Charlie McGuinness and the Freida gun run to Waterford November 1921

A Guest post by Conor Donegan.           

Two weeks ago, Dr Pat McCarthy, the foremost expert on the Irish revolutionary period (1912 – 1923) in Waterford, gave a very well attended lecture on the landing of a significant shipment of arms at Cheekpoint by the IRA, the centenary of which occurs this week. The talk, hosted by the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society, has stoked a renewed interest in the events which occurred locally during what was a turbulent and dramatic time. The arrival of the Frieda in Waterford Harbour in November 1921 was perhaps the most important and consequential moment in East Waterford’s experience of the War of Independence, apart from the Pickardstown ambush at Tramore, and yet up until now it has remained largely obscure and unknown to most local people. Though I could never hope to tell the story as eloquently or in such a detailed manner as Dr McCarthy, I hope to at least make what is a fascinating tale of heroism and adventure, more accessible and understood.

  The War of Independence officially came to an end with a ceasefire between the IRA and Crown forces on 11th July 1921, with the Anglo-Irish Treaty being signed five months later on 6th December. The ‘truce period’, as it came to be known, was a time of great uncertainty for both sides of the conflict. The peace was fragile and the fear of a sudden resumption of war was constant. The ceasefire had come as a blessing to the republicans who had been running severely short of arms and ammunition in the weeks and months beforehand. Thus, one of Michael Collins’ top priorities was the smuggling into Ireland of large quantities of such arms from abroad, even though such a scheme would violate the terms of the truce and lead to a violent backlash from the British if discovered.

            A number of failed gun-running operations ensued, including attempted shipments from Italy and New York.[i] In late 1920 Robert Briscoe was dispatched by Collins to Germany to purchase arms, which were in plentiful supply in the aftermath of the First World War. Briscoe would later serve as a Fianna Fáil TD and become the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin. Storing his purchases in a warehouse in Hamburg, Briscoe travelled to Waterford in June 1921 to consult with Pax Whelan, O/C of the Déise Brigade of the IRA, to arrange for a landing at Helvick. The visit almost ended fatally for Briscoe; on his arrival at the brigade HQ at Cappagh, he was at first mistaken for a spy and was very nearly executed, until his true purpose was revealed via interrogation.[ii] Briscoe reported that the main problem would be the transport of arms to Ireland. Originally it was proposed to ship them via submarine, but the man Michael Collins chose to be skipper, Charlie McGuinness, ridiculed the idea and instead suggested that a very ordinary-looking vessel be employed so as to avoid suspicion. Collins agreed and gave him £30,000 to buy such a boat.

Robert Briscoe. Source: https://www.revolutionaryirishamerica.com/bob-briscoe

McGuinness was perhaps one of the most exotic characters to have played a role in this whole period, his life worthy of an epic biographical film. Widely known to be an excessive drinker and also fond of exaggeration, he was a Derry-man who fought with an IRA flying column in neighbouring Donegal, and enjoyed the reputation of being a ‘daredevil sea captain’.[iii] His 1934 memoir Nomad described him as ‘an Irish Sailor, Soldier, Pearl-fisher, Pirate, Gun-runner, Rum-runner, Rebel and Antarctic Explorer’, though he was also at various times a set-maker in Hollywood, a construction worker on Long Island, an author of children’s books, a jailbreaker, a bush-fighter and a Volunteer with the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).[iv] He would be lost at sea in 1947, his body never recovered. Some later summarised that he had been selected by Collins to go to Germany merely ‘to get him out of the way’. Nonetheless, McGuinness was recognised as an able skipper, and as someone with quite a bit of luck. Travelling back to Hamburg with Briscoe in September, he purchased a leaky trawler called the Anita, and after several weeks of repairing her, he attempted to sail Briscoe’s purchases out of the port but was quickly detained by local police. Having discovered McGuinness’ motive, the police were bitterly disappointed at having foiled a plot against their recent British enemies, and at his subsequent trial, the renegade skipper was fined a paltry 2,000 Deutschmarks, with the German judge privately wishing him better luck next time![v]

The intriguing and mysterious Charlie McGuinness, captain of the Frieda. Source: Irish Independent, 30 August 2020

            The discovery of the Anita caused uproar in the British cabinet and at the peace talks in London, Prime Minister David Lloyd George warned Collins and Arthur Griffith that the government would take decisive action to punish any threat to the terms of the truce. Though Collins feigned ignorance, Royal Navy patrols on the southern coast were ramped up. Undeterred, McGuinness and Briscoe purchased a small tug, the Frieda, and a 3,000-ton tramp steamer called the Karl Marx. On 28 October, the Frieda towed the Karl Marx out of Hamburg under the pretense of sea trials. The steamer was cast off and sailed up and down the coast for a few days in order to draw the attention of the Royal Navy, whilst the plucky tug set a course for the south coast of Ireland. She was laden with 20,000 rounds of ammunition and 300 guns, mostly consisting of Mauser rifles and C96 pistols, more commonly known ‘Peter the Painters’.[vi] Briscoe stayed behind in Germany and sent word of the successful departure to Liam Mellows, director of purchases for the IRA. McGuinness and his crew endured rough weather throughout the entire voyage (being forced to take shelter in the Frisian Islands at one point), so much so that they ended up being several days late for their rendezvous with local Volunteers of the West Waterford IRA who had assembled at Helvick to offload the cargo. By the time the Frieda approached the west Waterford coast a heavy fog had set in, and a British cruiser sat anchored in Dungarvan Bay. Writing in the Waterford News in 1937, McGuinness explained the reason for the failure to land at Helvick:

‘Off Mine Head we opened up the light at Ballinacourty Point and edged in towards the steep promontory of Helvick. I signalled, as pre-arranged, with an electric torch, but there was no response. We cruised slowly up and down all night, flashing signals at intervals, but no welcoming flash replied. I learned afterwards that this misunderstanding originated in Dublin, where we had been given up for lost or captured. Owing to the exceptionally bad weather, we were nine days overdue, and after leaving Hamburg, had been cut off from all communication’.[vii]

Mauser C96 pistol, aka a ‘Peter the Painter’

            McGuinness made the bold decision to run for shelter in Waterford Harbour, barely making it in time before the Frieda’s coal ran out. He described the daredevil journey in Nomad:

            ‘Sunday morning. We head up for the Hook off entrance to Waterford River. Reach that point about nine o’clock. We pass Dunmore and its coastguard station, but we hoist no signals past Duncannon Fort on up to Passage. Here all vessels must signal or report, but we keep steadily on, paying no heed to signals flying there. Above Passage we ran on bank, and, after manoeuvring, manage to get Frieda off… We keep steaming on, and where the river divided in two at the island we take the old channel to port, and, out of sight in a sheltered anchorage, we let go anchor at noon’.[viii]

The Frieda had made it to the safety of King’s Channel, The Island, just downstream from Waterford City. There is some debate over the precise date on which the tug came to Waterford, with the 9th and 10th of November being the most frequently cited. However, both McGuinness is his diary and Dr Vincent White, the Sinn Féin Mayor of Waterford, in his Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, claim that the landing took place on a Sunday, which would point to the 13th of November as the most credible answer.

McGuinness rowed ashore and made his way into the city in search of the local IRA. He was directed to the house of Dr White, and the two of them rowed back down the river to the vessel, White having organised Volunteers under the command of Jeremiah Cronin to offload her. Aboard the Frieda McGuinness and his German crew drank a toast to White, though the doctor himself was quite unimpressed: ‘I lifted the glass to my lips and took a draught. My breath practically stopped – I had not been in the habit of drinking schnapps. When the toast had been duly honoured, I so manipulated my glass so as to ensure that the remainder of its contents spilled on the deck’.[ix]

Dr Vincent White, the Sinn Féin Mayor of Waterford. Source: National Library of Ireland

            The precise location at which the arms were taken off the Frieda is also a topic of debate. Vincent White’s BMH Statement gives the impression that she stayed where she was and was unloaded at The Island. McGuinness’ diary states that ‘as there was not sufficient coal to raise steam (our last shovelful went into the boiler when we drifted to an anchor), we warped the Frieda alongside the little jetty at Cheekpoint’.[x] However, Andrew Doherty and Pat McCarthy have also pointed to the possibility that she was brought downriver to a point between Faithlegg and Cheekpoint known as the ‘Jetty Sleepers’ and her cargo discharged there. The area is accessible, but secluded, and motor vehicles could get there with ease. Wherever the landing actually occurred, IRA Volunteers quickly got to work passing the precious guns and ammunition along a human chain to two five-ton lorries and four motor cars. They were then transported to an arms dump at the Keating family home at Comeragh, one of the staunchest republican families in the county (Pat Keating was killed at the Burgery ambush outside Dungarvan in March 1921. His brother Thomas fought for the republican side in the Civil War and was killed by the Free State army in April 1923). Over a period of time these arms were distributed to IRA units throughout the country, mostly in the midlands and the north. Though a welcome boost at the time for the IRA, the arms from the Frieda never fired a shot against the British, as the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed less than a month later. Tragically, they would instead be used by Irishman against Irishman in the cruel Civil War which would erupt in June 1922.

King’s Channel looking east or downriver towards Faithlegg, The Island is on the left, Waterford City is upriver. The Frieda anchored here on Sunday 13th November.
The Jetty Sleepers between Faithlegg and Cheekpoint, the location favoured by Andrew and Pat McCarthy.

            As for the Frieda, she only barely avoided capture by a Royal Navy patrol as she left Waterford Harbour, making it to the safety of Boatstrand where McGuinness sold her to a Captain Jeremiah Collins of Cork. What happened to the flagship of the nascent ‘republican navy’ subsequently is a mystery. In his memoir, McGuinness stated that Captain Collins employed the vessel to ferry stores for the Royal Navy in Cork Harbour and renamed her Warrior, and then, ironically, was actually commandeered by the IRA in March 1922 and used to intercept the British admiralty tug Upnor at Ballycotton, taking her cargo of munitions. However, Eoin Neeson claims that the Warrior was a tug owned by Lloyd’s, based in Cobh, and was not a reconfigured Frieda.[xi] Perhaps this was an example of McGuinness’ renowned exaggeration in action, though one can appreciate the irony and farce of the tale had it been true! The dynamic duo of McGuinness and Briscoe organised another successful gun-running operation in Waterford in April 1922 when the schooner Hanna landed at Helvick. Her cargo would be used, at the behest of Michael Collins, to arm the IRA in the north in their campaign to kill the six-county state at birth.

            Ernie O’Malley, one of the most famed guerrilla rebels during the War of Independence, disparaged Waterford’s role in the war, saying that the county ‘had not done much’. Certainly, in comparison to more active neighbouring counties such as Cork and Tipperary, Waterford, in particular the East, appears to stand as one of the weaker counties in terms of revolutionary activity. Yet as Dr Emmet O’Connor has pointed out, Waterford was the only county to have played host to a successful IRA arms landing during the 1917-1923 period. The disaster of the Aud shipment in County Kerry on the eve of the 1916 Rising was not repeated in the Déise. Mayor White rightly described it as a ‘great adventure’ and was still recalling the brilliant escapade with pride over thirty years later: ‘As I watched the last lorry climb up the hill with its precious load, destined for the Comeragh hide-outs, I was a satisfied and happy man. The gun-running had been carried out by our men without a hitch’.[xii] One hundred years on from the landing of the Frieda, it is right to pause and remember a momentous event in Waterford’s local revolutionary history.

Monument at Ballinagoul pier, Helvick commemorating the attempted landing of the Frieda in November 1921, and the arrival of the Hanna in April 1922. Hopefully a similar physical marker can be erected at Cheekpoint in the not-too-distant future.

I’d like to thank Conor for taking the time to write this article to commemorate the Freida gun run to Waterford. Conor was a great support to Niamh Hassett and I over the past few months as we tried to piece together the various elements to this story with a view to marking the event. We were also thrilled that Michael Farrell and the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society agreed to support an application for funding to the Waterford City and County Council sub committee which in association with the Decade of Centenaries Programme of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media provided funds towards a programme of community projects to mark the Decade of Centenaries in 2021. This funding enabled the Dr Pat McCarthy lecture recently in the Woodlands Hotel. We will continue to try to flesh out this story more over the coming weeks and months. If time allows I will try to give a more detailed rationale for the choice of the Jetty Sleepers as the landing point in a subsequent blog post. Andrew Doherty


[i] O’Connor, Emmet, ‘Waterford and IRA Gun-Running, 1917-22’, Decies, No. 57, (2001), pp. 184 – 186

[ii] Ibid, p. 187

[iii] Ibid

[iv] MacSuibhne, Breandán, ‘On the extraordinary memoirs of an Old IRA gunrunner and adventurer’, Irish Independent, 30 August 2020

[v] O’Connor, Emmet, ‘Waterford and IRA Gun-Running, 1917-22’, Decies, No. 57, (2001), p. 188

[vi] McCarthy, Pat, The Irish Revolution 1912-23: Waterford, (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2015), p. 93

[vii] Waterford News, 23 April 1937

[viii] McGuinness, Charles, Nomad: Memoirs of an Irish Sailor, Soldier, Pearl-Fisher, Pirate, Gun-runner, Rum-runner, Rebel and Antarctic Explorer, (Methuen, London, 1934), p. 176

[ix] White, Dr Vincent, Bureau of Military History, Witness Statement No. 1764, p. 27

[x] McGuinness, Charles, Nomad: Memoirs of an Irish Sailor, Soldier, Pearl-Fisher, Pirate, Gun-runner, Rum-runner, Rebel and Antarctic Explorer, (Methuen, London, 1934)

[xi] Neeson, Eoin, The Civil War 1922-23, (Poolbeg Press Ltd, Dublin, 1989), p. 98

[xii] White, Dr Vincent, Bureau of Military History, Witness Statement No. 1764, p. 28

Reimagining Henry II’s route to Waterford Oct 1171

After a busy month of activities, I was relieved when Damien McLellan offered a guest blog arising from last week’s two-day event exploring the arrival of Henry II at Passage East in 1171 – 850 years ago this year. Damien, like so many others who attended, was buzzing with questions and speculation, and his enthusiasm led to today’s blog entry. I think you will enjoy the virtual journey. Over to Damien.

We know for a fact that King Henry 11 of England arrived in Waterford Harbour on October 17th, 1171, and that on the following day, October 18th, 1171, together with a huge army of knights and soldiers, he journeyed to Waterford City to conclude what we now know as the Norman Invasion.

Last week, on Saturday, October 23rd, Barony of Gaultier Historical Society organised a fully booked public event in Passage East to mark this internationally significant event. An absorbed audience (Covid compliant, of course) heard from a distinguished panel of experts fascinating opinions, figures and facts about those two extraordinary days and subsequent events. The next morning, Sunday October 24th, about 30 of us walked from Passage East to Waterford City on the route believed to have been taken by King Henry and his army. We were welcomed at the Bishop’s Palace by Cllr. Joe Kelly current Mayor of the City and County of Waterford.

Michael Farrell, Chair of the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society leads off the walk

What struck me was the lack of consensus among experts and locals about exactly where the landing took place and about the route taken to the city. I have for long been nurturing my own theories about both issues and I am grateful to Andrew Doherty for giving me the space here to share them and for his skill in assembling the maps and photographs needed to support them.

If as many as 400 ships were needed to carry the men, horses and considerable supplies, a substantial safe landing area was required. I understand that ships of the time arriving in Waterford Harbour, there being no ports then, would not be able to land on a safe beach until close to Crooke on Passage Strand.

The strand leading downriver from Passage East towards Crooke and Woodstown

It makes sense to assume that the forward party would have signal fires ready to light at the first sight of the fleet to guide them onto the safe landing area. Each ship would have to run up on the strand on the incoming tide until all 400, propped and secured, stretched along the strand from Crooke to Passage East, nearly a mile of ships. So, where did Henry 11 himself land, Crooke or Passage or in-between?  The answer must be where his ship landed in what could have been a melee of ships manoeuvring for position and avoiding collisions.

The landing in 1066 of William the Conqueror’s army at Pevensey in Sussex. Except for the dramatic sea, and if ships had not significantly evolved over the intervening years, this may have been something like the scene on Passage Strand on October 18th, 1171. Painting by Charles Edward Dixon (1910) sourced from https://mercedesrochelle.com/wordpress/?p=390
Although this is an image of preparation for departure to the Battle of Hastings, I find it useful in terms of the organisation, and I think it may help get our minds around the estimated 400 ships at Passage and Crooke and the spectacle it would have made. (Andrew) Accessed from https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/

Standing and looking round today on the breakwater at Passage East it is obvious that here must have been the mustering area, because of the space available. Here the vast army may have camped for the night, with guards strung all down the strand towards Crooke to watch over the ships. It is fun to speculate that where the present children’s playground is, perhaps the king’s royal tent was pitched and where reputedly the most powerful man in the world at that time had his first night’s sleep in Ireland.

Patrick C Power (1990) also wondered whether “The people of Waterford and especially the merchants may have heard of how a great war-king travelled and equipped his army and retainers and here in front of their very eyes was a great display of power and wealth on the road from Passage to the city of Waterford the like of which they had never seen” (p.20). But which road from Passage?   

Last Sunday we walked up to the church at Crooke to take a right turn at the school and the traditional route to Waterford. My walking companion, Michael Fewer, and I, impatient to be walking, had gone ahead and somehow missed Strongbow’s Bridge (but not Jack Meade’s!). I enjoyed the walk, but all the time sensed (and possibly nagged Michael) that it was not the historic route.

I now believe that it goes up the street known as The Brookside (in the centre of Passage East), becomes the Wet Hill after St Anne’s Well, reaching the present main road opposite Brook Villa, now an abandoned farm. Then into the city via Cowsheen Bridge, Strongbow’s Bridge (avoiding the marshy area) and on to Halfway House.

The Brookside, Passage East. Is this street part of the footprint of the route?
The Wet Hill, and the Well (St Anne’s Well) beyond which the path is overgrown
Brooke Villa (aka Murray’s Farm)

The path today is impenetrable after the Well. But I also started down from the top and found what I fancied was a drove road, very familiar to me from Galicia, and seemingly marked as a wide road on the 1925 OS Edition.

The Drove Road?

Michael Fewer had wondered aloud on the walk how all the produce and livestock that came across the river from Wexford in medieval times got to Waterford. Perhaps up this lost road?

This week I talked to a local man, born in Passage, who remembered from his childhood the farmers who lived in Brook Villa, known as Murray’s Farm, using a horse and cart on this same road to collect coal from the Quay in Passage. Incidentally, he also said it was a family tradition that King Henry 11 had taken this road to Waterford. And I understand that the late Cllr John Carey had a passionate interest in having the Wet Hill reopened and restored to how he remembered it as a boy.

A map of the area from the OSI historic series (Historic 25″) shows a very clear roadway leading up from the village, through the valley between Passage Hill and Carraickcannuigh (large arrow points to this. It turns rights at Murray’s and then veers left towards Knockroe from where there is almost a straight run to Strongbow’s Bridge. For a clearer image and to view the entire roadway click into https://webapps.geohive.ie/mapviewer/index.html

Therefore, it does seem logical to me that as this road was in plain sight of where the army was mustered and if it was as negotiable then as it was in living memory, why would King Henry, and before him Strongbow, not use it?

If I can impose on Andrew’s space a little longer, I would like to address the popular belief that the origin of the phrase ‘By hook or by crooke’ is attributable to Oliver Cromwell (it came up at the panel discussion). According to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1990) it comes from the medieval manorial custom “which authorised tenants to take as much firewood as could be reached down by a shepherd’s crook and cut down with a bill-hook”. He offers a line from Edmund Spenser’ s The Fairie Queen, which was published in 1590, 9 years before Cromwell was born: “In hope her to attain by hooke or crooke”.

Finally, I offer these thoughts on the landing and journey to Waterford of Henry 11 in the hope that they might inspire others much more learned than me in these matters to continue this research and perhaps result in informative plaques being erected at some of the key sites mentioned.

Ivor H Evans (Ed) (1990) Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable London: Cassell

Patrick C Power (1990) History of Waterford City and County Cork & Dublin: The Mercier Press

A new book will be launched in the coming weeks celebrating some of the historical aspects of the Barony of Gaultier. For more information and to reserve a copy you can email thegaultierstory@gmail.com

I want to thank Damien for his thoughts on this. I have written my own theory on it previously. What struck me about last weekends successful gathering was the interest, the searching questions and the many remaining areas we have yet to fill in about the arrival of Henry II and the changes it meant for the locality as well as the country. Why Passage? Did any of the vessels sail to Waterford city? Is there any substance to a story I shared before of a chain based defence of the city? What kind of ships were used? (My own reading suggests that the design of horse transport had moved on and the Tarida were being employed carrying up to 30 horses). And so many more. Hopefully last weekend was only the start of what might be a regular event. The Barony of Gaultier Historical Society deserves great recognition for their efforts in these challenging times of Covid and the financial pinch this creates for voluntary committees such as our own.

Arming the IRA – BGHS Talk

Arming the IRA – Running guns into Waterford Harbour 1921

By early summer of 1921, the IRA was facing a crisis in its conflict with British forces – a severe shortage of arms and ammunition.  This shortage was threatening to curtail operations by the active units and to hinder plans to extend the conflict to other, less active areas.  In June 1921 the combined Waterford Brigades had a rollcall of 232 officers and 2,044 men.  The total numbers of arms available to them was 56 rifles and 45 revolvers. Tom Barry estimated that there were only about 100 rifles available to his men in the Cork No. 3 Brigade, the most successful in the country, and it was this shortage of weapons that limited his operations, not a shortage of volunteers. It was the same in every other part of the country – weapons not men were the key factor.  This shortage was getting worse as British forces became more successful at locating and seizing arms dumps.  It is no wonder then that the thoughts of Michael Collins and other members of the IRA GHQ staff turned to the possibility of a large-scale operation that would bring in hundreds of weapons and transform the military situation. Three such operations were planned, from America, from Italy and from Germany. Only the one from Germany was successful. It landed arms in Waterford Harbour in November 1921.

Join us next Thursday 28th October in the Woodlands Hotel for this fascinating lecture

In the comings weeks I hope to have a guest blog on the story from Conor Donegan. If time allows I also hope to do a piece on some research I have done into the specific location of the arms landing.

Henry II, Crooke 1171 Recalled

Henry II, Crooke 1171 Recalled  is a two day event that the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society is hosting on the 23rd and 24th of October 2021. 

We had previously planned to hold it a week earlier on the 17th October 2021, which is the 850th anniversary of when Henry II first landed in the Barony of Gaultier, Waterford. We went a week later as Covid restrictions are to be relaxed.

Three great speakers and a very experienced chair

We are having a Panel Discussion in the Community Hall, Passage East at 3pm on Saturday 23 October. It will be chaired by Ray McGrath and the speakers and topics are;
Michael Fewer – The landing of Henry II with 4,500 knights and soldiers.
John Burke – The Knights Templar in the Barony of Gaultier.
Julian Walton – The Aylward Family of Faithlegg.

Booking is essential to attend this Panel Discussion. To book email BGHS at this address: baronyofgaultierhistorical@gmail.com

Numbers for the event are limited to an attendance of one hundred and will be given strictly on a first come basis. The event is free but donations would be welcome to offset costs.

Should be a wonderful walk, expect plenty of stops and historical inputs

On Sunday 24 October we will have our walk on the route that Henry took into Waterford. It is 14.25 Kms in distance and for those who wish to only take part in a small section of the walk, there is a free shuttle bus service. The Mayor of Waterford Cllr. Joe Kelly will open the event on Saturday 23 October at 3pm in the Community Centre, Passage East.

To book email society chair, Michael Farrell, at this address:  baronyofgaultierhistorical@gmail.com

The Ice House

Concluding our examination of the placename Halfway House today, we showcase another wonderful building on the site, the commercial Ice House- the fridge freezer of the 19th Century.  It utilised frozen water as a cooler area and a preservative for foodstuff – and my own theory is that the building was part of an operation in the proliferation of scotch weirs in nearby King’s Channel.

The building

The commercial Ice House is a circular build, approximately 20 ft in diameter on the inside and over 30 feet high.  I asked my good pal Andrew Lloyd aka fellow blogger (Bob the scientist) for a back of an envelop calculation on the capacity based on my measurements.  Volume =  πr2h =π×32×10 =90π = 280 cu.m.  280 tonnes of water or 260 tonnes of ice.  That’s a lot of ice. ( I may have overestimated the size, but even half of that is a lot of ice!)

In design terms, the wall to the South, which would have taken the most sun was six feet wide in the past and was of cavity construction.  Most designs have a preference for thatched roof and the entrance to the tower was a door near the roof and accessed from the present garden of the Kenny family home on the Passage Road.  This entranceway is north facing and would have had some protecting cover too, and possibly a number of feet back from the door to keep the air out.  I’m only speculating on this point having read of the design of other buildings.  I examined the area there some years back with Mrs Kenny and I could find nothing of a permanent nature like stone or brick, so if there was protection, it must have been timber.    (Mrs Kenny told me that she didn’t know much of the operation, except that the ice came by boat via the Pill)

Ice pits are often referred to in describing such facilities, but I think this may refer to such houses buried into the ground.  The Halfway house example is built into the hill which gives a certain amount of insulation.  The crucial part of such buildings was drainage, any melted ice had to be free to drain away, as ice sitting in water melted faster.  The better compacted the ice was the slower it melted (think of a snowman and how slowly it melts away, even after the snow has gone from the ground)  I’ve read that ice properly stored in such chambers could last years.

Apologies in advance for this amateur footage, but I took this in one take in an effort to give a sense of the building (Thursday 19th August 2021)
Dating the tower

No one seems to know the date it was built. I find it interesting that when travel writer and social commentator Arthur Young visited in 1796 and again in 1798 that he failed to mention it, suggesting it is a later build. This is also suggested by the Richard and Scales map, but the building does show up on the later historic maps.  I can find no written mention of the building or newspaper reference, so as unsatisfactory as it is we can only speculate that it was between the dates of Youngs visits and the historic maps series.  My own personal opinion is that is sometime between 1810-1825.  According to the information board at Jack Meades, the only known documentation associated with it was that a J Crawford was leasing the Ice House in 1853 at £2 per annum. Two John Crawfords were listed in Griffiths Valuations as running stores in the city at High St. Possibly relations or one in the same.

Purpose of the Ice House

Some have suggested it served a similar function to its smaller neighbour in Faithlegg, providing for the several big houses in the locality such as Ballycanvan, Mount Druid, Brook Lodge, the Blenheim houses, etc. I find this doubtful because of the quantity of ice that could potentially be stored.  If full it would have been many multiples the capacity of the Faithlegg House building.  My own theory has always been, that the Ice House was to assist with the Scotch Weir Fishery, in much the same way that the commercial ice houses at Lismore were used to preserve salmon from the Blackwater.

Although Ice as a means of preservation had been in practice for centuries, in the western world it had its limits.  This was because if fish was placed on a block of ice it would fuse with it and become damaged and worthless.  As a result, the ice was used to cool an area in ice houses, basements, or other areas, and indirectly kept the fish fresh.  That was until the 1780s when a hydrographer of the East India Company returned to London with a technique he had “discovered”.  Alexander Dalrymple was traveling in China when he spotted a perfectly fresh sea fish hundreds of miles from the coast.  Puzzled he asked how this could be.  He was introduced to a technique of fish preservation – chopped-up ice which could be used to cover fish, but which did not fuse with the flesh.  Harvested in winter, the ice was stored in “snow houses” and had been used throughout China for centuries.

Salmon fishing had a long history, but pressure on stocks was minimal, as it could only be consumed fresh in local areas.  This new preserving technique, coupled with the development of rail transport, led to a big demand for fresh salmon particularly in the new urban towns and cities of England’s Industrial Revolution.  It created an explosion in salmon fishing in Scotland initially which quickly spread to Ireland.  The fishing technique employed became known as the scotch weir method or stake net and it also enhanced (or corrupted) a traditional weir fishing practice allowing for much more fish to be trapped. 

an illustration of a scotch weir (there were many varieties including the adaption of the traditional Head Weir. They stretched to the shoreline, usually ran perpendicular to the shore, the fish encountered a wall of netting and swam towards the deep water where they encountered a “kill box” where they became trapped. These worked on both times of tides and there were numerous weirs in the Kings Channel and beyond

The ice required for this trade led to a growth in the building of commercial Ice Houses, not to be confused with an earlier practice of ice houses associated with the big houses.  The difference here was in terms of use and scale. The ice was used to box and ice fish. These boxes could if required be stored in the chamber and would be later sent to the port for direct export or via train to Dublin or further inland. As the use of steam driven ships arrived, fish could be on the London market in under 24 hrs of capture in Waterford, ensuring a premium price.

Where did the ice come from

Ice was originally sourced from local streams or such streams were diverted into low-lying fields or marshes where it froze on frosty nights and was harvested the following morning.  In Waterford, we have two placenames associated with this practice – Ice Fields.  I have speculated before that the local marshes with the low-lying level ground would have been ideal. 

Norweigan ice, being slid down to awaiting ship

An ice trade developed from America in the 1840s and from Norway in the 1850s.  This Block Ice was cut from natural sources in wintertime and exported directly or stored until summer when prices might be higher.   

From newspaper sources, it’s clear that the ice coming into Waterford was imported directly on what was commonly called Norwegian Ice Ships.  But it was also transhipped and there are many mentions in the later 19th Century of part cargos of ice aboard many of the steamers operating regularly to Waterford such as the SS Dunbrody and from ports which included Milford, Bristol, London, and Liverpool.

The earliest advert I could find is from the Waterford Mail – Wednesday 05 October 1853; page 1
Advert for ice from the Waterford Mail – Friday 01 August 1862; page 1. I would think it most likely that John Crawford is one in the same as the J Crawford leasing at Halfway House in 1853?
Waterford News – Friday 30 April 1869; page 2. I found adverts such as these up to 1898 in local papers

In May of 1875, Mr. Stephen’s monthly engineers report to the Harbour Board mentioned that the progress with the 2nd section of cutting (dredging) from the bridge had been impeded because of large ice ships discharging where the dredger was at work. 

Apart from my own knowledge of the icebox on the Barrow and a similar-sized Ice House in New Ross (Kelly’s Wood), the newspapers also mention one on the Manor in the city and two associated with pig production.  One at Williams St and the other in Upper Morgan St, where the Hyper Market is now located.  Both of these latter sites were of a different design and were built above the pig curing facility in the plants.  The ice was placed on iron-clad floors above these subterranean chambers and the cold penetrated the floor.  It was only required in summer but kept the meat cool as it hung for several weeks.

A description of the Queens Bacon Factory in Upper Morgan St is given here in brief  “a huge assemblage of buildings, perched on an airy height where cabbages grew until two enterprising northerners – the late Messers Richardson- covered it eleven years ago with their killing and curing houses…2000 swine bask in the disused sawdust in pens in the yard, the sawdust is used to insulate the ice in the ice house from the heat of the roof slates…700 tons of Norweigan block ice is housed in a loft over the curing floors of the factory.  They are laid out on a floor of iron and insulated by sawdust from the heat of the slates.  The ice diffuses through the floor to the cooling houses below an even temperature of about 40 degrees.  The pigs are there cooled and pickled from 10 to 20 days, according to the temperature of the season.  The final stage of the process is that the meat is packed before being exported either by the GWR Co to Milford or via the Waterford Companys Liverpool trade…” Waterford Standard – Wednesday 24 January 1877; page 3

I also found an account of one accident associated with the ice ships – “On Tuesday morning a man named Lannigan, employed board the Seagull, ice ship, unloading at the Market House Quay, fell into the hold and sustained injuries. It appears Lannigan, assisted by another man, was carrying a large block of ice, weighing over 400 pounds, when, as he was about laying it down catch a better grip, he toppled from the plank into the hold. His left temple is much cut, and one of his thighs broken.  He was immediately taken to the Workhouse Hospital, where now lies in a precarious condition.” The Munster Express – Saturday 29 April 1871; page 2

End of the ice Trade

The Ice Trade as it was known lasted up to the first world war when the dangers associated with ships crossing the North Sea brought it to a close.  Already plant ice (artificially manufactured ice) was replacing the natural cut block ice from about the 1870’s and eventually we would have fridges and freezers in our own homes.  Exactly when the ice house at Halfway House ceased operation I cannot say, but it is likely to have been in the early 20th Century.  Whenever it ended the building stands as a reminder of a very interesting and unique period of trade in our maritime history.

Interesting to note, that for some Ice Harvesting is still practiced…maybe it will make a comeback in years to come

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is download-1.png
This year’s event is again supported by the Local Authorities Waters Programme.