1495 siege of Waterford

During an eleven day siege of Waterford in 1495, a river bombardment by the cities defenders on Reginalds Tower, successfully sunk two and repelled nine other ships in an eleven day siege.  A cannon from one of those sunken ships was discovered in Waterford in 1901, and to date it continues to be the oldest known cannon from an engagement in Ireland, perhaps not surprising as it was also the first known use of cannon in a conflict in Ireland.

A recent blog explored the discovery of a 16th Century sailing ship off Duncannon, thought to be the Cromwellian Navy Flagship Great Lewis.  In it we mentioned the discovery of an intact ship lying beneath the sands of the harbour and how important it is to Irish and International underwater archaeology. 

An 18th century sketch of the tower. Via Seán Ó’Briain Waterford History Site
Copyright NLI More info and hi res from http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000619679/Holdings#tabnav
According to an article by Joe Falvey in an article in the Munster Express there was an added defence to the tower consisting of an outer wall upon which the canon were mounted.

As important and exciting that the discovery is, and the hope that future excavations might bring important artifacts to the surface including cannon, it is worth remembering that we already posses the oldest known Cannon in the country.  The Cannon was mounted on the side of a 15th Century ship, one of eleven involved in a siege that took place from the 23rd July to the 3rd August 1495. 

The back story to the siege is one of political intrigue and starts with a young man who arrived in Cork with a claim to royal origins.  The chap was Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be one of the children of the deceased king, Edward IV.  After Edwards death his two sons, Edward V, King of England (12 years old) and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York (9 years old) were locked into the  Tower of London by the man appointed to look after them, their uncle, Richard -Duke of Gloucester.  Richard did the dirt as they say, the boys “disappeared” and he assumed the throne as Richard III.  He would later be killed in battle and the crown passed to Henry VII.[1]

News of a rival for the crown of England was music to many ears, including Cork’s Earl of Desmond, who had his own interest in upsetting the political regime.  Using the story of the young prince who had been cheated out of his rightful birthright, Desmond  whipped up a fuss and raised an army to over through English rule in Ireland.  Recognising the main threat to any progress as Waterford, Desmond and Warbeck assembled an army at Youghal and marched on the city, and eleven ships landed at Passage, later travelling up to the city.[2]

Perkin Warbeck, a 15th C sketch
Via Wikipedia Public Domain

A siege was laid, but the citizenry were prepared.  The stout defences of the city walls were well founded, and a large dam was built across Johns Pill which flooded the marshes to the East of the city, giving extra security.  Any attacks were repulsed and following a sortie into the enemy camp the siege camp was routed and a number of prisoners were dragged into the city, beheaded and the heads mounted on sticks around the market place and walls.[3]

Meanwhile the eleven ships seemed to fair no better (Frustratingly I could find no specific description of the type of craft).  Canon mounted on the walls and defences that surrounded Reginalds Tower were able to blast the ships from their vantage point.  At least two ships were lost (one with all hands), the other nine ships broke and run for cover under a barrage of cannon, eventually mooring off Passage East.  (According to my cousin James Doherty, and some of the guides in Reginalds Tower, troops were landed from the ships near the tower, but the dam across Johns Pill was opened and the rush of water drowned some and led to the routing of others) Following the lifting of the siege, Warbeck fled to Passage East and embarked one of the waiting ships.  The Waterford citizenry were not content however, and four ships (described by one source as Galleys) were prepared and gave chase, but with no success.

Ireland’s oldest cannon on display in Waterford. Author Image. With thanks to Waterford Museum of Treasures.

Warbeck continued to find favour with others who sought to undermine the English crown, but it would appear he was only ever a pawn in more powerful peoples games.  He was finally captured by Henry VII and was hanged in 1499, but not before returning to Waterford for an even less successful attempt on the city in 1497.

Remarkably the siege of 1495 represents the very first recorded use of cannon in Ireland[4]  And the victory helped give Waterford its proudly displayed motto: ‘Urbs Intacta Manet Waterfordia’,  ‘The City of Waterford Remains Untaken’[5]

The city crest including the motto. Note three Irish galleys from an earlier victory . Author image.

The cannon mentioned at the outset is housed in Waterford’s Museum of Treasures and was dredged up from the river on the 4th January 1901. (Coincidentally, I think the dredger Urbs Intacta was in operation at that time).  The newspapers of the time were very exercised by the discovery and quickly dated the ordnance and its significance.  It was dredged up somewhere opposite the Clock Tower and at a point described as mid-way in the river.  At a meeting of the Waterford Archaeological Society in 1901 Major Cuffe gave a presentation on the significance of the ordanance and the item was on display.[6]

It’s a typical late 15th century gun which originally would have been attached to the gunwale of a sailing ship. It is almost a metre in length, and it most likely fired stone shot, rather than iron cannon balls.[7]  Its known by a number of names such as a Pierrier cannon (stone thrower) or a breech loading swivel gun. (Both links include some fine photographs)

I might return to the recovery of the cannon at a later stage. But if you want to see this amazing piece of ordnance, it’s on display in the Waterford Museum of Treasures

I’d like to thank the staff of Reginalds Tower and the Waterford Museum of Treasures who were a great source of information and support in researching this piece. I would also like to put out a call for any further information on the siege and the events over those eleven days. Despite reading everything I could find on it, including several modern books, I’m amazed so little detail is available. It’s also remarkable that many of the online sources about Warbeck and his campaign say little of his Irish journeys and in many cases nothing of the Waterford siege. I find this astonishing. Had Waterford fallen, its possible, if not probable, he would have had a secure base in Ireland to challenge the throne, which would surely have emboldened other enemies on the continent.

I found further support for the claim that this was the earliest use of Cannon in Ireland since publication. [8]

Next week, we visit the Ross River in a guest blog by Brian Forristal


[1] Walton. J. O’Donoghue. F.   On This Day Vol 1. 2013. Waterford

[2] Ibid

[3] Downes. E.  The Story of Waterford. 1914.  The Waterford News.  Waterford (pp58-61)

[4] http://irisharchaeology.ie/2014/05/irelands-oldest-cannon/

[5] Walton. J. O’Donoghue. F.   On This Day Vol 1. 2013. Waterford

[6] Waterford Standard – Wednesday 27 February 1901 page 4

[7] McEneaney, E. & Ryan R. (eds) 2004 Waterford Treasures, M.Y. Gallaghers, Waterford.

[8] Hayes-McCoy, G. A. “The Early History of Guns in Ireland.” Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, vol. 18, no. 1/2, 1938, pp. 43–65. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25535185.

Titanic. Waterford & Wexford connections

Introduction

The sinking of the RMS Titanic is a world renowned event.  I was reared on the story either from local storytelling or the movie “A Night to Remember”.  But it was only in recent years I even thought to research a local connection, when I came across a bronze memorial in Bunmahon to a man named Dwan who perished aboard.  This coming Monday 15th, Waterford Civic Trust will honour another man who was aboard. His name was Patrick O’Keeffe, a passenger who not just survived, but also ensured several others were saved too. 

The Titanic. 

Titanic was built by the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast for the White Star Line.  She departed Southampton on her maiden voyage on 10th April 1912 calling to Cherbourg in France and Queenstown (now Cobh) in Cork before crossing the Atlantic towards New York.  At 11.40pm on the night of the 14th April (about 375 miles south of Newfoundland), she hit an iceberg.   The “unsinkable” Titanic sank in a matter of hours.  Of the estimated 2,224 passengers and crew aboard, more than 1,500 died.

RMS Titanic via Wikimedia open source. Photographer: F.G.O. Stuart (1843-1923)

Patrick O’Keeffe

Patrick was born at Little Michael Street in Waterford City on 11th July 1890 to John O’Keeffe (a quarry labourer) and Catherine Fitzgerald Patrick was one of 9 known children.  Patrick had returned to Ireland for a holiday, having first emigrated to USA in 1910 with his uncles. 

Apparently homesick, he had returned home for a month’s holiday in 1912 and had an earlier return sailing booked aboard the RMS Baltic; apparently his brother persuaded him to stay an extra week so they could spend Easter together as a family and his booking was transferred to Titanic.

He boarded the Titanic at Queenstown as a third class passenger (his ticket cost £7, 15s as did all the 3rd class steerage passengers listed below). As the ship sank Patrick managed to make it to the steerage decks and he jumped into the freezing seas. Thanks to being a strong swimmer, he kept himself afloat, eventually pulling himself aboard the capsized collapsible B life raft.  He managed to rescue several others from the water and they were later picked up by the SS Carpathia and landed at New York. He was a number of weeks convalescing having sustained heavy bruising.

Patrick would go on to marry and have a family and worked for the rest of his life in America.  The memory of the sinking stayed with him, so much so, that Patrick never returned to his native country again.  He eventually died in 1939 and was buried in New York. For more information on the unveiling of the blue plaque follow the Facebook event link

Patrick O’Keeffe as a young man. Via Waterford Civic Trust

Frank Dwan

Frank (Francis) Dwan was born in Clogheen, Co Waterford, at the height of the famine in January 1847.  A fisherman by trade Dwan, in the 1911 census was living with his wife at Knockmahon, Co Waterford.  Several of Frank’s children lived in America and he decided to visit them in 1912, boarding the Titanic at Queenstown on a third class ticket.  His destination was Morris Plains, New Jersey where his daughter Alice Murphy and son Michael and their families lived.  He died in the sinking and his body, if recovered, was never identified.

George Francis “Paddy” McGough

Duncannon Co. Wexford crewman. George Francis “Paddy” McGough was born in Duncannon in 1875. He signed on to the Titanic as an AB (Able Seaman) at Southampton on 6th April 1912. He was plucked from the freezing waters by lifeboat #9 and took the tiller and steered the boat. On the SS Carpathia coming into view he was credited with saying “Let us pray to God, for there is a ship on the horizon and it’s making for us.” He went back to sea for the rest of his working life and died in 1940.

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

Chief Purser Hugh McElroy

McElroy was living at Tullacanna (near Wellingtonbridge) in Co Wexford in the 1911 census but he was born in Liverpool and had spent his life at sea. He was put in charge of loading lifeboats as the ship went down. He was credited with keeping the loading in line and at one point discharged his pistol at two crew men who boarded a lifeboat and refused to make way. He went down with the ship, but his body was later recovered, identified and buried at sea.

Other Wexford folk

There were a few other Wexford souls aboard including Robert Mernagh, Passenger  (28) from Ballyleigh, Ballywilliam, New Ross. Interestingly he was another who had returned on holidays and was heading back to America.  He may have delayed his plans to travel, to await a relative from Bree Co Wexford; Elizabeth Doyle.  Elizabeth was also returning to America, having come home to Ireland to nurse her ailing father.  Both lost their lives. Another to die was crewman Laurence Doyle, fireman (27). Although his origins are unproven, he was thought to be from County Wexford. John O’Connor, Coal trimmer, Coolcotts, Wexford town, survived.

The sinking as depicted on screen over 8 minutes

Conclusion

I was told recently there may be another passenger from Dungarvan and a crew man that hailed from the Dunmore East area originally.  At the time of going to print I have not enough info to commit anything to paper but who knows in time we might enlarge the list.  Incidentally there are two other connections that spring to mind.  The staircase in Loftus Hall on the Hook peninsula was said to be built by the same craftsmen that built the staircase aboard the Titanic.  The other is another unproven anecdote.  But in Cheekpoint I was told as a child that the Belfast shipyard that built the Titanic, actually considered locating in Waterford in the late 19th C based on the local skills base, and had surveyed a site in Cheekpoint near the Sheag Rock.  Had that come to pass, perhaps the Titanic might have been built in Waterford! Unproven, by the author, as yet!

Hello, I’m Andrew Doherty. I’ve written a blog each Friday now since May 2014. Tides and Tales is completely self financed and done in my spare time. If you would like to subscribe to get it to your email each week, contact me at tidesntales@gmail.com Hope you have a great day

Vanquishing Cromwells flagship, the Great Lewis

On January 23rd 1645 one of the most surprising victories of any Irish action against the English was realised, when an Irish force managed to sink the flagship of the English parliamentary navy at Duncannon Co. Wexford.  The ship was the Great Lewis and she lies to this day beneath the sands of Waterford Harbour.

Back story

The background to this story lies in what is regularly called the Confederate Wars or in some cases the 11 years war 1641-1652.  Although there were many aspects to this upheaval which would ultimately lead to a civil war in England and end in crushing defeat for the Irish under Cromwell, a key motivation of the catholic uprising sought to win concessions from the English king, Charles I, as a reward for supporting him against the English parliament.   

The Great Lewis and her three comrades via local marine artist Brian Cleare. With permission of the artist.

“In May 1642, on the initiative of the Catholic church, Irish Catholics formed what could be called an Irish government at Kilkenny (the Confederate Catholic Association of Ireland) led by a supreme council elected by a landowners and Catholic clergy.  It took an oath to uphold the King’s rights, the Catholic religion and the ‘fundamental laws of Ireland’. Regular armies were formed under Irish Catholic officers who had served in continental Europe.”[1] 

Duncannon comes center stage

In 1643 Charles I signed an uneasy truce with the Confederates in an effort to concentrate his efforts against Parliament.  As is so often the case with civil wars alligencies chopped and changed and the troops stationed at Duncannon fort under Lord Lawrence Esmonde, initially loyal to the crown, decided to switch to the Parliament’s side.  As the fort was of such strategic importance, the confederates dispatched troops from Waterford to attack it under General Thomas Preston, while from England, Parliament dispatched four ships to support it with additional troops and supplies. 

The flagship of this group of ships was a requisitioned merchantman, the Great Lewis.  She was under the command of Captain Richard Swanley. The others were made up of the Madeline, (I’ve read elsewhere Mary and also Magdalen) Mayflower and Elizabeth. The command of the flotilla fell to a Captain Bell.[2]

The Irish had an advantage of height over the four ships that were at anchor below them in Duncannon bay.  During the night of the 22nd of January 1645 they moved their artillery to forward positions. As dawn broke on the 23rd they commenced firing upon the four ships, who realised they were in peril and prepared to make their escape.  But fate was on the side of the Irish, or was it exceptionally good timing? For as the tidal and wind conditions were unfavourable, the ships found themselves at the mercy of the elements and the Irish cannon fire. The sailors did what they could to withdraw their ships out of range, the Great Lewis being severely damaged in the process. 

A sketch of the siege from Hore. Via Wexford Co Library. With thanks to Michael Dempsey.

With her masts damaged and her deck on fire the ship drifted slowly away from the onshore barrage, later to sink on the 26th, supposedly with the loss of 200 men (a figure I find difficult to understand in the circumstances).  The other three ships escaped back to England once emergency repairs had been made.

Duncannon, looking from upriver

Discovery

In 1999 when dredging works were being carried out by the Port of Waterford on this natural sand bar, timbers were uncovered which prompted archaeological monitoring.  Subsequent underwater investigations discovered a 17th century wreck with canon sticking out of the sand.[3] 

Amazingly, the report (written by Dr Connie Kelleher) goes on to explain that “The wooden structure survives almost intact below the seabed, and the line of cannons, with their breech ends exposed, provide an insight into the potential nature and extent of this protected site.”  (See diagram below)

Perhaps predictably, given the little excavation work that has been carried out to date, it also expresses a word of caution “Though the historical evidence is plausible, further investigation is needed to determine the nature, extent and, if possible, the true identity of this wreck.”  I guess in the graveyard of a thousand ships, its well to be cautious until a proper assessment can be made.  The current level of investigation has only literally scratched the surface of the seabed.

A sketch of the wreck lying off Duncannon, note the tiny fraction exposed.
Archaeology Ireland, Heritage Guide No. 26: The Duncannon Wreck —a seventeenth-century ship in Waterford Harbour (May 2004) Copy supplied by Brian Sharpe

Nevertheless its importance nationally and internationally, even if not the Great Lewis, is undeniable.  

Kelleher continues; “ The historical and archaeological value of this site cannot be over-estimated. Although it would be excellent to positively identify the wreck, the fact that these are the substantial remains of a seventeenth-century ship is what is of real significance… it is the first shipwreck from that time to be discovered and then investigated in Irish waters. The possibility that it could have been directly involved in a period of our history that has left such an immense mark adds even more importance to the wreck, as does the realisation that we could, in fact, be looking at a war grave.”

Conclusion

The sinking of the Great Lewis was the turning point in the siege and a huge moral boost for the Irish, although the beleaguered garrison did not finally surrender until the 18th of March 1845.  (Some supplies and extra troops had been landed before the onshore barrage began)

Both events were significant achievements for the confederate forces, and you can’t help but wonder when Cromwell finally reached Waterford harbour did he have a particular malice towards the area when he thought of the humiliation of the loss of his navy’s flagship and the taking of the fort.

A previous guest blog by James Doherty gives a terrific insight to the era and specifically the activities pertaining to Duncannon Fort.

Next weeks blog looks forward to the Waterford Civic Trust event to acknowledge the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the unveiling of a blue plaque to a survivor of the tragedy, Philip O’Keeffe. The blog will focus on his story, but also at least three others from the county, and three others from the harbour area.


[1] http://www.theirishstory.com/2014/01/10/the-eleven-years-war-a-brief-overview/#.XKCAQ_lKgvg

[2] The Great Lewis and the siege of Duncannon 1645.  Kevin Downes.  Decies #60 pp155-6

[3] Archaeology Ireland, Heritage Guide No. 26: The Duncannon Wreck —a seventeenth-century ship in Waterford Harbour (May 2004)

For more information on the wrecks around Duncannon including the speculation on the Great Lewis see Connie Kelleher’s article Pirates, slaves and shipwrecks pp181-199 in Medieval Wexford, Essays in memory of Billy Colfer. Eds Doyle. IW & Browne B. 2016. Four Courts Press. Dublin