Johnny’s Lane, Crooke, Co Waterford

Breda Murphy.

Due to Covid 19 I’ve had a couple of new experiences recently, firstly I haven’t used an alarm clock since the middle of March! I thought I would have to wait until I retired to enjoy that treat, but not so, due to working from home.  Secondly, for the first time ever I began to realise that I live a privileged life, appreciating, that few things really matter in life, one being where you live when confined to staying within two kilometres of your home, and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere better.  I live in the house where I was born, in Crooke, directly opposite Duncannon Church on the Wexford side.  My daily 40-50 minute walk takes me past Geneva Barrack to the Barrack Strand, down the lane at Newtown and back towards Passage up onto the road again by Johnny’s Lane, between Burke’s shop and Crooke Chapel.  While the Lane has had more footfall in recent months due to the lockdown, it is still rare to meet anyone especially in the early mornings apart from a few locals, who like myself, walk it daily. 

Johnny Hearn, Crooke, Passage East. Breda Murphy collection

I know it as Johnny’s Lane, called after an old man who lived where Burke’s shop is now, called Johnny Hearn.  I have only the vaguest memory of Johnny and am not even sure if it is my memory or someone else’s but I remembered my mother showing me a photo of my cousin Dermot Heffernan with Johnny as she told me where the lane got its name.  With time on my hands, I recently sorted through my mother’s photos and memories.  I was delighted to come across this photo of Johnny and Dermot taken at the top of the lane, both deceased now RIP.  The Lane may have a new name now, as lanes are often called after those who live there, but to me it will always be Johnny’s Lane.     

  

Looking up towards Crooke, the Church on the right

The Lane has an abundance of wild life, with several ancient crab apple trees, ready for making Jelly in the autumn, elders with flowers in the spring and berries in the autumn both good for making wine, meadowsweet with its pungent smell on a damp summer morning, sloes still green but ready soon for Christmas sloe gin, the nettles and docks grow in abundant companionship, one ready to undo the deeds of the other.  A large branch from one of the crab apple trees fell last winter and the path has had to re-route around it while the broken branch is still growing apples. Left there, it provides cover for birds, wild animals, insects and plants.  Us humans giving way to the natural world for a change.    Without human upkeep the lane grows in abundance and reproduces and self-fertilises as it has done for ever.  Its deadwood is providing cover for years before rotting back into the ground.   In the spring the top of the lane is full of wild garlic releasing its strong smell underfoot on a crisp morning.

Nearing the shoreline

The Lane holds an untold history and many secrets. It has been the site of children’s camps and games and other devilment and still is no doubt.  The strand still holds the memory of the cockle women, my grandmother Ellie Murphy and Aunt Molly among them, who picked on a low tide, bent over, heads low, among the rocks on the strand below. They carried and carted sacks of cockle and winkles up this lane. Its stone ditches at either side, still visible in parts, are wide enough for an ass and cart for those lucky enough to have one.  Paddy Ryan recently told me that his mother Statia, daughter of cockle women Janey Organ, as a young girl helping her mother collapsed walking up the lane under the weight of the bag of cockles that she was carrying, damaging her hip.  She spent nine months in bed but her hip never healed and was unable to pick cockles again.  The injury impacted on her for the rest of her life.  Statia was a kind and lovely woman and a regular visitor to our house when I was a child.  I remember her playing ‘this little piggy’ with my toes, I was probably around the age of two.   

The magic of the scene when the tide is in

Some mornings as I head up the lane from the strand, I stop and look back and on a full tide with the sun rising and dancing on the water I feel thankful to the cockle women and others who lived in Crooke and Passage before us who saved this lane for us by walking it.  And though we can travel more freely again I continue to feel privileged to live in such a stunning place with this wonderful river that has provided for many of us who live here, in more ways than one.    

Submitted by Breda for Heritage Week 2020

The Devils Bit

Astrid Hurley

There was always a conflicting tale growing up as to where the source of the River Suir actually starts. The Devil’s Bit mountain is the most favoured but Borrisnoe is also mentioned.

Thanks to Tipperary Tourism for the image

I grew up in the shadow and fabulous view of the Devil’s Bit.(Barnàn Èile.) From ancient days legend has it that the devil was been chased from Ireland by St Patrick. The flaw here is the Mountain was there before St Patrick. The story goes that the devil came across a mountain near where Templemore is now located, the devil is reputed to have taken a chunk of the mountain and hurled it in the air and it landed in Cashel and here stands the famous Rock of Cashel. The Devil’s Bit mountain is seen with a very large chunk missing out of it which looks like a Giants bite.

The Suir as a trickling stream in the area. Photo credit Brian Walsh

Another legend involves Fionn MacCumhaill, which is described by this Rock of Cashel site . Fionn MacCumhaill “…was having a serious quarrel with Satan. As Fionn had realized that the devil was losing his temper, he headed off to the mountains, and the devil went after him. While he was chasing Fionn, the Devil stuck his foot against something. Not able to bear the pain and filled with fury, he took a bite of the mountain breaking his teeth. He spat out whatever was in his mouth (including his teeth) forming the Rock of Cashel.”

As a child it was a fabulous day out to climb and reach the cross at the top from where on a clear day you can see the river Shannon.

Submitted by Astrid Hurley for Heritage Week 2020

Ringville School, overlooking the R Barrow at Ballinlaw

Paul Grant

The Poet Patrick Kavanagh once said “The man that knows his own half acre knows the world”. The older we become the more nostalgic we become. The summers were warmer, the grass was greener, life was simpler. We need to be careful not to look back with rose tinted glasses; it wasn’t always as wonderful and romantic as is often portrayed in novels like “To School through the Fields” and others. I can remember walking to school through wet fields on freezing cold mornings, with the promise of 3 slaps with án Bhata if I was five minutes late.

My earliest memories of Ballinlaw are cycling my Raleigh bike down the hill to The Ferry Pub with two shillings in my pocket to get 10 Carrols for the Master. Mrs Malone (Aggie) came out from the kitchen to the bar, she knew who I was of course, she also seemed to know what my mission was, “You’re here for fags for Mr Power” she said. She took the money and gave me the change but held on to the cigarettes until she was finished getting all the local news. Eventually she gave me the cigarettes and I set out on my journey up the steep hill back to the school. Outside the pub, the river Barrow carrying her sister the Nore flowed down to meet their third sister the Suir and continue to flow southward through Waterford Harbour to finally meet the great Atlantic Ocean. This area was known as “Comar Trí na Uisce” (meeting of three waters). This is also where for hundreds of years a ferry boat crossed to Loughtown on Great Island Co Wexford. In ancient times this was referred to as The old Camnoc Ferry, in modern times it was known as Ballinlaw Ferry. The area also offers a breadth taking view of Sliabh Coillte to the West and the Black Stairs to the North West with Mount Leinster protruding like the Jewel in the crown.

The local fishermen had tied their Prong’s which lay there sleeping in the mud waiting for the incoming tide to wake them. I started to cycle back up the road only to get off and walk after 80 or 90 Yards in defeat. Little did I know than I would one day be living at that exact spot. I eventually got back to school with the Cigarettes, I was probably aged 10 or 11 at the time, we had just moved to the new school in Ringville. The new school was the fourth to be built in Ballinlaw. The first school was a hedge school said to be situated down the Castle lane at the river, this dated back to penal times. This was followed in 1832 by a school built from lime and stone with a thatched roof situated half ways between the river and the house at the top of the Castle lane known then and now as The Rookery. This school was built by Thomas Devereaux of Ringville House. There was no free education then, pupils paid from one shilling and a penny to three shilling depending on one’s means. Children from the local area as well as children from across the river attended the school. The next school was built and funded by Thomas Devereaux’s niece Lady Letitia Esmond. In its day it was a very modern structure which featured two huge classrooms and living quarters for two teachers and their families. There was a fireplace in each classroom used to ensure the teacher was warm and to boil water in a big black cast iron kettle to make the Cocoa at lunchtime. The fuel for the fire was mostly sticks gathered by the pupils from the knock at the back of the school.

A view upriver from Bolton Cottage – Paul Grant

When I started school there in 1959 very little had changed. There was no running water which meant students from 6th class had to go to the well, over Danny Whelan’s lane which is quiet a distance. The Co Council provided a hand pump at the top of the hill above the school sometime in the 40s or 50s but unfortunately it never worked. After pumping for 5 minutes a rust coloured liquid sometimes came gurgling out in spurts and then stopped, making some obscene noises in the process. The sanitation in the school was absolutely appalling. There were 4 dry toilets available with no hand washing facilities. The smell of Jeyes Fluid wafted throughout the school. The toilet paper provided however was never more than a week old, you knew by the story or the date printed on newspaper. Sometimes when you ran out of newspaper magazines were used, The Irelands Own was a favourite, we all loved reading about “Kitty the Hare” written by local man Vincent O Donovan Power.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. One of the more positive sides to being educated in the 60s was the freedom we enjoyed. Once you were finished eating your lunch you played football across the road in Knoxe’s field, or you played in the old quarry or up the Knock. If you fell hurt yourself there was you were bandaged up and told to be more careful next time. There was never and mention of suing or litigation in those days.

Ringville National School (1966) Paul Grant

This all changed in June 1966 when we said goodbye to the old school and moved to our new centrally heated school 200 meters away at the top of Ballinlaw hill. Not only did it have central heating but it had Flush Toilets. We were even made slippers at all times inside classrooms. For me best of all was the big windows showing the most incredible view of the River, Sliabh Coillte and across into Campile and Great Island. I can still remember daydreaming while watching the fishermen rowing over and back the river casting their nets for Salmon.

I had no regrets leaving Ringville School but as fate would have it in 1981 I ended up living 50 mts from the new school on the top of Ballinlaw hill. My children followed the tradition of school through the fields, they were very fortunate though as they had only one field to cross to jump the school wall. In 2003 we moved again to the place where I got off my bike on my journey back to the Master with his Cigarettes all those years ago.

Ship heading fown the R Barrow from New Ross. Paul Grant

Submitted by Paul Grant for Heritage Week 2020

Shanoon, Dunmore East

David Carroll

Shanoon, Sean Uaimh – “Old Cave” Canon Patrick Power, Place names of the Decies

Pedantic people might tell you that Shanoon, the rugged stretch of high cliff that overlooks the harbour at Dunmore East is strictly not within the ‘Three Sisters Family’ of Rivers, Suir, Barrow, and Nore. I would beg to differ. One Royal Charter afforded to the merchants of Waterford enhanced the role of the Mayor, by adding the title Admiral of the Port of Waterford, whose outer limits were specified as a line linking Hook Head in County Wexford with Red Head, just west of what is now Dunmore East. So ‘Shanoon’ gets in by the skin of its teeth as it is close to Red Head[1]

A chart from 1787 (Before the harbour at Dunmore East was built) showing Shanoon Point in relation to Red Point (Red Head) and Hook Point..[2]

But Shanoon was famous an exceptionally long time before 1356. Long before recorded history, people lived close to the area. Prehistoric artefacts collected over a forty-year period by the late Noel McDonagh, a former Dunmore East fisherman in the area close to Creadan Head, having been examined by eminent archaeologists, concluded that some of these finds were over 10,000 years old. This indicates that the area would have been one of the oldest settlements in Ireland.[3]

For protection from enemies or wild animals, small communities would erect their huts on narrow strips of cliff-top which projected out into the sea. On the inland side of this projection an embankment would be erected as a defensive measure. These habitations were known as promontory forts and Iron Age people established a promontory fort overlooking the sea at Shanoon. [4]

The name Dunmore derives from Dún Mór – the Great Fort [5], which was a promontory fort built close to Black Knob on Shanoon near the old Pilot Station. This should not be confused with a large castle, believed by Julian Walton to have been built by Lord Power of Curraghmore around the late 15th century, probably in the 1470s, of which only one tower remains today, close to Ladies’ Cove.[6]

Nowadays, a well-appointed car park has been constructed on Shanoon, which gives motorists a splendid view of the entrance to Waterford Harbour, and the Hook Peninsula. It also the starting point for a delightful walk along the cliffs-tops out and back to Portally of four kilometers. Learn more about this walk from Ray McGrath’s Gaultier Heritage Rambles:

When I was growing up in the 1950’s, the Shanoon played a big part in my life. It was a larger area then, before the 1960’s when part of it was blasted away to provide the material to construct the new fishing harbour.

This aerial photograph taken before WW2 shows Shanoon very much like it was during the 1950s. Anecdotally, the photo was taken by the RAF who were carrying out reconnaissance of the Irish coastline.

The three abiding memories that I had of Shanoon, growing up were: Pilots, cows, and ‘Black Knob’.

When I was a boy, the Waterford Harbour Pilots were based in the look-out station perched strategically on top of Shanoon. From here, in a time before modern navigational aids, they were able to observe all shipping arriving at the entrance to Waterford Harbour bound for the ports of Waterford and New Ross. As Ray McGrath has written “Waterford Harbour Pilots have come from a small number of Dunmore and Passage families, including the Glodys, the Fitzgeralds, the Walshs, the Bastons, Whittys, and Dohertys. Mariners owe much to their knowledge, skill and dedication”. [7]

At the time, a myth abounded that the pilots had been based on Shanoon for more than a century but in recent years, I have learned that this was not true. What happened was that when a new pilot cutter Betty Breen arrived in 1951 to replace the Lily Doreen, the pilots found the accommodation onboard to be very cramped and decided to move to the station on Shanoon, which was lying vacant at the time.[8]

To get from the station to the pilot boat, the pilots took a short cut down a steep path in the cliff closest to the harbour. This was not a path for the faint-hearted as a slip could end in tragedy. Needless, to say, I was under strict instructions from my parents never to attempt to take that path to gain access to Shanoon.

Also, during the 1950s, William Power of Powers Bar, who has had a butcher’s shop beside the pub, rented the Shanoon from the Office of Public Works (OPW) for the purpose of grazing some of his cattle. The nuns teaching in the nearby Convent School often became alarmed when they looked out and saw cows dangerously grazing right at the very edge of the cliff on the harbour side of Shanoon. As a pupil in school, until I was aged eight years old, I can still recall the nuns despatching a senior girl up the village to raise the alarm and witness Andy Taylor, the butcher, still in his butchers apron, and a young Billy Power running down the road with sticks to hunt the cows back from the edge of the cliff.

A more recent aerial photo of Shanoon, reduced in size. The arch that joined Black Knob with Shanoon is now missing. It was a victim of a severe 1960s gale. The remains of a gun-post used during the ‘Emergency’ are still visible. Photo: Neville Murphy

‘Black Knob’ was the rock at the end of Shanoon, where the cliff took a 90˚ turn towards the start of the pier at Dunmore East. It was probably during a severe gale in the 1960s that the arch that joined it to Shanoon collapsed into the sea. The landmark had great significance for me as I was strictly forbidden from going past it alone in a boat as at that point you would be away from sight in the harbour, where my father kept a vigilant watch.
For a brief period, I used to set a lobster pot close to Black Knob behind the pier but fishing for shellfish was not my strongest forte.

One thing that I still regret is that I never had to explore or even view from close-up the cave that runs under Shanoon. It is called ‘Merlin’s Cave or Cove’ on charts. Access from the cliff is impossible and even trying to get close in a small rowing boat would be dangerous and probably not recommended.

Shanoon has witnessed and withstood a lot of bad weather over the years. It is particularly vulnerable to severe weather coming from a south-easterly direction. A poet, who only described him or herself as ‘MH’ submitted a seventeen-verse poem to the Munster Express in 1895. It tells of the dreadful storm took place in 1888 when the Alfred D Snow was lost on the County Wexford side of Waterford Harbour. The ‘cone’ raised on Shanoon would have been a signal hoisted by the Coastguards to warn of an impending storm. Here are the first three verses:

A GALE AS ONCE WITNESSNED IN DUNMORE EAST
All early in the bleak forenoon
The cone is raised on the Shanoon;
And every sign on sea and land
Denotes a gale is at hand.

The sky is of a sable hue,
Which almost hides the Hook from view,
And from the strands and coves below
White bubbles around the village blow.

As if disporting in the sky,
In all directions, seagulls fly.
While by the cliffs and darksome caves,
Black divers stem the curling waves.

Submitted as a contribution to Heritage Week 2020

  • [1] Brophy, Anthony Port of Waterford: Extracts from the Records of the Waterford Harbour Commissioners from their Establishment in 1816 to the Report of the Ports and Harbours Tribunal, 1930. Decies No 60, 2004.
  • [2] https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b53011020p/f1.item.r=tramore
  • [3] Carroll, David Dauntless Courage, Celebrating the history of the RNLI Lifeboats, their crews, and the Maritime Heritage of Dunmore East, 2020
  • [4] Fewer, TN, A Brief History of Dunmore East, discoverdunmore.com
  • [5] Power, Canon Patrick, Place names of the Decies, (Cork, 1952).
  • [6]Carroll
  • [7]Gaultier Heritage Rambles: The Dunmore to Portally Cliff Walk, Waterford News and Star, Sept. 03, 2019
  • [8] 2020 Interview with former Harbour Pilot and Lifeboat Coxswain, John Walsh

The Nore at Thomastown

Joe Dunphy

I was born within two throws of a stone from the “sweet valley of the Nore” in Grennan, Thomastown that I believe sums up the Nore in all its best aspects. I refer to its beauty, its value and its centuries of history in the lovely region we are blest to call home. For all but eight of my over eighty years I have roamed, fished and loved every inch of it.

The river Nore at Thomastown

Grennan is a townsland, but to us, in our childhood days, it was only the huge field that takes in the hurling pitch, Grennan Castle and a lovely three fishing stands. In those days hurling on that pitch and the games we invented at the Castle was great. The famous hurling field served our town and produced its fair number of stars for club and county. The castle was founded by the Norman, Thomas FitzAnthony, after whom our town is named. But for the bulk of my life, and, up to the present day, the pleasure I have got from roaming and fishing Grennan Banks with my rod and line, has been the highlight of a long fishing life. So I would like to concentrate my thoughts on this stretch of the river bank and deal with a huge amount of information for such a small area.

Looking upriver from Thomastown Bridge. Photo credit Brian Walsh

The names of two adjoining fishing stands in the area need explaining and I will deal with these firstly. The Sceirdíní, or Sceirdeens, simply translated means the Cascades, water bubbling over stones in a beautiful stream. 100 metres down it relaxes into a gentle pond which locally is erroneously called Poll Crab. But, no there are no crabs. The proper name, however relates to the Irish, Poll Creamh. “Creamh” means garlic, and thus this means “The Garlic Pool.” It gets its name from the prolific amount of garlic growing on both banks. This is from the original beds of garlic grown in the Castle Garden from back in the 13th Century. Every Spring, daffodils appear there too adding to the already abundant beauty of the spot.

The Nore at Thomastown. Photo credit Brian Walsh

The Castle Stream, the third salmon stand, is self explanatory and when we add in the colour of the leaves on the island in late Autumn we have a real beauty to behold. When I then tell you that the earliest inhabitants fished that same Castle Stream back in the 13th Century by means of a net attached to a rope that entered the Castle Wall through a hole high in the wall and tinkled a bell when a salmon got entangled in the net in the Stream. This is true and the hole can still be seen high up on the river facing wall. Here we have heritage added to the picture of fun, fishing and beauty describing in this short stretch of the River Nore at Thomastown. I now live in Dangan on the other bank but still within viewing distance of all this wonder, so I have seen it all from both sides. Lucky me!!!

Joe kindly submitted this piece for our Placenames of the Three Sisters project for Heritage Week 2020