Maintaining Dunmore East Harbour

For this latest guest blog, I’m delighted to welcome back David Carroll, who shares more memories of his childhood in Dunmore East in the 1950’s & 60’s. In a similar vein to his previous blog on the village, and his recollection of the ship wreck of the St Austell, David gives us a no nonsense account of the village at the time, the geography, characters and what life was like on a daily basis. I’m sure you will enjoy it.
A recent visit to the National Maritime Museum of Ireland, based in the Mariners Church, Haigh Terrace, Dun Laoghaire brought memories flooding back of my idyllic childhood spent living in the harbour at Dunmore East.  They were triggered by a photograph of a diver, his helmet and diving suit. The information panel beside it included the following:
“Bob Lewis. A diver and stonemason with the Board of Works in Dun Laoghaire Harbour for more than 38 years, Bob Lewis was the last person to use this diving suit. His pump man was Michael John Molony. Lewis would not allow or trust anyone else to do the job. At the time there was no phone to speak with the surface. The diver had to signal with a series of pulls on a rope known as a life-line.”

However, it was not only at Dun Laoghaire harbour that Bob Lewis worked as a diver, he also came to Dunmore East. Both harbours came under the auspices of the Office of Public Works (O.P.W.) or the Board of Works as it was also called. Howth harbour was another and along with Ardglass and Donaghadee in Northern Ireland, these five harbours were designated as Royal Harbours before partition.
In the 1950s, a great deal of repair work was carried out on the foundations of the Dunmore East pier at the back of the lighthouse. Bob Lewis did all the underwater work. As the photograph below shows, work was also done in the harbour, particularly around the steps near the lighthouse. Here, a crowd would gather to watch, including myself. Once the diver went below the surface, there was not a whole lot to see but this did not deter sightseers still looking on.     
Diver Lewis preparing to dive.  Photo credit Theo Harris
The photo captures Bob Lewis and his support crew preparing to dive from the pontoon at the lighthouse steps in the harbour. The man in the cap must be his trusted pump man Michael John Molony and also assisting on the deck of the pontoon is Connie Fancy Power from Portally. The man in the shirtsleeves is Stephen Mullally from Killea. The man under the canopy, with the white shirt collar is, I am almost certain, Patsy Fancy Power from Killea, brother of Connie.
The author, David Carroll, standing
Beside the diving suit. 
The ‘Passage and Dunmore Jottings’ from the Munster Express(1) of 1955 reported as follows:  “Harbour Pier Repairs. The harbour pier at Dunmore East, which has been undermined by the sea, will shortly undergo repairs by the Board of Works. Stones and concrete are being pressed into holes’ and crevices.”
What I remember about Bob Lewis is that he was what I would call now, a very austere person. This, I suppose, was not surprising considering the dangerous nature of his work. Another thing, that I can recall, is that he always insisted staying, while working in Dunmore, with George and Maisie Roche.
A little bit like the certainties in life, death and taxes, there were two things that were certain about my childhood growing in Dunmore each summer. One was that the kittiwakes always came back and the SS Sisyphus, the Board of Works bucket dredger would turn up! In reality, it probably did not come to dredge the harbour every year but it always felt as if it was always present in the harbour during summer months.

S.S. Sisyphus at Helvick, Co. Waterford.   Photo credit- Waterford Co. Museum
The poor old Sisyphus was a much-unloved vessel. It had a different type of operation than the Portlairge that dredged in the Port of Waterford. The Sisyphus had a system of buckets linked by chain that lowered down through the bow and the mud was lifted, somewhat inefficiently, into the buckets and deposited in the hold as they turned over.  The Sisyphus was of course a steam ship and I can clearly recall looking at clouds of smoke, through my father’s binoculars, bellowing from the funnel as it came around Hook Head making its way towards Dunmore.
When the dredger worked in the harbour, it was a chaotic scene. A myriad of cables were laid in all directions from the ship to the shore keeping the vessel in place.  The clattering sound of the buckets was deafening in the harbour and, needless to say, lots of dirty smoke filled the air.
Sisyphus at Dunmore accessed from and repaired by Brendan Grogan
The master of the Sisyphus was called Kelly and he was from Arklow. However, the rest of the crew were from Dun Laoghaire. One of the mates was a big man called Maguire and he was a keen soccer fan. He came to Kilcohan Park one Sunday with my father and myself to see Waterford play and he introduced me to one my heroes, Tommy Taylor, the Waterford goalkeeper. I was absolutely thrilled as this was the first time that I had actually met a footballer in person. Tommy Taylor’s work had often brought him to Dun Laoghaire harbour where he had got to know some of the dredger crew.
At the end of the summer, there was always great consultation between the master of the dredger and my father, the Harbour Master, as regards weather forecasts. The dredger would not sail unless the sea was flat calm and the forecast for the following days was good as well.  The dredger had been built on the Clyde in 1905 but looked very old and decrepit by the 1950s. She never looked like a vessel that could withstand a battering at sea. The Sisyphus remained in service until sometime in the 1970s. Apart from a photograph of the crew of the Sisyphus, no artefacts are on display in the National Maritime Museum. An engine from another O.P.W. dredger, Saxifrage was preserved and is on display but sadly, the Sisyphus ended up in the scrapyard of Hammond Lane Foundry.
The efficiency and productivity of the Sisyphus was put into context a few year later, in 1963, when the W.D. Seven Seas, a suction dredger arrived in Waterford Harbour from the U.K. to dredge Duncannon Bar.  The contrast between the two vessels could not be greater. My father told me at the time the Seven Seas would dredge the entire Dunmore harbour in a single day.


At a later stage we will return with David to the Dunmore of his era with a look at the visitors that came to the port at the time.  I want to sincerely thank David for this mornings piece and also, as it happens, his regular correspondence and support in promoting the harbour area.  Next months guest blog will come to us from Catherine Foley, with an excerpt from her new book “Beyond the Breakwater”.  Regulars will enjoy it I know, particularly those with Passage East connections. 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  All I ask is that the subject matter be linked in some way to the maritime heritage of the three sisters or the coast on either side, and 1200 words approx.  I will source photos and links to the piece and promote via my usual channels.

(1) Munster Express 19 June 1955

Thanks to Brian Ellis for his support to David with this piece.  Brian works voluntarily with the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire. 

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The Faithlegg “dungeon”

We often fear what we don’t know, have never experienced or what is new and different. As free ranging children of the 1970’s one of the more mysterious and fear inducing encounters must have been in what was then called the “Oak Woods” but what is now part of Faithlegg Golf Club.
The Oak Wood was part of the Cornelius Bolton’s Faithlegg estate planted in the late 18th C. It was partially felled when the estate was sold to the De La Salle brothers in 1936 and they in turn cleared the last of it during the Emergency. A plantation of pine trees had grown thick and dense over the area by the time I was a youngster.
Part of the old roadway network in the community took you through the woods, which traversed the Marsh and the Glen. It continued via a laneway, skirting the boundary on the right of the present Park Rangers football club, into the woods. The road twisted and turned through a canopy of densely planted pine, that allowed precious little light in and the broken dagger like lower branches tended to keep you on the main tracks. As you emerged out, you came to the pill that separated Faithlegg from Ballycanvan which was crossed by a flat, functional and nondescript bridge and we could walk to Woodlands avenue and on as we pleased.
The Ice House as it is today, Blenheim (L) and the Island is the background
On one such venture we came across a strange squat building that was off the path, but was situated in a clearance that allowed the sun to shine down and ferns, briars, moss and furze to grow. Such discoveries generally filled me with a sense of excitement and curiosity. But this building was something beyond my normal experience, beyond my comprehension and it made me cautious. As we walked around the structure we came to a dark and foreboding doorway, into which you could peer, but no light penetrated. Stealing close there was pushing and shoving, jerring and jostling, dares and nervous laughter.
Faithlegg Ice House looking east
At the doorway a dank smell filled our nostrils.  Ivy clad and with cobwebs abounding we tried to clear these to allow more light to penetrate.  What we could now faintly make out was an arched tunnel which led to a square hole in a back wall. Discussions were had, dares were made, until eventually one by one we stepped inside. Within the edges of  red brick were smoothed with age and they curved in an arch. Stealing forward towards the end wall we were grough to a halt by the chill and darkness.  Should we enter this? Feeling inside we touched nothing but cool air, a void, a black hole if ever there was one.

the passage way and the chamber door at the rear
“What the hell is it lads?” And from there our imaginations ran riot and with it the fears again.  Was there something or someone lurking within?.  How deep was it?, how far did it go on? and then a shout and a mad scramble with hearts thumping and our heads filled with irrational fears we barged towards the safety of the daylight.

Community notice

Once calmed by the freedom of the fresh air we began speculating again and of course our imaginations ran riot.  The very familiar topic of the Faithlegg tunnels came to the fore, surely it was a secret tunnel connecting to the old church, the castle or the big house.  Maybe it even ran the whole way to the Hurthill or the Wexford side of the harbour.  
My father of course had another twist on it, a dungeon where the bold children of Faithlegg were kept or servants that were found to be not doing their job right at the big house. The story when related to the lads got serious consideration and it had great appeal.  Eventually when we got back there, it was with matches and newspaper and more familiar now, we marched up to the building and entered without hesitation.  However we were struck dumb by the pit that was exposed when the paper was lit, and the depth and extent of a pit was exposed. If any of us had been foolhardy to go through the hole previously we might have easily broke a limb in the fall, and we certainly would not have made it back out without a ladder. I often shuddered at the thought of being stuck in that pit.
I’m not certain when I first learned that it was an Ice house used by Faithlegg House. The purpose of the Ice House was to store perishable food and to have ice available in the presentation of food and chilled wines. In effect if the larder was the fridge of the time, the ice house was the freezer. Items such as fish, poultry and game could be suspended from the ceiling. These would not freeze as such, but be chilled to prolong their freshness. They are uncommon, an intriguing design and the Faithlegg structure is beautifully preserved and an excellent example. I’ve written about the workings of it before.

Today the Ice House is a feature on Faithlegg golf course.  And most recently it has been added to the story of the hotel as it is used as a brand for their in-house larger brewed by Metalman Brewery. When asked recently in an interview for a corporate video, shot by Hi-Lite TV, which will be used to showcase the Faithlegg Hotel internationally what my favorite feature of Faithlegg was, I had no hesitation.  Still a boy, filled with a wild imagination and curiosity, even the reality of it does not detract. The Ice House is and will always be my own personal favourite part of Faithlegg.

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Gallivanting to Ballyhack 1978

Last week I visited Ballyhack Castle in Co Wexford with my wife Deena.  It was a bit of a day out, and most enjoyable as the sun shone, entry to the castle was free and neither of us had a care in the world on a welcome day off for us both.  Later I posted about it on Facebook which drew a huge reaction, and it got me thinking.  Firstly, there is so much available to us to see and do, that is literally under our feet.  All it needs is a bit of planning.  But it also got me to reminiscing about my first visit to the “hackers” when I was only a garsún and what an adventure it was.
I think it was 1978 when on a bright and clear Saturday, Jimmy Duffin announced that we would go for an adventure.  Jimmy was a year or two older and basically whatever Jimmy decided was right and fine by us.  So we set off up the High Road, along the Coolbunnia Road, over the Hurthill and down to Passage East.  On the main quay Jimmy hoisted a flag on a short pole, and there we waited. In our company was William Elliott and Michael Duffin. I can’t recall if anyone else had come along, but if they did it would have been Michael Moran and Brendan Foley.
Ballyhack circa 1970 courtesy of Brendan Grogan

According to Jimmy, he’d been over to visit his auntie Anne (White) and her family dozens of times, hoisting the flag was the method by which you called over the ferry to cross the expanse of water that separates Waterford from Wexford, Munster from Leinster. I have to admit I had my doubts.  Standing on the quay, feet shifting nervously, conscious that the “sharks” of Passage didn’t take kindly to us Cheekpoint lads coming into their patch (not that it would any different if reversed), disparagingly referred to as “mudlarks” by some or shortened to “pointers” by most. Voicing my concern Jimmy was all bravado, shur wasn’t his cousins the Heffernans of Passage and everyone knew Sean Heffernan would break them in two if the looked crooked at his younger cousin.

Eventually, a boat was seen to depart from Ballyhack quay and as the half decker without even a cabin pulled in to Passage a soft capped man called up to ask would we risk setting sail with him.  Before we were in and settled Jim Roche had the measure of us, our parents and all belonging to us, and he chatted away about sailors and fishermen he had known from Cheekpoint, and of course he knew all our fathers.  I have no recollection of payment, the reality is we would not have had much between us.

Community Notice Board
Don’t forget the Beat the Ferryman event Saturday 23rd June.  As good a spectacle as anything you will see, and a great day out.  Cheekpoint Fun day takes part the following day Sunday June 24th.

In Ballyhack we wandered around like lost souls.  Apparently there was a football match on, and the village was practically empty. I can only remember that we tried to get access to the castle but it was barred to us and inhospitable looking. One other memory  stands out of the day, as we met a lovely man with a jackdaw named “Jack” who asked after us and made us feel right at home.  Maria Doyle told me during the week that this was Muck King, and that working in the OPW he often came across a hurt jackdaw, which he adopted and nursed back to health. He had a succession of such birds, all named Jack! She remembered one such bird that Muck fashioned a helmet for from a golf ball, which travelled everywhere with him on the handlebars of his Honda 50.
Deena getting some fascinating info from Bob Doyle on other off the beaten track sites to visit.
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Arriving home that evening in the 1970’s I must have presented a tired, bedraggled and hungry sight in the Mount Avenue. Coming in the gate my father, who was in the front garden, asked where I had been and laughed to himself when I answered.  My mother hearing us came out, I suppose she had been worried, but it of course never entered me head.  “Where we ya” she asked.  “The buckos went gallivanting to Ballyhack” was all me father had to say before he cleared off to let me mother do the chastisement.  He was probably making a mental note of the large bottle he would owe Jim Roche the next time they met on the high stool.

Last week Deena and I needed to raise no flag as the present Passage East Ferry sails like clockwork between the two villages, in everything except the most exceptional of weathers. For €2 pp we walked on and off and this time Ballyhack Castle was open to the public, fully restored and really a gem of tower house to visit.  It’s free and is open Saturday-Wednesday all summer from 9.30-5pm. Bob Doyle, Maria’s brother in law, is one of the guides, and if you like talking history, you’ll enjoy a chat with Bob.

Thanks to Maria Doyle, who grew up with Ballyhack castle in her garden, for helping me with the details of this piece.  Maria’s mam, Anne White nee Fortune (RIP) was Jimmy’s aunt and, coincidentally, a great friend of my grandmothers.

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Visiting Minaun Hill

One of the most beautiful views, and quieter walks that you will find in in East Waterford is the Minaun, overlooking the Meeting of the Three Sisters and with panoramas over the counties of the SE, down the harbour and out to the Saltee Islands.  My mother told me that as a child she remembered “townies” walking out to take the view on Sunday afternoons.  And indeed visitors have a long history. The earliest I know of is Arthur Young, who stayed with local landlord, Cornelius Bolton, in the 18th Century.
Young wrote; “…rode with Mr Bolton (jnr) to Faithlegg hill, which commands one of the best views I have seen in Ireland” he then goes on to give a detailed geographical description which you can read online if you wish (page 409 to be specific).  Returning after two years he again “…visited this enchanting hill, and walked to it, day after day, from Ballycanvan, and with increasing pleasure.”(1)
In a previous blog I carried an account of victorian era day trippers coming to the village and climbing to the Minaun to take the views. Interesting to note, because it was then used as a fox covert by the Power’s of Faithlegg House. A covert was an area of ground set aside that foxes could find shelter and thrive…all the more for the Faithlegg Harriers to chase on their hunts.
As children the Minaun was a regular play space, particularly on Sunday afternoon walks with our mother. There were several spots that we visited and my own favourite was the round piece of stone, where local tradition had it the Knights of the round table met.  We would play at King Arthur, with swords and shields and talk like the actors such as Robert Taylor, familiar to us from the black and white movies on RTE on Sunday afternoons .
Another rock feature was shaped like a loaf of bread or other times we called it a grave, holding one of the knights that had fallen in battle. The memory was brought back to me as an adult when I read T.F. O’Sullivans book Goodly Barrow.(2)  In it he relates how according to legend the Fianna used the Minaun in their defence of Leinster and so important was it to their leader Fionn Mac Cumhaill that he deputised a son, Cainche Corcardhearg, to wait in watch as protector of his realm.  Apparently he lives below the ground…lying in wait! He must be sleeping soundly…any number of invaders have swept past him in the intervening years!
As we headed down from the Minaun we came to the old stump which was all that remained of a cross. My mother knew the story well. Her uncle Christy Moran and his wife (the driving force) Katie Doherty had asked Chris Sullivan to make the cross. I was always told it was done to mark the Marian Year, 1954.  However the cross was erected in 1950 which was a holy year announced by Pope Pius XII (which I know courtesy of Blob the Scientist).  Katie went door to door to pay for the timber and although people had little enough they paid what they could, perhaps because they were a little afraid of her.  Katie had a reputation for religious fervour.
My father told me about the day it was brought up.  The boys of the area had been rounded up by Katie and no excuses would be heard.  She had them hoist the cross onto their backs and then encouraged and cajoled them up the road from Coolbunnia to where the school now is, then up onto the Minaun to the summit.  As they went Katie played her malodian box and sang religious hymns. My father often joked that the only difference between themselves and Jesus was that Katie spared them the crown of thorns.
Moran family early 1950’s with Tramore in the distance (honest!)
From Ann Moran via her son Brian (USA)
One of the big differences now, to when I was a child, is the lack of the clear views. Then you could have a full 360 view from the summit including Waterford, South Tipp, Kilkenny, Wexford and Carlow.  But alas the trees that were planted have now obscured much of the view. According to my godmother, Elsie Murphy, the Minaun was sold by the Land Commission to the Forestry Commission as 1958.  The trees were subsequently planted in 1968/9 we think.

The one mystery is where the name Minaun came from.  As you can see Young referred to it as Faithlegg Hill, and the article from 1850 calls it simply the Hill of Cheekpoint or again Faithlegg Hill. However when Canon Power visited we know the name was in use. And locally I’ve never heard it referred to anything but the Minaun. Sourcing the origins of placenames in the area has long been a source of difficulties however.   I’ve certainly struggled with the Minaun placename before.

Whatever the name, or the purpose, i think its likely the Minaun will continue to see use by visitors for many years to come. And even if not, I will certainly get enjoy its history and its views. And if you want more encouragement, here’s a short video from Mark at Waterford Epic Locations to whet the appetite

(1) Arthur Young.  “A Tour in Ireland 1776-1779”  reprinted 1970.  Irish University Press Shannon

(2) TF O’Sullivan.  “Goodly Barrow, A Voyage on an Irish River” 2001 Lilliput Press Dublin

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Cheekpoint Fairy Tale?

I was often chided for my romantic notions of the Cheekpoint name deriving from the fairy folk, the Sidhe.  However in recent months strong, albeit circumstantial, evidence is coming to the surface that those of us with romantic notions may not be totally without support.
I wrote previously about the place name of Cheekpoint.  To reprise it now, there are those with a geographic bent, who consider it the point of the streaks, referring to the currents and eddies created as the three rivers flow over the rock that is to this day know as the Sheag rock.  Whilst others like myself are inclined towards the Point of the Sidhe or fairies.
Now the evidence for the fairies was always circumstantial.  Stories of fairy folk were legion in the community that I was reared in, fairy rings still exist, and few but the foolish or unwary would interfere with them. When fishing at night I was warned about particular gaps on the Russianside lane, that I was best to hurry past and certainly not stop if any voices tried to engage me. Of course the most magical event I have ever seen is the Sí Gaoith, an occurrence I have witnessed several times, by the most exciting and spectacular with my son Joel while fishing in the late 1990’s.
I had also mentioned the fabled Cesair, and it is to her that I now return.  Now Cesair has as many versions of her life (and spelling of her name) as there are internet links. Many interconnecting points are present however which boil down to a lady of immense courage who before the flood set sail in three ships, with three men and 150 women.  They wandered the oceans until they arrived in Ireland and the three groups broke up and set to populating Ireland. Her band are referred to as the Sidhe, and over the millennia this has become tied into fairy folk and leprechauns.  I’d linked the landing point of the Sidhe to Cheekpoint, although I’m sure many thought me misguided.
Meeting of the Three Sisters, from the Minaun, Drumdowney Kilkenny on the left opposite bank,
Great Island Co Wexford on the left

However last summer an academic gathering at Kilmokea, Great Island  put weight behind this theory, albeit on the opposite bank. As foundation myths go, the location is very plausible, strategically placed with abundant access via the three sister rivers to the hinterland of the SE.

What for me is a related argument in any foundation myth is evidence of early settlement in an area.  Evidence already exists of the oldest known settlement in the South East being at Ballylough beside Belle Lake on the road to Dunmore East.  Destroyed promontory forts such as at Dunmore also confirm early settlement, although of a later era. Again more evidence is emerging, this time due to the efforts of the redoubtable Noel McDonagh at Creaden Head near the mouth of the harbour.  
The linking of an early foundation myth with physical evidence of, potentially, Ireland’s earliest known settlement is still of course speculation.  But as Noel’s evidence builds and academic interest in exploring the foundation story develop, its a case of watch this space.  
I’m conducting a free guided walk this coming Bank Holiday Monday from Cheekpoint quay, departing at 5pm.  Its 2km, over rough ground and will concentrate on the villages maritime heritage. We will arrive back at 6.30pm.  Details on my facebook event page

For a flavour of the walk, here’s a piece from Mark at Waterford Epic Locations depicting our Bank Holiday walk Easter 2017 along the Faithlegg Marsh. If you haven’t seen Marks page already treat yourself, what a stunning area Waterford is! And don’t forget to like and subscribe for more of Marks great video content

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