Duncannon Fort and the Waterford militia

April’s guest blog comes from a page regular, my cousin, James Doherty. Today he’s talking about a topic that was very much part of some recent blogs and presentations I gave on the Paddle Steamer service that ran between the city and Duncannon.  In this piece James gives us an insight into the history of Duncannon fort on the Wexford side of Waterford Harbour and the use of the facility by, amongst others, the Waterford Militia.

The concept of militia is certainly nothing new, at its core lies the citizen soldier a man ready to take up arms in defence of his country when called upon. The militia movement in Ireland remains relatively obscure and the idea that thousands of these citizen soldiers would drill and assemble each year may come as a surprise to many. 

Following the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 in Scotland, an act of parliament decreed the raising of a part time force of able bodied men between the ages of 16 and 60[1]. The proviso that this force was exclusively protestant ensured their loyalty to the crown. It would be the end of the 18th century before Catholics were allowed to join. In 1793 the British Army sent a large force to Holland to fight the French as the regular army was on the continent.  It created a dilemma however as there was no protection of the home front.  The solution was an expanded militia. Catholics were allowed join and numbers quickly increased[2]
The militia and cannon pose for the camera, Waterford Barracks
Between 1793 and 1815 the 33rd Light Infantry Regiment assembled in Waterford for a month’s training each year with the reservists being paid over this period. The concept was simple if there was a landing by a foreign force these men could be called upon to defend the country. Following the defeat of France in the Napoleonic wars this threat diminished and the militia was disbanded. 
By 1854 the drums of war were sounding again, however this time the foe wasn’t the French but the Russian Empire. The militia was reformed in November 1854 and by January they had 175 men elisted with this number doubling by the summer. When assembled the men were based in the Infantry Barracks in Waterford city (officers, seeking better quarters, stayed in the Adelphi Hotel). 
Army high command decreed that some militia units should receive training with Artillery and 1855 saw the Waterford Light Infantry Militia become artillery militia. Wasting no time the unit were sent to Duncannon fort to train with artillery pieces there. This visit downriver would become a regular occurrence for the city men of Waterford. As a state of war existed the Militia stayed called up and spent nearly six months at Duncannon
a 24 pound cannon typical of the type used by the militia
The presence of the militia men in the fort continued a long military tradition at Duncannon Fort. A fortification stood there since medieval times with large parts of the stone fort that stands today dating from 1588 when the modern fort was built to withstand the threat of the Spanish invasion. It took a 6 week siege for the fort to be captured during the Cromwellian wars and later in that same conflict the fort, having being retaken, withstood the attempts of Cromwell’s army to recapture it. 
In July of 1855 the militia men were asked to volunteer for the regular army with over 90 men agreeing to service in the Crimea. The remainder of the regiment would be dismissed for the rest of the year. The practice of summer training for the militia units continued between 1855 and 1860 with the Waterford Militia being sent throughout the British Isles. The benefits of using coastal forts for artillery training needs little explanation with the fort being a popular destination for training purposes with militia units from all over Ireland. However the local Waterford unit would not return until 1860. Over the next two decades the Waterford men would use the fort nearly twenty times. 
In June of 1871 the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Earl Spencer, inspected the Irish Militia and announced in Duncannon Fort that he was most pleased in how the batteries were manned and the proficiency of the men firing at floating targets in the estuary at ranges up to 2000 yards[3]
It wasn’t all hard work for the militia of course, or at least some of them!. The officers of the regiment occasionally organised receptions at the fort for friends and guests. The Waterford papers of 1883 reporting that a special steamer was hired to convey members of Waterford society to the fort where dancing continued late into the night before the steamer returned to the city[4]
An engraving of the fort from the late 18th C

For the rank and file of the militia though life in the fort would have been more mundane. Duncannon had little accommodation with room for officers only. Men would have slept in tents on the fort glacis with some training accounts mentioning anything up to 600 men in attendance. Large metal pots were used to boil hunks of meat that was served with potatoes for dinner. Sanitary conditions were extremely basic.

A curious factor of how the militia was treated was related to their pay; in this respect the Waterford unit was very lucky. As the regimental office was back in Waterford when the summer training was over the men would return to the city and be given their back pay. Other militia units were not so fortunate and when their training was over they would be paid and expected to make their own way home, often with disastrous results. In June of 1863 the Tipperary Militia fresh from a summer at Duncannon were disbanded on the quayside in Waterford. The Waterford News described the ensuing chaos in colourful terms. A warm patronage of our public houses was displayed by the Tipp’s, The city was filled with men made boisterous by deep potations and by no means coveted by any respectable community[5]. A few years later “The Tipp’s” were at it again although this time they started trouble on their way to Duncannon. The normal chartered steamer wasn’t available so the Tipp’s had to wait for the public steamer. Many of the Tipp’s spent their time in pubs on the quayside and when some of them were arrested a serious riot ensued when their comrades tried to affect their release[6]
1883 would see a re-organisation of the Army with the Waterford Artillery Militia becoming the 6th Brigade , South Irish Division of the Royal Artillery[7] with further army reforms in 1908 seeing the Militia being designated as reserve units. 
The military function of the fort waned at the end of the 19th century and adverts ran in national newspapers in 1915 offering the grassy area in front of the fort for rent [8] and the buildings known as the Artillery Stores offered up for rent in 1916[9]. The fort was burnt during the Irish Civil War but restored for use during the Emergency. After the Emergency the only military function of the fort was to be used for summer camps by members of the Irish Reserve Forces. 
So the next time you visit Duncannon Fort try and imagine the smoke and noise of the 19th century with artillery batteries blazing away at targets floating in the middle of the estuary as the gun crews scrambled to man the massive guns under the watchful eyes of their commanding officers. 

Having spent a number of weekends at Duncannon fort when a member of Civil Defence, I can only say it was always a wonderful place to visit and explore.  Its not our first trip to Duncannon of course, as my good pal and fellow blogger Bob, recalled a Duncannon beach family holiday in the 60’s previously. And armed with this extra insight into its history and occupation, hopefully you will make your way down to visit this summer.  It opens in June and more details are here.

If you would like to contribute a piece to any of my guest blog Friday’s (last Friday of each month) please get in touch to russianside@gmail.com.  All I ask is that the subject matter be linked in some way to the maritime heritage of the area, and 1200 words approx.

I publish a blog about Waterford harbours maritime heritage each Friday.  
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[1] The Records of the Waterford Militia by Major Otway Wheeler Cuffe 1885
[2] The Irish Militia 1793- 1802 , Ivan Nelson
[3] The Records of the Waterford Militia by Major Otway Wheeler Cuffe 1885
[4] Waterford News June 8th 1883
[5] Waterford News June 6th 1863
[6] The Manchester Guardian June 28th 1871.
[7] The Records of the Waterford Militia by Major Otway Wheeler Cuffe 1885
[8] Irish Examiner 8th of May 1915
[9] Irish Independent 13th of Sepetember 1916

Remembering Louis C Lee

While collecting my daughter from a bus recently I happened across a limestone slab set into the pavement behind the Waterford bus station. It was battered, damaged and out of place, but the inscription was legible.  It reads In Memory of Louis C Lee of Aberdeen.  Found drowned here Feb 3rd 18.  But who was Louis, when exactly did he die and why was a memorial stone set into the footpath for him?
Louis Cove Lee was born on the  August 18th 1876 and was 20 years old when he drowned on Waterford’s quays on the night of Feb 3rd 1897.  His parents were James and Jane Lee and according to the census of 1891 he had three sisters and two brothers. He was a trainee officer aboard the iron hulled sailing ship the Queen Elizabeth of Glasgow.  
The ship had sailed from Middlesboro in August of 1895 for Hong Kong and hence to Shanghai and San Fransisco under her master, Captain Charles Edward Fulton. The trip from America had taken 170 days via Cape Horn and she had entered Waterford the previous Sunday with a cargo of 2700 tons* of wheat for RH Halls.
Accessed from http://www.clydeships.co.uk/  
She was docked on the quays close to the then Market House and the job of unloading was commenced. On the day of his death Louis was counting the bags of wheat as they were discharged ashore. Louis finished his work at about 5.30pm on that Wednesday evening. The following morning at about 10am a cry went up as a body was discovered lying in the mud between the ship and the quay.

Louis had spent three years aboard ship and was highly regarded.  He was about to leave to return home and attend navigation school in Aberdeen and no doubt looking forward to seeing his family again.  Within another year he would qualify into the junior officer ranks and could look forward to a life of foreign travel and, most probably, a much easier working future aboard steam vessels. The mood in the city was full of remorse and when the young man was laid out aboard his ship, many of the city residents attended to pay their respects. Understandable, given that almost every family in the city had a maritime connection at the time. Louis embodied the potential fate of so many sons, brothers, husbands and fathers. 
An map excerpt showing the quay at the time, the second line between the quay and the floating hulks is the low water mark
An inquest was called and took place at Dooleys Hotel under the stewardship of coroner E.N. Power. Witness after witness deposed as to the good nature and upstanding character of Louis. No one seemed to know what Louis had done ashore**. The watchman aboard the ship heard no disturbance during the night and a watchman on the quay, Morgan Kavanagh, who walked between the Market House and the Graving Bank had heard nothing either. Kavanagh described the night as “very thick” meaning foggy. The verdict of the inquest was of “accidental drowning”

The coroner had some harsh words for the Waterford Harbour Commissioners stating that he had raised for many years the need for protection along the quays and that railings ought to be erected.  A follow up meeting of the Board was strongly of the opinion that such railings would cause a liability and should be discounted. However, within two years the railings were in place, by order of the Board of Trade as I understand it.
The sad fate of the memorial stone.
And Louis? Well Louis’ father James travelled to Waterford that same week and made the arrangements to bring his sons body back to his family and his home town. Mr Lee was described as a manager of Ogston’s (a soap factory). A service was held at St Andrew’s Church and Louis was buried at Trinity Cemetery.
The wording on the Lee headstone. Via Pat Black of Aberdeen
As regards his memorial stone, I’ve heard two differing accounts of its origins. One that it was locally organised and paid for under the auspices of the Commissioners.  However newspaper accounts did state that in early March of 1897 Louis’ father wrote to the board asking for permission to erect a memorial marble tablet to remember his son. This was initially welcomed because a further letter was received on the 18th March outlining some ideas re its design and seeking further information from the Commissioners. At this point the Board seems to have balked, stating concern about precedent and concern that what was suggested could perhaps be an interference to trade. 
I don’t know the exact details of when or who decided on the present stone, but it was cut into the quay wall, where it stood until the extension of the quay and the building of the bus station. It’s obvious the stone was damaged at some point it this process and why it should be set into a footpath is beyond me. Perhaps like me, those who were responsible at the time had no notion of Louis or what his loss meant to the city.  But that doesn’t mean we have to allow such a neglect to continue.

I have had a lot of help in pulling this story together as I had made an appeal via twitter and facebook for further information. Tomás Sullivan, Eoin Nevins, Brendan Grogan, Jamie O’Keeffe.  In Aberdeen I got extra information via Pat Black, Pat Newman and Julie at the Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums.

The following newspapers were accessed for information :
Evening Herald. Thursday 4th Feb 1897 page 2
The Waterford Standard. Saturday Feb 6th 1897 page 3, Feb 10th page 3, April 14th page 3,
Aberdeen Press and Journal. Feb 10th 1897 page 2
Munster Express Dec 14th 1956

* Another newspaper gave the cargo at 9,700 tons, which I thought too large, but open to correction.
** A later account by Thomas Drohan in the Munster Express was of the opinion that the ships company went ashore that night to toast Louis’ departure to navigation school and that he stayed behind when they returned to ship.
If you like this, here’s some other links from a different perspective that I think you will enjoy


I publish a blog about Waterford harbours maritime heritage each Friday.  
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The wreck of the SS Hermoine

There was plenty of drama along the Irish coast in the First World War, some of which was directly played out in the harbour, whilst others eventually washed up, or in this case was towed into, the harbour.  One such story is of the SS Hermione, a saga that continued to create problems long after the savagery of war had passed
The S.S. Hermione, originally called the Yarrawonga was almost 360 feet long, 4,011 tons and was  launched in 1891 by J.L. Thompson and Sons, Sunderland. She was purchased from the Blue Anchor Line by R.P. Houston & Company, (The British & South American Steam Navigation Co) Liverpool in 1903, renamed and used for transatlantic trade between Liverpool and the Argentine carrying frozen meat.
SS Hermione in better days.  Brendan Grogan collection
The Hermione was requisitioned by the British Admiralty in WW1. Whilst sailing from Liverpool to Buenos Aries in April of 1917, carrying general cargo including 57 horses, she became another statistic of the war.  She was badly damaged approx. 1½ miles south of the Coningbeg rocks, off Co. Wexford, by a mine which was laid by the German submarine, UC33.  Three sailors lost their lives, but I’m not clear as yet whether it was because of the mine, or her foundering (presumably the former).
She was towed into Waterford Harbour by an escort ship, HMS Daffodil and was anchored off Ardnamult Head (Ard na Moilt) above Dunmore East.  Whilst there she sank on 14th April 1917. But this was not before in a very capable act of seamanship, Captain Spillane of the Clyde ship SS Arklow (previously SS Dunbrody of the Waterford Steamship Co) managed to come alongside in hazardous sea conditions and remove the horses.*
HMS Daffodil © IWM (FL 9965)
It would appear the wreck caused immediate problems for shipping and navigation (and was probably not a great help to fishermen either). An article in the local papers of July 1917 stated that Mr Watt of the Clyde Shipping Co had complaints from the masters of their steamers about the position of the wreck and claimed it was a hazard to shipping.  The Harbour Commissioners obviously agreed, as they were in the process of placing a whistling and lighted buoy over the wreck, having secured it from the Commissioners for Irish Lights.  In November that same year ads appear in several papers looking for a salvage operator to remove the impediment to shipping.(1)
SS Hermione at her final resting place.  Brendan Grogan collection
It turned into a long running saga however. A follow up court case of 1935 taken by the Harbour Commissioners against the British & South American Steam Navigation Co seeks a settlement of almost £6000 for marking the wreck and salvage costs.(2)  We learn of a number of failed efforts to get a salvor for the wreck including a contract in 1925 which ended when the contractor died. A follow up contract secured in 1928(3) we read was successful.  However, payment was outstanding to Waterford Harbour Commissioners, and from what I have read thus far, it appears it may have remained so.
An advert from 1917 (4)
As an interesting aside the Munster Express carried a report of the opening of a new maritime Museum in Waterford in December 1978.  One of the exhibits at Central Hall on Parade Quay was described as “2 wooden spoked wheels six feet in diameter from the SS Hermione salvaged in 1932 and donated by the Waterford Harbour Commissioners”(5) What I wouldn’t give to still have a Maritime Museum with us here in our area!
Update 20/11/2023:  Found this interesting piece on the claim for salvage by HMS Daffodil
(1) Waterford News & Star Friday 20th July 1917 page 2
(2) The Waterford Standard Saturday 3rd August 1935 page 11
(3) I did find advertisements in the papers of 1928, however Brendan Grogan has his grandfather’s diaries which show a date 1932 for the break up and removal.
(4) The Belfast Newsletter 24th Nov 1917 page 1
(5) Munster Express 29th December 1978 page 15
* added following publication 20/9/2018 from The Clyde Shipping Company. Frank P Murphy. Decises #38 Summer 1988 p29
I got the initial information about the SS Hermione from a post by Brendan Grogan on the Waterford Maritime History facebook page which sent me off looking for more background to the story.  I’m indebted to Brendan for the ship photos and his ongoing support.
I publish a blog about Waterford harbours maritime heritage each Friday.
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The Sparkling Wave dilema

Generally, ships in distress receive a welcome in any port, but this was not so with the Liverpool barque Sparkling Wave. For the ship was carrying an explosive cargo, of such a quantity, the city fathers of Waterford could not permit her into their port for fear of the safety of the town.

Recently we covered a report from the News and Star of 1862, which chronicled a series of shipping disasters and misadventures along the coast of Waterford and Wexford. At least six ships were known to have perished but many more sustained damage, necessitating repairs.  One such vessel was the barque Sparkling Wave.

The Sparking Wave was a new ship which had been launched the previous September, was 130 feet long and 432 tons*.  Under Captain Frazer she had departed Liverpool for the port of Old Calabar, in present day Nigeria before running into the storm. She was owned by MP Thomas Horsfall of Liverpool, a family with a long time connection in shipping between their home port and Africa.  As she battled ferocious waves and mountainous seas her mainmast broke and her bowsprit snapped.  Close to the Hook, the Master nursed his stricken vessel to Creaden Head where he managed to shelter.(1)

When the weather moderated the ship requested entry to the port as a refit was necessary.  She was towed up as far Passage, where the Coast Guard (the newspaper states it was the Arthurstown Coast Guard) telegraphed the city with the alarming news that along with general cargo, the ship had no less than 800 quarter casks of gunpowder aboard.(2)
What could have occurred, Liverpool docks 1864
Accessed from http://blog.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/2007/04/maritime-tales-terror-of-the-lottie-sleigh/
The ship was held in the lower harbour, and it was subsequently discussed at the quarterly meeting of the Corporation in the Council Chamber of City Hall.  The Mayor, William Johnson, assumed the chair of what was obviously a strained meeting.  On the one hand they could not ignore a vessel in distress, but the usual anchorages between Cheekpoint and Passage East were crowded with shipping at the time.  If she came into Waterford Port, it would not just be shipping that would be in peril, but the city itself. Consideration was given to removing the cargo, however, it was determined no magazine of suitable size was available in the city to store it. Eventually, it was decided that the ship would be towed to Fox’s Hole, below the city where repairs could be made. It must have been a tense debate, but I wonder did some consider the precautions too severe because the paper notes “The Council, generally, expressed their satisfaction that his worship had exercised so wise a discretion” (3)
Fox’s Hole from an 1830s chart of Waterford, seen on the Kilkenny side of the River Suir just above Little Island.
With thanks to Frank Ronan
The following week it’s reported that a new mast had arrived from Liverpool and was already fitted.  (As an aside, one wonders why they would not have had the repairs made in Waterford, given that the required skills and materials must have been readily available. Although it does highlight the promptness of the trade between the city and Liverpool at the time) The report concludes, perhaps with a hint of relief, that the barque will be soon underway.(4)  It may have been good news for Waterford, but a curious line in a previous news report, suggests it might not be good news for everyone; “A strong impression prevails that the cargo on board the Sparkling Wave will reach the rebels ‘of the Confederate States’.”  A story to be uncovered perhaps.

* Lloyds Registar
 (1) Waterford News and Star 31.01.1862, page 3
(2) Waterford News 9th Feb 1862 page 3
(3) ibid
(4) Waterford News 14th Feb 1862. Page 3

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Russianside shock

As the Irish Russian diplomatic tensions deepen, it came as a complete shock to the tiny neighbourhood of the Russianside, Cheekpoint, Co Waterford, to learn that they were to face mass deportation over the Easter weekend.

News of the deportation broke on Thursday when a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs speaking to Six One news announced a clean sweep of what was described as a “notorious Russian enclave”  Since that time the lane has been closed off, no one allowed to enter or leave without facing rigorous checks by the Gardai.

The Crossroads Cheekpoint, this morning

Staff at the Russian embassy seemed genuinely confused when asked to comment on the move. In a follow up email from a Russianside native, asking for some support a terse reply was received demanding that they use the mother tongue in any further correspondence.

Locals have worked tirelessly to try contact and clarify the situation with elected officials. Waterfords TD’s have all been contacted but to no avail. John Deasy is understood to be now living in Washington.  Mary Butler wasn’t available as her schedule over Easter, that includes being seen at every mass in the Comeragh electoral area, is too packed.  David Cullinane told them to feck right off, still stung by not even receiving a second preference from the area in the last election.

However John Halligan TD (a renowned negotiator) is now believed to have brokered a deal with residents of the lane, at a meeting on Easter Saturday in the local Reading Room. They claim that the problems have all arose with a ridiculous blogger named Doherty aka russiansider who has blogged at russianside.blogspot.ie since 2014, and got right ahead of himself recently when he published a book called Before the Tide Went Out. Speaking on behalf of the residents on WLR FM, Kate Cunningham said “serve him right to be deported, the arrogant git, couldn’t leave well enough alone”

Doherty, it is understood, will be handed over to officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs on Monday at the Cross roads, the traditional border checkpoint separating the Russianside from the rest of Cheekpoint.

Just where he go’s after that we are not sure, but the sincere wish of local residents is that it is no where with access to broadband.

I publish a blog about Waterford harbours maritime heritage each Friday.  
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