Although Sunday 26th June dawned wet and breezy, as the morning wore on the cloud started to lift and by early afternoon it was a beautiful sunny summer day, but with a strong SW breeze. As Deena and I drove towards Dunmore East Geoff Harris broadcast from the quayside on WLR FM, whetting the appetite for what was going to be a wonderful, and historic afternoon. You see, at least for me anyway, this will almost certainly be the last naming ceremony I will ever witness. The new lifeboat has a 50 year lifespan, so the likelihood of me being around for the next event is highly doubtful. Perhaps that is why I enjoyed the day so much.
Dunmore East RNLI officially named their all-weather Shannon class lifeboat, William and Agnes Wray. The Shannon replaced the station’s Trent class lifeboat last September (the new boat arrived on Sunday 26th September and quickly settled in) which was on service in Dunmore East since 1996. During those 25 years, Elizabeth and Ronald launched 412 times, bringing 821 people to safety, 20 of whom were lives saved.
The Shannon class lifeboat is the first modern all-weather lifeboat to be propelled by waterjets instead of traditional propellers, making it the most agile and manoeuvrable all-weather lifeboat in the RNLI’s fleet. The naming of the class of lifeboat follows a tradition of naming lifeboats after rivers. When the Shannon was introduced to the RNLI fleet, it became the first time an Irish river was chosen, and it was done so to reflect the commitment and dedication of Irish lifeboat crew for generations. And as you probably already know, the lifeboats have operated from Dunmore since the Henry Dodd arrived in 1884.
What follows is a recap of our day with photos and video. Hopefully those who could not be there will get a sense of the occasion, including our good pals Andrew Lloyd and Leoni Baldwin who were unable to attend on the day.
A wonderful day. Here’s wishing the vessel and crew fair winds and following seas.
My first introduction to Falskirt Rock was in the Spring of 1984 fishing on the decked motor boat Reaper with Jim Dips Doherty and his neighbour Denis Doherty. Denis pointed it out to me as we steamed away west from Dunmore East towards Tramore Bay with a deck filled with ground nets on a frosty but clear March morning. The seas were breaking around it and the jagged top was exposed as the seas surged.
The sight of the rock alarmed me I had to admit. Not just because I was aware of how dangerous it could be to a boat that had lost power and might drift atop of it. No there was another reason – and for me a scarier reason. You see during that previous winter when I first fished out of Dunmore for herring, several nights we had set our nets close by, and I was ignorant of the rock and the inherent dangers it posed. The fact that Jim and Denis knew, and I trusted them completely, was beside the point. It reminded me of how little I knew of the deep waters off the coast and how literally out of my depth I was in these unfamiliar waters.
As if to underline these fears Denis told me about a fishing boat that was washed close to the rocks while fishing at night in a raging storm and blizzard of snow in December 1950. The crew alerted fellow fishermen by flares of their difficulty and the local lifeboat Annie Blanche Smith raced to their rescue. But by the time the lifeboatmen arrived the boat (Naomh Déaglán) was almost atop the rock and the fishing nets were starting to bunch around her almost like a shield or protective boom. Somehow the lads on the lifeboat managed to negotiate their way in despite the obvious risks to themselves if the prop of the lifeboat was fouled, got a line to the fishing boat, and managed to tow the five-man crew to safety. I had goosebumps listening to Denis that day (although I was sure he was putting legs on the story). However, David Carroll shared it with us before, and if anything the story was more incredible.
Falskirt is a rock that is barely visible at high water but partially strips when the tide recedes. It is about 400 meters off the coast, close to Swine Head (sometimes referred to previously as Swiny Head/Point). It lies off the coast between Portally and Rathmoylan. The Waterford Harbour Commissioners Bye Laws of 1960 define the outer limits of their influence as a straight line drawn between Hook Head and Swiny Point. The International Shipping & Shipbuilding Directory of 1940 defines the outer limits of the pilotage of the area as being determined within an imaginary arc with a radius of 4 miles drawn seaward from a midway point between Hook Head and Falskirt Rock.
Origins of the name
Although I am using the spelling Falskirt I’m aware of at least two other spellings. Fileskirt from the Robert Sayer chart dated 1787 called “An actual survey of the harbour and river of Waterford, and of the bay of Tramore,” Another spelling I have read is Foilskirt. The meaning or origin is not included in Canon Powers Placenames of the Decies alas, although I did find one article from 1871 claiming it to mean “The Cliff of the Sea Rock’ – which seems to suggest a part of the actual coastline rather than the rock itself. Ray McGrath, writing in the quarterly newsletter of the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society in 2017 draws on the knowledge of the late fisherman and lifeboat legend Stephen Whittle and speculates that although the name is obscure, the first part may refer to ‘cliff’ and the second syllable ‘scairt’ possibly meaning separation.
After publication Seán Ó Briain commented (see full comment below) that it is also mentioned in The History, Topography and Antiquities of the County and City of Waterford and named as Fileskirt.“..at the projecting headland called Fileskirt or Swinehead, there are sunken rocks nearly covered by the sea at high water..” Seáns conclusion is that Fileskirt could have been the name of the headland, to which the rock got its name.
Incidents associated with it
Although the five-man crew of the Naomh Deaglán had a narrow escape in 1950 at least three shipwrecks have been recorded that I am aware of on the spot. In 1804 an unidentified brig was sunk after striking the rock but all the crew was saved. In 1867 a vessel called Willie was wrecked on the rock – no details of the crew were recorded. (Pete Goulding later sent on a newspaper clipping stating the crew were saved. The Willie had departed Waterford of a Tuesday afternoon and grounded and later broke up about midnight. Carrying oats, a large part of this floated off and into Tramore Bay.) Meanwhile in June 1884 the crew of 6 off the trawler Welcome Home was rescued after striking the rock.(1) Of course many shipwrecks down through the ages were simply referred to as lost off the Waterford Coast – its possible, if not probably many others were claimed by the Falskirt. As recently as June 2021 the Dunmore East lifeboat Elizabeth and Ronald went to the rescue of 4 people in a 4-meter fishing boat that lost its propeller and drifted close to Falskirt.
This concludes a series of Lifeboat related posts to acknowledge the RNLI fundraising efforts associated with the Mayday Mile. Members of the Dunmore East Team would still benefit from any donations, please consider them, the website remains open for the first week of June. I’m indebted to David Carroll for his assistance with the content this month.
(1) Sourced from Shipwrecks off the Waterford Coast by Tony Caulfield
We completed our Mayday Mile event – Cheekpoint to Dunmore by Cliff and Shore – in aid of our local RNLI station at Dunmore East on Sunday, May 22nd, 2022.
Although the day dawned overcast and damp by 11 am the cloud was lifting and the walk proceeded in a fresh SW breeze but an increasingly sunny and pleasant day. The aim, of course, was to raise funds for the local lifeboat by the end of the evening we had gone past the €1000 mark which was really something.
Thanks to everyone who supported us on the way to everyone who donated. Big thank you to Carol McGeary for the technical support. To David Carroll for such great research and the Geoff Harris of WLR FM for a welcome interview to promote the walk and the fundraiser. And of course, the team who made the day happen. Remember, the Mayday Mile continues for the rest of the month and many of our teammates at Team Dunmore East RNLI would still appreciate your support. Oh and we will still have one further blog to celebrate the lifeboat this coming Friday.
Will we do it again next year? Watch this space! Oh and please remember you can still donate to Team Dunmore East throughout May and into the first week of June.
On May 2nd, 2013, Dunmore East RNLI Station was honoured to receive a visit from His Royal Highness Prince Edward, Duke of Kent. The Duke has been President of the RNLI since 1969. He succeeded both his father and his mother as President of the charity and in this role, he has provided unwavering support to the RNLI for over 50 years. He has been a true advocate and ambassador for all RNLI volunteers, and he has regularly visited lifeboat stations and attended many RNLI events throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland. Many people would have imagined that this occasion would have been the very first visit by a member of the British royal family to the Dunmore East RNLI station. But as we shall read, this was not the case.
Sifting through an old minute book, held in the Dunmore East RNLI station archives, one can find the annual report for 1889 and it records that Prince George of Wales was in Dunmore East on August 28th, 1889, on naval duty and paid a visit to the station. So, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent was not the first royal visitor to the station as most people would have expected.
Born in 1865, during the reign of his grandmother Queen Victoria, Prince George of Wales was the second son of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and was third in the line of succession to the British throne behind his father and elder brother, Prince Albert Victor. In September 1877, when George was only 12 years old, he joined the cadet training ship HMS Britannia at Dartmouth, Devon, along with his older brother, Albert Victor. From 1877 to 1892, George served in the Royal Navy. During his naval career, he commanded Torpedo Boat 79 in home waters. Later he commanded HMS Thrushon the North America and West Indies Station. In 1891, when Prince George of Wales was promoted to commander, he assumed command of HMS Melampus. He relinquished his post in January 1892, on the unexpected death of his elder brother, which put him directly in line for the throne. On Victoria’s death in 1901, George’s father ascended the throne as Edward VII, and George was created Prince of Wales. On his father’s death in May 1910, he became King George V until his death in 1936. He was the grandfather of Queen Elizabeth ΙΙ.
When King Edward VΙΙ visited Waterford on May 2nd, 1904, HMS Melampus was one of four Royal Navy warships that steamed up the harbour to the city to take up stations in advance of the royal visit. (Please see: ‘1904 Waterford Royal Visit from the River Suir.’).
1889 came just one year after the four-masted American sailing ship Alfred D Snowwas sadly lost with all hands at Broomhill on the Wexford shore of Waterford Harbour on January 4th,1888. The lifeboat In Dunmore East was pilloried for not putting to sea earlier. Launching the lifeboat was delayed and by the time it reached the wreck, all hope of saving lives had gone. An inquiry was carried out, resulting in the coxswain Captain Christopher Cherry being sanctioned.
Subsequently, it is probably fair to say that Lieutenant Tipping RN, the RNLI Inspector in Ireland, was closely monitoring the performance of the station. It is not surprising that the 1889 Annual Report is written in such a positive and upbeat fashion. The report contains the following:
“Four practices of Boat and Crew were held during the year. At one of them, on August 28th, the Inspector (Lieutenant Tipping, RN), was present; and on this occasion also His Royal Highness Prince George of Wales, who happened to be in the harbour with his torpedo boat, visited the Boathouse. The Coxswain (Mr George R Wood) has given much satisfaction both in his care of the House, Gear, and Stores, and also by his steadiness and zeal in time of danger. The Committee are glad to report that the Crew are much improved and working well and harmoniously together, and that if called on at any time, day or night, every man will do his duty.”
RNLI Annual report 1889
I suspect it was considered a good idea to give Prince George a mention in the report. It certainly would have done no harm when the report landed on a desk in London. The art of ‘spinning’ good news is therefore not a recent phenomenon.
Coxswain George R Wood was a fisherman from Tenby in Pembrokeshire, South Wales, and was appointed coxswain after the loss of the Alfred D Snow in 1888. He was replaced by a member of HM Coastguard, George Bliss in 1892. It is most likely that he returned home to Tenby at that time.
In a supplement to the Waterford Mirror and Tramore Visitor, published on Thursday, August 22nd, 1889, the arrival of Prince George in Dunmore harbour on the previous Monday, was extensively reported upon. The actual visit to the lifeboat station by Prince George would have taken place when the torpedo boats returned for a second visit. The report began as follows:
PRINCE GEORGE OF WALES IN DUNMORE EAST
The unexpected arrival of his Royal Highness at Dunmore on Monday evening created quite an interesting surprise. The flotilla of torpedo boats were scarcely observable until they steamed right alongside the quay. They entered the bay at a rate of seventeen knots an hour, and from their dark grey colour and partial submersion in the water, they could be hardly discerned, although it was a beautiful, clear evening, and just then about ten minutes past seven o’clock. There were six boats altogether, the seventh one, as already mentioned, having been left at Queenstown for repairs. Each boat carries a lieutenant commander and a crew of from 16 to 18. Although the boats do not look larger when in the water than a ten-ton steam launch, their actual registered tonnage varies from 90 to 150 tons each. When partially submerged, there is nothing seen but the ‘tower,’ a circular structure about 14 inches in diameter, which is used for look-out purposes.
Machinery is provided on board for giving a continuous supply of compressed air, and the various apparatuses for condensing water, firing the deadly torpedoes, and working the vessels at a high rate of speed when submerged are most intricate and elaborate. The boats that arrived on Monday are known as No 79 (of which his Royal Highness has command), 25, 41, 42, 50 and 59. Amongst the first officers to land was the Prince. He wore the ordinary uniform of a lieutenant of the Royal Navy, and of course, was not then recognised. He was followed by the commodore of the flotilla and several lieutenants, who walked through and spoke to the fishermen and others whom they met. On returning to the boats an order was given that all available men should have ‘leave’ until eleven o’clock. The blue jackets to the number of about a hundred immediately came ashore, and at once sought how the evening could be best enjoyed.
Mr Patrick Harney’s beautiful new hotel was first visited, and the bulk of the men remained there until the time arrived when their leave expired. They spent a jolly time of it, music both vocal and instrumental, being freely brought into requisition. When darkness set in, some of the men left in charge of the boats laid on the search light, which produced a sterling effect on the town. It was first directed to Mr Harney’s house, and by its brilliant rays, the number of seamen in each room, the blinds being up, was ascertained. Next it was laid on to ‘the Island,’ where it was brought bear on two ‘jolly tars’ who had managed on short notice to strike up an acquaintance with a pair of Dunmore lassies. Their discomfiture was quite palpable as they were ‘shown up’ to all who were in the neighbourhood of the dock. The quartet were exhibited with the vividness of a scene thrown on a screen by the aid of the limelight, all the surroundings being dark. The embarrassed victims of this clever joke tried to escape but it was no use. Every step they took they were followed by the powerful search light, until at last, in despair, they separated and found shelter from the rays of the light. In this way, those on board of the boats found an easy method of amusing both themselves and the others who were fortunate enough to be allowed on shore.
The newspaper report continued at length and referred to the beautiful scenery that Dunmore presented and how His Royal Highness and his naval colleagues were entranced by it. Mr. Harney, proprietor of the hotel gets considerable coverage, and his conversation with Prince George, who ordered stores for the flotilla when it would return to Dunmore in about a week’s time from Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire). For good measure, the reporter included a paragraph about Lord Charles Beresford, or ‘Charlie B’ as he was affectionately known. Lord Charles (1846-1919) was the second son of John Beresford, 4th Marquess of Waterford, and was an admiral in addition to being a member of parliament. Much later in his naval career, he was thwarted by his nemesis, Admiral of the Fleet, Sir John Fisher, from his ambition of becoming First Sea Lord.
The newspaper report finally concluded as follows:
Within a week the flotilla may be expected to return, and if the seamen’s genial qualities are not exhausted in the metropolis, and that any of the convivial spirit which they showed at Dunmore on Monday night remains, their visit once more will relieve the tedium of the dull Dunmore evening.
The visit was not just newsworthy in Waterford. On Thursday, August 15th, readers in Scotland received coverage of the events in Dunmore under the title ‘AN INCIDENT OF THE NAVAL MANOEUVRES – TURNING THE SEARCH LIGHT ON.’
Easter Sunday in 1953 fell on April 5th. The weather was very unkind, and the Munster Express reported that the few visitors in the area were compelled to seek the pleasures of the fireside. The newspaper reported that the recent rainfall had proved to be a blessing for local farmers as the ground had been parched. Disappointment was expressed that a local-bred horse called Free Lancer, supported by many local punters, had a very unsatisfactory outing in the Irish Grand National on Easter Monday. This was offset, somewhat, by the news that local jockey Jimmy Power had won at Manchester Racecourse on Saturday, riding Mosten Lane at 9/2 odds. Closer to home, a successful and well-attended dance was held on Easter Sunday in the Fisherman’s Hall, Dunmore East with music provided by Frankie King and his band. An Easter Dance held in the Haven Hotel was also reported as being enjoyable.
As the fishermen of Dunmore East put back to sea and others in the village returned to work on Tuesday, April 7th, after the Easter break, little could they expect the dramatic event that would later unfold.
At 10.45 pm, Mr. Arthur Westcott-Pitt, Honorary Secretary of Dunmore East RNLI received a wireless message stating that a passenger on board the SS Corrientes, of Glasgow, was seriously ill with a perforated stomach ulcer and asking if the lifeboat would land him.
By 11.10 pm, in a moderate south-westerly breeze, Dunmore East lifeboat RNLBAnnie Blanche Smith (ON 830), had slipped her moorings and was on her way and set a course to intercept the steamer, which was proceeding to Waterford Harbour about twenty miles due South.
The seriously ill passenger was Captain More, a harbour master from Leith in Scotland. The SS Corrientes was on a voyage from Stockton, California to Liverpool, traveling via the Panama Canal. The Waterford Standard newspaper reported that Captain More had been ailing for the last three weeks and within the last few days his condition worsened, and medical advice has been transmitted to the vessel by wireless from ashore.
At midnight, the lifeboat reached the steamer, about seven or eight miles from Dunmore East. The same newspaper went on to report that when the lifeboat came alongside, a member of the crew asked Mr. Westcott-Pitt to come on board and see how tenderly the ill man could be lowered from the vessel. With much difficulty, the sick captain, secured to a stretcher, was lowered to the lifeboat, which returned at full speed to Dunmore East, where an ambulance, doctor, and nurses were waiting to rush him to Waterford City and County Infirmary. Captain More and his wife, who came ashore also on the lifeboat had spent a six-months holiday in New York.
The lifeboat returned to Dunmore East at 01.10 am. Mr. Westcott-Pitt reported that the patient had been transferred to hospital, within 90 minutes of the lifeboat reaching the SS Corrientes. The crew of the Annie Blanche Smith for this service was as follows: Paddy Billy Power, coxswain, Richie Power, second coxswain, Richard Murphy, mechanic, M Whittle, second mechanic, and crew members, J Power, Maurice Power, and A Westcott-Pitt (Hon. Sec.).
The SS Corrientes was a 7,058 GRT, a refrigerated cargo liner that had been built by Short Brothers Ltd, Sunderland and launched on December 21st, 1943, and completed in April 1944 as Empire Cromer. The Empire ships were a series of ships in the service of the British Government. Their names were all prefixed with Empire. They were owned and used during the Second World War by the Ministry of War Transport, which contracted out their management to various shipping lines. In the case of Empire Cromer, it was the Blue Star Line.
In 1946, Empire Cromerwas sold to the Donaldson Line, Glasgow, and renamed Corrientes. This was the second ship of that name to serve with Donaldson Line. This previous vessel was torpedoed and sunk in 1940.
The Donaldson Line was originally founded in 1855 under the name Donaldson Brothers, the company began service from Glasgow to South America using a wooden barque. Over the years, many changes and acquisitions took place and new routes were served as the company developed. In 1966, Donaldson stopped their last passenger service, and in 1967 with the advent of containerisation, the company was liquidated, and the fleet sold.
This lifeboat service on April 7th, 1953 was not the only association that Mr. Westcott-Pitt would have with Captain More and his recovery to full health.
Many people, nowadays, may not know that in the years after World War ΙΙ, Dunmore East had its own small aerodrome in Coxtown, which was developed, owned, and operated by Mr. Westcott-Pitt. The land is now occupied by the Airfield Point and Shanakiel estates. In the early part of World War ΙΙ, Mr. Westcott-Pitt had flown with the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), a civilian organisation tasked to deliver new and repaired aeroplanes to the RAF. In 1946, Mr. Westcott-Pitt resumed his private flying activities. He purchased an Auster Autocrat airplane and during the 1950s and 1960s, it was a familiar sight to local people as it flew over the village.
On Saturday, April 18th, 1953 the Dunmore East aerodrome was to play an important part in Captain More’s safe return to the United Kingdom.
An article entitled: ‘Arthur Westcott-Pitt: Waterford’s Aviation Pioneer’, by Patrick J. Cummins, appeared in Decies, No 66, in 2010.
The following news item appeared in the Waterford Standard, issued on April 25th, 1953:
“There was considerable excitement in Dunmore East on Saturday afternoon last when a special ambulance plane arrived from England to take back Scots harbour master, Captain More, who had been lying seriously ill in the Waterford City and County Infirmary since he was taken from the SS Corrientes by the Dunmore lifeboat on April 7th.Still seriously ill, Captain More, accompanied by Dr W O’Keeffe, was taken by ambulance to Dunmore, and I am told, such was the timing, that the air ambulance flew in to land at Mr. Arthur Westcott-Pitt’s airfield at almost the same minute.A doctor and nurse were on board the air ambulance, and in a few minutes Captain More was being winged across the channel, to, I hope, a speedy recovery.”
What became of the SS Corrientes?
In 1954, Corrientes was sold to the Blue Star Line. It was intended that she would be renamed Oakland Star, but instead, she was declared surplus to requirements and in January 1955, Corrientes was sold to Williamson & Co Ltd, Hong Kong, and renamed Inchmay. On 3 April 3rd,1962, Inchmay ran aground at Wakayama, Japan. There were no injuries amongst her 45 crew. In 1966, Inchmay was sold to the National Shipping Corporation of Pakistan, Karachi, and was renamed Kaukhali. She served until 1968 when the vessel was scrapped.
I wish to thank Coxswain Roy Abrahamsson at Dunmore East RNLI for allowing access to the station records and to historian Cian Manning for his help with access to local newspapers of April 1953.
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