Launching the punts (and book)

This day next week Friday 20th October I will launch my first book titled Before the Tide Went Out.  It takes place at Jack Meades on the Cheekpoint road at 7.30pm and everyone is welcome.  Of course launches are something I am very familiar with.  Launching punts that is, not books!
As a child in Cheekpoint there was no greater symbol of the fishing than the punts that we worked the rivers on.  In those days they were made of timber, generally larch planks over oak frames. Following the long spring and summer of the salmon and eel fishing boats were heavy having absorbed river water into their planks.  The usually needed repairs also. 
Boats were generally hauled out on some of the high tides such as the equinox springs in late September. These tended to be a community event, groups of men (and children) gathering to help to drag up the punts from high water and onto the shoreline. Once up, they would be turned over, keel side up and the gunwales raised off the ground with rocks under them to allow the wind blow under and dry them out.

Wear and tear on punts could have been simple or more complicated including; keel bands (a band of metal that protected the keel) could be loose or broken following a season of beaching on gravel or stone, natural wear on timber from weather, damage to gunwales from hauling nets or ropes or having to replace timbers or planks, knees, thwarts etc.  Other works were guaranteed; touching up damaged or missing caulking and dealing with faded paint work.

Turning over a punt at Moran’s poles 2012. including Johnny Leftor, Joel Doherty, Bernard Cunningham,
Chris Doherty, Andrew Doherty, Robert Doherty, Pat Moran & Niall Cunningham. Photo: Hannah Doherty

In the village the Green was the favourite spot to overwinter. The Rookery quay would also have a few boats. Moran’s poles was a favourite of Paddy & Pat Moran, Terry Murphy, Paddy, Christy and Johnny Doherty and Maurice Doherty too. Further along towards Whelan’s Road Charlie Duffin kept his boat and in the next spot Jim Duffin. All of them sadly gone to their eternal rest now except Pat. Ned “Garragier” Power kept his punt and prong down under the house on the strand below Coolbunnia.

The barnacles and green moss that would have grown on the boats bottom during the heat of the summer would have died back while upturned. At some stage these would be scrapped off and washed down. Some preferred to do it soon after, others not until they were readying the hull in the spring. There was always someone down at the boats tinkering away at something. As children we loved to come across the men working on the boats. There was always a yarn, maybe a few bob for running an errand or an opportunity to learn some particular skill.  Some skills were less appreciated at home than others however. 
Work in progress on a punt, Sean Doherty and Michie Fortune.
Photo: Molly Doherty
One Sunday morning I returned home from the strand and asked my father if I could light his cigarette. He was sitting at the fire and nearly choked on his cup of tea. Anyway I persisted and relenting he said “go on so”. I took one out of the box and put it in my mouth, struck a match on the box and cupped me hand around the flame. Bending down I puffed hard and came up with the cigarette lit to perfection. Amazed, he asked me “Where did you learn that” – “Paddy Doherty just showed me” I said, beaming with pride, “He said any man that fishes needs to know how to light a fag when out in a gale”. “Well, you’re on your way so” said my father as he snatched it out of my fingers
Before the boat was turned it would need to be coated with a mixture of tar and pitch to seal the hull. Any caulking that had come undone would be replaced prior to this. Tar and pitch could be purchased from the now sadly closed Johnny Hearne’s on the quay in Waterford or from Dunphy’s hardware store in Campile. But people had many sources, and I remember it said that the best you could get was from the Harbour Board, if you had a contact.
launching from Moran’s poles 1990’s.  Anthony Doherty, Gavin Doherty, Dermot Kavanagh, Bob Doherty RIP, Chris Doherty, Andrew Doherty and just out of shot Robert Doherty.  Photo: Deena Bible
This would be melted down in a pot or an old paint can over an open fire and you had to be careful that the tar didn’t boil too hot or it could catch fire. The same pot and brush tended to be used from year to year.  The brush used would have to be a good one, or it would fall apart in the heat. You needed to be careful with the boiling liquid, as it would burn like hell if it got on your skin.  A friend still carries the scar left from an accident, the only relief from which was to run headlong into the river and plunge his hand into the water.  
Once the hull was tarred it would be left to dry and then the punt was turned over to expose the inside. Then this too would be tarred and finally the gunwales and strikes would be painted inside and out. Each boat had her own traditional colours and a lot of care was generally paid to ensure that the upper paint work looked well.  
Blessing of a punt at the Green Cheekpoint c1964
Once all was in order, it was time to launch. This tended to be done a few weeks before the new season started as boats needed time to swell in the water and close up after the planks had dried out and most probably shrunk. Again it was a big event and most boats would go out together to save on time.
Modern day launching, from left, Tomás Sullivan, Tom Sullivan, Seamus Heffernan, Maurice Doherty & Michael Murphy
Sat 26th July 2014
Repairs these days take place with power tools, so boats tend to come out on a trailer and be towed home to a shed and a nearby power source. It’s also a fact that most boats these days are fibreglass or are timber boats that have a fibreglass coating. Hence the traditions described above have either died out or are significantly altered and reduced, which when you think about it, is a big loss to a local tradition.
This story is an edited excerpt taken from the book.  Before the Tide Went Out has been a work of passion for several years now and Damien Tiernan RTE’s SE correspondent will be my special guest on the night. Tommy Sullivan will MC the event and we will have someone to speak on behalf of the SE FLAG group who helped me with some of the costs associated with the publication and launch.  It takes place in Jack Meades, Friday 20th October at 7.30pm and all are welcome.  The book will be available on the night and sells for €15. Tom McSweeney has written the foreword to the book and just this week wrote and produced a podcast explaining why the book is essential reading to anyone with an interest in fishing communities, particularly department officials.  If you click on this link and scroll down to the fisheries podcast you can hear it.

You can buy the book online

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The Cheekpoint Disco

Few could imagine in this day and age, the joy of attending a disco in an old hall, with broken windows and a sagging floor with dodgy electrics and no toilet or running water.  But in rural Cheekpoint in the 1970’s every teenager from the village and for miles around looked forward to the Friday night diversion, with as much anticipation as the modern era attending electric picnic.  Put simply, there was little enough to do, and it was a major event in our lives.
Cheekpoint in the mid 1970s early 1980s, like so many rural villages, was not exactly places of major entertainment.  At home we had a black and white television set, upon which RTE 1 was the only station. We also had a radio set, a PYE valve radio, the same size as the TV.  This only received channels on the long wave or medium wave bands, and which was kept on RTE Radio 1, as moving it risked not being able to tune it in the next time my father needed to hear the news or forecast, or my mother to listen to Gay Byrne’s morning radio show. Around this time a newfangled tape recorder came into the house allowing you to tape, onto blank cassettes, your favourite music or new songs as they were played on radio or TV.  I remember the Eurovision being taped like this, and the rows that went on if anyone spoke as it picked up this also and could be heard for ever more.
Apart from going to mass, or joining up civil defence there was little else available to us in the village, except going for a walk.  A Friday night bus did leave the village for bingo, or the pictures, but we would not be found dead at bingo and of course we did not have the money for the movies. Dances were always popular in the village, as I previously recorded in my account of rowing to the dance. Peter Hanlon told me during the week that the first of several youth club committees met in 1964. Down the years these tended to stop and start as committees ran out of energy. But my generation was fortunate with a dynamic committee the highlight of this being the Friday night disco.
In an era of Saturday Night Fever, the iconic image of John Travolta strutting his stuff across a shiny glittering dance floor with walls of mirrors and ceilings of lights, the Reading Room was less than comparable.  And to many it derived a less than envious non de plume – the Hen House.  

But when needs must they say and in the Reading Room, the committee worked hard to make the place seem, if not plush, at least bearably ok. The dust was swept off the timber boarded floor, cobwebs removed from the walls and ceilings, leaks patched up and occasionally some decorations graced the walls. Charlie McCarthy donated a twin deck and some records, and I’m pretty sure he donated lights too. Who can forget Michael ‘Bugsey’ Moran deftly joining electrical wires together and trailing them along the walls in an effort to enhance and extend the second hand disco lights.  Or indeed his valiant efforts to find and repair the fault, after the power went out in the middle of a slow set, with little more than a pliers and a packet of matches for light. (Why did it always go out in a slow set I wonder?) 
Music selection was always a cause of contention.  The DJ’s “deck” was located on the stage at the back of the Hall, where they could see over the proceedings and take requests from the floor.  We had two DJ’s of note (that I can recall).  Philip Duffin was fond of softer music, and seemed to have a preference for disco and pop.  Personally I hated this.  Bugsey was into rock, louder was better, and he often arrived up with an extra speaker which he endevoured to add in to his ever increasing network of wires and cables strewn along the stage and over the walls.  The two lads vied for their space at the decks and both were always spruced up and looking the part.

Interruptions to the music were frequent.  Power cuts, scratched records, or someone jumping on the stage to ask for a specific request hitting the deck or the table it stood on.  Of course there was also the difficulties caused by foot stomping head bangers when Bugsy played Iron Maiden or Motor Head and the whole timber edifice shook like a leaf…good times

Boys tended to stay in the lower corner or along the outside wall.  The girls on the opposite.  The music started at eight in the evening, which was fine in the winter, but a bit odd in the summer, as light streamed in the windows. It wasn’t just locals either of course. Friends or relations or school mates were invited along, but this had to be passed by the committee.  In summer there would be holiday makers in the village, and these would be always welcomed.  Many was the young person who skipped out their bedroom window and I can recall one or two incidents with my father standing outside waiting for a young sister of mine to wander out.  There was only one door then, so no escape.

Youth Club 1985, just as the disco’s were finished but many here would have attended
Bk Row: Owen Power, Pat O Neill, Michael Duffin, meself, William Doherty, Patricia Doherty, Cormac Power, Maurice Doherty, Dennis Doherty, Matthew Doherty, Timmy Murphy and John Rodgers.
2nd row: Bronagh Doherty, Eily Bible, Marie Doherty, Julie Ann Doherty, Claire Moran, Jennifer Doherty, Dettie Doherty, Eileen Doherty, Michael ‘Bugsy’ Moran
seated in front row: Maurice ‘Mossy’ Moran (RIP), Michelle Barry, Annette Sullivan, Jacinta Doherty, Breda Duffin, Maria O Leary, Patricia O Leary, Elaine Doherty, Jean Foley, Deena Bible, Aideen Sullivan.
Kneeling: Paul Duffin, Michael ‘Spud’ Murphy, Malachy Doherty, Kevin Sullivan and Dylan Bible

In time the disco fell out of favour and a new youth club committee went in a new direction with activity based evenings and although different it was equally as good.  But deep down I think anyone who remembered the evenings of loud music, flashing lights and sweaty teenage bodies dancing together on an old wooden floor, could not but miss the buzz.

This Saturday night (7th October, 8pm) the Development Group will hold a “Hen House Reunion” with all profits going towards running costs of the Reading Room.  €5 on the door, disco and BBQ food.  And some speculation that Bugsy may play a set on the decks…I’ll be first on the floor for that.

Many thanks to Kay Boland nee Doherty and Peter Hanlon for their help in this piece

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:  
F  T