Williamo’s barge, 29B

This mornings guest blog comes from Carrick On Suir but as with all things connected to the water, it travels fairly widely. Maurice Power, another of those supporters of my blog that I have come to rely on, introduces us to an institution on the River Suir in Carrick On Suir. An institution embodied in a man and a boat; Williamo’s barge – 29B. Over to Maurice…

Recently a photo of William O’Callaghan’s barge was shown on our local facebook site Things I Miss About Carrick and somebody wondered where it is now. His barge was the last working sand dredger in Carrick and possibly the only one which used a mechanical digger to extract sand and gravel from the river bed.

Williamo’s barge taken from North Quay in Carrick looking across to Carrickbeg. Williamo normally moored the barge tied up to the buttments of the New Bridge (Dillon Bridge) In Carrick. It kept the kids from playing on it.

Williamo, as he was known, grew up on the river coming from a family with deep roots in the navigation of lighters and yawls which transported goods from ships lightened in Waterford. Lighters would typically transport goods with a burden of 40/60 tons they had a draft of 2′ 9″. Prior to the introduction of the tug the Fr Matthew by Earnest Grubb which was the first steam tug to operate on the river between Waterford and Carrick lighters were navigated by the use of poles, sweeps (oars 30 feet long which took 6 steps forward and 6 steps backward to operate) and sails. To continue to Clonmel the goods would be transferred to Yawls which had a burden of 20 tons and a draft of 16″. These were towed in pairs with a team of 12 horses to Clonmel. Williamo’s father, Daniel, was part of the last crew to tow yawls to Clonmel in 1922. When the railway was introduced in the early 1800s river trade dwindled until it finally ceased the 1960’s. However the long tradition of excavating sand from the riverbed continued up to Williamo’s retirement when it finally ceased.

Williamo was noted for his knowledge of the river and was often called upon to help others who were unfamiliar with the river for assistance or advice on navigation issues. He was a very genial and approachable individual who loved to tell stories and relate experiences. Williamo was also known in times of need, and noted in times of tragedy, recovering several bodies from the river.

 So what was the History of Williamo’s barge? Firstly using photographs and the help of guys from Inland Waterways and the Heritage Boat Association I was able to establish from unique profiles on her hull such as a sharp bow, lower rubbing streak, upper rubbing streak which stops short, tiny washboard that Williamo’s barge was registered under the title number 29B.

The first record I could find of 29B was an advertisement in the Freemans Journal dated the   27th September 1873 offering for sale 13 canal boats the property of a Patrick Coyne deceased which included a barge 29B.

Again in the Leinster Leader dated the 29th of March the property of a Mr M Mitchell deceased from Enfield were up for Auction. The sale included a canal boat 29B in working condition.

 Barge 29B was first weighed in Killaloe on the 24th of October 1912 under the ownership of Murphy Brothers of Rathangan, Co Kildare.

On the Grand Canal via the Irish Press April 21st 1934

Dimensions recorded were Length 60 feet, Breadth 12 ft. 9ins. Stem height 7ft. 2ins. Stern height 7ft.2ins. and laden with 50 tons in weight she drew 4ft.2ins. She also had 50 gallons of fuel in her tanks. The weigh master was a Denis Crowe from Killaloe. She would have been fitted with a standard Bollinger engine. A  Mr D.E. Williams, General Merchant from Tullamore, bought her in 1947. He was the founder of the world famous Tullamore Dew Whiskey Company.

29B was then passed on to a Denis Ronan of Athy. A photo from the Kildare Nationalist shows her giving tours during a carnival in the early 1950s. It’s interesting to note the lack of health and safety regulations in this era.

In 1956 she was sold onto Messrs Deegan of Waterford who subsequently sold it to Williamo. He used her on the river until his retirement in 1983 when she was bought by a Mr Gerry Oakman from Athlone. Gerry brought her back up to the Shannon by way of the Barrow Navigation system and the Grand Canal where she worked as a work boat on various  projects on the Shannon before being retired and converted into a live-aboard barge in Shannon Harbour Co. Offaly.

Last year she was again sold on and moved to Lough Derg where she is on a hard stand and is undergoing a major refit. The photo above was taken about a month ago.

Probably the last photo of barge 29B in operation in Carrick on Suir. Williamo at the helm and his son at the bow. Photo by John Denby. Carrick on Suir

I was fortunate to be party to the facebook discussion and follow up research of Williamos barge on the Things I Miss About Carrick on Suir Facebook page. Social media has many negatives associated with it, but virtual journeys such as these that reach deep into a locality’s past and weave a path to the present are surely one of the platforms positive achievements. Just like the Carrick natives, the photo above reminded me of so many boats that signified my own childhood and to this day, such as the Portlairge, my uncle Sonny’s pilot boat Morning Star or the harbour launch as she crewed the buoy gangs to work.

I can only thank Maurice for sharing it with me and everyone else who is part of our online community. In preparing for this piece I recalled an iconic image and a wonderful poem by Carrick poet Michael Coady. On checking with Maurice he confirmed that they were about the same man. Michael’s poem which features in his book of the same name (Going by Water) celebrates Williamo’s life and his connection with the river, and features an image of his coffin borne by river to burial. As I haven’t asked permission to use any of it, can I just recommend that you keep an eye out for it. In a few lines he really captures the essence of the river and how it embodies us.

This will be my final guest blog in the current format, but it certainly will not be the end of sharing the best of our maritime heritage. On a personal level the series has proven to be the most emotionally draining. In some cases editing other peoples work, or offering suggestions that might risk offence. There is also the extra pressure of making sure that I make no mistakes in the formatting or that it reaches a wide audience. I have been fortunate over the years that I have had copy for each month, and that through this I have been able to extend the reach of what I personally can do, by sharing the passion, intelligence and personal insights of others who share my appreciation of our maritime heritage. We might be few in general terms, but I think the blog has proven a genuine interest and appetite for recognising and celebrating the boats, people and industries that thrived in our three sister rivers and her harbour.

I’m celebrating the four years of the blog at an event in the Reading Room, Cheekpoint on Saturday 8th June at 7.30pm. All welcome.

Farewell Madcap & Zayda

 On a bright but blustery dawn in June 1928 three vessels departed Waterford’s quays.  Leading the small convoy was a powerful tug, towing two old sailing ships.  Although the tug was a stranger to the city, the sailing ships were anything but.  To anyone looking on the scene must have proven ironic if not ignominious.  For these were the ports last sailing vessels; Zayda and the Madcap, and they had given over fifty years loyal and trusted service to the city, only to be made redundant by steam power. 

The story of these two sailing ships is also a story of Waterford and one man in particular, Geoffrey Spencer.  Spencer was the son of a local farmer, but not being first born had to make his own way.  He married into a coal merchant business at John Street (His wife was Catherine Lyons, daughter of a coal merchant, who later inherited the yard).

Madcap and Zayda moored off Coal Quay (just to the east of the Clock Tower) Photo via Michael O’Sullivan (Waterford History Site)

A coal merchant was at the mercy of all kinds of middle men unless the business could import its own coal and so Geoffrey bid on a decrepit old ship called the Oriental when it came up for auction in the city. The ship was so bad that his was the only bid.  With the profit from this first vessel, he reinvested in expanding his fleet and other ships followed including the Arrow, Caradoc and the Olga.  I read that he was also part owner in the SS Silkstone that sank in the river by Ferrybank and was a total wreck.  The Caradoc sank following a fire off the Coningbeg and the Olga grounded at Duncannon 20th April 1895 and was a total loss. I’ll need to do more digging into the others.

The Zayda was a brigantine and was built at Bideford in 1869.  The Madcap was also a brigantine and was built at Brixham in 1871.  As far as I can tell they were built specifically for Geoffrey Spencer and both entered into the coal trade.  Both ships would have been painted green which was the colour that Spencer chose for his ships. (a detail I’m indebted to Brian Cleare for this detail) The norm was to bring pit props or other heavy cargo from Waterford to Wales and then return with coal.  The ships feature regularly in Lloyds list and seem to have made a steady income.

During the Great War both ships were requisitioned, armed and staffed with a naval crew.  There is one account that because the Madcap was so well known the admiralty fitted another ship out in her likeness to act as a Q ship and sunk five submarines in this role (Q ships were armed to the teeth, but disguised as ordinary merchantmen. U Boats didn’t like to waste torpedoes on them, so they surfaced and ordered the crew to evacuate the ship prior to sinking them with the deck gun. Q ships would take this opportunity, drop the deck disguise and fire upon the sub).

Although the regular sailing time between Cardiff and Waterford was given as 19 hours, in 1921 it took the Madcap just a bit longer!.  Under Captain Furniss she departed the Cardiff Roads in February 1921.  She ran into her first difficulties at the Barrels and having shed her canvas limped into Fishguard.  Following repairs she departed, getting as far as the Tuskar before a hurricane of wind forced them to run ahead of it up the Irish Sea, eventually making shelter at Belfast Lough.  Her third trip was no better, this time managing to find shelter at Kingstown / Dun Laoighre.  It was April before she finally arrived back in her home port, two months later.

Zayda, a Poole photo originally via Michael O’Sullivan (Waterford History Site)

Madcap and Zayda were victims of progress however.  Ships such as these had to be loaded and emptied by hand, a slow and grueling job. Industrial techniques were advancing however and metal grab cranes could drop a bucket into the hold of a steel built ship and quickly and cheaply empty them. Joseph Spencer, Geoffrey’s heir , decided to tie the sailing ships to the quay (by the Clock Tower)  and there sat for several years and, like any unused craft, fell into decay.

At 5am on June 8th 1928 they finally left Waterford’s quays under tow by the tug Eastleigh of Bristol.  The ships had been sold to a ship breakers yard in Appledore. Behind the tug came the unmanned Zayda, and at the rear was the Madcap with a temporary crew of four under Captain Cox.  As if she had no wish to leave her natural home, almost immediately the Madcap started to make water and the crew had to man the pumps constantly to keep her afloat.  Although they crossed the Irish Sea, off the Welsh coast the winds freshened from the south’ard and the Madcap started to settle in the water and became unmanageable.  The crew struggled to maintain her, but an inspection below confirmed the worst, and using a small tender they got away just in time, and were fortunate the tug was nearby.

When the Madcaps temporary crew eventually arrived back to Appledore their families stood on the quayside waiting and prayers of thanks were offered by the local vicar for their safe return .  I’ve no doubt the people of Waterford were relieved to hear of the crews deliverance, but I’d imagine there was a certain satisfaction too, to think that the Madcap had went to the watery element, rather than being stripped and possibly hulked to end her days as a floating pontoon.

As I celebrate four years of blogging each Friday I am going to mark the occasion on June 8th, all welcome
  • I used several newsreports in todays blog. 
  • Waterford Standard – Saturday 05 December 1936 page 50-51
  • Western Morning News – Monday 11 June 1928 page 5
  • Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Friday 15 June 1928 page 14
  • I also used an article clipping by the Munster Express’ Michelle Clancy (It was cut from the paper and passed on to me several years back but with no page or date – I think it might have dated to the Tall Ships 2011)

Dunbrody Abbey

As a child growing up in Cheekpoint, Dunbrody Abbey loomed large in our lives.  It might have been in a different county, might have been separated by a fast lowing expanse of water, but it was a landmark that everyone knew, and I think, were proud of.  We learned about it in school of course, and our parents had stories of visiting it by boat, and it even found its way into newspapers and local poetry.  One that I still recall to this day was often recited by my grandmother.  The words were contained on a yellowed newspaper clipping that was folded into a decorative teapot that sat inside her glass case (the spot where all the treasures were kept, including her best china, our first curls and tatty ornaments we brought her back from school tours!) The poet was a local woman Kathy Leech and the poem went at follows:

Thankfully I typed this up years ago, although I have no year of publication or what local paper published it. Kathy was an elderly woman who loved in the High St in the village when I was a child. Reading the poem for the first time all those years back it struck me as strange that someone then so old was once young, vivacious and full of the joys of life.

The Abbey was founded after the required land was granted to a religious order by Herve de Montmorency (uncle of Strongbow), after the Norman invasion of Ireland. The first grant was to the monks of Bildewas in Shropshire, England.  However a monk (Alan) sent to scout the site found the area inhospitable and hurried home.  Actually he didn’t really put a tooth in it; “…the waste of the place, the sterility of the lands, and the wildness and ferocity of the neighbouring barbarians…We might incur no small damage or loss, if we should attempt to send any to those parts in order to inhabit and dwell.”[1]   Needless to say they decided against a move to the area, but eventually a sister abbey in Dublin, St Mary’s, accepted the ground and work got under way around 1182. It would become known as the Abbey of St. Mary le Portu (St Mary of refuge), although I have read that this refuge concerned Hervey’s wish of the establishment – to provide a sanctuary /refuge for travellers.  However Hore says that it refers to an earlier incident where ships in Strongows invasion fleet found shelter in the Pill[2]

The name Dunbrody is speculated by Hore to connect to a fort (dun) of a man named Brody and he speculates that the spot was an ideal location for an abbey. In contrast to Monk Alan’s report, he described it as sorrounded by fine Oak forest to the North and West, rich pastureland to the east and south (in Alan’s defence perhaps it was only potentially rich pastureland when he visited), fresh water flowing by, an abundant river of fish and a ready supply of wine through the port of New Ross.

An image of the Abbey and Campile Pill from Coolbunnia, Waterford (where I spent my first seven years) by our local photographer of note Tomás Sullivan. (Carraig Byrne in the distance)

One theory about such grants is that it was part of a settlement pattern of the English rulers, a way of managing the land and securing the strategically important harbour area.  The lands stretched from Dunbrody and Campile, along the river front to Duncannon and inland as far as Battlestown (Where the Deise and Ostmen of Waterford battled Raymond le Gros) and Sheilbaggen.  In all it totalled 40 caructaes or ploughlands the equivalent of 13,000 acres today.[3]

According to Billy Colfers judgement, and I certainly respect that, when completed it was one of the finest Cistercian abbeys in Ireland.[4]  Not alone was all this land put to productive use, but so too was the rivers with weirs for catching fish, the castle at Buttermilk, possibly for governing shipping, and St Catherines fortified church in the grange of Nuke.  But like everything the winds of change must blow and eventually the abbey was dissolved.  According to the website of the abbey visitor centre the demise started when its last abbot, Alexander Devereux, granted to the King, his heirs and successors, the Abbey and all its possessions circa 1542. The lands and Abbey subsequently became the property of the Etchingham family, and later through marriage it passed to the Chichester family, who own the lands to this day, although the site of the Abbey was handed over to the State in 1911 (not the Irish State at the time obviously)[5]

Berangers sketch of Dunbrody 1780 RIA from Hore

In my childhood and into my earlier days of fishing a trip to Dunbrody by boat was an annual occurrence. Landing as we did in those days from the Pill, the abbey was naturally the first facination, but over time I became less interested in it and more drawn to a small, ruined church, adjacent to the Pill.  Lost beneath ivy and adjacent to a tiny but well kept graveyard I would explore and try to imagine what life was like at the time this building was in use.  It always reminded me somewhat of the old church at Faithlegg, perhaps because of its size but also the carved dressed stone of its entrance door, contrasting nicely with the rougher cut stone of the walls. 

From Hore What he describes as a Water Gate – the church and graveyard are situated on the right.

In later years I would discover that this is probably in fact the first church built be the monks that came to the area.  It was customary to have a place of worship as the work progressed, and generally located beside an entrance gate, hence Cappella ad Portum – the chapel by the gate.  The monks would forsake this early church leaving it to commoners who worked the surrounding lands, or weary travellers seeking an intervention from on high to protect them on their journey.  The monks of course had their own place of worship, which was exclusively for their own use. It’s also interesting to me that when I was part of the four person voluntary committee led by Kevin Ryan (and included Pat Murphy and Damien McLellan) who worked to preserve old Faithlegg Church that some evidence of the construction at Faithlegg suggested that our church had possibly been constructed by monks from Dunbrody.

One of the best videos available on the ruins as they stand today, from Waterford’s Mark Power

Whether you are interested in history or not, a visit to Dunbrody is a marvel. Its open for the summer season at present and its certainly worth dropping by. I’ll leave the last words to a young Waterford lad returning from school in England named Thomas Francis Meagher who in a few brief words captured the essence of the site for me :”… the ruins of Dunbrody  Abbey – an old servant, with torn livery, at the gateway of the noble avenue.” 

To mark the fifth year of the blog I’ve organised an evening in the Reading Room Cheekpoint on Saturday 8th June form 7.30-9.30.  I’ve invited a few friends, neighbours and colleagues to share a specific blog, a memory prompted by a blog or something that has emerged from a blog.  I’m calling it Tide Line as it marks some changes to the future direction of the blog. Its open to all, free of charge and it promises to be a lively night, hopefully with plenty of laughter. 

[1] Colfer. B.  The Hook Peninsula. 2004. Cork University Press. Page 43

[2] Hore.P.H History of the Town & County of Wexford. Dunbrody Abbey, The Great Island, Ballyhack etc. 1901 London. Page 40 (I’m indebted to John Flynn for the loan of his copy)

[3] Colfer. B. The Hook Peninsula. 2004. Cork University Press p44

[4] Ibid p 66

[5] Accessed from http://www.dunbrodyabbey.com/abbey.htm  Sunday 12/5/2019

Time and Tide waits for no man

I started what has emerged into the tides and tales blog four years ago this month.  It began with stories that concentrated on my youth in Cheekpoint, themes of life, occupation and structures or local features such as the quay, church and limekilns. My favourite theme of course was the fishing and the first story I published was almost by way of an introduction to what was to come, as it featured the role of the tides in our lives, a role that although diminished, still has a place to this day.  It is no coincidence then that this would become the theme of my first book published in 2017; Before the Tide Went Out.

We all have particular clocks that we need to respond to. For new parents time is defined by the cries of a baby that needs tending too.  For farmers it’s generally the dawn, when it’s light enough to see what you are doing, stretching to the dusk. All in all a long day in the height of the summer, but is balanced by the dark of winter.

For factory workers it’s the clocking in machine, that no nonsense system that demands you be on time, or you won’t be paid. What I hated about this system when I worked on the weekend shift in Bausch & Lomb was that it never took account of day or night, snow or sunshine, just a continuous pattern or rhythm like Fords assembly line.

When it came to the fishermen in the harbour and its rivers the rhythm was the tides. As a child growing up in the harbour village of Cheekpoint the tides tripped off our tongues, even as children, and before we really knew what they meant. Tides change approximately every 6 hours and we get two high waters and two low waters in an average day. As a fisherman you followed these with a tenacity of any good hunter following his prey.

Eel fishing tended to happen when the tides are slowest, hence High and Low Tides, day or night. All the eel fisherman required was the eel to emerge from its winter slumber in the river mud.  It was similar for setting and hauling the weirs. But the salmon fishing was a bit more complex. The salmon had a season and a weekly close. So we started originally on February 1st and fished to August 15th and weekly we fished from 6am on Monday morning to 6am on the Saturday. The rest of Saturday was giving over to repairing nets and Sunday to rest. The drift net was used in Cheekpoint, employing two men to an open 18ft punt. . We used a set of 6 nets marked by buoys on either end. Originally punts were oar powered but outboards made things a lot easier in getting about to the drifts.

Local fishing placenames; Andrew Doherty

For simplicity let’s say that tides started with High Water. Thus the tide was at its highest on the banks of the river and along the shore. On neap tides high waters were something you could relax around, but on spring tides you needed to be cautious, the higher tides tended to bring weeds off the shore and you were at risk of filling your nets. Once the nets stood still in
the river it was High Water, and once they started to slip back down the river it was known as “First of Ebb”.

Following High water boats went ashore, and nets would not be set again in the area until the “Stripping of the Mud” about two hours after high water. The Strippin was a word we heard daily during the salmon season, and even as a child there was a recognition of its importance. The Strippin was a drift that was waited for in the Bathing Box below the Mount Quay. Boats would often go in to the bailing box to wait for two to three hours for the chance to be first boat to set on the Strippin. The wait was straightforward. First boat in, was first to set, as long as one of the two crew men stayed with the boat. If they left, their place was forfeit.

Launching my fishing punt in the 1990’s

Once the stripping boat set others could set at the same time from the Binglidies or Snow Hill or at the Point. The Stipping occurred when the mud on the Wexford shore (Shelburne Bank) was exposed by the outgoing tide. It also marked the tides being at their strongest. 

The ebb tide continued with punts drifting down as far as “The Castle” or “Buttermilk Point” on the eastern side of the estuary or to the Barn quay or Ryans Quay on the Western shore (Waterford side). When the drift ended the nets were hauled and the punt returned to the Bathing Box to await their turn to set once more, or set them in on the Point if there was a space. The drifting continued to “Low Water” although many punts went home depending on how catches were going, whilst others when they reached “The Castle” would haul and reset the nets on Seedes Bank and drift them down towards Passage East and Ballyhack.  

A local fishing weir

Low Water could be drifted from a number of points, but the favourite was “Low water on the mud”. This drift was waited for at “the Rock” and was started depending on the strength of tides or wind direction and indeed time of day and whether the sun was out. Again, the boat had to be manned and generally it allowed that one person could go home for a feed, while the other waited. They could use the time to repair nets and generally it was a great way to hear news as other boats passed by. Coming close to low water, a stick could be placed in the mud beside the dropping tide to gauge the time it was taking to drop. The stick would be moved to beside the river until the river stopped dropping, and actually started to “rise” on the stick. The rising tide meant that it would soon be low water ie the tide would stop running out of the river and start to run in again.

Another great measure of the tide was the stroke that would drift in onto the rock marking a change in the tide. When the punt and crew decided it was time to set for Low water, they set off for the Wexford side of the estuary and set the nets off from the mud at “Campile Pill” and then came back in and held the nets close to the mud as they drifted down, in order to “jam” a fish in the shallows, or prevent them getting round the inside end of the nets. Low water was determined when the nets stopped drifting down. This would be seen first with the outside buoy on the net “hanging back” or the corks going “slack” as the current slowed. “First of Flood” was marked by the nets starting to drift upriver again. As the tide strengthened this was called “Flood Tide”. 

The “Covering of the Mud” was another milestone in the day, as the mud on the Shelburne Bank (Wexford side) was covered once more by the inflowing river, and most boats were keen to have their nets in the water for this time of tide.  The flood tide then continued to High Water and the whole process was repeated.

To mark the fifth year of the blog I’ve organised an evening in the Reading Room Cheekpoint on Saturday 8th June form 7.30-9.30.  I’ve invited a few friends, neighbours and colleagues to share a specific blog, a memory prompted by a blog or something that has emerged from a blog.  I’m calling it Tide Line as it marks some changes to the future direction of the blog. Its open to all, free of charge and it promises to be a lively night, hopefully with plenty of laughter. 

Waterford’s Illuminated Fountain Clock

In 1864 Waterford finally had a new fully functioning landmark installed on its bustling quays. Construction had been a protracted, disjointed and often stormy affair as it was funded through an ongoing public subscription . The intention was to provide a clock that would be visible day and night to sailor and citizen alike in what was then Ireland’s busiest port. Perhaps reflecting the Victorian era, it was originally conceived as an Illuminated Fountain Clock. But to generations of Waterford people it became known as the Clock Tower.

An early coloured postcard via Michael O’Sullivan Waterford History Site

The Clock Tower was constructed in an era when time had become a crucial factor in shipping.  For centuries time and tide waited on no man.  But with the advent of steam power, ships now ruled the tides, arriving and departing to a set schedule.  Julian Walton states that it was built to a design of Charles Tarrant and described the motivation thus: “It was vital that everyone should know exactly what the right time was- ship’s crews and masters, merchants buying or selling their wares, drovers bringing animals to or from the quay and the carters loading and unloading cargoes” [1]

1894 image via Michael O’Sullivan Waterford History Site. Jarveys took paying passengers from the location, replaced in modern times by bus

But the reality of the construction phase was far from straightforward and the whole project was not without its challenges.  Certainly the first mention I could find didn’t auger well.  This was in December 1859 when members of the corporation were asked to vote on a motion of providing £150 from the water bailiffs fee for the purpose of providing the city quays with “an illuminated clock for the benefit of shipping”.  The motion was controversial however, many members felt the city could not afford it.  The motion was eventually passed by a vote of 19 councillors for, 9 against.

In May of 1861 it was announced that John Murphy had been appointed contractor for “the erection of the clock tower and fountain at the end of Barronstrand Street” In July the papers expressed relief that the first stage of the building had been completed, and a mound of stone had been removed. It appears that the initial foundations were not firm enough to cater for the soft mud and weak soil that lay beneath the chosen location.  In an effort to ensure a solid base it appears that tons of rocks were piled high on the spot and not until these had settled was the remainder removed and foundations undertaken.  (As I’m not an engineer, I’m open to correction on this interpretation)

In November another local paper article gave a list of subscribers who made donations to support the building project.  It confirms the struggle to raise funds which was by way of public subscriptions (an early form of crowd funding!): “…received the following subscriptions to the Clock Tower on the Quay:—Messrs. Cherry, Brothers £1; John Phelan, Quay 10s; Mr. Lenehan, Quay 10s; Mr. Thompson, High-street I0s; Dr. Condell 10s; Messrs Doherty and Clampert 10s; Mr. Locke, Quay 5s; Dr Scott 5s; Mr. Kelly, Little George’s-street 2s 6d; P. K. Reid 5s; Mr. Ross, Quay 2s Mr. Sullivan 2s 6 ; Mr. Behm 2s. Mr. John Phelan, Mr. Lenehan, and Mr. Locke, additional subscriptions”. 

In June 1862 the scaffolding around the building was wearing thin on the patience of locals, provoking comment and questions relating to the ever lengthening completion date.  In September relief was expressed when a weather vane had been placed atop and the scaffolding taken down.  Unfortunately it didn’t end the saga however, as a wish is expressed that the clock would be next to be put in place! By October one paper described it as a “useless monument” while another, perhaps in an effort towards optimism, reported that the Harbour Commissioners were helping out the funding appeal by donating £50 to the construction costs and £12 towards the clock itself.

It was as late as two years later before some good news was reported – “The appearance of this building is much improved the erection of a pinnacle over each of the four dials. Mr. Mosley (a local clock maker) is engaged in putting up the clock, which will have four transparent dials, each of which will be illuminated by four gas jets. The interior of the tower is rather small, and there will be much difficulty in winding and regulating the clock, in consequence of the contracted space in the interior.”[2]

The pinnacles as they look today. I’d imagine it was part of the original design, as they fit seamlessly into the structure.

The lighting of the clock seems to have proved another challenge and at various times there are reports of the gas being turned off due to a non payment of fuel fees.  The last mention I found about this was 1897.

Hobbit like access door (north side)

The fountain element of the Clock is also a bit of a mystery to me.  I presume this worked from the outset.  The features still exist to the present (on three sides), though not now in use.  The intention was that humans and horses could drink of the water.  However, one account from 1871, explains how a debate at the Harbour Commissioners monthly meeting received a deputation to lobby about watering cattle.  The water at the fountains was claimed to be unfit for human use, and that it could be redirected to troughs to provide for cattle stating it– “…was much wanted for the poor famished cattle…and their erection would not only prevent a great waste of water, but confer a great boon on the brute creation in the city.”  In the case of all great decisions – the matter was referred to the Quay Committee, who we are assured had “power to act”[3]

The twentieth century seems to have been more kindly towards the building, at least in the reportage.  The building settled into the built fabric of the city. Its newsworthiness is as a backdrop, it’s regularly a meeting place, a departure point for political rallies, union marches and religious processions.  It also features very regularly in the 1950’s newspapers for car accidents. 

My father in law, Vic Bible, recalled that in the early fifites you were either early or late for the pictures depending on which direction you approached the clock. A report of the time explains that “…for some time past the four faces of the present clock, grown old and querulous, have been unable to agree, and an independent referee —in this case Waterford Corporation—has decided that the only way to restore harmony is to retire the old and install a new timekeeper. Work on the change-over will, it is hoped, begin early in May. The Corporation proposes to install a modern auto-wound timepiece with four skeleton cast dials, backed with opal, to replace the existing movement in the tower, which is now more than 90 years old and completely run down. The firm engaged to do the work, Messrs. Potts, Marshall, Mills, of Leeds. It is also intended to clean and overhaul the stonework of the Tower at the same time.”[4]

If memory serves the building got a cleaning in recent years, possibly for the Tall Ships. To be fair it has stood the test of time, has served its original function quite well, and is certainly a venerable city institution. The Clock Tower is a building that deserves closer scrutiny, with some fascinating architectural features. It’s humbling to think of the struggles the city had in raising the funds to complete it, but for me it was certainly a struggle that paid dividends.

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

[2] Waterford Mail – Monday 31 October 1864

[3] Waterford Standard – Wednesday 14 June 1871; page 3

[4] Waterford Standard – Saturday 25 April 1953; page 2