Walter J. Farrell 1862-1944, Master Mariner and Harbour Master Waterford Port

Today’s guest blog, is from one of my earliest supporters and sources of encouragement, Brendan Grogan. Brendan has worked in the background and supplying photos, information and advice on my online mission to celebrate Waterford Harbours maritime tradition. This week he steps into the limelight, so to speak, by sharing the life and times of his grandfather Walter J Farrell; his early life growing up in Waterford, his going to sea at 16 where he rises to Master Mariner and his role as harbour master in the port of Waterford from 1904-1941. Walter’s diary entries depict a life of hardship and adventure, that was replicated by thousands, if not tens of thousands of harbour men down the generations.  I’d like to thank Brendan and his family for entrusting us to read it.  
I never knew my grandfather, In fact all four of my
grandparents had passed away before I was born. However, my mother’s father
left a lasting legacy. The account of his many voyages and stories of sea, live
on in his diaries, photographs and other paraphernalia of his life on the ocean

Walter Farrell in Harbour Master’s uniform c. 1935.
Walter Joseph Farrell was born on 16th July 1862 at 10 Sion
Row, Ferrybank. He was the third child and eldest son of thirteen children born
to Richard and Mary Farrell. His father, Richard Farrell was a ship broker, married
to Mary Monica Downey, daughter of Michael Downey, agent for the Clyde Shipping Company and Great Western Railway Steamers
He attended school at Mount Sion and later at Father Joe Phelan’s School
in Stephen’s Street.  In 1877 the family
moved to 57 High Street where his mother had set up a provision store.
SS Lodestar of London 1890
Walter served as bosun and later 2nd mate
Walter took to sea life in 1878 at the age of 16 when he
joined the barque Queen of the Northof the London firm of Ms. George
Lidgett & Sons, under Capt. P. Nolan (from Slieverue).  In May 1878 he sailed to Madras in India,
arriving back in London in May 1879 after a 12 month voyage without ever
touching dry land.  His second voyage
took him to Mauritius and Rangoon, onwards to Conception Bay Newfoundland  and back to Fleetwood after a voyage which
had lasted 19 months.  Subsequent voyages
as an Able Seaman brought him to Imbatuba in Brazil and home via San Francisco, Bombay, Buenos Aires Argentina,
Iquique Northern Chile, and many other ports around the globe.
One of his favourite stories to my mother as a child, was to
recount how the sailors slept in their clothes to try and keep warm. In the
night while sleeping, rats would gnaw on the buttons of their tunics which were
made from bone.
The following are extracts from the log which details his
many voyages:-
Extract from his 4th voyage in 1882:
“1882, Oct. 20th. I again joined the brig ‘Lorriane’ as A.B,
at Workington and sailed 20th Oct. with Captain Nolan for Bombay where we
arrived at the end of January 1883, discharged our cargo and loaded linseed for
Amsterdam arriving September 26th after an eleven month voyage. I left
‘Lorriane’ and went to London to study at Captain Maxwells’s Potters Academy in
Tower Hill where there was a wild lot of young sea men. I spent a fair share of
my money on amusement, Music Halls, Theatres etc. and not enough time on study,
failed exam for 1st Mate and came home to Waterford. I had a fancy to do a
little coasting”
Extract from his 8th voyage 1886:
“February 11th 1886, I sailed in ‘Lodestar’ again as Bosun heading
for San Francisco where we arrived some 17 weeks later having had very bad
weather rounding the Horn. The captain’s wife Mrs. Nolan and their two sons
John and William were on board making the voyage. This time I met many
Waterford people in San Francisco, A Mr. Dillon, Cadogans, Thorntons and an old
school mate Eddy Cummins and his brother , both sons of Mr. Cummins the
hardware and hotel  business now occupied
by Hearne and Co. the Quay. After we discharged our cargo, we took in ballast
and lay out in the bay for 2 months. Eventually we got orders to proceed to
Portland Oregon. On the return voyage, in bad weather rounding the Horn, we
lost an A.B.  off the mizzen topsail
yard, too much sea to launch a boat. Coming up for the Equator, little John Nolan
died. He was well coffined and carried to Queenstown where we arrived in 1887.
John Nolan was buried in the family grave in Ferrybank”
Extract from his 9th voyage 1887:
“August  1887, I
joined the Lodestar as 2nd Mate,  Captain
Nolan in charge and sailed for Bombay, discharged the cargo, loaded part cargo
of salt for Calcutta.  After discharging
the salt we loaded wheat for London arriving there 3rd October 1888 after a 14
month voyage. Captain Nolan went home leaving me by the ship”
SS Ardnamult unloading coal at Le Havre 1899

Walter eventually passed his exam for 1st Mate at John Merrifield’s Navigation School in Plymouth in 1889 and subsequently his
Master’s ticket for steam in 1891.
In 1892 after eleven 
voyages, some lasting as long as 19 months, over a period of 14 years,
to all corners of the globe, Walter with his Master’s Ticket for steam ships
joined Waterford Steamship Company as 2nd Mate on the SS Comeragh which worked
Tenby, Bristol and Wexford. He was subsequently, in 1895 placed in charge of
the SS Creaden which had the honour of bringing the first cargo of continental
sugar to Fenit and Limerick. He was appointed Master of the SS Ardnamult owned
by Limerick Steamship Company in 1896 and plied this and other steamships
between Hamburg and Ireland for nine years.
At sea on the SS Ardnamult 1899 doing his washing.
Walter was appointed Harbour Master or Pier Master of
Waterford Harbour on the 14th January 1904 at the age of 42, by the Southern
and Western Railway Company who had taken responsibility for Waterford Port,
later to be succeeded by Waterford Harbour Commissioners.  He had sailed the seven seas as boy and man
and now it was time to bid farewell to sea life.
Everyday duties included the management of all vessels
berthing at Waterford Port and responsibility for the Pilots who guided vessels
safely up the Suir Estuary to port. Captain Walter Farrell remained as Harbour
Master until his retirement in 1941. He lived a very active life, was married
to Bridget Lawlor from Sallypark who bore him three children and later, on her
death, married Mary Murphy from Mount Neil with whom he produced a daughter, my
mother, Maureen Farrell (Grogan). He passed away aged 82 in 1944. Maureen Grogan passed away
in 2014 in her 102nd year.
His successor was his nephew Richard Farrell who took the
reins as Harbour Master in 1941. Captain Richard (Dick) Farrell retired in 1975
and passed away in 1993 aged 95. Dick’s widow Maeve passed away this February
in her 104th year, she had been living at Havenwood Retirement Home for the
past seven years where she was looked after with great care and respect.
© Brendan Grogan
This is our fourth guest blog. The intention is to offer a
platform to others who are interested in 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 28th April, a story about
the lighters that once reigned supreme in the Suir.  The story is brought to us by Leslie Dowley
of Carrick On Suir.

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Great Island Power station, a harbour landmark

If I had a penny for the number of people who asked me what was the factory across from Cheekpoint with the big chimneys I’d be wealthy. Of course those distinctive 450 foot chimneys, which belched black smoke into the atmosphere for just over three decades, were part of the oil burning power station at Great Island, Co. Wexford.  Many can see the beauty of them, but because we lived with it, I was never one of them.
The station from Cheekpoint quay 1970, second chimney commenced
with thanks to Brendan Grogan

Although it’s now decommissioned, Great Island was an oil fueled power generation station that produced 20% of the nations power. It was owned and operated by the ESB, construction of which commenced in the spring of 1965. It was the first such station to be built outside or Dublin or Cork and at its peak employed up to 200 people. The station opened in 1967 with one generator and work commenced soon after on a further generator, which necessitated a second chimney. This extension was completed and working by 1972. To the right of the site, were five 17,000 ton capacity tanks for the storage of oil, which over time were screened by trees. To fill these tanks, a very fine jetty was installed to which tankers tied up and were unloaded by suction pumps and via pipework to the tanks.

The construction proposal when first mooted (around 1963) met with considerable disquiet in the community of Cheekpoint but not on any environmental or aesthetic grounds from what I was ever told. I never heard of any complaints from elsewhere, for example the view that is the meeting of the three sister river network. I suppose in the economic realities of the time people were happy for any local investment, or any offer of jobs. Its also worth remembering that for many electricity was a new convenience into their daily lives, something to make life easier, something they welcomed.   
A good sense here of the scale of the jetty, and how it blocked the fishery
accessed from:
That was except for the Cheekpoint fishermen. A deputation traveled to Dublin to discuss the fishermen’s concerns. That the deep water jetty which would be planted smack bang in the center of some of the best local salmon drift netting waters was the principal concern and fishermen were anxious to communicate the loss that this would bring. They got what any of us would have hoped they would, the promise of jobs in the construction phase, and maybe a job thereafter. Although the jobs did materialise they were fleeting. Once the major construction work had ceased so did the work. 
In the 1970’s the station was a real invasion into our lives.  The lights at night shone through all but the thickest of curtains, and was one of the reasons my father planted a line of trees between the house and the river. There was an ever present humming noise, which we managed to get used to.  But there was an extremely loud release of steam occasionally and also ear splitting bangs from time to time. These were bad enough during the day, but they also were the cause of many a night of lost sleep. 

An advert from the time with an artists sketch of the work in progress
Things were no better in the 1980’s and perhaps they were worse, as I was then fishing and so felt the noise right beside the station and the difficulties of drifting close by the jetty’s. There were several local campaigns to highlight the noise, but in those days we had limited means of recording the racket. Occasionally, a mobile monitoring station was set up outside our home as a result of my father (amongst others) campaigning through Brian O’Shea TD a local Labour deputy. Coincidentally however, any time the monitoring system was in place the station lay dormant.  It didn’t seem to be as big an issue on the Wexford side.  Noise does travel more easily across water than land of course. One benefit was obvious to me of course.  As we drifted up along the station floods of people were out on sunny mornings on their breaks, sitting, chatting, enjoying the view and the fresh air.  Any job in the early 1980’s downturn was welcome.
grass fire in front of the oil tanks late 1970’s
Photo credit Aidan McAlpin
The 90’s seemed to bring a small improvement, in that environmental laws were coming into force, and there seemed to be a greater appreciation for residents concerns. The noise was not as bad, it happened less at night and the chimneys were not constantly on the go. Mind you it also seemed that the station was winding down and not as busy. Perhaps the worst event in the stations history happened in that decade however, when a New Ross tug boat was overturned whilst helping to berth a massive oil tanker at the station jetty in 1995.  The tug crew were Johnny Lacey and Mickey Aspel, both highly experienced.  Their bodies were eventually retrieved.  
Appropriately named Grizzly at Great Island from News & Star dated Fri 11th Aug 1995.
As early as 2000 there was speculation that the station would have to close as a result of deregulation in the power industry and concerns about the commercial viability, pollution and cost of oil used in stations such as Great Island. The station closed when it was replaced by a gas fired station, which commenced in 2012 and officially opened in June 2015. However, the old station and chimneys remain, and there is often speculation as to their fate. Some say they are now an indelible feature of our harbour. Indeed a similar landmark in Dublin, the Poolbeg chimneys, have been retained because of their iconic status. I tend to believe that whatever the future of the chimneys, it won’t be decided by aesthetics or nostalgia, but by commercial concerns.   
I accessed some of the information on this piece from

For the younger generations perspective, and more on the building here’s a fine piece by Aoife Grogan

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St Patrick’s day in the 1970’s

Happy La le fhéile Padraig, an occasion for the “wearing of the Green”.  During my childhood I really looked forward to it and particularly the nine am mass at Faithlegg Church. I guess the mass stands out, as in those days before it became a “festival” the day was a much simpler affair. As we didn’t have a car, we went to no parade. But it was a welcome day off from the dread of school, which like so many others we spent out rambling.  If unlucky and it rained we hadn’t much option but to sit inside at the black and white telly and watch Darby O Gill and the little people or the Quiet Man re-run.
My earliest memory is coming home from school with a hand made badge, a pin stuck on the back with sellotape and a drawing of a harp or St Patrick and plenty of green white and gold. It was always gold, never orange in our home. Apparently the badge originated with Irish soldiers that fought in the trenches of World War I.  We could look forward to a break from school, and also a break from lent.  Lent in those days to me meant no chocolate, or sweets, or one of my favourites; Tayto crisps.  On Patrick’s day, you were given a reprieve. I remember calling to a friends house one day with a bag of crisps and being challenged about my Lenten vow. “The Lord didn’t get a day off when he wandered in the desert for forty days!” When I said it at home later I picked up a new saying; “If you want to be criticised, marry” I later realised she was probably more upset that her husband was slaking his thirst in the West End, with a want spanning from Ash Wednesday.
I’ve mentioned before how important church was in our home, and Patrick’s morning was no less an occasion.  The main difference of course was the obligatory bit of shamrock, splashed across the left lapel of the coat, and the attachment of it, which had to happen just as we were about to go out the door, in case it would wilt. There were years of course when the shamrock had not been sourced.  On those occasions we were dispatched across the strand and up to Nanny’s in the Russianside. Nanny, like many of the older citizens, took a marked pride in the display of the trinity leaf and crucially she had the time to ramble in search of the plant.
Nanny would have a bowl, fully laden, and as we crashed in atop of her, she would call us in one at a time to her tiny kitchen and fuss and bother (in a way my mother didn’t have the time to with five to divide her time) by picking a nice piece and pinning it on our lapel with an eye to detail.  Her own attire on the day always had a lot of green, including blouse, cardigan, head scarf and coat.  The coat would have a spread of Shamrock that would have fed a sheep.  On then we went, up to the cross roads with her, to board the Suirway mass bus for the trip around the village.
accessed from
The bus of course was a trial.  The oul lads black-guarding, accusing your shamrock of all manner of insult, from wilting, to scrawny or worse; “a bit of oul clover” At the church the unspoken competition would be in full swing for the most impressive display, but I can never remember anyone besting Matt “Mucha” Doherty.  The spray of shamrock would be emblazoned across the left side of his chest, like the mane of a lion.  I always wondered how he kept it so fresh looking, to this day I wonder did he have the sod with it, tucked away in his coat.
The ceremony on that day always appealed to me.  I enjoyed the stories associated with Patrick, they were more real to me, I could identify with them. But most of all I loved the singing, and in particular the singing of Hail, Glorious St Patrick.  Songs in the church were generally the preserve of Jim “Lofty” Duffin.  Jim would stand up in the centre of the congregation and from his hymnbook, sing solo.  It didn’t feel right to accompany him, and generally people stayed quite.  But there were days during the church year that the congregation shook itself free and one of them was St Patrick’s morning.
It’s as if we dropped our reserve on those days, and led off by Jim who was quickly joined by the women, and eventually it seemed by us all.  For me, I think the day meant a lot to us as a community in a nationalistic kind of way, a day that celebrated something that made us proud to be Irish in a country that at the time, probably didn’t have a lot to be proud of.  And in standing to sing, it was almost like singing the national anthem. For a few short years it was the central meaning of the day for me.
After more than forty years, I can hear the singing yet.  Here’s the words if you want to sing along. To assist, here’s a beautiful organ accompaniment.

Hail, Glorious St Patrick
Hail, glorious Saint Patrick, dear saint of our Isle,

On us thy poor children bestow a sweet smile;
And now thou art high in the mansions above,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.
On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green valleys,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.
Hail, glorious Saint Patrick, thy words were once strong
Against Satan’s wiles and an infidel throng;
Not less is thy might where in heaven thou art;
O, come to our aid, in our battle take part.
On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green valleys,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.
In the war against sin, in the fight for the faith,
Dear saint, may thy children resist unto death;
May their strength be in meekness, in penance, their prayer,
Their banner the cross which they glory to bear.
On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green valleys,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.
Thy people, now exiles on many a shore,
Shall love and revere thee till time be no more;
And the fire thou hast kindled shall ever burn bright,
Its warmth undiminished, undying its light.
On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green valleys,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.
Ever bless and defend the sweet land of our birth,
Where the shamrock still blooms as when thou wert on earth,
And our hearts shall yet burn, wherever we roam,
For God and Saint Patrick, and our native home.
On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green valleys,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.

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Roses from the Heart

I could heartily recommend to anyone in Waterford city in the next two weeks, to call to Central Library in Lady Lane and take a few minutes to view an art project, from which I take this blog title. The Roses from the Heart project is a means of highlighting the plight of thousands of women who were transported to Australia for the most basic crimes.  300 of these women were from Waterford.
Regular readers will know that I recently published a blog on Waterford people who suffered the penalty of Transportation. The blog dealt in general with the practice, and the specifics of a true Waterford hero Thomas Francis Meagher. But the reason I picked the topic of transportation was because of the Roses from the Heart. A project that seeks to remember another kind of hero, or rather heroines.

My wife Deena had brought the story home last week following her attendance at the local knitting and crochet group.  A member, Alice O’Shea had explained about the project, and how she along with others had taken on the task of decorating a ready made bonnet in memory of the Waterford women that had been sent away.  I believe the lady who coordinated in Waterford was Ruth Murray of Heart Creations

The project is the brainchild of a Tasmanian artist named Christina Henri. Christina chose the concept of a cloth bonnet, which was a typical garment worn by the women. Through it she hoped to raise an awareness of, and a memorial to, the 25,566 women who were transported.  

Alice had made her bonnet to the memory of a 46 year old Waterford woman, Alice Power.  Alice was 46 years old, a wife and a mother of 5 children.  Her trial was heard in Waterford in 1830 and she was sentenced to transportation for 7 years. Her crime was of receiving a stolen handkerchief.  She like the others would have been taken to await a ship at Grangegorman in Dublin, and hence to Dun Laoighre, for the horrific sea journey to the southern colony.  She departed on the Hooghly on the 24th June 1831 arriving in New South Wales on the 27th September.  According to the record she had at least one other Waterford woman as a companion, Ann Searson. Her crime; vagrancy! Once there she like the others would have been forced to work, and were at the mercy of their employers. When the sentence ended they were free to stay on the Australian continent or leave if they had the means. It would surely be impossible to countenance what Alice or her family experienced from this remove.

Christina’s current project is called “Bringing the Roses home to Ireland” and there are currently 60 bonnets on display in Central Library.  There is also a list of all those from Waterford who were sent away.  So if you have an interest in history or fascinating art installations, consider making it along to the library in the next few weeks.  I believe Christina will be talking at the Granville Hotel about the project on Thursday March 14th.  Also on show is a fascinating exhibition curated by Ann Fitzgerald of the Waterford Women’s Centre and Andy Kelly on famous Waterford Women.  This is to celebrate International Women’s Day.

All told both displays represent a celebration of many incredible women, some famous, some less so, but all deserving to be acknowledged and remembered. 

Update: Dr Christina Henri from the Cascades Female Factory Historic Site in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia tells their story Wednesday 15th March 2017 at the Town Hall Theatre, Dungarvan. 8pm. Admission: €5

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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Australia bound – Irelands convict transportation

Today marks the 6th successive commemoration of one of the most important events in modern Irish history.  The 1848 Tricolour celebration marks the first raising of our national flag, at the Wolf Tone Club, 33 the Mall Waterford. The man responsible and who conceived the flag, was of course the Waterford native Thomas Frances Meagher.
I’ve written several stories about Meagher down the years and today I wanted to look at his transportation to Van Diemens Land following the Young Irelander rebellion of 1848. Indeed Meagher was lucky to have had a death sentence commuted at the time, thanks to the intervention of the English monarch, Queen Victoria.
A nonchalant looking Meagher standing on the right
at Kilmainham 1849

Transportation to Australia commenced in the year 1787/8, following the loss of the American colony. It was used as a punishment for even the most basic of crimes and many were transported even from our own city and harbour.  According to historian Ged Martin, 3 Waterford people were among the first to be transported on a ship called the Queen. Two of them, Sarah Brazile and Michael Murphy were just 18. After the 1798 rebellion, prisoners held at New Geneva were marched along the Crooke road to Passage East and via lighter downriver to an awaiting ship at Duncannon.  To prevent escape, cannon were trained on the lighters from Duncannon fort.(1)  I’d imagine the ship would transport the prisoners to Cork for the deep sea voyage.

The First Feet arriving at (Port Jackson) Sydney January 1788
accessed from

The British took possession of Van Diemens Land in 1803 when 33 convicts and 16 soldiers and officials established a small settlement on the Derwent River. Convicts were initially transported in ordinary merchant ships where conditions were basic, if not outright inhumane. Men and women were housed below decks, sometimes behind bars, and fresh air and exercise was at the discretion of the Captain. Many died on the trips from scurvy, dysentery and typhoid, although many others must have perished from harsh treatment and neglect. From the 1840’s a more “enlightened routine” was employed and Captains were paid a bonus on the basis of getting convicts safely to the colony.

Australian chain gang accessed from:
Meagher however was spared any such difficulty.  As a political prisoner, and a gentleman, he and his compatriots were held at Kilmainham jail and subsequently transferred to Richmond Prison. Like the men of ’98 they were brought by armed guard to an awaiting warship in the Liffey called the Dragon and hence to Dun Laoighre, then Kingstown.  Awaiting them was HMS Swift, and under heavy guard due to concerns of a rescue attempt they were transferred aboard. It was a tense scene. Crowds had gathered both ashore and afloat to wave off the rebels. Meagher, O’ Brien and party departed for the southern oceans from Dun Laoighre on July 9th 1849 and via the cape, arrived at Hobart Town on October 27th the same year.  Their trip however was at variance to most prisoners journeys. They had a private sitting room, separate cabins which were well lighted and ventilated and allowed on deck to exercise between 8am-8pm.  The main complaint was the food, but it was a complaint often shared by most on such journeys at the time.

Meagher initially settled down to a gentleman’s existence but would later escape and go on to even greater exploits in the Americas. Transportation would still be a penalty for the most basic of crimes up to 1868. Between the dates of 1788 and 1868 its estimated that 162,000 souls endured transportation. A further estimate says that 1/4 of that number were Irish. In an effort to distance itself from its convict past, Van Diemens land was renamed Tasmania in 1856.

Many of those who went as convicts went on to have happy and productive lives after their sentence was served, many of them from Waterford. But none I think can be said to have had such a lasting legacy nationally or internationally as Meagher. For all he gave his native land however, he was never to set foot on Irish soil again.

For a full list of the events happening this weekend in Waterford visit the 1848 tricolour webpage

My thanks to James Doherty for information on Meagher.

(1) Jim Hegarty. Time and Tide.  A short history of Passage East

My previous blogs on the Meagher family:
The Rebel Students return 1843
The man with four graves but no body

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.
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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