the major ports*.

The earliest mention I could find in the newspapers for Passage was from 1884 (1). Under a heading of Waterford Board of Guardians, we are told via a sub heading of a meeting of the board (best known for their overseeing of the workhouses and administering the poor laws). There are efforts afoot to take back control of the Quarantine Hospital, the keys of which were then in the hands of a builder who had refurbished the building at a cost of £200.(2)

Quarantine ship at Standgate Creek (Medway)
By Unknown – UK National Maritime Museum, Public Domain,
In June 1905 the Waterford Standard (3) covers another meeting of the Board, and the minutes reveal a letter received from the workhouse, seeking permission for sick children to be allowed attend Passage Hospital. The Board however, is no longer in charge. It passed to the control of the Waterford and New Ross Port Sanitary Authority in 1904.

HMS Hazard flying the yellow jack 1841
source: National Maritime Museum, London

In 1910 we learn of a dispute amongst members of the Waterford and New Ross Port Sanitary Authority where the building is referred to as an Intercepting Hospital(4). Following a cholera outbreak in Russia and three cholera incidents; on two separate ships in London (where a quarantine hospital is based close to Gravesend), and an incident in Italy, a circular has issued from the Local Government Board of Ireland urging the need for up to date disinfecting devices to treat the clothing and bedding of quarantined sailors. The article provides lots of heat, by way of argument, but not much light! Readers will be delighted to hear that a sub committee was to be formed, if any cases arose.

The most recent mention comes from 1949 (5), when we are told the Intercepting Hospital which was under the control of the Waterford and New Ross Port Sanitary Authority has passed to the control of the Health Authority.

To conclude what better than a memory from a member of the fishing community. Eamon Duffin shares this recollection with me from a fishing trip in the 1950’s;
I remember calling in there with my grandfather, Jimmy Duffin, on the way back from salmon fishing. There was a concrete landing stage with iron railings. The building was of rusting galvanised sheets. You could see old iron beds with bedclothes and pillows thrown on them and on the floor. There were bottles and jars and dressings strewn about also. That was as far as we got as my grandfather said that, “you wouldn’t know what you’d catch if you went in”.

The landing stage as it looks now

My thanks to Paul O’Farrell, John O’Sullivan, James Doherty, Bernard Cunningham, Pat Moran and Eamon Duffin for assistance with this piece

Since publication Paul O’Farrell sent on the following list of Irish quarantine stations on the Island of Ireland, from government papers dated 1828  –

  • Poolbeg in the harbour of Dublin
  • Warren point in the harbour of Newry
  • near Garmoyle in the harbour of Belfast
  • Tarbert in the River Shannon, harbour of Limerick,
  • Baltimore,
  • Passage on the River Suir, Harbour of Waterford,
  • White Gate, Cove of Cork
  • Green Castle, Lough Foyle and
  • Black Rock, Galway Bay

Also a link I have since found, dating an order for the establishment at Passage to 1824  This must have been a temporary station, or an area designated as a quarantine ground as a later blog post revealed that there was no hospital in place during a cholera outbreak in the country in 1832.

The role of Salmon fishing in the estuary communities

I normally try to keep things light on the page. But after listening to the fanfare about a new Government Action plan for rural Ireland  I have to say I was disturbed. The plan is big on numbers; €60 million investment, 135,000 jobs yada yada. While in the same week it appears that there is no funding to maintain buses, a vital link to rural folk. Perhaps it was just the timing of course.  You see February marked the traditional start of the Salmon fishery here in the estuary area, and throughout the country. Generations looked forward to the spring commencement that would span to August 15th and provide a welcome income boost following a long winter. 
Fishermen gather to bless their boats and nets 1930’s

But in 2006 this way of life ceased with the ban on traditional drift netting. It was done without any consultation and no consideration to the local riverine communities, and what the effects might be. Nothing was done to replace the work. Two years later, in 2008, as I completed a five year part time degree, I chose as my final project an analysis of the Salmon closure.                                                                                                

My dissertation called for primary research and to do this I interviewed three fishermen from the locality. Although there were several questions asked, the big issue for me was the social implications of the closure.  The extract below comes directly from the dissertation and what they thought of it all.
From the outset it is worth distinguishing that participants felt that many in the community would think there had been no impact from the recent salmon closure. It is mostly felt by those directly involved in fishing. They agree that as fishermen they are much less affected now than they would have been twenty or thirty years ago. On the occasions where I challenged the men around improvements nationally via the Celtic tiger I was roundly challenged myself with rebuttals such as poor health, stress, commuting, shift work, uncertainty of work, no community spirit, rise in alcohol and drugs and so much more. 

The community has been impacted by the loss of commercial activity and the coming and going of boats and crews. Money was earned and predominantly spent in the community in the past. There was vibrancy about. As one man said “a trip to the post office could have taken from a half hour to a half day in the past. You’d be stopped chatting to people, now it takes five minutes”. 

This lack of people is blamed on factory shift work and people being employed in Waterford. As one man pointed out they are either working or in bed. Shift work patterns really impact on people and the area. Although fishermen often worked through the night, it wasn’t like the factory shifts. “You were working for yourself and could stop when you wanted. In factories there is no such freedom. It gets you into a rut” 

Participants believe that the lack of people about has a negative effect on the community. It impacts on how people feel about their security. Previously, if you were sick or incapacitated there were people to call. They might drop you in a dinner or a feed of fish. Messages would be run, there was someone to talk to. Fishermen in the past were around because the village was their place of work, landing fish, mending nets, repairing boats. 

Other concerns are that young men don’t have the same opportunities to come of age in the ways they did in the past. Although many have jobs through local restaurants which are well paid, clean, safe and “wouldn’t tax you”, it is considered a far cry from the training, challenge and satisfaction young men had in the past through fishing. 
Tom and Michael Ferguson (RIP)  drifting circa 2005

Fishing was a method of schooling in itself. Young men were taught valuable lessons. For example they needed to learn the capabilities of boat and themselves. For example catching a river marker buoy and how to extract yourself, nets and boat. This took common sense skills required, these have to be passed on – boat handling, fishing skills and psychologically – its not the end of the world to make a mistake. Other skills around salmon fishing were more unique and as it was explained would never be found in a book, including the role played by wind, tide, moon, and season. These will all be lost in the future it was felt as there will be no means of passing them on.

Launching a punt for the season circa 1996

Perhaps the greatest loss is the contact with other fishermen on a daily or hourly basis. As a fisherman you were in contact on the quayside, as boats passed each other, or waited for particular drifts. A key factor of this was the swapping of pieces of information vital for knowing how and where the fish were “running”. Men also cooperated around the seasonal activities such as hauling out boats for overwintering or repair and the making and repairing of nets. These were not so much tasks as occasions. There loss, ultimately, engenders isolation as men are more inclined to stay inside if they know there will be no one to see or talk to.

All in all, participants felt that previously the river had a deeper significance for the community. It derived an income, was a source of food, pleasure, challenge. It was a place for regattas where communities competed against each other and was a mode of transport to and from the city, but also to dances and social occasions in other communities around the estuary. The village, it is felt has embraced the car and the city and turned its back almost completely on the river. Though the salmon closure came on the heels of these wider changes, it cements them to a large extent. Without the Salmon fishery, there is little to hold the traditional character of the community in place.
A community event, turning a punt for cleaning

So how does that all fit in with the Rural Action Plan?

Well that was 9 years ago, and I’m sure the situation has only worsened. What was clear to me about the opinions expressed by those fishermen was they could see the value of such work, but not just in terms of finance. Such work held the community together, actually helped create a meaning of community. Announcements of last week ring hollow, because they appear to know nothing of community.  For them it appears rural is about economy, funding, units. If they can’t value the people and the professions that hold rural communities together, how can they ever hope to retain a rural way of life.

If you were interested to know how the political decisions were taken from a critical perspective my full dissertation is here.

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 to receive the blog every week.
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