Remembering Ryan’s Quay, Cheekpoint, Co Waterford

Ryans Quay, Cheekpoint

Irish placenames are intriguing and sometimes confusing. Many originate from our early history. They may have been shaped by historic events, or relate to geographical characteristics. Some have been confused by language from our history of conquest. But they can also be fleeting, referring to families and their association with a place. These can come and go as a person or a family moves on. Yet others endure many years after, perhaps inexplicably so. One of those in Cheekpoint must be Ryan’s Quay.

Now it’s not just a quay, it is also a two storey dwelling and a very distinctive boathouse. For many years it included a freshwater well. And up to recent years was only accessible by boat, or by shanks mare along the strand or via a steep and narrow borren which was only passable by foot. It also refers to the shoreline on which it is located, a curved stretch between Cheekpoint and Passage East. Risking a local rift I would try to further refine it as between the Point Light and Sullivans Quay.

In my childhood, it was a popular summer swimming destination. Fishermen used it as a base, paint their punts, or carry out repairs. In my childhood the remains of the poles that were used to “Spreet” or dry the salmon nets were still to be seen. It also overlooked a very popular and frequented ebb tide salmon fishery drift. I recall many times sitting on the quay chatting to my father or other fishermen and they watched the corks of the driftnets or hauled them aboard close into the shore.

John Moran (Long Island NY and at the time service in Europe with the USAF, gets a lesson in cleaning a net at Ryan’s Quay from his uncle, Paddy Moran. August 1956. Paddy married Bridgid Heffernan and they lived there until they moved to the Mount Avenue. Eileen Moran Collection.

In my forthcoming new book, I have a chapter on smuggling in the area of Waterford Harbour. In this, I recall first hearing about smuggling when sitting at Ryan’s Quay as a child. I was with my father Bob, and his friend Paddy “Batty” Doherty. Paddy was recalling “oul Ryan the revenue man”.

Three Ryans were listed in the census of 1901. James (54) was an “Exams Officer Customs”. His sisters Ellen (60) and Sophia(56) were all in the house on the night of the census, all unmarried. James had a brother Captain William Ryan who lived at Passage East and a sister Mary. We met both previously through the writings of Catherine Foley. Unfortunately, no record of the family exists in the 1911 census. A similar case for many of the Cheekpoint records I’m afraid. I also found an earlier reference to a Ryan living on the shore her in a newspaper account from the 1840s and again in the 1860s relating to weir ownership. This was a scotch weir on the Wexford shoreline. In recent years I have often wondered was it this gentleman who had the quay built and the house. Its certainly the earliest mention I can find.

The next family I can associate with the house was Paddy and Stasia Heffernan and their daughter Brigid. We have met them before on the blog about Captain Udvardy and his wife Rosa. Paddy’s nickname was the “Shag”. The name may raise a giggle or two because of its modern meaning. However its the common name locally for a Cormorant, a seabird that is in its element on the water and is a renowned swimmer. Paddy’s nickname related to his swimming abilities. In my youth referred to the area as the Shags Quay and a tree below it as the Shags tree. (I know my brother in law, Maurice, still does – probably because his father fished so often from the location during his own upbringing)

A recent view.

At some point in the 1960s (I think) a lady named St Ledger moved into the location. I only remember her as an old lady with a distinctive accent who would come out and chat with my father. I understand she had fled Rhodesia in southern Africa during the conflict there (it is now the country of Zimbabwe). She had written at least one book of children’s stories based on her African experiences. She was featured on an RTE programme on one occasion, and I played a bit part, standing into a shot with my cousin Sean and his donkey which was used as a promo. Later she was joined by her daughter Geraldine Turner and her granddaughter Mary. As a consequence, some of my generation referred to the place at that time as Turners.

A view of the shore looking from the Point Light

Geraldine and Mary left the house and quay in November of 1986. They left on a beautiful crisp Saturday, November morning and half the village turned out to help them move their belongings. The inaccessibility of the house meant that we had to use punts and motorboats. Their belongings were brought out onto the quay, placed on board, and dropped to Cheekpoint Quay where a truck awaited. The reason I can remember it – The day before was my 21st Birthday and I was never as hungover. We worked all day to five pm and I collapsed into bed thereafter – pledging to never drink again!.

Jacqui Doherty and Sean Connolly bought the property in 1987 and they raised a fine family at the quay. Many of the present generation refer to it as Connolly’s or Jacqui’s. Jacqui is there to this day and I would imagine her name, or her childrens’ will be with it for a long time yet. Who knows, maybe it will endure, seeing off Ryan’s Quay as a placename in the future.

Ryan’s Quay from the river. Tom Sullivan hauling the nets after a drift around the Point Light. Tomás Sullivan photo

Dauntless Courage: A Book Celebrating the History of the Dunmore East RNLI
Regular readers will be aware of my good friend David Carroll. David has spent nearly two years researching this book which is now near completion. The book, which is based on archives both here in Ireland and the RNLI archives in Poole, England, will detail the boats that were stationed in Dunmore and the stories of the rescues they carried out. Also included in the book will be many interesting and unique photographs that have not appeared in public before. The story of the village itself, and its link as a fishing community with the Lifeboats and crews, brings the reader from the earliest times of saving lives at sea in the area up to the present.
Pre-orders are now available.

Deena and I have been involved in Heritage Week every year since 2005. This included walks, talks, exhibitions, re-enactments and collaboration with a wide variety of local groups, individuals and organisations like the Office of Public Works. Due to the Covid 19 restrictions, we needed to try something different. So moving it online, we came up with an idea around capturing various placenames associated with the Three Sister Rivers; the Barrow, Nore & Suir. We also put out an invite to people who have worked with us before. We got a very favourable response. So for heritage week 2020, we will do at least two blog posts per day from various contributors. This will stretch from the harbour mouth to the tidal extremes. It will culminate in the launch of a new web page with an A-Z of Three Sister Rivers Placenames on Water Heritage Day, Sunday 23rd August.

My thanks to Mary Chaytor nee Rogers for some extra details post publication.