Great Western weathers the storm

A few weeks back I published a story of the Great Western and what it meant in the Waterford area.  Each story that I publish generally gets a response, an email or two, comments on the blog, facebook comments and messages.  But the story of the Great Western really hit a nerve and this weeks guest blog is prompted by one email in particular which I will come to momentarily. 

It’s difficult to pick a few remarks out of the many that I received, but if I must then fellow villager, Helen Barry, sent me a lovely photo and clipping of her uncle Michael Heffernan which I think might make another blog.  Michael, of course, went on to be the last captain of the dredger Portlairge.  My cousin, Captain Jim Murphy, from Crooke originally but now living in Liverpool, sent me on a lovely piece about going to sea on the Great Western.  Eiblis Howlett sent on a memory of coming to Ireland on her summer holidays and how her dad on seeing the harbour as she sailed up to the city in the morning time would recite the John Locke poem “The Exiles Return, or Morning on the Irish coast” O, Ireland! isn’t grand you look— Like a bride in her rich adornin ! With all the pent-up love of my heart I bid you the top of the morning !

The Great Western shortly after coming on the Fishguard – Waterford run in 1934
Photo courtesy of Frank Cheevers. Waterford Maritime History group

But of all the replies I got one stood out as it was a childhood memory of an incident of 1954 from Owen Paddy O Grady. Paddy, who lives in Germany, is one of those long term (heading to year five would you believe) blog followers who occasionally sends me an email. (It keeps me encouraged and reminds me that people from all over the world are now part of the tidesandtales community). I suppose what captured my imagination about Paddy’s piece is that I could almost see myself in his shoes as a young lad in the city, knocking around the quays, gazing at the comings and goings of the many dozens of ships that would have then populated the city on a weekly basis. Part of me believes many of those who read the blog will identify with that too, so here’s Paddy’s account of a terrible storm of November 1954.

Your latest Blog on the Great Western reminded me of an episode of the past which, at the time made me shiver. Here´s the story in my best old Waterford english: Waterford was, in my youth, frequently visited in the Autumn, at Christmas-time, and in further Winter times by hard storms. But one that I will always remember was the storm in November 1954 which traversed over the south and south east of Ireland and further eastwards towards Wales and of course, the port of Fishguard.

On the 27.11.1954 we heard, on the radio, of problems of the tanker World Concord in “the channel” which eventually broke in two. What we further heard was (via radio and my fathers “connections”) that the Rosslare lifeboat had been launched. It later transpired that the Rosslare boat had already taken crew members off  another troubled freight ship and then went on to the assistance of the sailors on one of the tanker sections. As the life boat, at this time, was on duty for a very long period (30 hours), it actually ran very low on fuel – or out of fuel –  and had to be refuelled or towed back by a fishing boat

WORLD CONCORD, the Liberian Tanker, which broke in two during heavy gales in the Irish Sea on 27 November 1954. The ship was only ten miles off the Pembrokeshire Coast when she broke in two. In little more than half an hour the two halves drifted a considerable distance apart. Copyright: © IWM (A 33078) . Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205163741

The actuall run of things were never reported in Waterford by the papers or our “connections”. The Storm prevailed, if I can recollect correctly, for at least 3 days and 3 nights and word came round that there was no radio contact to OUR Great Western, which was under way to Waterford,  and that she was long overdue.

We were all very worried but she eventually appeared on the Suir several hours behind schedule and docked successfully. My father gave me the good news at dinner time (13.00 hours) and I immediately cycled to the Adelphi quay to satisfy myself that she WAS “in”.

What I saw was a battered Great Western tied up, no crew members; no passengers or any stevedores were to be seen on deck or on the jetty. It was a complete silent situation in and around the ship. But the Western was there and the crew had obviously been left to sleep off their ordeal. I can very well remember the damage I saw:  the gunnel on the starboard side, forward of the bridge, was Flat WITH THE DECK !! What the port side was like I could not see. Also a number, if not all, of the ventilation cowls were missing and there was almost no rigging in place, which was probably the reason for the loss of radio contact.

Community Notice. I’m happy to promote any event that is heritage focused, subject to space, that fits with the page mission to promote the maritime heritage of the three sister rivers and the harbour area.

We later heard that the captain had decided to ride out the storm as opposed to taking the risk of navigating safely into the harbour mouth with heavy southerly seas up his stern. That`s just one of my Great Western recollections which may be of some interest to you.

My Grandparents and parents had a hairdressers shop at 133 the quay which was beside Reginald’s Tower where the Viking remade boat stands. Our father was very friendly with the crews and captains of Western and the Clyde boats and was consequently  “well informed” Our family had past connections with Waterford shipping in that our grandparents sailed their “freighters of the time” to and from various English ports and the south coast harbours of Ireland.

To give a sense of the storm the Great Western had just endured a report from the Liverpool Echo on the 27th reported on the ferocity of the Irish Sea that night of the 26th and into the 27th.  The World Concord is reported as having broke apart and her crew in great peril.  (It would later emerge that her two sections had remained afloat and had drifted apart, the 35 crew on the aft section were rescued by the St Davids lifeboat and later that day the crew of the Rosslare lifeboat found the bow section.  She stood by the hull and the seven men aboard all through the night affecting a rescue the following morning and after a hair raising transfer from the jacobs ladder to the deck of the heaving lifeboat, they dropped the survivors to Holyhead It would be Wednesday of the following week before the Douglas Hyde returned, where a brass band played the “Boys of Wexford” on the quayside in salute to their heroics.[1]).  An unidentified ship was reported as lost off the Lizard and although crew members were spotted in the water and in a lifeboat, none were believed to have survived in the report.  A Dutch tug Humber and the Newhaven lifeboat was standing by an auxiliary sailing ship the Vega which had jettisoned her cargo in an effort to stay afloat.  Meanwhile the crew of the South Goodwin lightship was missing, the lightship had broke her anchors and drifted ashore.[2]   

The  crew of Rosslare Harbour lifeboat Douglas Hyde.
Back row left to right – Dick Duggan, Jim Walsh, Jack Duggan and Paddy Owens.
Front row left to right – Richard Duggan, Coxswain Dick Walsh, Dick Hickey and Jack Wickham.
This photo appears in the Nicholas Leach book, The Lifeboats of Rosslare Harbour and Wexford courtesy of Rosslare Harbour RNLI and via Brian Boyce Rosslare Maritime Heritage Centre.

Although I have tried unsuccessfully to find an account of the journey of the Great Western from the local papers (and thanks to Maurice Power for his assistance too) the only mention I have is that she was overdue by several hours but unharmed by the trip[3].  I hope to source further information soon.  I’d like to thank Barry at Holyhead Maritime Museum and Brian Boyce at Rosslare Maritime Heritage Museum for helping me with sourcing photos. In our guest blog feature next month we travel up the Barrow river in the company of Brian Forristal and meet his forbearers on the banks of the mighty river. Next week I go in search of the Great Lewis.


[1] For a stirring account of the Douglas Hyde rescue see John Power’s book A Maritime History of County Wexford Vo II pp 458-462.  Copies still available from the Rosslare Maritime Heritage Centre

[2] Liverpool Echo – Saturday 27 November 1954; page 8

[3] Waterford News & Star – Friday 3rd December 1954; page 6




[1] Liverpool Echo – Saturday 27 November 1954 page 8

HMS Juno and Stormcock at Waterford 1902

A recent maritime related photo from my cousin James Doherty led me on a rambling search for the ship and her purpose.  We identified her early on as the Stormcock, we knew it was in Waterford , but with precious little other detail as to the purpose of the visit or a date.

tug Stormcock at Waterford 1902 (I think!)

Normally I start searches such as these with a shout out to an intrepid band of online maritime enthusiasts or local history nuts who I can’t even begin to name now that the list is getting so long. But I’m so often embarrassed by the lengths such online friends go to, when I consider the time they put into such queries. So I decided to try go it alone this time with an odd interaction with James.

Google presented a myriad of entries for a Stormcock including several Liverpool based tugs, but nothing presented as clarifying what we had, except a few photos of a similar profiled ship.  The photo we had however, didn’t suggest tug.  The vessel looks too clean and the officers on deck suggested Royal Navy.  There are also a lot of very well dressed men hovering nearby, and aboard, including one lady.  It seems to be a social occasion, an important event rather than a visit by a workboat. 

a close up of a life buoy that yielded a name

The papers were a bit more helpful and the first mention of a tug of this name in Waterford went back to March 1889. What was described as one of the largest and finest sailing vessels that ever entered the port of Waterford had stranded on the Ford (the river where it separates Little Island from Kilkenny).  The ship was the St Charles, of Maine, United States of America. From the description she sounds like she may have been one of the famous Down Easter types, of which the Alfred D Snow would be most familiar to us here in Waterford. Her master was Captain Purington, and she carried a crew of 21.  When she grounded she was being towed by the tug Stormcock of Queenstown, Cork.

The St Charles had left San Francisco on the 16th October 1888 with a cargo of 11,600 quarters of wheat.  Having arrived to Queenstown her cargo was purchased by Messrs White Brothers and Co of Waterford, the brokers being Messrs Matthew Farrell and Son, the Quay, and the United States Consul, Mr William Farrell (a member that firm).  Brendan Grogan has guest blogged on two of the family that would later go on to be highly regarded Harbour Masters. The ship was quickly got off but found to be taking water.[1]  Her cargo was discharged and she later left, towed by the Stormcock for Liverpool.

The chances that this is the occasion which led to the photo being taken is not very plausible however, its doubtful the quality of Waterford would have been aboard for such a working trip.  

A later report however seems much more plausible and I now think this is most likey. The occasion was a Vice regal tour of the coast by the then Lord Lieutenant and the Countess of Dudley.  Along with other dignitaries they had toured the south coast aboard HMS Juno (1895) examining coastal defences, sights of interest and visiting and/or attending social engagements at Glengarriff, Cork City and finally dropping anchor at Dunmore East on Wednesday 29th October 1902.

HMS Juno, Wikipedia public domain

The plan for the day was that what was described as a Royal Navy Tender Stormcock would convey the party up the harbour to the city.   In the city they were to meet the town dignitaries.  The report goes on to say that “…Alderman W G Goff, Jr, Glenville… will place his two motor cars at the disposal of their Excellencies. After lunch with Alderman Goff they will take a drive in the neighbourhood. They will then return the Juno and sleep on board, the Juno meanwhile proceeding Kingstown, which will be reached on Thursday morning. Their Excellencies will then return by special train from Kingstown to Dublin.”[2]

I have to admit that this event tallies very nicely with the image I am looking at. 

The Stormcock as I said is a difficult enough ship to place as there are so many of that name.  The tugs named with cock in the title seem to all relate to the Liverpool Screw Towing and Lighterage Co and associated firms, and appear to have a strong link with the local shipyard of Cammell Laird. (I read online that the company gave a three for the price of two deal on their tug boats at some stage!)

Some of the dignitaries waiting on the quay or aboard. Presumably Mr Davis Goff is the man with the hat, scarf and gloves in the centre.

The most likely vessel I have found is the Stormcock (1877) which was launched by Lairds on 5th December 1877.  In 1882 she was chartered by the Admiralty for naval operations in Egypt, who later purchased the vessel outright.  I presume she was moved around as required and if my guess is right she became a feature in Cork harbour at some point after this. 

Stormcock circa 1885 via Clyde Maritime

The Stormcock played a significant part in the rescue of survivors from the Lusitania, although controversially in one account.  She was one of the first ships to arrive in Queenstown with survivors either onboard or being towed in a line of life boats with another tug Warrior.  However earlier she had intercepted two trawlers who had collected survivors and were on their way into nearby Kinsale.  Commander Shee of the Stormcock ordered the trawlers to stop and transfer the survivors aboard.  This irked the trawlermen no end as they were only a short trip away from Kinsale and the journey upriver to Queenstown would take much longer.  It also annoyed many of the survivors, possibly fearful of further U Boat attacks on a naval vessel.[3]

For anyone local, the annual Daffodil Day Coffee morning takes place this coming Sunday

Funnily enough we have met the ship only recently.  In 1922 she was sold to Samuel Palmer of Cork and was renamed the Morsecock, a ship which featured in the salvage of the SS Valdura off the rocks on Crossfarnoge Point aka the Forlorn at Kilmore Quay.

My thanks to my cousin James Doherty for his assistance with this piece. All errors and conclusions are my own however. James runs the very popular twitter page called Irish Smuggling.


[1] Waterford Standard – Saturday 02 March 1889; page 3

[2] Waterford Standard – Wednesday 29 October 1902; page 3

[3] Nolan.L & Nolan. J.E. Secret Victory. Ireland and the War at Sea 1914-1918.  2009. Mercier Press. Cork

St Patrick’s Day – my first parade

I wrote previously about growing up in Cheekpoint in the 1970’s and how the feast of St Patrick was primarily a religious occasion and a very welcome day off from school, if it fell in mid week.  As I recalled in that piece getting to the nearest St Patricks Day parade, along the quays of Waterford city, was a problem when you didn’t own a car.  We normally traveled by the Suirway bus service, but apart for a service to the church, this didn’t go to town except on a normal Friday and Saturday run.  So generally the day was spent wandering around with our mates, and just enjoying it as a day of rest and a break from our lenten sacrifice.

1969 parade, with a perspective which was close to my own
Photo via Waterford History Site, originally posted by the Munster Express facebook page

But despite all that, we actually did get to a parade one year, and I was so young the details are very hazy.  I was probably six and living in the old cottage in Coolbunnia that looked down on the harbour, a spot where my brother Robert now lives with his family.  My father Bob and brother Robert, (my sisters Kathleen & Eileen were possibly too young to be with us), had walked down to the village after mass.  It may have been to visit our grandfather and his daughter, aunt Ellen or maybe it was just to my fathers aunts shop Molly Doherty at the cross roads, but as we returned up the hill a care rare sight of the time, a car, drew up.

Matt “spoogy” Doherty and his wife Marie called to us through the window and asked if we wanted a lift.  They had their daughters aboard the car, and were heading to the parade.  My father thought he meant to the house, and said it was alright, we’d walk.  But Matt and Marie meant the parade, and after a short deliberation, we piled into the back with the girls.  I don’t remember who was there, but like ourselves the Doherty girls were steps of stairs; Eileen, Mary, Bernadette, Gladys and Jacinta. 

The statue of Luke Wadding in place, it was erected in 1947 and was since removed to Greyfriars and replaced by a statue to TF Meagher. Postcard from authors collection.

I have no recollection of the car trip, but I was probably disappointed with the view.  We always sat in the front seats of the bus going to town, and it afforded a great view of the countryside, a car just couldn’t compare.  But the excitement of heading to the parade probably made up for it. We parked at the Three Shippes Bar on the Park Road and strolled in Williams St to the Tower Hotel, where we clambered onto steps to get a good view.

From here we could see the curve on the quay where the parade would come down, rounding Reginald’s Tower as it did so.  In the middle of the road stood the statue of Luke Wadding, which was a fitting backdrop as this Waterford man was responsible for making the St Patricks day a feast day of the church and helping to make it a worldwide event. Of course two other events that are internationally recognised have a Waterford connection, we were the first city to have a parade in 1903 and the Waterford born ambassador to America, John Hearne, introduced the now annual event of presenting the American president with a bowl of shamrock.

That information would come in later years. Standing on the quay that cold damp afternoon, I waited in anticipation, not really knowing what to expect.  At this remove I can’t actually remember much of the parade, but I presume the marching bands, the floats on trucks and scouting troops would have all made up the event.  But two memories stand out; the wailing sound of the pipe bands as the bagpipes raised the hair on the back of my neck (as it still does to this day) and the sight of the army with their gleaming uniforms, guns on their shoulders and best of all the trucks, guns and a tank with a long menacing gun barrel that left me awestruck.

I remember being glad when it ended as I was starting to shiver in the thin March breeze coming down the quay and whistling through the buildings.  However on regaining the car we were disappointed to find that some careless motorist had abandoned their car across our own, and we were hemmed in.  Matt tried valiantly to squeeze through but it was impossible.  And the two men debated what to do. There were people milling about, but no one approached the car, we could be waiting all day for the owner to arrive.

The cold was starting to seep into me at this stage and I was beginning to think that we were stuck and would never get home.  There may have been tears, I don’t recall.  But the men were not to be beaten and in desperation they clutched the boot of the miscreant and started to bounce it out of the way. Some men raised their voices and approached, and I thought my heart would stop.  But instead of an altercation they lent a hand and moments later the way was clear and we headed home.

A 20 min video of the parade of 1996. A bit jumpy and hazy but fascinating nonetheless

To this day I can’t remember if my mother knew we had gone, or recall anything being said on our return.  She was probably relieved our father hadn’t taken us to the pub to wet the shamrock.  Although it would be many years before I went to another St Patricks Day parade, I can’t say I was in a hurry to go back after the incident with the car.  But there again, I wouldn’t have missed the adventure for all the world.

Loss of the sailing ship Lady Bagot

We have recently explored the exploits of a noble New Ross sea captain, John Williams. This week I wanted to look into some of the activities of one of his ships, the Lady Bagot.

The Lady Bagot was one of several vessels operated by the Graves family of New Ross and skippered for several years by Captain Williams.  We saw recently how she had been in the right place at the right time in the rescue of the crew of the brig Atlas.  In brief, arriving alongside the brig which had healed over on her side, Williams ordered his ships boat lowered and his crew row to the stricken vessel and attempt a rescue. In heavy seas and at great risk to themselves all the crew of the Atlas were eventually rescued. Little, I’m sure, did her crew know that that kind deed which they bestowed would be desperately needed by themselves within a few more months.

On the 21st October 1847 the Lady Bagot left go her moorings in her home port of New Ross and with the assistance of the Waterford Steamship River Services paddle steamer Shamrock was towed down the river Barrow to the harbour where she made her own way to sea.  Her master was Captain Anderson, who had replaced Captain Williams earlier that year.


Sailing ship heaving to in heavy weather. Drawing by Antoine Morel-Fatio.
Public domain access Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heaving_to#/media/File:La_Marine-Pacini-121.png

For many years her regular passage was New Ross – Quebec.  Passengers fleeing poverty, starvation and seeking a new start were the outgoing manifest, timber (a backbone of the Graves family business) the return.  A measure of the numbers fleeing the country can be gauged by a report of her arrival into Quebec on the 1st June 1846 when she was just one of four ships from the Waterford area; President  of New Ross –Captain Grandy and Thistle – Captain Thomas and Lawrence Forrestal – Captain Toole both  from Waterford city.  Other ships recorded that week hailed from amongst dozens of European ports but included Liverpool, Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Derry and Galway.[1]

Although the trips were regular, not all were without incident.  The account from previously shows how dependent such sailing ships were on the elements and the Lady Bagot was no different.   For example in August 1845 she was reported off Cork with her bowsprit lost having being in a collision with a larger vessel off St Pauls on the 24th July[2].  She later put into Youghal for repair[3].  A few months later, December of 1845, she was again in the wars[4].  She put into Halifax NS having departed Quebec for Liverpool.  She had lost her anchors, chains, her mizzen mast was cut away and other damage was reported but not described.  She finally left Halifax on 5th February 1846.[5]

Williams last voyage that I could find was a round trip to New Orleans in December 1846 arriving back to Waterford (New Ross I’m sure) in May[6].   Her next outward bound trip was reported on 15th June 1847 but no details are given, however she is reported as arriving in St Johns NB in July under her new master; Captain Anderson.[7]

A great talk this coming Wednesday, hosted by the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society. Breda has guest blogged for us previously, hopefully she might reprise this talk for us at a later stage

 As we mentioned earlier, Anderson sailed for Savanah in October and thanks to the Duchas Schools collection we have access to some mentions from the ships log for detail.[8] Having arrived into port of 18th December 1847 it would appear the crew left their hair down.  One crew man, Martin Moran, was detained for fighting with a “coloured man” whilst two others “gave way to drunkenness” These may or may not have been Joseph Irvine and David Cooper who were elsewhere described as “getting into scrapes”.  On the 24th December a crew man William Simpson had an accident onboard, falling into the hold.  This required hospitalisation and he was not released until January 6th.  No other details are given of the 7 week overlay but eventually the Lady Bagot sailed on the 4th February 1848 with her hold filled with timber, apples, molasses, sugar and rice.

A few weeks later (possibly Tuesday 28th February) the Lady Bagot sailed into heavy weather.  The log records that at 2pm a squall split the foresail, while by 3pm a complete hurricane was blowing with the seas crashing over the ship and Anderson surviving being washed overboard after a crewman grabbed him by his hair (the ships dog was less lucky).  At 4pm the ship “hove to” and using a storm mizzen the crew were set to operating the pumps to remove water from her holds.

Another excellent talk this coming week delivered by a regular guest Blogger Joe Falvey

All that day and the next the crew stayed manning the pumps but by midnight up to four feet of water was reported in the hold.  By 8am of the following morning the water was still rising.  It was then that a passing American ship the Oregon under Captain Healy came upon them.   Anderson requested that she stand by until the next morning in the hopes that the crew could arrest the worsening situation, but they were out on their feet with exhaustion and the carpenter having found the waters rising at an alarming rate (8 ½ feet at that stage) the captain gave the order to abandon ship.

As they boarded the Oregon, the Lady Bagot was down to her chains and Healy later reported after he arrived at Le Harve that they left the Lady Bagot in a sinking state at latitude 47 longitude 14.   

Next week I’m unraveling a mystery of a ship photo that reveals another occasion in Waterford’s history with a connection with the river. Its titled, at least presently, as the “Visit of the Stormcock  I will also have a blog on Sunday morning to honour the national holiday; St Patricks Day. Have a lovely weekend wherever you be.


[1] Lloyds List; Monday 29th June 1846; page 3

[2] Ibid; Saturday 30th August 1845; page 3

[3] Ibid; Tuesday 2nd September 1845; page 1

[4] Ibid; Friday 16th January 1846; page 2

[5] Ibid; Monday 9th March 1846; page 1

[6] Ibid; Monday 17th May 1847; page 2

[7] Ibid; Monday 16th August 1847; page 1

[8] Duchas School collection at https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/5009220/4999216 accessed on Sunday 10th March 2019

“Taking the Boat” the Great Western

Generations of people from Waterford and the surrounding areas “took the boat” to a better life, for work or to just escape the strictures of Irish society. One of the ships I heard most about as a child was the Great Western. I think her popularity in part stemmed from the fact that there were actually three vessels that shared the name and all operated from Waterford.  The first Great Western (1867-1890) was a paddle steamer, whilst the next (1902) was a twin screw steamer which operated on the route until 1933 and replaced by a third Great Western (1933). 

These ships were all part of the Great Western Railway Company, which sailed from a depot at the Adelphi Quay in Waterford city, close to the present Tower Hotel. Initially the company sailed to Milford Haven and from 1906 to Fishguard.

In 1923 a curious incident befell the second Great Western as she passed down the river close to Cheekpoint.  From the Kilkenny shore, in the trees of Drumdowney, shots were fired into the ship narrowly missing the wireless operator, named Daly, and the master, Captain Owen who was standing on the bridge.  No motive was discovered for the affair.

Departure during WWI from the Great Western Railway wharf (Adelphi Quay, Waterford)

A passenger with a literary turn of phrase, captured the departure at the very same point a few years later, but this time the ship was showered of love, rather than bullets!

“…I stood in the shelter of the bridge of the ss. Great Western on a warm, showery Saturday afternoon early in September. The light grey clouds were playing tig with the sun. It was a half-hearted game touch and run, for the sun was gloriously disdainful. After weeping copiously for a short time in the gleaming brightness, the clouds cleared away in chagrin from the blue sky.

Perched on a deck raft a freckled, Titian haired girl scanned the river bank as we approached Cheekpoint. There was searching look of farewell in her eyes. And then as the riverside hamlet at the foot of the Minaun hove in sight a white handkerchief fluttered from her hand. From every doorway there was an answering response. Away In the distance little groups outside isolated whitewashed cottages signalled to her their parting greetings. Young people on the quay gesticulated, and children ran among the trees and along the path bordering the river shrieking their good-byes. Two prawngs(prongs),boats with high, curved prows peculiar to the Passage and Cheekpoint fishermen—were almost mid-stream, and young men stood up and waved their caps to the girl on the deck raft. There were tears in the girl’s eyes as the scene faded away and the Great Western rounded another bend of the Suir and nosed her way past Passage, Duncannon Port, Woodstown and the Hook lighthouse to the smooth, open sea in the gathering dusk…”[1]

I was most familiar with was the last of these, which commenced on the Waterford – Fishguard route in January 1934.  Built by the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead in 1933 she was another twin screw steamer 283 feet long and 40 feet wide.

An advert for the company dating from the opening of Fishguard in 1906

She didn’t get off to a great start, for as she headed downriver she was forced into evasive maneuvers after another craft crossed her path “…It was then that a swift current caught her stern and carried her on to the bank where she had to remain until the next tide to be re-floated. With extreme difficulty she made the trip to Fishguard, where she was examined by the company’s diver last Monday. On the result of the examination it was found necessary that she should be sent back to her builders in Liverpool for repairs to her stern. Until her repairs are completed she will be replaced by the Ardmore.[2]

The route was expanded in 1939 to three sailings a week, commencing with a 7pm sailing on Monday 6th March[3].  During WWII she was painted in camouflage colours, carried gun platforms on her bow and was used for troop transportation. Although I have heard people say she was involved in the evacuation of Dunkirk I have never as yet proved it. 

Emigration was a primary function of the vessel and this report from one week in August of 1949 gives a clear idea of the numbers. 

“Cross-Channel Visitors Seven hundred and seventy-seven visitors —232 more than arrived —returned to England during last week the ss. Great Western sailing to Fishguard. On the outward journey the vessel carried 274 on Tuesday, 203 on Thursday, and conveyed about 300 Saturday evening. She brought 189 in Tuesday, Thursday and 261 on Saturday morning”[4]

TSS Great Western in camouflage colours WWII entering Waterford. Photo via Tommy Deegan. She was later armed with guns on her forward deck.

My mother often spoke about her journeys and the companions that were with her, it read like an address book of the village, her uncle Christy Moran heading to London to work on the buildings, Pat Murphy, Patsy Moran, Charlie Hanlon etc heading to Wolverhampton, Michael Elliott, Andy Joe Doherty, Anna Sullivan and so on.  All heading away to work and sending vital money home to keep families together.  In my mothers case she would wash floors, serve in shops and work in factories, see the lights of 1960’s London before coming home to marry.  In a way it was an adventure, but the journeys down the harbour, or later on the boat train over the Barrow Bridge were still difficult when leaving but all the more joyful on the return.

I think the most poignant story I know of is the leaving of the Condon family from the village in 1955.  The 50’s were a hungry and bleak time nationally so much so it’s been described as a black decade, or a lost decade.  Chris Condon recently recalled the leaving to me.  His dad Christy had invested in new nets to fish in 1954 but even the fish seemed to have deserted the country.  Christy chose the boat to England, but he left his wife May and his eight children at home. 

Christy was set up in a job by his brother Laim.  Liam had come in from a cold, wet and fruitless night of fishing with my grandfather (Andy Doherty) in 1946 and spotted an advertisement in a local paper for a new engineering firm, British Timken in Northampton.  He was interviewed in a hotel in Waterford and was given the job on the spot.  He was foreman by the fifties and he helped Christy find his feet in the same company, and with the job he kept the family fed and earned enough to put a deposit on a home.

TSS Great Western, the third and final ship in her standard livery, Photo via Frank Cheevers

In the summer of 1955 he returned to Cheekpoint and the family readied themselves for the journey.  The family were a vital part of the community, went to school, to mass, played on the village green, swam off the quay.  Steps of stairs, they were part of the vitality of the community.  The decision to leave was a huge wrench. 

The evening they sailed down from Waterford on the Great Western the village turned out to wave them away.  Fires were lit from the Rookery to the Mount Quay and their cousins, the Rogers family, lit a fire at Passage East.  Another local, Tom Sullivan, told me that he was a deckhand on her that evening, and he overheard one person saying that if only she would sink now passing the village, the children could swim ashore, and never have to leave.

The scourge that was emigration has never really let the country.  But the last trip of the Great Western was Christmas of 1966.  It wasn’t that emigration was coming to a close, although the industrial improvements of the Sean Lemass Government were having an effect.  Air travel was coming to the fore and now those who went abroad had a quicker and more comfortable way of travelling.  She was replaced with a container ship, a freight system that would become the backbone of shipping in the city for the next few decades, until the closure of Bell Lines in 1997 (I think). She brought an end to a proud shipping tradition in the area. Here’s a link for the many other ships from the company that were involved.

This is a heavily edited excerpt from a chapter of the same name that I’m working on for my forthcoming book called Tales from the Aft Oar. I intend to publish it later this year. I’d be delighted with any feedback on the story or the book, you might let me know in the comments section.

Next week we join the crew of a local sailing ship, the Lady Bagot as they battle to prevent her sinking in the Atlantic.


[1] Waterford Standard – Saturday 07 October 1933; page 6

[2] Waterford Standard – Saturday 24 February 1934; page 4

[3] Waterford Standard – Saturday 11 March 1939; page 7

[4] Waterford Standard – Saturday 27 August 1949;  page 3