So this is Christmas…2020

Well, 2020 has been a strange one, to say the least. A year where we saw Irish politics altered in a government formed of consonants and contrarians that was just missing a Big Brother/Love Island narrator. A pandemic that saw us hit pause in our schedules but ‘Continue Watching’ on our streaming services. We fell in love with Connell & Marianne, out of love with Zoom Calls and quizzes; but knowing that we never needed to hear the words “fancy a cuppa & a chat” more than ever before. We found new addictions like The Last Dance or The Nobody Zone, became masters of banana bread baking while the election turmoil in the United States appeared to offer a reprieve (from general monotony) before the real fare of the All-Ireland championship gave us Liam Cahill dancing a jig on the Croke Park side-line that would have made Michael Flatley blush.

     This year ranged from Shakespearian tragedy to screwball farce (golfgate & Rudy Giuliani to name but two) while our frontline services and their heroic endeavours surpass Arthurian legend. It was the strangest and toughest of years, but we’ve been here before. Could the words of Charles Dickens (the man who invented Christmas) ever be more applicable than from A Tale of Two Cities – ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…’

     From the Pharisees to Faithlegg: St. Ita

     One could argue that Waterford has had a connection to Christmas from the start of the story itself. As Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem where Jesus was born in a stable, the tale has a Waterford connection. St. Ita of Killeedy born in Faithlegg, County Waterford around 480 and known as the foster mother of the saints of Erin, was devoted to the Christ child with the poem Ísucán (cited in The martyrology of Óengus) depicting her nursing the infant Jesus. The reason for which was a logical way to fill the void of replacing her pet beetle. Yes, you have read that correctly. An unusual connection between the Pharisees and Faithlegg! Though Jenny Bledsoe concludes that “St. Ita’s tradition manifests a variety of forms of spiritual motherhood”. It’s not what Ita may or may not have done but rather that what she represents that is important.

St Ita
Eleanor McEvoy on stage

     She was seen to embody the ‘Six Gifts of Irish womanhood’ in the Celtic tradition; wisdom, purity, beauty, music, sweet speech and embroidery. It seems that Eleanor McEvoy’s A Woman’s Heart was for her – “as only a woman’s heart can know”. And just in case you’d like to mark your 2021 calendar, don’t forget Ita’s feast day is the 15th January. Even if you’re not religious like myself it would be nice to note the strength of the women in our lives on a more regular basis. Maybe the whole Woman’s Heart album might be played that day. Mary O’Neill and Ollie Carroll get the vinyl ready!

      Caring is Sharing & the Gift is in the Giving: Waterford Toy Shops

     As families rush to gather gifts for Christmas this year, spare a thought for C.V. K. of the Munster Express when he noted (in 1948) the toy shops Waterford could boast back in the early 1920s:

In the district of Waterford in which I grew up, we had – as it were – our own parochial toy shop, where all the year round we bought, at appropriate seasons, our marbles, hoops, tops, fishing nets, squibs, etc. That shop was…in Patrick Street and was owned in those days by Mrs. Manahan…her stock was always well stocked with the right kind of seasonal fare, and we seldom took our custom elsewhere, except perhaps a little farther down Patrick Street to Misses Nolan’s shop…

As we got bigger and ventured further afield down to Broad Street, we found that J.G. McCaul’s…shop had many more pretentious offerings in the line of toys, and here it was that many of us saw, for the first time, such modern wonders as trains on tracks, air rifles, Meccano sets, chemistry sets for the manufacture amongst other things of “stink bombs”…

In these pre-Woolworth days, the cheaper and less elaborate type of toy could always be purchased at Messrs. Power’s bookshop in Michael Street, and if we left our purchasing until as late as possible on Christmas Eve, we were always sure of a bargain in the drive to sell out Christmas stock before it went out of season…

…The shop of the late Mrs. Katie Dawson on The Quay, was another Christmas rendezvous of Waterford boys of my time, and here one could purchase cowboy suits…

This year will see the new Play Station top the Christmas list of many, while the cowboys of yesteryear such as Roy Rogers and John Wayne have been replaced by the Mandalorian and Stranger Things (if you pardon the pun). Air rifles now seem quaint to the capabilities of the new smart phone where likes on Instagram are akin to the games of Christmases gone bye. Still, it’s hard to beat the refrain of Shakin’ Stevens: ‘children playing, having fun’.

     Driving Home for Christmas

     In keeping with a musical vein, many will be listening to Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas with some hope of the holiday ahead. But many will be filled with a bittersweetness such as for those who can’t make it home; from wherever green is worn like the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Though we will echo the thoughts of drive safely wherever you are.

Redmond Bridge – Waterford

     For instance on the 23rd December 1929, a motor lorry driven by T. Baldwin of Passage East, lost control of his vehicle and crashed into the iron railings of the Redmond Bridge. It was believed that the steering gear went and with carrying a large load, the lorry began to slip back on the slight incline and crashed. Luckily for Baldwin he was uninjured though the bridge had seen better days. Apparently, the city engineer wasn’t happy to inspect the damage on Christmas Eve, but he was just told to build a bridge and get over it. I should be writing the jokes for the crackers with that one.

     The festive season can be a very difficult time for many. We only need to look at the story of Larry Griffin, the Missing Postman of Stradbally, whose family never saw him again after Christmas Day 1929. Over 90 years later his descendants still look for answers of what occurred in a small rural community. Though in tough times, we as a people can display our greatest character. We see Christmas as a time of giving, such as to charity.

     Even with the pandemic of 2020 we still see the issue of homelessness still rife in a country that purports to be one of the most modern and diverse in the western world. Sadly homelessness is not a new tale around Christmas time. We have the story of the death of Patrick Kennedy of Lissellan, Tramore on the 26th December 1932. Kennedy aged 49 was stated to have died as the result of “heart failure” due to “starvation and want of proper care.” Ireland was a bleak place economically for large parts of the 20th century as the Great Depression worldwide and the economic war with Britain led to many being unemployed and destitute in the 1930s.

     Kennedy had no work and was living for a time with his mother. His wife Bridget and two children stayed with their aunt but as Kennedy was earning no wage there was no financial support. While he lived with his mother and brother Martin, they survived on her pension of 10 shillings a week. The labourers cabin had two bedrooms, a kitchen, an earthen floor which was moist and muddy, no beds while the roof was as porous as a cullender. Such cramped confines led Patrick to look and beg for other quarters to reside in. So stark were Kennedy’s circumstances he lived in a shed for three months where his only warmth came from wearing two overcoats. They never complained nor sought help. Was it pride of a family or neglect of a society? Nevertheless, it cost Martin Kennedy his life that Christmas 1932.

     Looking Back, Looking Forward

     Christmas gives us a chance to pause and look back at our year or even life. Nostalgia is a plenty and hope is ever eternal. As we enter the period of completing endeavours and creating resolutions, remember the story of the author Morley Roberts. Roberts spent Christmas 1937 awaiting the publication of his book Bio-Politics which had taken him 50 years to write. At 80 years of age, he had already published over 70 books; mostly novels but had an affection for Waterford. A friend of Edmund Downey (novelist and owner of the Waterford News), Roberts had written a short story and poem about Waterford published in the Green & Gold magazine. Such was his interest in Waterford (which he visited two or three times) it was noted by the editor of the Waterford News that Roberts had ‘once wrote a letter to us in which he proposed a novel remedy for partition – a remedy too drastic for publication.’ And we wonder where Boris Johnson got his theories from?

Turkeys loaded in carts on the quay of Waterford – early 1900’s

     The lesson would appear to be that no matter how far we come, be it from the beginning to end of a year, one Christmas to the next, completing education or starting a new job; there is always the hope and thirst for more. For many in the UK and Ireland, Christmas was made by Val Doonican whose rocking chair style and festive cardigan wear was compulsory viewing. His album Val Doonican Rocks, But Gently managed to knock The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper off the top of the charts in December 1967. In fact, it was harder to get the Waterford man’s LP in his hometown then it was in England, not because of it’s popularity but due to a distribution problem as a result of foot and mouth. I for one know my father will have Val on in the car this Christmas. Before I use to raise my eyes upon hearing the album playing but now I can’t imagine the festive season without it.

     As you can see Christmas has seen difficult times before. Though it may not mirror that of EastEnders I think many will be glad for 2020 to be ending. Though we’ve had wonderful moments too such as Adam King (whose dad Dave hails from Dungarvan) who captured the hearts of a nation and reminded us no matter what obstacles, hugs can be given and dreams are there for us all. Some will dream of a White Christmas a la Bing Crosby. Others will not stop believing like Journey in the quest for Liam McCarthy. But Adam reminded me of a song that always comes to mind with Val Doonican, I can sing a rainbow. May we see brighter days ahead and all the colours of the rainbow.

     So if you’re spending your Christmas in Ballyhack or Ballybeg, reading the excellent Waterford Harbour: Tides and Tales by Andrew Doherty or listening to Val, have a very happy Christmas.

Thanks to Cian Manning for this wonderful reflection on a year that we will all want to forget. If you want to experience more of Cians work you will find him on Twitter where he regularly promotes his blogs on his twin interests of Waterfords history and sport. He is also the author of the excellent Waterford City, A History. Currently available in the Book Centre Waterford

Christmas Eve, New Ross Port 1840

I would like to thank Myles Courtney for passing this along to me for Christmas. I shared it with my facebook followers yesterday so this is just for those blog followers who are not on social media to enjoy. Wishing you a happy Christmas. Andrew

via New Ross Street Focus

It was Christmas Eve 1840, when I left my hospitable lodging in Rosbercon & wandered down to the quayside of that historic village. A full moon shone like a golden orb, of the richest hues, among the twinkling stars in a cloudless sky, casting its pale light down on the river Barrow. The winter tide was full in & not a ripple appeared on the surface; the calm of the night was a joy to behold. Instead of the savage river that so often had claimed innocent victims, including the much lamented James Freyne of Ballyreddy, it is now one big placid bowl. The harbour was full of ships from many nations, some bringing in cargo & others bringing away the local produce to far off lands.

via New Ross Street Focus
New Ross, looking downriver. via New Ross Street Focus

All sizes of boats lay at anchor in what can only be described as a sylvan scene, something that the artist could do justice to with his brush & canvas. My attention was drawn to a sailing ship anchored near the Rosbercon shore. She was well lit up, with many lanterns casting a cheerful glow onto the still waters of the lake-like river. Suddenly from up on deck, the silence of the night was broken by the sound of a powerful tenor voice. The words were hard to grasp, but the tune was easily recognisable; it was a song for the season that was in it- “O Silent Night”. The young Italian, he from a land so famous for its music & singers, gave a virtuoso performance that night, by the harbour wall. The rendition would have done credit to him on the stages of the music halls of Milan or Naples. Soon, all the crews of other ships joined in the singing; & although the languages were different, the joy & meaning of the carol remained intact.

O Solo Mio, you proud son of Italy, you made the Christmas Eve of 1840 something to be remembered & savoured by all who were privileged to hear you.

Author: Unknown: Source: A Historical Century, New Ross Historical Society… Via Myles Courtney of New Ross Street Focus

Saving the stricken St Declan December 1950

On the week that Dauntless Courage arrives from the publishers to local shops, I asked author David Carroll to whet the appetite with a short guest blog, and he has chosen an On This Day post about a rescue that is legendary in Dunmore East due to the skill and bravery shown by the lifeboat crew in rescuing local fishermen.

On Thursday, December 14, 1950, the Dunmore East lifeboat Annie Blanche Smith was called out and the Munster Express of the following day, reported as follows:

IN THE NICK OF TIME
Dunmore Fishing Crew Saved from Certain Death
LIFEBOAT BRAVES SNOW, BLIZZARD AND HIGH SEAS

Last night (Thursday) at 8 o’clock, the fishing boats were coming into Dunmore, having been out since 10a.m. that day when it was reported to Mr. Arthur Westcott-Pitt, that flares were seen three miles west of Dunmore, off the dangerous Falskirt Rocks, near Rathmoylan Cove. Immediately Mr. Pitt ordered the lifeboat to go to sea to their assistance. At the time there was a terrific snow blizzard, with visibility practically nil, and it was doubtful if the lifeboat would be able to see the boat in distress.

…a very high south-easterly wind prevailed. The lifeboat left Dunmore at 8pm and nothing more was seen or heard of her for over two hours by watchers on the cliffs. Then the lifeboat appeared towing back McGrath’s fishing boat. What happened in the meantime can only be described as one of the most gallant feats of the Lifeboat Institution, thanks to the bravery of the Dunmore crew, which was as follows: Patrick Power (coxswain), Rd Power (second coxswain), Richard Murphy (chief mechanic) Michael Whittle (second mechanic), Maurice Power (deck hand).

Annie Blanch Smith and her crew at Dunmore East 1958. A John Aylward photo.

The lifeboat crew searched the sea for the boat, and at first were unable to locate it and then to their amazement, found her a ship’s length of going on the Falskirt Rocks. To the utmost risk of the lifeboat and crew, the members went in amongst the rocks.

The distressed boat had previously dropped an anchor and sent out flares, but owing to the big seas, the anchor chain was smashed. To slow up the boat from making towards the cliffs-and their doom-the fishing crew threw out the herring nets, and this formed a brake slowing their relentless momentum towards the rocks and subsequent drowning.

Falskirt on a calm day. Photo Neville Murphy

Just in the nick of time, the lifeboat crew threw them a line and saved them. In only a matter of moments, the fishing boat would have been smashed to atoms, with the loss of five men.
It appears that the engine of the fishing boat had failed a few hours previously when they sent up flares and threw out the anchor. But for great fortune and the bravery of the lifeboatmen, the fishermen would likely to have been lost in a night of terrible conditions.
Mr Westcott-Pitt wrote the following at the end of the Service Report:

I would particularly like to bring to your notice the bravery of the Coxswain and 2nd Coxswain who successfully carried out a wonderful rescue. The 2nd Coxswain at the wheel took the lifeboat into the half submerged Falskirt Rocks in a snow blizzard during a full SE gale with the full knowledge that herring nets were drifting all around so as to enable the Coxswain to get a line on board the St Declan thus to rescue the five men- who were certainly doomed but for the brave and cool courage of the Cox, 2nd Cox and crew.

*John (Rocky) Power was listed in the official Service Report as a member of the crew. His name was omitted from the newspaper account. Skipper of the Saint Declan was Paddy Matty Power. Also, aboard was John Dunne of Coxtown, a stalwart of the lifeboat crew for many years, Jack Whittle, Dick Bulligan Power and Davy O’Rourke.

The Munster Express dated February 16, 1951 carried the following report:

GALLANTRY OF DUNMORE EAST LIFEBOAT MEN
R.N.L.I. Awards for Rescue in Gale

The R.N.L.I. has awarded to Coxswain Patrick Power of its lifeboat at Dunmore East, Co. Waterford, a clasp to the bronze medal for gallantry which he won in 1941; the bronze medal to Second-Coxswain Richard Power and £3 10s. to them and each other member of the crew, for the rescue on the night of December 14 of the fishing boat, “St. Declan” and her crew in a gale with blizzards of snow.
The lifeboat found the fishing boat close to the dangerous Falskirt Rocks. She was riding to her nets. In a few minutes she would have struck the rocks, the nets would have closed round her, and a rescue been impossible.
The lifeboat went close to her, a line was thrown, and using 80 fathoms anchor cable, the lifeboat towed the fishing boat clear. This was done in extreme darkness in the teeth of the gale, with the tide running against the wind and a high sea breaking fiercely on the rocks. The lifeboat was handled with great courage and superb seamanship.

The awards took place in London on March 13, 1951 at a RNLI ceremony, where presentation was made by the Duchess of Kent. Coxswain Paddy Billy Power was awarded a bar to the bronze medal which he won in 1941 and Second Coxswain Richard Power a bronze medal. Coxswain Edward Kavanagh of Wicklow was also a recipient at the same ceremony.

Paddy Billy Power with The Duchess of Kent , London, March 13, 1951.
Photo: John Aylward

After the presentation, a spray of shamrock was given to the Duchess of Kent by the three men from Ireland. In her speech, the Duchess said “it was with great pleasure that she had an opportunity of acknowledging the bravery and courage of men from lifeboat stations in Ireland”. She said: “No praise is too high for the 2,000 men who, year after year, carry out their work of rescue with a cheerful disregard of the dangers of every kind which attend this work.”

Get David Carrolls new book on the
history of the Dunmore East RNLI, Dauntless Courage now!

Thank you, David, what a stirring account of a dramatic rescue. I first heard of it while drifting for herring as a boy myself and the description of the lifeboat managing to get alongside a fishing boat in such conditions and with the driftnets all around, filled me with awe. Expect many such accounts in Dauntless Courage which will be in the local shops in Dunmore East, the Creamery, Burkes of Crooke, and Powers of Cheekpoint from this Wednesday afternoon. It will be in the Book Centre also and the committee that has worked so hard behind the scenes to support David will be at the Lifeboat Station in Dunmore East this Saturday 19th December between 11AM and 3.30PM and Sunday 20th December between 12PM and 3.00PM where pre-orders can be collected.

The Dunmore East area and the lifeboat fraternity, in particular, received some sad news at the weekend with the death of Agnes Abrahamsson. Agnes had a long family association with Dunmore East RNLI as a member of the Fundraising Branch, she was predeceased by her husband Walter who was a Coxswain/Mechanic for many years. Agnes was the mother of the current Coxswain/Mechanic Roy Abrahamsson. A sad loss, deepest sympathies to her family and friends. May she Rest In Peace. More information on her funeral arrangements here.

Getting to the Match. 2008 All Ireland Sunday

Sunday 7th September 2008 dawned bright and clear.  A good day for a trip, and a good day for a match.  Waterford were to meet Kilkenny in the All Ireland Hurling final and expectations were high. The season had got off to a slow start, with some controversy but had improved as the summer went on.  My wife, Deena had been to almost every match with our son Joel and our eldest daughter Hannah and they had even featured on the Sunday Game in Thurles, and been spotted as far away as America, Dubai and Australia. But that Sunday she was journeying back from a wedding in Barcelona, the family car sitting at Cork Airport for her return.  So it fell to me to get our son Joel to the match at Dublin’s Croke Park.

As we hadn’t got the tickets until late in the week (somehow Michael Spud Murphy wrangled a pair) the buses were sold out, as was the special event train.  Luckily a neighbour, Ray McGrath, who had retired from teaching in Canada, was planning to go and he proposed we journey with him. We set off bright and early with the intention of getting the train from Wexford.  But as we drove into Passage East to take the car ferry across, something was very amiss.  The ferry was tied up at the quayside and there was not a crewman in sight.  We wondered if we were too early, but with time ticking, Ray spun his battered Ford around and hurtled out of the village and up the new line.  It might have been considered an ill-advised speed on any other occasion, what with the age of the car, and the condition of the roads, but not on All Ireland Sunday.

Hannah and Joel enjoying a feed of Ballybricken ribs in company with Dylan Bible and Amanda Farady

By New Ross, a new plan had formed.  As we were this far, why not head to Enniscorthy and board there.  Less of a drive, and we’d be quicker home. Arriving at the station, we got a bit of a start. There was no one else there.  Dark thoughts started to enter the mind, but no words were spoken.  

Five minutes later the first of a flood of cars arrived, and with it a lift in our mood and some lively banter.  But it was not to last.  A Kilkenny man, they were mostly black and amber about us, caused some upset when he queried if we had booked our tickets.  Of course, we hadn’t and shur why would we.  Then the cutting line…”shur everyone knows to book the Wexford Train on All Ireland Sunday, everyone who is used to heading to the All Ireland that is”.  The emphasis on the word used not missed by any of the assembled Déise.

When the sound of the train was heard there was a surge of people towards the platform, but the Station Master appeared magically from out of the building, raising a commanding hand, and asking for ticket holders only.  Ray turned to me and Joel and winking conspiratorially said “play along”. Grabbing Joel by the collar he turned and propelling him forward like some shield for protection he drove through to the official.  Words were exchanged, but no movement was allowed. No ticket, no train. With this Ray launched into an impassioned oration.  Reminding the official that this ad hoc rule was nowhere to be found on the CIE website and that this lus non scriptum was tantamount to an attack on our rights as citizens.  At this, I perceived a marked thawing in the official. But Ray was only warming himself up and it was followed with a short and emotional recounting of his view from his father’s shoulders of the 1959 match.  With this, he wheeled round to the gathering, and as if drawing encouragement and energy from the group he returned his forceful gaze to the official and went for the kill.  “Would you…” addressing the station master, “be the one to deny me the opportunity to allow my son…”, turning to me “and my grandson…” lifting Joel up of the ground, “to see Waterford play, and they having journeyed 3000 miles from Canada to see the All Ireland final”.

All Ireland programme 2008

Even the Kilkenny lads could see the injustice in this, albeit completely fictitious, account. The official crumpled to the sight of Joel looking him square in the eye, and the rousing cheer of the assembled crowd, or maybe it was just that so many ticket holders were being held up by the melee. Whatever it was, he stepped aside and we rushed through and were soon having tea and sandwiches looking out on the lapping waves of the Irish sea and we sped northwards.  Joel’s only complaint was that if he had gone with his uncle Dylan on the special event train from Waterford he’d be eating Ballybricken Ribs

If we thought that was to be the end of it, we were in for more.  Having stopped in Wicklow station, we noticed little to concern us for the first five minutes.  Spirits were good, the company was fine and we were in plenty of time for the match.  After ten minutes some of the Kilkenny lads were getting a bit irritated. They had a minor final to get to as well, and wanted to be in plenty of time.  The passing ticket collector was engaged, and he replied that it was nothing just some essential maintenance. Fifteen minutes and some of the Kilkenny lads were up and off, pacing along the platform, voices raised and anxiously glancing up the line.  Not long after the first taxis started to arrive and we stopped the ticket collector again, and again we got the standard line.  However, he was hurrying forward and it was said over a quickly retreating shoulder, running it appeared for the safety of the engine house.

When we eventually wandered out, doors were open up and down the train, and many of the carraiges were empty.  There was not an official in sight and all manner of rumour was running.  A mini bus arrived and a group of Kilkenny supporters piled in.  In answer to what was going on another chap said the kilkenny lads had already got every taxi in town, and probably any available mini bus as well.  Phone calls were made, CIE seemed to be taking the day off.  Someone wandered down the town to see if they could find out what was going on.  A few of us went up to the engine, and there the driver sat, at his idle controls and threw his eyes and hands up to heaven.  Nothing he could do he said, there was essential maintence going on on the line outside of town and he could not move until the signal turned.

Next, the station master arrived.  He could not confirm the train would be leaving any time soon and was rounded on by over 150 fans looking for reassurance they were going to see the match.  He mumbled about seeing what he could do, then turned on his heels and disappeared.  More time passed and at this stage, it was common knowledge that there was not a taxi or mini bus to be had in the town. We were less than an hour from throw-in and some said we may as well head to the pub at least we might get a seat there.

Finally that official re-emerged from the safety of his building.  With great fanfare he announced that CIE had managed somehow, to secure buses to take us to the match.  Gardí were alerted, and we could be waved through all the major junctions, we could also expect a Garda escort.  Cheers went up when the first bus pulled up, and finally we were back on the move.

You might think that after all that, you would have to expect a happy ending.  But the hopes of all the Déise, and the vast majority of neutrals, were to be dashed later that day.  A sad day for the fans, but a horrible day for the Waterford players on the field.  Here’s hoping this Sundays team have better luck. Déise Abú

The new book cover which includes the blending of two images, the building of Dunmore East pier and the city dredger, Portlairge from an original image by Jonathan Allen. Buy it now

Enduring Mystery of Creaden’s Forty Steps

One of the most intriguing and enduring mysteries we have anywhere in Waterford harbour is the Forty Steps at Creaden Head.  Carved into the cliff of this inhospitable headland the purpose and the creators of the stone steps have intrigued and perplexed many. 

Creaden Head is located on the western side of Waterford harbour, 1 ½ mile NW of Dunmore East.  The stone at the tip of the headland is from volcanic Old Red Sandstone, sometimes called puddingstone, a sand and pebble mixture that was forged in the furnace of the earth’s natural heat.  It juts out into the harbour and stands as the most eastern tip of the county of Waterford and the province of Munster.  Canon Power speculated that the name originated from a person, but someone unknown to us.[I] As the land is in private ownership, I have only ever seen the steps by water, the best way to my mind!

Creaden Head is marked by the +

The steps were carved into the cliff face in a very steep area. It would have taken time, determination, and a lot of skill. It would also have had to be financed. Numerous theories have been put forward about the steps and I will share those that are known to me in no specific order.

The steps as seen this summer from our punt. We are looking upriver.

I might start with a piece written by the column “Sean Suir” in the News & Star in 1949.  “While camping in Woodstown my old pal and myself walked down those steps when the tide was very low. I often wondered who made them and why they were cut in such a point almost at, the steepest part of the cliff. If you have not seen them, do go and have a look at them.  Seemingly no one in the locality could tell us anything about them. The first time I saw them was when brought by my parents for a cruise to Dunmore on the old ‘ Vandeleur,’ the once-famous river steamer.[ii]  What I love about this is the notion that even in the era of the Paddle Steamers (1837-1905) the steps evoked speculation and intrigue. 

New Book Out Now
Templetown, Co Wexford

One theory is that the steps were created when the Knights Templar operated a ferry between Creaden and their church at Templetown in Wexford, just over a mile across the harbour.  The Templars were granted ferry and numerous other rights after the Norman conquest.  According to Byrne[iii], they established a ferry crossing at the narrowest point (Passage East to Ballyhack).  No mention is made of another crossing, and why they would want another crossing point a few miles away and in a wider and more dangerous location is beyond me. 

A more incredible theory is that it was used as a means of taking African slaves ashore to be walked in chains (for exercise apparently) before being reloaded and sent to the America’s.  The origin of this theory is that an old path close to the shore at Fornaght leading inland known as Bothar na mban Gorm , the road of the blue women.  The name has created much speculation and wild theorising, but the notion of diverting northwards from off the customary slave route has no evidence that I am aware of.  More importantly, It ignores the well-known practice of triangular trade that governed shipping at the time, and indeed the fundamentals of the theory are still in use to this day.

The late Noel McDonagh had a very interesting and to my mind plausible theory which linked this roadway with Creaden and the ancient burial site of the Giants Grave at Harristown.  Noel’s research was unfortunately cut short by his untimely death but his theory, in brief, was that ancient people may have used the road and steps as part of a funeral rite as they placed the bones of their dead at the base of Creaden in a sea cave to enable their passage to the other world by water. Noel’s findings of flints and other evidence have turned the heads of everyone with an interest in the early settlement of Ireland.

The steps and the cave beneath to the left

One theory that I occasionally discussed with Noel was smuggling.  Neither of us really thought smuggling at the location made any sense.  Firstly it was within view of Duncannon which had a military presence since the medieval era. But it is also an inhospitable location.  Tides can reach three knots on the Head during spring tides, and it is open to all wind directions except south-westerlies.  To put it mildly, it is far from being an ideal location.    

There is merit to the theory, however.  Firstly smuggling was a well organised and lucrative trade in Ireland up to the mid 19th Century.  My cousin James has guest blogged on it before.  Creaden is out of the way, right beside the channel into the ports of Waterford and New Ross.  More importantly, such steps have an established association with smuggling in other areas including west Cork. 

My view of smuggling was that it would involve a ship coming into the head to unload.  Not feasible on this site in my view.  But what if it anchored above the head, and a number of smaller boats worked to bring the goods ashore, where willing hands passed the goods up onto the headland and distributed them inland.  Not just feasible, but practical.  It may have also served the purpose of offering a diversion to the revenue coastwatchers, another site amongst many to be watched and the spreading of resources. And it’s a theory supported by one of Ireland’s foremost archaeologists Connie Kelleher. Connie specialises in underwater archaeology for the National Monuments Service.  She spoke about it in Waterford some years back in a talk organised by the cousin.  Connie has a new book out called The Alliance of Pirates: Ireland and Atlantic piracy in the early seventeenth century, which I have promised myself for Christmas.  I’m sure Creaden and Waterford will get a substantial mention.

Another theory about the steps was that they were used by pilots for boarding sailing vessels coming into the ports. See for example Michael Fewer’s account from Rambling Down the Suir[iv].  Most likely this was the era of the hobblers, prior to the formation of the harbour commissioners in Waterford (1816) who appointed their own official pilots and a pilot boat.  However, it’s also known that the hobblers operated for many years after this and that they operated from the area.  I would think it would be highly unlikely they went to the bother of cutting steps into the cliff, but very likely they used the steps when tide and weather allowed.

a virtual tour via Mark Power

There is one idea I have myself that I have yet to properly research.  That is the use of stone on Creaden by millstone makers and which has been researched by Niall Colfer (son of the renowned late Billy Colfer) Colfer estimated that almost 300 millstones were quarried from the site and he describes it as “…the most intense example of millstone quarrying located in Ireland as part of…[his]… research.”[v] Is it possible the workmen employed in such an operation used the steps as a point of access at certain times. They would certainly have had the skill. The quarry stands a long way from the steps and there is no evidence that I have seen of any millstone quarrying in their vicinity, but as I say more research is merited.

And of course, there’s likely to be other theories that I have not heard, or have yet to unearth.  But that’s the joy of research.  It’s an ever-evolving story. 

Any feedback can be added to the comments on the blog or by email to tidesntales@gmail.com