Cheekpoint Quay

The oldest map I have seen of the area (1764) indicates Cheekpoint at what we know locally as the Sheag Rock close to the Mount Avenue. The present village and a quay are indicated but called Faithlegg Slip! We know that a quay was here for the Mail Packet ships from 1787.

However, in the early 1870s, a campaign was being run locally to have the quay refurbished. The reportage takes a number of angles to highlight the plight of the quay. One is that the contemporary quay is in a state of dilapidation – making the point that it was hurriedly erected at the time of the packets, that it was built on a small budget, and that it is neither safe nor fit for purpose.

The local landlord (Patrick Power at this stage) was also vocal, explaining that a refurbished and extended quay would facilitate paddle steamer connections between the village and the city, and this would be beneficial to trade, particularly from his Faithlegg estate.

It was 1883 before I found anything further. At this stage a Harbour and Piers Commissioners were sitting and looking at the needs of coastal and river villages, Cheekpoint among them. The next few paragraphs shaded blue are taken from an article in the Waterford Standard – Wednesday 14 November 1883; page 3

THE CHEEKPOINT PIER. Yesterday, eleven o’clock, Mr Blake, M.P, Major Hayes, Mr Johnston, and Major Brady sat in the County Courthouse, Waterford, to hear an application to extend the present pier at Checkpoint.

Evidence was given that there were 30 boats fishing from the village. The men fished salmon, cod and hake, extending down as far as Creaden Head using nets and long lines. They felt that the remains of the old pier were more of a hindrance to fishermen than assistance.  There was a strong suggestion that this be used as a breakwater.  There is also a “present quay” up from the old quay and this it was the preference of the witnesses that this be updated and extended.  Various locals gave testimony including Nicholas Power, John Barry, William Doherty, Ed Power (Master of Pat Powers steam yacht, James Heffernan, and Thomas Dunphy of Bellisle – which is a new name on me but he came across to Cheekpoint, so either a KK or WEX placename! 

Mr J. Wilson Downey also spoke in his capacity as a manager of the Waterford Steamship Company. He regarded the want of a suitable pier Cheekpoint—one that the paddle steamer could call at—as a very great inconvenience not only to the fisherman but the inhabitants of the district. There was great difficulty and much danger in getting goods on board the steamer which was done by means of boats going out to meet her. The steamer took animals, goods, fish, and passengers to Waterford.

The landlord Pat Power also spoke in support of the views expressed by the fishermen .  He also stated that if the commissioners recommended an expenditure of £2,500 towards the repair and extension of the pier, he would contribute £7OO, or a fourth of the amount. The evidence must have been convincing and it was recommended that the work be surveyed.

Wexford and Kilkenny Express – Saturday 24 May 1884; page 4
Wexford and Kilkenny Express – Saturday 26 March 1887; page 4
the fees associated with shipping from Cheekpoint in 1892 – image courtesy of Waterford County Archive
I believe this image of the quay is circa 1900, its very similar to how it looked in my youth, except for the concrete surface that was later added.
A wet February morning in the 1930s for the blessing of the boats…the surface here is hard to determine, but I am guessing cobbled stone with some filling added
An image from the early 70s before the concrete was poured. Photo was given to me by Tomás Sullivan originally but I don’t recall the source. Shows Bill dips Doherty in his Sunday best on the quay, I think its my uncle John is behind him on the boat

As a child in the 1970s, I remember the new look of the surface of the quay, which had been concreted and had tar poured between the concrete sections to allow it to expand and contract.

A few years back the end of the quay was shuttered and strengthened as there was a risk it would collapse. One theory was that dredging work may have undermined whatever foundation it was built on. It was also raised by at least a foot at that time, but the remainder of the quay was left as was.

Last year – 2022 perhaps the most significant addition to the structure was made when a new pontoon was added.

Tommy Sullivan cuts the ribbon on the new pontoon. Photo Tomás Sullivan

In May of 2023, a notice went up explaining that the quay would now be closed and asked that boats be removed from beside it in the dock to allow works to proceed. Below are some early morning images I took of the work as it proceeded. Essentially the inside wall was pointed, the quay drilled and thousands of tonnes of concrete poured in to make the structure solid, and then the surface was raised. New railings were added, the storm wall was raised, and new ladders and mooring bollards were added. Photos below.

Hilda shipwreck at Duncannon, Christmas 1897

In March I was lucky enough to deliver a talk for the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers at Poolbeg and after the talk Jonathan Wigam came up to me with some images that were taken in his great grandfather’s time –Edward Jacob, an agent for Lloyds of London based in Waterford.
Jonathan made me a present of a few and one, in particular, caught my eye. It was a familiar image to me, the wreck of the Hilda at Duncannon. But I could not recall why it seemed so familiar. I promised Jonathan that as soon as I had any further information I would revert to him.

Hilda sunk off Duncannon Fort. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Wigham

Some days later I had the chance to explore a list of shipwrecks that I have been compiling for the last few years. It’s an excel spreadsheet and I have three lists – Ships lost in the harbour or near it, including the Waterford coastline, Waterford ships lost elsewhere, and ships lost elsewhere coming to or sailing from Waterford. The list is based on my own research with David Carroll but also draws on the work of many others including Ivan Fitzgerald, Edward J Bourke, and John Power of Wexford. I guess we all in turn mine the work that others have done including Jonathan’s great-grandfather.

Anyway the Hilda popped up in 1898 as did detail – in this case drawn from both Edward and John. On reviewing John’s books, I found the photo of Hilda. And that was what I had found so familiar in the image Jonathan had given me. For John’s image was inverted. I had seen it before but was confused by the perspective it gave of the wreck site.

This issue is very common with glass plate images that were taken with the early cameras. Before processing, glass plate negatives have an ‘inverted’ appearance and when developed the correct image is displayed. However, with old glass negatives, it can be difficult at a hundred years remove to work out which was the correct way around. This is a regular enough occurrence, and it can really throw a person, even someone really familiar with an area.

Now can I just say here, that this is in no way a criticism of John’s fine body of work. His three books on the Maritime History of the Wexford coast will stand the test of time. We all make mistakes, and I only hope my work will be as valuable a contribution to the local history of the area that Johns has.

A present-day view of the location. Not quite from the same perspective however. I needed to get closer but my foot wouldn’t co-operate…long story

So to the Hilda.

The Hilda was all over the newspapers of 1898, but in fact, most of the reports were repeated news items, some weeks old from the original report. A report from the Waterford Chronicle of Saturday, Jan 1st 1898 stated that the schooner had come to grief the previous Monday, 27th December 1897.

This and other reports gave me further details. The schooner Hilda was sailing from Swansea to New Ross with a cargo of coal for a Mr Power of that port. When coming up the harbour running ahead of a SE gale and a heavy sea, she grounded and sank just off Duncannon Fort. (All the newspaper accounts mentioned that it was off Duncannon pier).

At this stage there must have been a general alarm sounded, there were four crew aboard and the papers mentioned that the coastguards from the adjoining station arrived on the scene with the rocket apparatus. This sounds like the Coastguard was based in the village. I can’t recall hearing of a station or a Coastguard presence in Duncannon. The two stations I was aware of that are nearby are Arthurstown and Fethard Coastguards but the detail is not in any of the accounts that I read*.

The rocket apparatus mentioned (and I saw an example at the Hook Lighthouse when I last visited) originated with the work of George Manby. At the time of the Hilda, a breeches buoy was in use which was basically part of a rope-based rescue device that was used to take sailors or passengers off wrecked vessels. The breeches buoy was probably deployed from around Duncannon’s strand using a rocket system to shoot the line into the rigging of the ship and once secured could be used to take people ashore. See Lugnud.ie for a good description of the system. For more on the lifesaving activities of the Coastguard visit the coastguards of yesteryear site

Winslow Homer, The Life Line: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A couple of reports afterward mentioned that the vessel was from Bridgewater. However, there were actually numerous vessels similarly named at that time including 11 in the UK alone. It would appear that the correct vessel was owned by Fredrick Leigh Hancock, of Hawarden, Flintshire. Her official number was 96284. Registered in the port of Chester, and built at Connahs Quay 1893 and registered at 91 tons.

On the 8th of January, the Enniscorthy Guardian stated that the ship had become a total wreck and that her cargo was at that point advertised for sale by public auction. I could find nothing more on this – was the cargo on the ship and expected to be salvaged, had it been brought ashore, had the Hilda washed ashore…so many questions that I am sure the answers exist but are outside my grasp for now.

But was the ship a total wreck? Well on January 15th the New Ross Standard stated that the Hilda had been sold. “The Hilda was, as announced in the last issue, sold on Friday, at Duncannon, when after spirited bidding it was knocked down to Mr J A Stephens for £86.”
If the Hilda sailed again, perhaps she was renamed but I could not find her. Just as likely, she was sold for scrap value and broken up. (I later found an Abraham George Stephens in my notes when looking up a query for an author from the UK into the wreck of the SS Kinsale at Broomhill in 1872. Stephens from Duncannon gave evidence to the Board of Trade inquiry and spoke up for the locals of the area who had been castigated in newspapers and called wreckers after the tragedy, Stephens evidence was clear and unambiguous in exonerating locals’ conduct) (Post publication – David Carroll tells me there is a lot more info on the Stephens family in the 2023 On The Hook publication)*

Whatever the aftermath, I’m sure the four shipwrecked sailors and those that went to their rescue took some time to celebrate their deliverance from the choppy waters off Duncannon, Co Wexford. I am hopeful that more of this story may emerge. Just this week I got a comment on a story I wrote several years ago giving more details on the SS Hermoine shipwreck at Dunmore East. Just like Jonathan’s photo, these stories send out ripples and its amazing how far they can reach in the internet age.

  • *I mentioned David Carroll’s tip about further information on the Stephens family in On The Hook. This annual publication edited by Liam Ryan is chock full of current and historical details including much to be admired by maritime history enthusiasts. I eventually picked up my copy on the 6th July 2023, and there is a very detailed piece about the Stephens family and their business interests in it (pp49-54) by Eileen Cloney. The family were corn and coal importers amongst other interests. Elsewhere (PP -18-26) Tom Martin gives a terrific synopsis of the history of the Fethard Coast Guard unit, to use the current spelling of the service.

If you would like to get my blog directly to your email every month, you can subscribe to my mailing list by putting in your name and email below and clicking subscribe.

Sturgeon – the Cot men’s nemesis

Living beside the meeting of the three sister rivers, and having fished it for over 15 years, I’ve been lucky to see quite a variety of fish over that time.  By far the largest and most incredible was a Minke whale, which beached but which my brother Robert, Pat Moran, and I managed to refloat in 1993.  But one fish has eluded my sight, another large fish, and a contemporary of the dinosaur; the Royal Sturgeon.
Royal is an appendage associated with the Sturgeon which dates to the reign of Edward II.  An act decreed that “…the King shall have the wreck of the sea throughout the realm, whales and great sturgeon.”[1]  As Ireland was part of the realm, the rules applied here too.  Essentially if you caught a fish you were expected to hand it over to the crown.  In fact one of Waterford’s Royal charters granted by Charles I “…granted to the mayor, sheriffs, and citizens of Waterford…the fishing of Salmon and other fish of every kind, (Whales and
Sturgeons excepted) [2]
The fish itself is an amazing creature.  It can live to a great age, a huge size, and is so old; it swam in the seas in the times of the dinosaurs.  It’s a bottom feeder and tends to swim in the seas.  But like salmon, these anadromous fish, migrate to freshwater to spawn and this has brought them into contact with fishermen.
But not by me, and I can never recall hearing of one being caught in the Cheekpoint area.  However, on a recent trip to the local dispensary, I fell to mention this to Dick Mason.  Dick who has lived here almost 30 years and fished all his life remembered his father catching one in a driftnet in the 1950s in Passage East.  The fish was taken away by the fishmonger Michael O’Neill, but Dick recalled that for all the hype about royal fish, the payment later received was poor enough.
A Royal Sturgeon was landed at Dunmore East 13 May 1952 by MFV Tulip
l-r Frank McDonald (skipper), Tommy McGrath (owner) Johnny Rooney, John Dando Whitty & Davy Muck Murphy
The fish was displayed for two days in the Dunmore East fisheries shop High St Waterford
before being sent as a gift to Eamon de Valera, then president of Ireland.
Photo via Michael Farrell, Barony of Gaultier Historical Society.  Supplied by John Burke
A trawl of the newspaper archives was most revealing about the fish, and in brief, there are accounts of them being caught from Baginbun to St Mullins, Dunmore East to Carrick On Suir. The largest I have found thus far was caught by snap net fishermen near Mount Congreve and was recorded as 9ft 3” and weighing 2¼ cwt. This fish was sold to Mr Crawford, fishmonger of Lombard St Waterford and it was said that the roe(fish eggs, or caviar as Sturgeon roe is more popularly known) in the fish was such that it would have filled the Suir with Sturgeon [3] Crawford comes up frequently as a purchaser.
A frequent sentiment expressed in the papers is that the cot men (on both the Suir and Barrow)who fish the snap net are often “terrorised” by the creature, apparently damage to their nets was common and there were fears expressed of their boats being upturned.  It appears it’s the power of the fish, rather than any malcontent that is the issue. Given the cot size of 14ft with little by way of freeboard[4], such concern is perhaps unsurprising.
The appendage of Royal fish seems to be oft repeated in the newspapers, and many but not all, seem to find their way to London.  Some appear to be sold locally and others end
up in Dublin.  “A very fine Sturgeon was taken in the river on Wednesday and was on view at Mr. Crawford’s next day.  The greater part of it has, according to ancient usage and custom, been sent to the Lord Lieutenant”[5]
Some purchasers were more entrepreneurial than others of course.   Three fishermen near Fiddown Bridge spent two hours wrestling with a sturgeon on a fine May morning in their cots.  The specimen was eventually tired out and dragged ashore where it was killed.  A “speculator” snapped it up for a pound, but headed straight for the Tipperary racecourse and “…exhibited the curiosity at 2d per head…”   The report states the fish was nine feet long and weighed 100 pounds. We don’t get any information on how much the speculator realised, however.[6]
Carrick on Suir is the scene of the most drawn-out encounter in the summer of 1848 which involved 12-14 cots, the majority of the town as onlookers, and “…an immense sturgeon…” which was later said to be 7½ feet long and weighing 169lbs.  From the article, it would appear the cot men went out with the specific intention of catching the fish, as they were “…armed with spears and boat hooks…” The onlookers on shore assisted by watching the Sturgeons progress and when it traveled under the arch of the old bridge they quickly alerted the cot men who formed a line to prevent it from moving back down.  A man named Healy managed to pierce the side of the fish with a spear, but it recoiled so heavily that the spear shattered off the side of the cot, and Healy was thrown from the boat.  The river became crimson with blood as the fish swam away, but was prevented from escaping downriver by the line of cots. 
Meanwhile, on shore, the spectators were shouting encouragement, directions, and advice.  The fish turned away again and was driven towards shallow water by “…Mr. Freemans Brewery…” where another cot man George Coghlan managed to harpoon the fish with a boat hook. The Carrick fishermen later exhibited the fish to the public in the town and afterward in Clonmel from which they realised £4 and later sold it to Mr. Pim of Clonmel for £2 10s.[7] Although a horrible end for the sturgeon, for the local fishermen in famine era Carrick it must have been a windfall.
There does not appear to be any regularity of capture, from the papers at least.  The fish appear to be occasional visitors or perhaps occasional catches.  A report from 1852 on the harbour is interesting in relation to this.  “On Thursday last a splendid Sturgeon, measuring eight feet in length, and other proportions corresponding…is the first of the kind which has been taken in this district for the past 14 years…”[8]  The capture was in a weir in the lower harbour.
Despite all my searching I cannot find any reference to a fish being caught at Cheekpoint.  But then again I should not be surprised.  My father never told me of any!  In recent
years attempts have been made to preserve and encourage Sturgeon back into European waters.  I’m not sure that even if successful we would ever see Sturgeon of such a scale as reported in those papers of the nineteenth century, but I for one would dearly love to see them make a return.
I’d like to thank Dick Mason, Denis O’Meara, Michael Farrell and Maurice Power for assistance with this piece.
[1]  Went.A.E.J. The Status of the Sturgeon, Acipenser Sturio L. in Irish Waters now and
in Former Days
.  The Irish
Naturalists Journal. Vol 9. No. 7 July 1948.
Pp 172-174
[2]
ibid
[3]
Waterford Mail. 14th June 1865. p.2
[4] Patrick
C Power. The Lower Suir – Boats and Boatmen long ago.  Tipperary Historical Journal. 1991.
[5]
Waterford Mail.  4th July 1857 p.4
[6] Waterford
Standard. 27th May 1876. p.2
[7] Wexford
independent. 17th June 1848. p.1.
[8]
Waterford mail. 19th June 1852. p.2
https://www.rte.ie/radio1/doconone/2013/1101/647554-doconone-podcast-dingle-sturgeon-documentary/