1495 siege of Waterford

During an eleven day siege of Waterford in 1495, a river bombardment by the cities defenders on Reginalds Tower, successfully sunk two and repelled nine other ships in an eleven day siege.  A cannon from one of those sunken ships was discovered in Waterford in 1901, and to date it continues to be the oldest known cannon from an engagement in Ireland, perhaps not surprising as it was also the first known use of cannon in a conflict in Ireland.

A recent blog explored the discovery of a 16th Century sailing ship off Duncannon, thought to be the Cromwellian Navy Flagship Great Lewis.  In it we mentioned the discovery of an intact ship lying beneath the sands of the harbour and how important it is to Irish and International underwater archaeology. 

An 18th century sketch of the tower. Via Seán Ó’Briain Waterford History Site
Copyright NLI More info and hi res from http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000619679/Holdings#tabnav
According to an article by Joe Falvey in an article in the Munster Express there was an added defence to the tower consisting of an outer wall upon which the canon were mounted.

As important and exciting that the discovery is, and the hope that future excavations might bring important artifacts to the surface including cannon, it is worth remembering that we already posses the oldest known Cannon in the country.  The Cannon was mounted on the side of a 15th Century ship, one of eleven involved in a siege that took place from the 23rd July to the 3rd August 1495. 

The back story to the siege is one of political intrigue and starts with a young man who arrived in Cork with a claim to royal origins.  The chap was Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be one of the children of the deceased king, Edward IV.  After Edwards death his two sons, Edward V, King of England (12 years old) and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York (9 years old) were locked into the  Tower of London by the man appointed to look after them, their uncle, Richard -Duke of Gloucester.  Richard did the dirt as they say, the boys “disappeared” and he assumed the throne as Richard III.  He would later be killed in battle and the crown passed to Henry VII.[1]

News of a rival for the crown of England was music to many ears, including Cork’s Earl of Desmond, who had his own interest in upsetting the political regime.  Using the story of the young prince who had been cheated out of his rightful birthright, Desmond  whipped up a fuss and raised an army to over through English rule in Ireland.  Recognising the main threat to any progress as Waterford, Desmond and Warbeck assembled an army at Youghal and marched on the city, and eleven ships landed at Passage, later travelling up to the city.[2]

Perkin Warbeck, a 15th C sketch
Via Wikipedia Public Domain

A siege was laid, but the citizenry were prepared.  The stout defences of the city walls were well founded, and a large dam was built across Johns Pill which flooded the marshes to the East of the city, giving extra security.  Any attacks were repulsed and following a sortie into the enemy camp the siege camp was routed and a number of prisoners were dragged into the city, beheaded and the heads mounted on sticks around the market place and walls.[3]

Meanwhile the eleven ships seemed to fair no better (Frustratingly I could find no specific description of the type of craft).  Canon mounted on the walls and defences that surrounded Reginalds Tower were able to blast the ships from their vantage point.  At least two ships were lost (one with all hands), the other nine ships broke and run for cover under a barrage of cannon, eventually mooring off Passage East.  (According to my cousin James Doherty, and some of the guides in Reginalds Tower, troops were landed from the ships near the tower, but the dam across Johns Pill was opened and the rush of water drowned some and led to the routing of others) Following the lifting of the siege, Warbeck fled to Passage East and embarked one of the waiting ships.  The Waterford citizenry were not content however, and four ships (described by one source as Galleys) were prepared and gave chase, but with no success.

Ireland’s oldest cannon on display in Waterford. Author Image. With thanks to Waterford Museum of Treasures.

Warbeck continued to find favour with others who sought to undermine the English crown, but it would appear he was only ever a pawn in more powerful peoples games.  He was finally captured by Henry VII and was hanged in 1499, but not before returning to Waterford for an even less successful attempt on the city in 1497.

Remarkably the siege of 1495 represents the very first recorded use of cannon in Ireland[4]  And the victory helped give Waterford its proudly displayed motto: ‘Urbs Intacta Manet Waterfordia’,  ‘The City of Waterford Remains Untaken’[5]

The city crest including the motto. Note three Irish galleys from an earlier victory . Author image.

The cannon mentioned at the outset is housed in Waterford’s Museum of Treasures and was dredged up from the river on the 4th January 1901. (Coincidentally, I think the dredger Urbs Intacta was in operation at that time).  The newspapers of the time were very exercised by the discovery and quickly dated the ordnance and its significance.  It was dredged up somewhere opposite the Clock Tower and at a point described as mid-way in the river.  At a meeting of the Waterford Archaeological Society in 1901 Major Cuffe gave a presentation on the significance of the ordanance and the item was on display.[6]

It’s a typical late 15th century gun which originally would have been attached to the gunwale of a sailing ship. It is almost a metre in length, and it most likely fired stone shot, rather than iron cannon balls.[7]  Its known by a number of names such as a Pierrier cannon (stone thrower) or a breech loading swivel gun. (Both links include some fine photographs)

I might return to the recovery of the cannon at a later stage. But if you want to see this amazing piece of ordnance, it’s on display in the Waterford Museum of Treasures

I’d like to thank the staff of Reginalds Tower and the Waterford Museum of Treasures who were a great source of information and support in researching this piece. I would also like to put out a call for any further information on the siege and the events over those eleven days. Despite reading everything I could find on it, including several modern books, I’m amazed so little detail is available. It’s also remarkable that many of the online sources about Warbeck and his campaign say little of his Irish journeys and in many cases nothing of the Waterford siege. I find this astonishing. Had Waterford fallen, its possible, if not probable, he would have had a secure base in Ireland to challenge the throne, which would surely have emboldened other enemies on the continent.

I found further support for the claim that this was the earliest use of Cannon in Ireland since publication. [8]

Next week, we visit the Ross River in a guest blog by Brian Forristal


[1] Walton. J. O’Donoghue. F.   On This Day Vol 1. 2013. Waterford

[2] Ibid

[3] Downes. E.  The Story of Waterford. 1914.  The Waterford News.  Waterford (pp58-61)

[4] http://irisharchaeology.ie/2014/05/irelands-oldest-cannon/

[5] Walton. J. O’Donoghue. F.   On This Day Vol 1. 2013. Waterford

[6] Waterford Standard – Wednesday 27 February 1901 page 4

[7] McEneaney, E. & Ryan R. (eds) 2004 Waterford Treasures, M.Y. Gallaghers, Waterford.

[8] Hayes-McCoy, G. A. “The Early History of Guns in Ireland.” Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, vol. 18, no. 1/2, 1938, pp. 43–65. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25535185.

Vanquishing Cromwells flagship, the Great Lewis

On January 23rd 1645 one of the most surprising victories of any Irish action against the English was realised, when an Irish force managed to sink the flagship of the English parliamentary navy at Duncannon Co. Wexford.  The ship was the Great Lewis and she lies to this day beneath the sands of Waterford Harbour.

Back story

The background to this story lies in what is regularly called the Confederate Wars or in some cases the 11 years war 1641-1652.  Although there were many aspects to this upheaval which would ultimately lead to a civil war in England and end in crushing defeat for the Irish under Cromwell, a key motivation of the catholic uprising sought to win concessions from the English king, Charles I, as a reward for supporting him against the English parliament.   

The Great Lewis and her three comrades via local marine artist Brian Cleare. With permission of the artist.

“In May 1642, on the initiative of the Catholic church, Irish Catholics formed what could be called an Irish government at Kilkenny (the Confederate Catholic Association of Ireland) led by a supreme council elected by a landowners and Catholic clergy.  It took an oath to uphold the King’s rights, the Catholic religion and the ‘fundamental laws of Ireland’. Regular armies were formed under Irish Catholic officers who had served in continental Europe.”[1] 

Duncannon comes center stage

In 1643 Charles I signed an uneasy truce with the Confederates in an effort to concentrate his efforts against Parliament.  As is so often the case with civil wars alligencies chopped and changed and the troops stationed at Duncannon fort under Lord Lawrence Esmonde, initially loyal to the crown, decided to switch to the Parliament’s side.  As the fort was of such strategic importance, the confederates dispatched troops from Waterford to attack it under General Thomas Preston, while from England, Parliament dispatched four ships to support it with additional troops and supplies. 

The flagship of this group of ships was a requisitioned merchantman, the Great Lewis.  She was under the command of Captain Richard Swanley. The others were made up of the Madeline, (I’ve read elsewhere Mary and also Magdalen) Mayflower and Elizabeth. The command of the flotilla fell to a Captain Bell.[2]

The Irish had an advantage of height over the four ships that were at anchor below them in Duncannon bay.  During the night of the 22nd of January 1645 they moved their artillery to forward positions. As dawn broke on the 23rd they commenced firing upon the four ships, who realised they were in peril and prepared to make their escape.  But fate was on the side of the Irish, or was it exceptionally good timing? For as the tidal and wind conditions were unfavourable, the ships found themselves at the mercy of the elements and the Irish cannon fire. The sailors did what they could to withdraw their ships out of range, the Great Lewis being severely damaged in the process. 

A sketch of the siege from Hore. Via Wexford Co Library. With thanks to Michael Dempsey.

With her masts damaged and her deck on fire the ship drifted slowly away from the onshore barrage, later to sink on the 26th, supposedly with the loss of 200 men (a figure I find difficult to understand in the circumstances).  The other three ships escaped back to England once emergency repairs had been made.

Duncannon, looking from upriver

Discovery

In 1999 when dredging works were being carried out by the Port of Waterford on this natural sand bar, timbers were uncovered which prompted archaeological monitoring.  Subsequent underwater investigations discovered a 17th century wreck with canon sticking out of the sand.[3] 

Amazingly, the report (written by Dr Connie Kelleher) goes on to explain that “The wooden structure survives almost intact below the seabed, and the line of cannons, with their breech ends exposed, provide an insight into the potential nature and extent of this protected site.”  (See diagram below)

Perhaps predictably, given the little excavation work that has been carried out to date, it also expresses a word of caution “Though the historical evidence is plausible, further investigation is needed to determine the nature, extent and, if possible, the true identity of this wreck.”  I guess in the graveyard of a thousand ships, its well to be cautious until a proper assessment can be made.  The current level of investigation has only literally scratched the surface of the seabed.

A sketch of the wreck lying off Duncannon, note the tiny fraction exposed.
Archaeology Ireland, Heritage Guide No. 26: The Duncannon Wreck —a seventeenth-century ship in Waterford Harbour (May 2004) Copy supplied by Brian Sharpe

Nevertheless its importance nationally and internationally, even if not the Great Lewis, is undeniable.  

Kelleher continues; “ The historical and archaeological value of this site cannot be over-estimated. Although it would be excellent to positively identify the wreck, the fact that these are the substantial remains of a seventeenth-century ship is what is of real significance… it is the first shipwreck from that time to be discovered and then investigated in Irish waters. The possibility that it could have been directly involved in a period of our history that has left such an immense mark adds even more importance to the wreck, as does the realisation that we could, in fact, be looking at a war grave.”

Conclusion

The sinking of the Great Lewis was the turning point in the siege and a huge moral boost for the Irish, although the beleaguered garrison did not finally surrender until the 18th of March 1845.  (Some supplies and extra troops had been landed before the onshore barrage began)

Both events were significant achievements for the confederate forces, and you can’t help but wonder when Cromwell finally reached Waterford harbour did he have a particular malice towards the area when he thought of the humiliation of the loss of his navy’s flagship and the taking of the fort.

A previous guest blog by James Doherty gives a terrific insight to the era and specifically the activities pertaining to Duncannon Fort.

Next weeks blog looks forward to the Waterford Civic Trust event to acknowledge the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the unveiling of a blue plaque to a survivor of the tragedy, Philip O’Keeffe. The blog will focus on his story, but also at least three others from the county, and three others from the harbour area.


[1] http://www.theirishstory.com/2014/01/10/the-eleven-years-war-a-brief-overview/#.XKCAQ_lKgvg

[2] The Great Lewis and the siege of Duncannon 1645.  Kevin Downes.  Decies #60 pp155-6

[3] Archaeology Ireland, Heritage Guide No. 26: The Duncannon Wreck —a seventeenth-century ship in Waterford Harbour (May 2004)

For more information on the wrecks around Duncannon including the speculation on the Great Lewis see Connie Kelleher’s article Pirates, slaves and shipwrecks pp181-199 in Medieval Wexford, Essays in memory of Billy Colfer. Eds Doyle. IW & Browne B. 2016. Four Courts Press. Dublin

Great Western weathers the storm

A few weeks back I published a story of the Great Western and what it meant in the Waterford area.  Each story that I publish generally gets a response, an email or two, comments on the blog, facebook comments and messages.  But the story of the Great Western really hit a nerve and this weeks guest blog is prompted by one email in particular which I will come to momentarily. 

It’s difficult to pick a few remarks out of the many that I received, but if I must then fellow villager, Helen Barry, sent me a lovely photo and clipping of her uncle Michael Heffernan which I think might make another blog.  Michael, of course, went on to be the last captain of the dredger Portlairge.  My cousin, Captain Jim Murphy, from Crooke originally but now living in Liverpool, sent me on a lovely piece about going to sea on the Great Western.  Eiblis Howlett sent on a memory of coming to Ireland on her summer holidays and how her dad on seeing the harbour as she sailed up to the city in the morning time would recite the John Locke poem “The Exiles Return, or Morning on the Irish coast” O, Ireland! isn’t grand you look— Like a bride in her rich adornin ! With all the pent-up love of my heart I bid you the top of the morning !

The Great Western shortly after coming on the Fishguard – Waterford run in 1934
Photo courtesy of Frank Cheevers. Waterford Maritime History group

But of all the replies I got one stood out as it was a childhood memory of an incident of 1954 from Owen Paddy O Grady. Paddy, who lives in Germany, is one of those long term (heading to year five would you believe) blog followers who occasionally sends me an email. (It keeps me encouraged and reminds me that people from all over the world are now part of the tidesandtales community). I suppose what captured my imagination about Paddy’s piece is that I could almost see myself in his shoes as a young lad in the city, knocking around the quays, gazing at the comings and goings of the many dozens of ships that would have then populated the city on a weekly basis. Part of me believes many of those who read the blog will identify with that too, so here’s Paddy’s account of a terrible storm of November 1954.

Your latest Blog on the Great Western reminded me of an episode of the past which, at the time made me shiver. Here´s the story in my best old Waterford english: Waterford was, in my youth, frequently visited in the Autumn, at Christmas-time, and in further Winter times by hard storms. But one that I will always remember was the storm in November 1954 which traversed over the south and south east of Ireland and further eastwards towards Wales and of course, the port of Fishguard.

On the 27.11.1954 we heard, on the radio, of problems of the tanker World Concord in “the channel” which eventually broke in two. What we further heard was (via radio and my fathers “connections”) that the Rosslare lifeboat had been launched. It later transpired that the Rosslare boat had already taken crew members off  another troubled freight ship and then went on to the assistance of the sailors on one of the tanker sections. As the life boat, at this time, was on duty for a very long period (30 hours), it actually ran very low on fuel – or out of fuel –  and had to be refuelled or towed back by a fishing boat

WORLD CONCORD, the Liberian Tanker, which broke in two during heavy gales in the Irish Sea on 27 November 1954. The ship was only ten miles off the Pembrokeshire Coast when she broke in two. In little more than half an hour the two halves drifted a considerable distance apart. Copyright: © IWM (A 33078) . Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205163741

The actuall run of things were never reported in Waterford by the papers or our “connections”. The Storm prevailed, if I can recollect correctly, for at least 3 days and 3 nights and word came round that there was no radio contact to OUR Great Western, which was under way to Waterford,  and that she was long overdue.

We were all very worried but she eventually appeared on the Suir several hours behind schedule and docked successfully. My father gave me the good news at dinner time (13.00 hours) and I immediately cycled to the Adelphi quay to satisfy myself that she WAS “in”.

What I saw was a battered Great Western tied up, no crew members; no passengers or any stevedores were to be seen on deck or on the jetty. It was a complete silent situation in and around the ship. But the Western was there and the crew had obviously been left to sleep off their ordeal. I can very well remember the damage I saw:  the gunnel on the starboard side, forward of the bridge, was Flat WITH THE DECK !! What the port side was like I could not see. Also a number, if not all, of the ventilation cowls were missing and there was almost no rigging in place, which was probably the reason for the loss of radio contact.

Community Notice. I’m happy to promote any event that is heritage focused, subject to space, that fits with the page mission to promote the maritime heritage of the three sister rivers and the harbour area.

We later heard that the captain had decided to ride out the storm as opposed to taking the risk of navigating safely into the harbour mouth with heavy southerly seas up his stern. That`s just one of my Great Western recollections which may be of some interest to you.

My Grandparents and parents had a hairdressers shop at 133 the quay which was beside Reginald’s Tower where the Viking remade boat stands. Our father was very friendly with the crews and captains of Western and the Clyde boats and was consequently  “well informed” Our family had past connections with Waterford shipping in that our grandparents sailed their “freighters of the time” to and from various English ports and the south coast harbours of Ireland.

To give a sense of the storm the Great Western had just endured a report from the Liverpool Echo on the 27th reported on the ferocity of the Irish Sea that night of the 26th and into the 27th.  The World Concord is reported as having broke apart and her crew in great peril.  (It would later emerge that her two sections had remained afloat and had drifted apart, the 35 crew on the aft section were rescued by the St Davids lifeboat and later that day the crew of the Rosslare lifeboat found the bow section.  She stood by the hull and the seven men aboard all through the night affecting a rescue the following morning and after a hair raising transfer from the jacobs ladder to the deck of the heaving lifeboat, they dropped the survivors to Holyhead It would be Wednesday of the following week before the Douglas Hyde returned, where a brass band played the “Boys of Wexford” on the quayside in salute to their heroics.[1]).  An unidentified ship was reported as lost off the Lizard and although crew members were spotted in the water and in a lifeboat, none were believed to have survived in the report.  A Dutch tug Humber and the Newhaven lifeboat was standing by an auxiliary sailing ship the Vega which had jettisoned her cargo in an effort to stay afloat.  Meanwhile the crew of the South Goodwin lightship was missing, the lightship had broke her anchors and drifted ashore.[2]   

The  crew of Rosslare Harbour lifeboat Douglas Hyde.
Back row left to right – Dick Duggan, Jim Walsh, Jack Duggan and Paddy Owens.
Front row left to right – Richard Duggan, Coxswain Dick Walsh, Dick Hickey and Jack Wickham.
This photo appears in the Nicholas Leach book, The Lifeboats of Rosslare Harbour and Wexford courtesy of Rosslare Harbour RNLI and via Brian Boyce Rosslare Maritime Heritage Centre.

Although I have tried unsuccessfully to find an account of the journey of the Great Western from the local papers (and thanks to Maurice Power for his assistance too) the only mention I have is that she was overdue by several hours but unharmed by the trip[3].  I hope to source further information soon.  I’d like to thank Barry at Holyhead Maritime Museum and Brian Boyce at Rosslare Maritime Heritage Museum for helping me with sourcing photos. In our guest blog feature next month we travel up the Barrow river in the company of Brian Forristal and meet his forbearers on the banks of the mighty river. Next week I go in search of the Great Lewis.


[1] For a stirring account of the Douglas Hyde rescue see John Power’s book A Maritime History of County Wexford Vo II pp 458-462.  Copies still available from the Rosslare Maritime Heritage Centre

[2] Liverpool Echo – Saturday 27 November 1954; page 8

[3] Waterford News & Star – Friday 3rd December 1954; page 6




[1] Liverpool Echo – Saturday 27 November 1954 page 8

HMS Juno and Stormcock at Waterford 1902

A recent maritime related photo from my cousin James Doherty led me on a rambling search for the ship and her purpose.  We identified her early on as the Stormcock, we knew it was in Waterford , but with precious little other detail as to the purpose of the visit or a date.

tug Stormcock at Waterford 1902 (I think!)

Normally I start searches such as these with a shout out to an intrepid band of online maritime enthusiasts or local history nuts who I can’t even begin to name now that the list is getting so long. But I’m so often embarrassed by the lengths such online friends go to, when I consider the time they put into such queries. So I decided to try go it alone this time with an odd interaction with James.

Google presented a myriad of entries for a Stormcock including several Liverpool based tugs, but nothing presented as clarifying what we had, except a few photos of a similar profiled ship.  The photo we had however, didn’t suggest tug.  The vessel looks too clean and the officers on deck suggested Royal Navy.  There are also a lot of very well dressed men hovering nearby, and aboard, including one lady.  It seems to be a social occasion, an important event rather than a visit by a workboat. 

a close up of a life buoy that yielded a name

The papers were a bit more helpful and the first mention of a tug of this name in Waterford went back to March 1889. What was described as one of the largest and finest sailing vessels that ever entered the port of Waterford had stranded on the Ford (the river where it separates Little Island from Kilkenny).  The ship was the St Charles, of Maine, United States of America. From the description she sounds like she may have been one of the famous Down Easter types, of which the Alfred D Snow would be most familiar to us here in Waterford. Her master was Captain Purington, and she carried a crew of 21.  When she grounded she was being towed by the tug Stormcock of Queenstown, Cork.

The St Charles had left San Francisco on the 16th October 1888 with a cargo of 11,600 quarters of wheat.  Having arrived to Queenstown her cargo was purchased by Messrs White Brothers and Co of Waterford, the brokers being Messrs Matthew Farrell and Son, the Quay, and the United States Consul, Mr William Farrell (a member that firm).  Brendan Grogan has guest blogged on two of the family that would later go on to be highly regarded Harbour Masters. The ship was quickly got off but found to be taking water.[1]  Her cargo was discharged and she later left, towed by the Stormcock for Liverpool.

The chances that this is the occasion which led to the photo being taken is not very plausible however, its doubtful the quality of Waterford would have been aboard for such a working trip.  

A later report however seems much more plausible and I now think this is most likey. The occasion was a Vice regal tour of the coast by the then Lord Lieutenant and the Countess of Dudley.  Along with other dignitaries they had toured the south coast aboard HMS Juno (1895) examining coastal defences, sights of interest and visiting and/or attending social engagements at Glengarriff, Cork City and finally dropping anchor at Dunmore East on Wednesday 29th October 1902.

HMS Juno, Wikipedia public domain

The plan for the day was that what was described as a Royal Navy Tender Stormcock would convey the party up the harbour to the city.   In the city they were to meet the town dignitaries.  The report goes on to say that “…Alderman W G Goff, Jr, Glenville… will place his two motor cars at the disposal of their Excellencies. After lunch with Alderman Goff they will take a drive in the neighbourhood. They will then return the Juno and sleep on board, the Juno meanwhile proceeding Kingstown, which will be reached on Thursday morning. Their Excellencies will then return by special train from Kingstown to Dublin.”[2]

I have to admit that this event tallies very nicely with the image I am looking at. 

The Stormcock as I said is a difficult enough ship to place as there are so many of that name.  The tugs named with cock in the title seem to all relate to the Liverpool Screw Towing and Lighterage Co and associated firms, and appear to have a strong link with the local shipyard of Cammell Laird. (I read online that the company gave a three for the price of two deal on their tug boats at some stage!)

Some of the dignitaries waiting on the quay or aboard. Presumably Mr Davis Goff is the man with the hat, scarf and gloves in the centre.

The most likely vessel I have found is the Stormcock (1877) which was launched by Lairds on 5th December 1877.  In 1882 she was chartered by the Admiralty for naval operations in Egypt, who later purchased the vessel outright.  I presume she was moved around as required and if my guess is right she became a feature in Cork harbour at some point after this. 

Stormcock circa 1885 via Clyde Maritime

The Stormcock played a significant part in the rescue of survivors from the Lusitania, although controversially in one account.  She was one of the first ships to arrive in Queenstown with survivors either onboard or being towed in a line of life boats with another tug Warrior.  However earlier she had intercepted two trawlers who had collected survivors and were on their way into nearby Kinsale.  Commander Shee of the Stormcock ordered the trawlers to stop and transfer the survivors aboard.  This irked the trawlermen no end as they were only a short trip away from Kinsale and the journey upriver to Queenstown would take much longer.  It also annoyed many of the survivors, possibly fearful of further U Boat attacks on a naval vessel.[3]

For anyone local, the annual Daffodil Day Coffee morning takes place this coming Sunday

Funnily enough we have met the ship only recently.  In 1922 she was sold to Samuel Palmer of Cork and was renamed the Morsecock, a ship which featured in the salvage of the SS Valdura off the rocks on Crossfarnoge Point aka the Forlorn at Kilmore Quay.

My thanks to my cousin James Doherty for his assistance with this piece. All errors and conclusions are my own however. James runs the very popular twitter page called Irish Smuggling.


[1] Waterford Standard – Saturday 02 March 1889; page 3

[2] Waterford Standard – Wednesday 29 October 1902; page 3

[3] Nolan.L & Nolan. J.E. Secret Victory. Ireland and the War at Sea 1914-1918.  2009. Mercier Press. Cork

St Patrick’s Day – my first parade

I wrote previously about growing up in Cheekpoint in the 1970’s and how the feast of St Patrick was primarily a religious occasion and a very welcome day off from school, if it fell in mid week.  As I recalled in that piece getting to the nearest St Patricks Day parade, along the quays of Waterford city, was a problem when you didn’t own a car.  We normally traveled by the Suirway bus service, but apart for a service to the church, this didn’t go to town except on a normal Friday and Saturday run.  So generally the day was spent wandering around with our mates, and just enjoying it as a day of rest and a break from our lenten sacrifice.

1969 parade, with a perspective which was close to my own
Photo via Waterford History Site, originally posted by the Munster Express facebook page

But despite all that, we actually did get to a parade one year, and I was so young the details are very hazy.  I was probably six and living in the old cottage in Coolbunnia that looked down on the harbour, a spot where my brother Robert now lives with his family.  My father Bob and brother Robert, (my sisters Kathleen & Eileen were possibly too young to be with us), had walked down to the village after mass.  It may have been to visit our grandfather and his daughter, aunt Ellen or maybe it was just to my fathers aunts shop Molly Doherty at the cross roads, but as we returned up the hill a care rare sight of the time, a car, drew up.

Matt “spoogy” Doherty and his wife Marie called to us through the window and asked if we wanted a lift.  They had their daughters aboard the car, and were heading to the parade.  My father thought he meant to the house, and said it was alright, we’d walk.  But Matt and Marie meant the parade, and after a short deliberation, we piled into the back with the girls.  I don’t remember who was there, but like ourselves the Doherty girls were steps of stairs; Eileen, Mary, Bernadette, Gladys and Jacinta. 

The statue of Luke Wadding in place, it was erected in 1947 and was since removed to Greyfriars and replaced by a statue to TF Meagher. Postcard from authors collection.

I have no recollection of the car trip, but I was probably disappointed with the view.  We always sat in the front seats of the bus going to town, and it afforded a great view of the countryside, a car just couldn’t compare.  But the excitement of heading to the parade probably made up for it. We parked at the Three Shippes Bar on the Park Road and strolled in Williams St to the Tower Hotel, where we clambered onto steps to get a good view.

From here we could see the curve on the quay where the parade would come down, rounding Reginald’s Tower as it did so.  In the middle of the road stood the statue of Luke Wadding, which was a fitting backdrop as this Waterford man was responsible for making the St Patricks day a feast day of the church and helping to make it a worldwide event. Of course two other events that are internationally recognised have a Waterford connection, we were the first city to have a parade in 1903 and the Waterford born ambassador to America, John Hearne, introduced the now annual event of presenting the American president with a bowl of shamrock.

That information would come in later years. Standing on the quay that cold damp afternoon, I waited in anticipation, not really knowing what to expect.  At this remove I can’t actually remember much of the parade, but I presume the marching bands, the floats on trucks and scouting troops would have all made up the event.  But two memories stand out; the wailing sound of the pipe bands as the bagpipes raised the hair on the back of my neck (as it still does to this day) and the sight of the army with their gleaming uniforms, guns on their shoulders and best of all the trucks, guns and a tank with a long menacing gun barrel that left me awestruck.

I remember being glad when it ended as I was starting to shiver in the thin March breeze coming down the quay and whistling through the buildings.  However on regaining the car we were disappointed to find that some careless motorist had abandoned their car across our own, and we were hemmed in.  Matt tried valiantly to squeeze through but it was impossible.  And the two men debated what to do. There were people milling about, but no one approached the car, we could be waiting all day for the owner to arrive.

The cold was starting to seep into me at this stage and I was beginning to think that we were stuck and would never get home.  There may have been tears, I don’t recall.  But the men were not to be beaten and in desperation they clutched the boot of the miscreant and started to bounce it out of the way. Some men raised their voices and approached, and I thought my heart would stop.  But instead of an altercation they lent a hand and moments later the way was clear and we headed home.

A 20 min video of the parade of 1996. A bit jumpy and hazy but fascinating nonetheless

To this day I can’t remember if my mother knew we had gone, or recall anything being said on our return.  She was probably relieved our father hadn’t taken us to the pub to wet the shamrock.  Although it would be many years before I went to another St Patricks Day parade, I can’t say I was in a hurry to go back after the incident with the car.  But there again, I wouldn’t have missed the adventure for all the world.