Tides and Tales – showcased on a video of Heritage Week 2022

For this year’s Heritage Week Deena and I organised a weir building workshop based on my personal life experiences of working on the repair and the fishing of the traditional Waterford Harbour Head Weir. 

I decided to build a life-size model of the structure at Moran’s Poles, and put my previous teaching experience in the ETB and SETU to some good use in developing an interactive and hands-on activity-based workshop.

Later, a local boatman Tomás Sullivan contacted me to say that he could bring a number of the participants out to look at the weirs, through the support of the Local Authorities Water Programme.  Had I known earlier I might not have invested so much of my time into the life-sized replica structure. But it certainly made the day extra special.

Another positive of the day is that the Heritage Council sent a filmmaker (Peter) to record the event. It’s now available on youtube as seen below

Gentry at Play-Hook Regatta, 6th Aug 1870.

On this day in 1870 the great and the good of the harbour area and beyond gathered to enjoy the sport of sailing and racing at the Hook Regatta. In this guest blog post David Carroll shares the spectacle and many of the characters who took part.

The Standard and Waterford Conservative Gazette of Wednesday, August 10th, 1870 carried a most colourful report on the Hook Regatta, that had been held at Loftus Hall, under the patronage of the Marquis of Ely, on the previous Saturday, August 6th. We learn that tenants of the Ely estate in Wexford, fishermen from the coastal communities of Waterford Harbour, and citizens of Waterford all rubbed shoulders with members of the gentry and nobility as they came together to enjoy a magnificent day of aquatic events. The report began as follows:

“Hall Bay, Saturday – This annual event came off today in Hall Bay, under the most favourable circumstances, before several thousand spectators. Loftus Hall Bay – as most of your readers are aware- is situated at the very entrance of the Waterford harbour, one of the promontories leading into it being Hook, noted for its Tower, well-known to navigators. No more suitable spot could be selected for contests between yachts and sailing yawls, as the bay is very expansive, while, even in the calm of mid-summer, a good breeze from the Channel is sure to be encountered, accompanied necessarily by a strong swell on the water. This annual event was first originated by the present young Marquis of Ely some three years ago- its object being chiefly to afford a source of amusement to the tenants on his estate, and to fishermen residing in the vicinity of Waterford harbour. He gives annually all the prizes, and defrays all expenses connected with carrying it out, which is evident from the very great interest that the inhabitants of the Ely estate, and residents of Dunmore, Duncannon, Passage, Ballyhack, Fethard, and other parts of the harbour take in the proceedings – many hundreds from each of the places mentioned crowding yearly to enjoys the day’s amusement. The weather was all that could be desired for aquatic sports. From an early hour in the morning, a strong breeze from the SE blew across the bay, causing a strong swell on the waters, giving yachts, and sailing yawls every possible opportunity of showing their sailing qualities to advantage. The distance for yawls, as will be seen by the programme subjoined, was about nine miles, and for yachts about eighteen, and it is very creditable to the competitors to state that the sailing was of the very best description and would have done credit to many of the crack aquatic sportsmen. The yacht race was a very interesting one, the sailing on the whole good. As a matter of course the bay was crowded by crafts of various descriptions from all parts of the harbour. It is also right to state that the Marquis of Ely chartered the steam-tug William Wallace to convey a select party from Waterford. Captain Kelly of Passage, commander of his lordship’s yacht “Mystery” acted as commodore and his very excellent arrangements and his decisions gave unbounded satisfaction. His lordship and the Earl of Huntingdon exerted themselves in assisting Captain Kelly to carry out the programme. “

Standard and Waterford Conservative Gazette, Wednesday, August 10th, 1870

A reader might be forgiven for thinking that the hosting of an event such as the Regatta by the Marquis was indicative of harmonious relations between the Ely estate and the tenants. This was definitely not the case. Rather it was one of discontent.

The eviction of 121 people in 1865 by the agent Pat Hare created social unrest and in 1869 there were riotous scenes at a sports and race- meeting at Fethard when the same agent was abused for carrying out evictions at Killesk, an outlying townland on the estate. Rather incongruously, the agent was regarded as being solely responsible, as the crowd cheered and applauded the Marquis of Ely and his family when they appeared on the stage“. [1]

Billy Colfer. The Hook Peninsula

Pat Hare, land agent for the Ely estate is remembered as a cruel, bigoted, and an unjust agent. When he died, he was replaced by his nephew, Godfrey Lovelace Taylor and he has been described as every bit as cruel and unforgiving.[2] The Land League was founded by Michael Davitt in 1879 and it was no surprise that very soon after, a branch of the Land League for the Ely tenants was formed and was generally referred to as ‘the Hook 200’.[3] In the report of the Hook Regatta carried in the Waterford News of August 12th, 1870, both Hare and Taylor are listed as stewards for the event, along with Captain Kennedy and a Mr Lethbridge.

Loftus Hall had originally been called Redmond Hall, named after the family, that lived there until the 1650s when it was given to the Loftus family, who were English planters as part of the Cromwellian conquest. It became the principal residence of the Loftus Family in 1666 when Henry Loftus, son of Nicholas Loftus took up residence in the Hall.

August 2020 – exactly one hundred and fifty years after the Hook Regatta of 1870, sailing continues to be enjoyed in Hall Bay. Two ‘flying fifteens’, with spinnakers set, battle it out in the fresh conditions close to Loftus Hall. Photo: Liam Ryan

James Henry Loftus, the 3rd Marquis had died, aged forty-three, in 1857. His son, John Henry Wellington Graham Loftus, the 4th Marquis of Ely was only twenty years old at the time of the Hook Regatta in 1870. He had been born on November 22nd, 1849. His twenty-first birthday was still some months away. On November 25th, 1870, The Waterford News reported as follows:

“The Coming of Age of the Marquis of Ely- The coming of age of the Marquis of Ely, which happy event took place on Tuesday last was made the occasion of festive rejoicings at Passage same evening amongst his lordships tenantry, who are devotedly and deservedly attached to their good and popular landlord. Bonfires blazed on several points, fireworks illuminated the firmament, 4 and refreshments were supplied abundantly to the people who cheered again and again for the youthful Marquis and his respected mother. The entire féte was admirably organised and supervised in its progress by Captain William Kelly, the experienced commander of his lordship’s yacht, and all passe off most happily.”

The Waterford News, November 25th, 1870
The 4th Marquis, aged about ten years-old with his mother, Lady Jane Loftus, Marchioness of Ely. Image: Courtesy of Liam Ryan

His mother, Lady Jane Loftus, Marchioness of Ely (née Hope-Vere) was an interesting person. Born in 1821, she was appointed as Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria from 1851 until 1889 and became a close friend. The Lady of the Bedchamber is the title of a lady-in-waiting holding the official position of personal attendant on a British queen or princess. The position is traditionally held by a female member of a noble family. Through her mother she was a cousin of Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. She developed friendships with Queen Sophie of the Netherlands and Empress Eugénie in France.

‘Mystery’ – The yacht belonging to the Marquis of Ely, crewed by sailors from the Hook. Billy Colfer states that the yacht cruised the Mediterranean. Mount Vesuvius is depicted in this artistic image from Liam Ryan, courtesy of Stephen Colfer.

The Loftus Hall building that exists today was heavily renovated in 1872 by the Marquis, under the guidance of his mother. They undertook the extensive rebuilding of the entire mansion, adding the magnificent grand staircase and features that had not been seen previously in houses in Ireland. A lot of the inspiration was said to have been taken from Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s summer residence on the Isle of Wight.

All this work was believed to have been undertaken to facilitate a visit from her majesty, Queen Victoria. The Dowager Marchioness of Ely felt that a visit by her good friend and Royal Highness, Queen Victoria would raise both the stature and esteem of the Loftus family. Unfortunately for the family, Queen Victoria never set foot in Loftus Hall and the Loftus’ were left with a massive debt following all the works.

Interestingly, Queen Victoria had been in Waterford Harbour on August 4th 1849, when the Royal Yacht lay at anchor on a voyage from Cork to Kingstown, when the Queen felt ill. One wonders if she had viewed Loftus Hall as the Royal Yacht entered or departed from Waterford Harbour? There is a certain irony in the fact that many years later, she played an unwitting part in the demise of the landed estate.

In addition, the family never got to fully enjoy the house, with the 4th Marquis dying at a young age on April 3rd, 1889, without issue and leaving it to his cousin, who eventually elected to place the bankrupt estate on the market. Lady Jane died a year later, on June 11th, 1890, and is buried at Kensal Green cemetery in London, next to her husband.

The Hook Regatta programme included two races for yawls. The first was confined to tenants of the Ely estate and was won by the Hero, owned by M Fortune. The second yawl race was open to boats from all of Waterford Harbour. This race was keenly contested and was won by Kate of Duncannon (R Butler), followed by Kate of Woodstown (Captain Coughlan). Redwing was the winner of a race for hookers, confined to tenants of the Ely estate. Mr Fortune was named as the owner, so it looks as if the same person won both the yawl and hooker races for the Ely estate.

An original sailing yawl, typical of many in Waterford Harbour, the William rebuilt by Matt Doherty of Coolbunnia, Cheekpoint. Photo courtesy of Tides and Tales via PJ O’Shea

The third race on the Regatta programme was one for yachts. This event was very much the preserve of the gentry and nobility. Three boats raced for a cup which the ‘The Standard and Waterford Conservative Gazette’ valued at twenty sovereigns but ‘The Waterford News’, dated August 12th, 1870, put the value of the cup at ten pounds. One thing that the newspapers agreed upon was that the winner was the Emetic, owned by Mr Samuel Perry.

But for the bravery of the Dungarvan Lifeboat during September 1869, the Emetic, or indeed, Mr Perry, might not have been present, to participate in the Hook Regatta.

The south coast of Ireland was buffeted by bad weather at the end of September 1869. On September 26th, a fine American clipper called Electric Spark from Boston was wrecked on the Wexford coast near Blackwater, having earlier struck a rock near the Saltees and was in a sinking condition. The crew of twenty-one and the master’s wife were rescued by the Wexford Lifeboat. Two days later, the Cork Examiner reported in an edition dated October 4th, 1869 “an act of great and timely gallantry was performed on Tuesday last by the coxswain and crew of the Ballinacourty Lifeboat, Dungarvan.”

The rescue involved the yacht Emetic of Dunmore East. The report continued:

“Shortly after noon on that day, William Daly, the coxswain, saw a small vessel in the Pool, with the Union Jack at half-mast. Shortly after she hauled down the Jack and hoisted the Ensign, with the Union down as a signal of distress. Daly observing that the craft had dragged her anchors and was drifting helpless towards the shore, before a strong gale from the S.W., at once summoned his mates and manning the lifeboat at the station, the brave crew under the officer of the Ballinacourty Coast Guard Station, Mr. Brockman, dashed to the assistance of the imperiled vessel. They succeeded in getting safely alongside, when they found the craft was the yacht Emetic, the property of Mr. Samuel Perry, of Dunmore. The coxswain and three of the lifeboat crew instantly boarded the yacht, got her underway under a storm-topsail and reefed foresail and brought her and crew safely to land. Had it not been for the prompt and energetic action of the lifeboat men, sad consequences might have resulted, and their conduct in the affair deserves recognition.”

Cork Examiner. October 4th, 1869

Samuel Perry, a retired officer of the 12th Lancers, was a wealthy landowner and keen huntsman who lived at Woodrooffe House, near Clonmel, Co Tipperary. He was a Deputy Lieutenant (DL) of the county. This estate was in the possession of the Perry family from the beginning of the 18th century. In the 1870s, Samuel Perry owned 2,768 acres. [5]

Woodrooffe House, near Clonmel, home of the Perry family. Image by kind permission of Irish Architectural Archive

During the Civil War, the house was destroyed in February 1923 as were many other large houses in the county. [6] In 1867, Samuel Perry was married by his grace, the Archbishop of Armagh to Mary Power, daughter of John Power of Gurteen, the late MP for Waterford in a very fashionable wedding at Christ Church, Lancaster Gate, in London. The bride was given away by her brother, Edmond de la Poer, also known as 1st Count de la Poer, the Liberal MP for Waterford at that time. [7]

A branch of the Perry family lived in Newtown House, New Park, Stillorgan in Dublin. From a related genealogy website, we learn that Samuel’s father called William, also a Deputy Lieutenant, used to holiday at Queenstown (Cobh), Dunmore East, and Kingstown.[8] This must have been the beginning of the ‘Dunmore’ connection. Samuel’s firstborn, a son also called William, later to become Major William Perry, D.C., was born on February 19th, 1869. Samuel’s father died in the same year on July 13th. Together, with the rescue of his yacht during the month of September, the year 1869 was an eventful one for Samuel Perry. He died in 1908. His son, Major William Perry, died in 1948.

Sir Robert Paul, Bart., owner of Sappho, the yacht that came second in the yacht race was a prominent and well-documented figure in agricultural life and civic society in County Waterford and further afield. In County Waterford, Sir Robert lived in the beautifully situated Ballyglan House, at Woodstown, overlooking Waterford Harbour. The bulk of the Paul estate at that time was in County Carlow where they had an estate at Paulville, near Tullow. In the 1870s, Sir Robert owned 1401 acres in County Carlow, 707 acres in County Kerry and 243 acres in County Waterford.[9]

Dawn at Ballyglan… Photo: Brendan Grogan. Ballyglan House, June 2021, located in a beautiful setting overlooking Waterford Harbour. Once the home of Sir Robert Paul in Co Waterford and still in use as a family home.

Sir Robert is remembered for the part that he played in bringing a RNLI lifeboat to Waterford Harbour. As far back as 1862, he had canvassed Waterford Harbour Commissioners to use their good offices to have a lifeboat stationed in Waterford Harbour. [10] A lifeboat was stationed in Duncannon in 1869 and in 1884, when Dunmore East received its first RNLI lifeboat Henry Dodd, Sir Robert became President of the Lifeboat Committee.

Dunmore East RNLI Committee 1884 – Sir R J Paul, Bart. President. Image courtesy of Dunmore East RNLI.

Sir Robert Joshua Paul, 3rd Baronet (1820-1898) is fondly remembered at St Andrew’s Church in Dunmore East where a beautiful stained-glass window honours his memory.

Window dedicated to Sir Robert Paul at St Andrew’s Church, Dunmore East. Image courtesy of Dave Gunn and St Andrew’s Church

The third competitor in the yacht race with his yacht Fairy was Lieutenant Colonel Gregory Haines. As one newspaper reported: The Fairy got a bad start, was never in the race, and only went the course once.

Haines was born in Kidford, Sussex into a military family. His younger brother was Field Marshal Sir Frederick Paul Haines, who like his brother, was also famous in India for outstanding military service. He gained the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the Honourable East India Company Service. A street named ‘Haines Street’ still survives in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) called after Gregory.

In India in 1840, Lieutenant Colonel Haines married the Honourable Jane Eliza Mona Gough, daughter of Field Marshal Hugh Gough, later to become 1st Viscount Gough. Field Marshal Gough was said to have commanded in more general actions than any British officer except the Duke of Wellington. However, in Ireland, he is best remembered as the man on the horse, whose statue erected at the entrance to the Phoenix Park in 1880, was blown up by the IRA in 1957. Gough died in 1869 at his home St. Helen’s in Booterstown, Dublin, now the Radisson Blu St Helen’s Hotel.

His son-in-law, Lieutenant Colonel Haines, and his wife had nine children. When he died in 1874, aged sixty-five, his will gives his address as Dunmore East. His house or where he may have stayed at the time still needs to be established. What we do know is that a memorial in his memory is still to be seen in St Andrew’s Church.

Memorial to Lieutenant Colonel Haines at St Andrew’s Church, Dunmore East. Image courtesy of Dave Gunn and St Andrew’s Church.

We must also remember the various fishermen and seafarers from the Hook Peninsula and coastal communities of Waterford Harbour, who took part in the Hook Regatta in 1870. They may not have had fancy titles before or after their names but their contribution to the rich maritime heritage of Waterford Harbour is immeasurable. They were custodians of a proud maritime tradition handed down to them. They possessed innate skills as regards boat building, fishing, locating fishing grounds, sailing, seamanship, navigation, and knowledge of every inch of the rugged coastline around the Hook and its place names. They also observed the sacrosanct practice of helping other seafarers in distress or danger. It has been said that the small area of Churchtown, close to the Hook, produced no fewer than seven sea captains, down through the years. Gratitude is due to these people for handing on their skills, knowledge, and respect for the sea to subsequent generations. It is also pleasing to know that water-based sports are still being extensively enjoyed on the Hook Peninsula and in the Harbour.

David Carroll

Footnote:
A search of local newspapers in subsequent years does not reveal any further reporting of the Hook Regatta, which would suggest that the event lapsed after 1870. A successful Dunmore East Regatta was held in 1871 and the Marquis of Ely, Sir Robert Paul and Lieutenant Colonel Haines are all listed as stewards for the event. [11]

Many thanks to Dr Pat McCarthy, Pat Bracken, Liam Ryan, Andrew Doherty, Michael Farrell, Eddie Stewart-Liberty, Dave Gunn and Brendan Grogan for assistance with this piece.

References:

  1. Colfer, Billy ‘The Hook Peninsula’, Cork University Press, 2004. Page 170.
  2. ‘On the Hook’, 2021 Annual ‘Godfrey and Gahan. Gone but not Forgotten’ by Liam Ryan.
  3. Colfer, Page 171.
  4. Firmament – this word means ‘sky’ – an archaic word.
  5. http://landedestates.nuigalway.ie/LandedEstates/jsp/family-show.jsp?id=3137
  6. http://www.turtlebunbury.com/history/history_irish/history_irish_clonmelshow.htm
  7. Waterford News, July 5th, 1867.
  8. https://www.youwho.ie/newtownhousenp.html
  9. http://landedestates.ie/LandedEstates/jsp/family-show.jsp?id=2298
  10. Carroll, David ‘Dauntless Courage ’DVF Print and Graphic Solutions, 2020. Page 20.
  11. Waterford News, September 1st, 1871.

Following the pilgrims footsteps

On Saturday 23rd July the Camino Society of Ireland came to our community to appreciate the role of the harbour in medieval pilgrimage. On a walk led by Damien McLellan, we met at Passage East, took the ferry to Ballyhack, and wandered the roads in search of pilgrims’ footsteps. Although long since passed, their echoes are still to be heard if you only take the time to listen. Medieval pilgrimage is now accepted as having been a tradition amongst Irish nobility and merchant classes. Through it, indulgences were earned, which many believed would shorten the soul’s time in purgatory. One of the best known perhaps is our own James Rice of Waterford who made the trip twice aboard ships from Waterford. Louise Nugent in her own blog recounts the journey of three of the Ó’Driceoil clan who did likewise. But little remains of how those of lesser means and position in society journeyed.

The first thing that struck me about Saturday’s Camino Society walk was the energy and enthusiasm of the group as Damien and I strolled into the community centre in Passage East. Gathered outside the Black Sheep Cafe for refreshments, it reminded me at once of those gatherings at cafes, refugios, or albergues along the Camino routes where walkers are collected, swapping stories with gusto with those of a like mind and shared experience.

Meeting us was our co-guide Breda Murphy and we were at once conscious of a well-oiled organisation that helped put us at our ease. The walk you see was originally to have a 25-30 person maximum, but such was the interest it had grown to almost 50. With crossings of roads and negotiating narrow footpaths, this was a matter of concern to us, but the obvious care and attention to booking in and managing the group from the committee of the Society gave a clear sense of shared responsibility.

At 11 am after a health and safety briefing and introductions by Joe, Damien took the floor to talk briefly about his theory and to place it in a historical context. Damien explained how Henry II had landed at Passage East in 1172 to cement the Norman invasion and had carved up the harbour area for various individuals and groups including the Knights Templars who gained the ferry rights to cross the estuary.

Damien sets the scene, photo courtesy of Jim McNichols

We then moved towards the strand, where I was to give an orientation of the area and some insight into maritime trade. The mist made my task a bit of a challenge as we couldn’t see as far as Duncannon, but I quickly explained the location, the direction of the sea, and the great highway that was the three sister rivers. I covered the importance of the strategic location of Passage, the spot where ships of old could easily sail to and find a refuge, and how because of this the area flourished and was even part of the city of Waterford, controlled directly by the corporation into the 19th century. I also touched on the relevance of the Norman invasion to this importance – how merchants settled in Waterford, exported animal and fish products across a network of alliances in the UK and the continent, and imported finished goods, wine, and salt. Such links and such regular sailings of course made it much easier for pilgrims to travel both away and home. I omitted to mention the Spanish Fort, however.

We then walked up the White Wall and Breda gave a sense of what life was like in Passage for ordinary people where men were often away at sea, or worse their widows were left to struggle alone to raise families with only their neighbours for support. Breda spoke of the work of the cockle women, how they foraged for cockles all around the harbour area as far as Tramore, how they harvested from Monday to Wednesday, boiled them up on a Thursday, and sold them on the streets of Waterford on a Friday. She introduced such characters as Nana, Masher, and Aunt Molloy and gave a true sense of their role in the community and also showed the group around the village where much of the evidence of the cockle pickers is still to be seen.

As we crossed on the ferry to Ballyhack we were relieved that the deck was not too busy, we had plenty of room as walkers. A lot more comfortable for us however compared to the lot of the medieval ferry, an open row boat, or perhaps a larger craft shared with farm animals and horses.

“Pilgrim landing” as we depart the Passage East Car Ferry. Photo courtesy of Jim McNichols

In Ballyhack we walked the footpath towards Arthurstown where we had a quick stop off for me to mention the emergency era minefield before turning up the Church Road to start making our way back towards Ballyhack. At the back entrance to the graveyard we were met by Liam Drought who was invited by Damien to give a local perspective on the area.

Liam first mentioned that where we were standing was a part of an old route that went up to the local Fair Green which was an area of great antiquity and which held a fair each July (25th – St James Day) that brought people from all over which he went on to describe. He highlighted the importance of agriculture and fisheries in the locality and the abundance of trade that had gone on in the past centered on the river. Living on Arthurstown Quay Liam had a number of very interesting points to make on how thriving the river once was. At this point Damien asked if I would recount another St James Day fair – a story of the locality and the Bristol fair in 1635 when a convoy of 50 ships departed under naval escort for protection from Barbary pirates.

A chart of Waterford Harbour by Francis Jobson 1591, showing the defences but also the day marks by which ships could safely navigate including Ballyhack church – named in the chart “Temple St James”
Trinity College Library. You can view the high definition here.
OSI historic series highlighting the church and the fair green
I think this is the only likeness I am aware of for the church, taken from a sketch of the area by Thomas Philips dated 1685. NLI

Next we entered the graveyard where Liam explained the location of St James Church, its fate, and how it was used as a day mark or landmark in ship navigation in the days of sail. The church was removed and used in the building of the protestant church at Blackhill, Duncannon.

Damien points to the location of the church alter
The Ilen entering harbour under engine power as we walked…co-incidental, but a very timely visitor

As we headed away again along the old road, Damien gave a short talk about the millstone quarry that once operated and then we joined with the main road, where a few of our party decided to head back to Ballyhack whilst the majority climbed the hill to our last stop. This was on a “Green Road” the extent of which was obvious from its width and fine retaining walls. We stopped a few hundred yards in where on a much sunnier day we could see Tory Hill and Mount Leinster away in the distance and Damien recounted the likely route a less well-off walking pilgrim would take to get back up the country and the very obvious stops. All of which was explaind in his article published by History Ireland – Reclaiming the Way of St James

On the Green Road

Damiens final remarks was to state that although the landowner had given us full permission to walk the green road that it only leads to the main road which is dangerous. In fact even though the historical footprint of the walk is very evident, Damien is adamant that having walked it once and cycled it twice from St James Gate in Dublin the only safe part of the walk for modern-day pilgrims is the Barrow Way, something he hopes the society may consider exploring.

Looking back on Byrnes from the ferry, as we head home

Returning to Ballyhack and having a lovely lunch in the comfortable surroundings of Byrnes of Ballyhack I could not help thinking of the rich maritime history we had showcased on the day. There’s much yet to be uncovered, or relearned of the areas past, and much that can be enjoyed by the modern walker. It just takes an eager spirit and perhaps some research and interpretation by others in authority. You could also get a sense of it from the water by boat tour with Bob and Walter on the Waterford Estuary Heritage Boat Tours.

Of course, we were also very much relieved that everyone had got around safely and we have the Camino Society committee to thank very much for that. And much more as it happens. The walk participants all paid a small fee towards the event and which the Society generously decided to top up towards our chosen charity, the Dunmore East RNLI. €500 – no small amount and we were thrilled to receive it.

Buen Camino.

Postscript

On Saturday October 23rd we arrived to the Lifeboat Station for a handover of the cheque. Group includes from L-R Breda Murphy, Me!, Susan Colfer, Margaret Barry, Roy Abrahamson and Damien McLellan
As a real treat, Roy showed us around the RNLB William and Agnes Wray, the two kids were hard to control – their giddiness very much in evidence here. One of my most enjoyable afternoons in a long time

Grand opening of the Barrow Bridge 21st July 1906

Today marks the opening of the Barrow railway Bridge and the South West Wexford line. I wrote previously about the planning and construction of the Bridge which was started in 1902 by the firm of William Arrol & Co to a design by one of the foremost engineers of the time Sir Benjamin Barker. The purpose of the railway line was to open up the South West of Ireland to export with England in an efficient and quick manner and speed the crossing times to England and Wales for passengers.  The line’s specific distinction is that it was the last major railway line to be constructed in Ireland.  Barrow Bridge is 2131 feet in length and has an opening span to allow shipping through to the port of New Ross.

A postcard of the bridge not long after it opened

Both the bridge and the line, including the new pier at Rosslare, Co Wexford were officially opened on Saturday, July 21st, 1906.  Five hundred guests traveled on a special event train which started out in Dublin.  The train had twenty-one saloon carriages attached including the royal saloon in which was the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Lord Aberdeen, who was to perform the inauguration.  It is said that it was the longest special event train ever seen in the country.  It stopped off at Carlow, Kilkenny, and finally Waterford station to collect further guests including the Marquis of Waterford, and then on to Rosslare via the new Barrow Bridge.  According to Susan Jacob, her grandmother Aggie Power (who lived in Daisybank house) was on that first train, a story handed down through the family. I do recall my father saying that there was some connection between the family and some of the engineers working on the project and Pat Murphy has told me in the past that he understood that some men stayed at Daisybank as lodgers during the construction.

Construction workers working on the opening span, April 1905

Apparently some of the guests fainted with the fear associated with crossing the Bridge.  Well, they might be in awe, for it was by far the longest rail bridge ever built in the country at the time and would retain that distinction (and possibly still should regarding the expanse of water crossed) until Belfast’s Dargan Bridge and related works were constructed in 1994. It might be hard now to imagine the fear that the travelers might have held in such a crossing, but it should be remembered that the designer and builder had only a few short years before completing a project to replace the largest rail bridge in the British Isles – The Tay Bridge, the predecessor of which had collapsed into the River Tay in 1879 while a train was crossing with the loss of all aboard.

A sketch I made (using a phone app) of the bridge recently looking towards the Kilkenny side

The opening span was also a concern no doubt, but passengers need have had no fear.  The opening span was operated from a control tower atop the opening, which was manned and operated via an electrical generator below on the protective pontoon.  (Mains electricity now powers the opening, but this is the only difference made to the operation that I am aware of) The operator couldn’t open the centre span unless and until signal men on both the Waterford and Campile sides acknowledged that there was nothing traveling on the line. 

A recent shot of the bridge looking towards the Wexford side. Note the black ball to the left of the control tower, I love to see such details preserved.

Indeed initially ships would not proceed through the opening until a signal was also raised from the control tower, a black ball.  This would later include a green light when the bridge opening was extended to nighttime.  Many the time I marveled at the nerves of these men sitting atop the span as ships passed through, and I’m sure their nerves were well tested as ships struck the bridge on at least two occasions.

Notwithstanding any guest’s concerns, the special event train proceeded onto the bridge and came to a halt halfway across to give everyone a view of the meeting of the three sister rivers at Cheekpoint. It then continued on its way to Rosslare, where the three-masted schooner Czarina lay at anchor and the steamship Pembroke was at the pier, having sailed earlier from Fishguard with invited guests.  As it crossed into Rosslare a 21-gun salute was fired by the local coastguard.  The new service was inaugurated from the pier by the Lord Lieutenant and this was followed by a party where several toasts were made to the good fortune of the new company.  The freight rail service was the first to start running on the line thereafter, followed by a passenger service which came into operation on August 1st, 1906 and the first cross-channel ferry left Rosslare on Fri 24th August 1906, sailing on the SS St Patrick.

The Barrow Bridge gave over 100 years of loyal service before being closed in 2010.  An event we have also marked. I also wrote about a century of incidents associated with the bridge in my book Waterford Harbour Tides and Tales.

I would like to acknowledge the following sources:
Jack O’Neill, A Waterford Miscellany. 2004.  Rectory Press
Ernie Shepard – The South Wexford Line.  Journal of the Bannow Historical Society (2013)
John Power – A Maritime History of County Wexford Vol 1(2011)

My experience of the June 2022 Meteotsunami

 On Saturday 18th June 2022 I went for an evening boating trip. As Deena was entertaining some friends at home I was on my own, but we had already had two good trips out together – to Jack Meades and Campile earlier that week.

Our first trip out, made it to Jack Meades with the spring high tides, via Ballycanvan Pill

I decided to have a quick jaunt across to Buttermilk and along up the Larch Ditch to Nuke and up as far as the Holly Bush. When I was approaching Nuke it was coming close to HW and I noticed a distinctive line of wet suggesting the tide had risen more than two foot above the tideline. This sometimes happens if a ship has passed and there’s a high wave, but in this case there had been nothing passing in or out.  To be honest I didn’t think much about it, except that it was odd. 

Not long after I put ashore to check out some driftwood for the winter firing and as I walked away from the punt it floated off the shore. I was perplexed but managed to haul it back in as I had a rope out, something I almost never do. I hauled it up, tied it tightly and when I came back a few minutes later the punt was aground.  It was all I could do to get her back in the water.

I knew something was up at that stage but was blaming the fairies 🧚‍♀️ I promptly went home and opened a bottle of wine.

A lovely calm evening as the the sun sets over Great Island, Saturday June 18th 2022

Anyway, the night was a beauty, a light NE breeze, and I never heard any sound in the river of a rushing inward or outward tide. Whatever happened was incredibly gentle. It was only the next day I heard online of some very strange tidal conditions in other areas. It later made the papers.  And apparently, it happened along the south coast including Cork, Waterford and Wexford, as far as Wales, England and France.

Dr Gerard McCarthy, an oceanographer with the Irish Climate Research and Analysis Unit in the Department of Geography at Maynooth University said he believed the most likely cause of the phenomenon was probably a meteotsunami rather than an earthquake or landslide. Elsewhere I read that “identifying a meteotsunami is a challenge because its characteristics are almost indistinguishable from a seismic tsunami. It can also be confused with wind-driven storm surge or a seiche”. Gerald was later interviewed as part of a podcast with Sorcha Pollack on the Irish Times. Thanks to Seamus Fennessey for that link.

I often complain about social media being a drain on my time. But without it in this case I would have never mentioned these strange incidents on the Wexford shoreline in case people thought I was mad and would have probably thought the little people were playing tricks on me…but shur maybe they were!

Edit. There was another element to the Tsunami story that I didn’t mention when I first wrote this. TBH I thought people reading it would think I was mad. Anyway, it was prompted by listening to the podcast because they covered the most well know Tsunami event known to have happened in Ireland, in November 1755 after the Lisbon earthquake. Coincidentally Bill Sheppard had emailed to ask me recently if there were any local stories connected to this, as he was investigating the event in the context of exploring the Creaden Head project.

I mentioned in my reply that I had read in Roy Stokes most recent book (Adventures of the Famine Diver, William Campbell) that there is a folk memory of the event at Kilmore Quay in Wexford. But I also had a story from growing up in Cheekpoint that I was told. Now I was frank…I can’t remember who told me, and I never really believed it when I was told it…but this is what I was told.

The story as I recall it was that the tide ebbed well away from the shore and stayed away for several minutes.  Locals were aware of this kind of event and immediately fled to higher ground.  On looking back some were in two minds of returning and going back into the river to retrieve stranded fish and anchors and other materials that were of value.  But those who thought they might chance it were held back by wiser heads.  Eventually, the tide rushed back in and came up along the shoreline.