A Crooke childhood

Today is the last Friday of the month and so it’s guest blog day.  I always love to share others thoughts and as the summer holidays officially start in our local national school, this reflection on school holidays from the 1960’s is a real counterpoint to the activities of children today.  I’d like to thank Breda Murphy of Crooke for sharing it with us, and hope you enjoy it as much as I.

Recently I met a local woman on one of my regular walks on the strand below Crooke and we exchanged the usual, ‘isn’t it a lovely day, great spell of weather, it’s lovely down here’. She said ‘it’s a little bit of heaven’ and that’s exactly what it is ‘a little bit of heaven’. I am so grateful for living so close to it all my life. 

I was born and grew up in Crooke Co Waterford, opposite Duncannon Church on the Wexford side of the harbour. Every morning when I opened the curtains there is was, the river. My mother could predict the weather by looking at the river; what colour it was, its texture and how close Duncannon looked, don’t ask me how that worked but I wish I had listened to her more instead of dismissing it as ‘mad stuff’!! 
The rhythm of the river with its constant in and out led to my first realisation of my own insignificance; it went in and out whether or not I showed up. My father made his living from the river as a fisherman and later as a seaman. We waved him good bye as he sailed past the house heading to Liverpool on the mail boat the Great Western. The river and the strand played and still plays a significant role in my life. 
The Great Western in war time colour

Primary school summer holidays were spent on the Barrack Strand between the Carrig Rock, dividing Woodstown and Passage and ‘Johnnies Lane’ or the ‘Chapel Lane’ under Crooke Church. We picked cockles when the tide was out and ate them raw by twisting the back of two cockles together to open them, swallowing from the shells like oysters, although in my mind a sweeter tastier option. Or we lit a fire and cooked them in a discarded bean tin in water from the stream. 

Chapel or Johnnies lane

We had unlimited lands and seascape as our playground to facilitate the unbounded fantasy of a herd of children let lose for the summer. We swam, walked and rolled in the mud, we picked shells to use as money, we spent days picking the best shaped stones for ‘nucks’ or flat stones, a ‘bed bone’, for beds, like hopscotch or the best stones for skimming. I still come home from a walk with a pocket full of ‘best’ stones. We climbed the cliff, made ranches, saloons, houses, castles, forts, villages, cars and buses in the sand. We dammed and redirected streams, made pools and lakes. 

A modern scene from the barrack Strand, still a playful place!

We learned what we didn’t learn in school; how to light fires, how to occupy ourselves, use everything available; nothing was rubbish, tins, glass, old rope, even plastic took on a new dimension after being washed up in the tide and became a blank canvas. We learned to cooperate, be in teams, compete, lose, take care of others, back each other, be taken care of, learned to drink water from a steam by cupping our hands, learned to take risks and be brave, to ‘get in’ and swim in cold water, to undress and dress under a towel and dry ourselves without our mammy’s, with teeth chattering. We learned all this unsupervised by adults. We made mistakes and recovered and mostly adults didn’t know anything about them. 

When we came up off the strand, Mrs Hegarty and Mrs Barry, who lived near the lane down to the Barrack Strand, often had a plate of bread and butter waiting for us hungry children, glorious. We learned gratitude, bravery, the comfort of clothes on your body after being cold and wet. We laughed, at things only children find funny, we cried, we fought, we made up, we got hurt (physically and emotionally) we recovered, we learned resilience and compassion. 
Another familiar sight from Passage Hill, Duncannon on the opposite shore

The older children (12 or 13) learned leadership, being responsible for minding the younger ones. We learned the pecking order, obedience and disobedience, loyalty and friendship, possibility, hunger as a sweet sauce (our tea never tasted so good) generosity, kindness, what peace felt like. 

Later in my teenage years and beyond I spent time alone by the river, time to think and dream and unfortunately it’s where I learned to smoke. I walk by the river now whenever I can. It brings me back to when; my time was unlimited, I was never in a hurry, I lived in the now and laughed a lot. I need a summer on the strand!!

And don’t we all. What lovely memories this brought up for me.  The only addition I could think of was our love of crab fishing here in the village of Cheekpoint, otherwise this account was so familiar and so affirming. Any wonder I love being beside, on and taking photos of the river and all its comings and goings.  Thank you Breda.  

Our next guest blog will be Friday 28th July, and I’m hopeful it will be another memory, this time of a summer holiday in Duncannon from a fellow blogger from Carlow. If you would be interested in submitting a piece I’d be delighted to hear from you at russianside@gmail.com.  The only criteria is that the piece needs to be about our maritime heritage, about 1200 words and I can help in editing if required, source photos and add in links etc.  I’d also welcome any contributions from younger readers including students

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.
You might also like my facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales
I’m also on twitter: https://twitter.com/tidesntales

Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela

Today I’m following in the footsteps of one of Waterford’s most famous mayor’s, James Rice. For like him I’m starting on a journey to do pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Of course my journey will be remarkable different from the travels of a 15thC wine merchant and politician. Rather than a ship across the Bay of Biscay taking many days or perhaps weeks in unfavorable weather, my own journey should be a matter of hours by air.  
I can’t say for sure why I’m drawn to walk the Camino. I have walked Irish pilgrim paths of course. I’m always drawn in by the older routes, anything not encroached by tarmac and bloody bungalows. But the draw to the Camino is different. Maybe its the influence of my good friend Damien who is a serial walker of the pilgrim roads of Europe. Damien wrote a guest blog at Christmas about his theory that Ballyhack was a significant departure route from the harbour for pilgrims. Another influence is my pal “Lloyd of the Blackstairs” who has blogged about his own epic journey i, ii, iii, iv & v. One journey I would have dearly loved to make was a re-enactment several years back of Rice’s journey when a group paraded down to Waterford quays and sailed out the harbour on the tall ship Jeanie Johnson. 
depiction of medieval sailing via

Enough of me however, who was James Rice?  James was a wealthy Anglo-Irish wine merchant and was Mayor of Waterford eleven times during the 15th Century. Wine was imported from the French and Spanish ports, the outgoing vessels carried large quantities of foodstuff, including fish from our river weirs. During this time the city prospered. (His fathers, Peter, wine vault is part of the museum of treasures exhibits) Rice is regarded as one of the most important mayors in medieval Waterford – holding the office on eleven occasions between 1467 and 1486.

Pilgrims were facilitated on these ships of trade, and the majority of them will never be known of. However as mayor, and a man of influence, some of Rice’s journey is known and this may give a sense of it:
“…As Waterford was a port town with trade links with France and Spain its likely James travelled by boat to the port of Corunna and then headed on foot to Santiago. Having arrived at his destination he  would have found somewhere to stay. Most pilgrims spent the night in a vigil within the cathedral in front of the high altar. The next day pilgrims attended mass and during the ceremony they presented their offerings. Pilgrims would also have made confession and obtained certificates of pilgrimage in the Capilla del Rey de Francia. There are no records detailing James experiences but he must have visited the relics of the saint and perhaps even purchased some souvenirs. From the 12th century scallop shells were sold to pilgrims in the cathedral square and a small number have been found in Irish medieval burials…”
Excerpt from  https://pilgrimagemedievalireland.com/

In 1481 he built a chapel to house his tomb in the original Norman cathedral in the city. It can now be found in Christ church cathedral. 
It’s what is known as a cadaver monument.  It depicts the reality of death and the glory of saints. Rice wished that his tomb be a reminder of the briefness of our earthly lives and the transient nature of wealth and power. It displays a decaying corpse, crawling with worms and with a frog feasting on the flesh. The tomb has images of saints carved on all sides. The apostles are found on the north side; James the minor, Thomas, John, James the Major, Andrew and Peter and on the south side: Matthias Jude, Simeon, Matthew, Bartholomew and Philip. The west end of the tomb bears the images of St Margaret of Antioch, the Virgin and Child and St Catherine of Alexandria. The east end depicts St Edmund the Confessor, the Holy Trinity and St Patrick. 

I love the writing which is a chastening reminder to us all: “Here lies ‘James Rice,one time citizen of this city,founder of this chapel,and Catherine Broun, his wife. Whoever you may be, passer by, Stop, weep as you read. I am what you are going to be, and I was what you are. I beg of you, pray for me! It is our lot to pass through the jaws of death. Lord Christ, we beg of thee, we implore thee, be merciful to us! Thou who has come to redeem the lost condemn not the redeemed.”

Rice completed the pilgrimage twice during his lifetime (1473 & 1483) and his tomb became a starting point for Waterford pilgrims as they embarked upon their journey. It was fitting to visit it again today prior to departure. 

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.
You might also like my facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales
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“Fire in the water”

Because I was raised in a traditional fishing community and went to fish as a child, I often took for granted what others consider magical.  But there was one such phenomenon is what we call locally “Fire in the water”, that never lost its appeal. And although it was something which was beautiful, fishermen tended not to be happy about it.  As I heard one man describe it “It might be good for the soul, but it’s bad for the pocket”
I always associated Fire in the water with dirt in the water and generally settled and warm weather. When it occured in the night time, its basically as if any agitation in the river creates a natural light source.  Nets stood out, a fish in a net coming towards the boat could be seen from several yards away and as a boat traveled through the water, the waves tumbling off the bow, or the propeller wash, glow with this mysterious light.
I have to admit that I he first time I saw it I thought it was magic, and I can clearly remember hanging over the bow of the punt, allowing the bow wave with this watery starlight wash through my hands. The most amazing example I can think of was seeing a strong ebb tide wash over a fishing weir and between the poles and the submerged net, the whole scene was over 100 yards in length. But as I depended more and more on fishing it became a bit of a drag. Fire in the water meant the fish could clearly see the nets from a long way off floating through the running tide. The only opportunity however was when the river slowed and then finally stopped on the low or high waters. If there was fire in the water the punts tended to haul up their nets and go home after the tide began to run again.
via: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/03/pictures/120319-
Fire in the water is actually a natural phenomenon caused by phytoplankton which floated in the river at times and which emit a bright blue light after they become agitated. This agitation could be caused by waves, walking along the shoreline, punts travelling through the water, or worse when it came to fishing by drifting nets.
Now the actual process which light up these phytoplankton is that they have channels to allow protons to pass through their bodies. Any movement cause protons to stir, creating electrical pulses, which trigger chemical reactions. These reactions, in turn, activate a protein called luciferase, which creates the blue light. Another name for it is Bioluminescence.
The process can be seen from the shore line too, waves passing over rocks or seaweed is a likely spot, even the tide running over a rope or a buoy. And apparently it is now becoming a tourist draw. People who have never seen the phenomenon are travelling the world in an effort to witness it.  There are top destinations, people who are marketing this in Ireland, and websites dedicated to its research.  U tube has a few vids too such as this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlTCB_p3slY

Although in the past, that comment we started with about this being bad for your pocket may have been true, perhaps in the current climate it might actually be the reverse? If anyone knows of any local person using this as a tourism stream you might let me know.  Id like to link it in to the story.

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

Faithlegg House – a brief history

Faithlegg House was built in 1783 by Cornelius Bolton, then landlord of the Faithlegg/Cheekpoint area of east Waterford. Known as a progressive businessman and politician one can presume he intended Faithlegg as not just his home but a statement of his stature in the community and in Waterford society as a whole.  
Well he might have been in his assumptions of power. The family had been involved in many different enterprises down the years, and the estate at Faithlegg which he inherited was several thousand acres. Enterprises included; Mail packet station at Cheekpoint, Cottage textile industry, Brick making factory, Rope walk, Draining of and reclaiming of Marshes including containing walls, Daisybank house as a hotel for the mail packet, construction of a new quay at Cheekpoint, Realignment and improvement to main road to Waterford, Slate quarrying, Cobalt mining and he was one of the investors in the New Geneva enterprise at Crooke.
The house in 1969/70 via Brendan Grogan, the open parkland,
mature trees and imposing driveway in evidence

The architect was believed to be John Roberts. Roberts was responsible for some of the finest buildings in Waterford at the time including the two Cathedrals, City Hall, Theatre Royal and my own favourite the Chamber of Commerce Building at the top of Gladstone Street. As Roberts had a country home in the Glen in Faithlegg at the time, it would have been relatively easy for him to oversee the work. Although Faithlegg House was more extensive than the building is now, it was described in Burkes Peerage as “a 3 storey, 7 bay block with a three bay pediment break-front”…Bolton’s arms are “…elaborately displayed…in the pediment”

There must have been many fine balls and worthy visitors to the house at that time, and the old Ice House gives a hint to the entertainments used to impress. However, pride comes before a fall they say and unfortunately for Bolton all his investments failed and he finally had to sell off his home at Faithlegg.  He retired to a residence in the city where he died in 1829 and is buried in old Faithlegg Church.
Nicholas Power was the next owner of the house and lands of Faithlegg and Cheekpoint. At the time he was reputed to be the richest commoner in the land. Nicholas Power came from a wealthy merchant family from Ballinakill in the city and had married Margaret Mahon of Dublin, herself from a wealthy family.
Nicholas was a staunch Catholic and on moving into the Faithlegg Estate one of the first actions was to build a church for the catholic community beside the old Norman churche in 1824. He was a benefactor of Edmund Rice and apparently bore the major cost of establishing the first of his schools in Mount Sion in Waterford. He was also a supporter of Catholic emancipation and Daniel O Connell who referred to to him as “…the right kind of agitator” Both men were reputed to have been regular visitors. Nicholas was elected to parliament in 1847 and topped the poll in subsequent elections until retirement in 1859.  Before his death he paid for the construction of the Spire, Belfry and Organ loft. This was completed in 1873, the year he died.
His son Patrick Joseph Power 1826- 1913 inherited the property on his fathers death. His wife was an heiress, Olivia Jane Nugent, daughter of the Earl of Westmeath. The couple were responsible for the later additions to Faithlegg House. These included 2 storey, 2 bay wings on either side of the existing building, to which single storey extensions were added. The single storey on the left was an oratory whilst the right was a school room. The front of the building was refaced, with segmented hoods over the ground floor windows. A portico with square piers was also added and St Huberts Deer was added to the front of the house. Internally the plastered ceilings were the work of Italian craftsmen. Externally there were modifications too; including planting, laying out of terraces at the rear and the building of pleasure grounds including a shell house.
Faithlegg Harriers assembling outside the house in the late 19th C
Patrick Power is assumed to be the man in the centre.  A.H.Poole NLI

The Power family sold on Faithlegg House to the De La Salle Brothers in 1936 and they used it as a junior seminary. Young lads of secondary school age who thought they might join the order came to live in the house with the brothers. They lived the life of a Christian brother, took a mini bus in to school in the De La Salle and although they went to classes with the other boys, they took their meals with the brothers and went back to the house in the evenings to study and sleep. The order in turn sold it on to developers in 1985. Eventually the house was refurbished and now operates as a four star hotel, known far and wide as Faithlegg House Hotel whilst its parkland has been converted into a golf course.

An advert for a public auction to sell off the contents of the house

To find out more about the house and the surrounding area join us on a free walk this coming Monday 5th June, departing from Faithlegg House at 11am.  More details on our Facebook event page 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 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