River women

I was delighted to recently present to the Éigse Sliabh Rua on the topic of 19th Century lives along the local South Kilkenny riverbank.  One of the themes I touched on was women’s work. Women played a vital role in the local fishery and seafaring communities traditionally, and it was a theme that my grandmother regularly mentioned as I grew up in Cheekpoint.

The reference to women’s work at the Éigse talk was prompted by a piece of folklore captured by the late Sean Malone in his article on local fishing in Jim Walsh’s fine book Sliabh Rua – A history of its people and places.  In his section Fishing and Fisheries of Slieverue (pp253-256) he mentions that although they could sell their catch in Waterford or New Ross “Local tradition tells that Mrs Mary Ann Shalloe (nee Lannon) was known to have walked with a fish catch on her back from Great Island, took the ferry to Ballinlaw and then off to Carrick and returned by foot having sold her produce”

Traditional role of women in fishing homes

I made the point on the night that my grandmother told of similar stories, accompanying her mother to Waterford with a salmon in a bag on her back.  Although the buyers did come to the village by horse and cart in the era, there were times that this was missed and because money was tight they would take to the road, hoping for a better price with a fresh fish.  I never heard of a journey to Carrick, but if fish were scarce upriver, it could make financial sense to walk, what I would estimate was a 60 mile round trip and according to Google maps would take 14 hrs to walk.

Nanny on the right with her parents in the early 1950s. Image courtesy of Brian Moran.

My grandmother (nanny) was Maura Moran, born in 1919, the youngest of 7 and the only girl.  She often told the story of how her mother, Catherine, had once sold a fish on the Dunmore Road, around the present Powerscourt housing estate.  Herself and nanny had walked almost 5 miles at that stage, and Catherine was delighted as she got a good price and saved her the walk to the city.  However when she got home her husband Michael was furious, fearful that the regular buyer would find out.  The next time Catherine went to town with a fish the buyer cautioned her, and told her if she ever sold one of his fish on the road, he would blacken the Moran family name to all the buyers in Waterford. 

I later realised that it was sometimes the case that fishermen would get a loan at the start of a fishing season to buy the salmon license or occasionally to replace nets, ropes, corks etc. Families were obligated to sell to the specific merchant until the debt was repaid. A percentage of each sale was recouped to repay the advance. This may have been the case in this situation, but Nanny wasn’t sure. Either way, I know from our own time, that no family ever stuck to selling 100% of their catch to the one buyer.

Nanny said that Catherine was a net maker and net mender at home, and she was regularly at the fire at night working.  They also had a twine-making machine that hung over the fireplace.  She called it a “nooseline maker” (I have no idea how it was spelled but it made string, some of which was used to make longlines).  Catherine’s mother was Mary Lynch and I recently discovered that her own parents may have come to Cheekpoint to work the rope walk in the village from the Carrick on Suir area.  If so Catherine didn’t lick it off the stones so to speak.

Catherine and nanny also kept the home fires burning, the lads fed and she often recalled Catherine at the fireside all through the night turning the lads clothes so that they would have something dry to wear for the next tides. 

Many years back the late Water Whitty told me he remembered his mother and other women in the High Street, Cheekpoint with lines of calico clothing hanging out to dry.  The calico had been cut and stitched and then tarred with a linseed oil mix so as to water proof it, as a form of oilskin for the fishermen. 

Cockle Women

Elsewhere, the women of Passage and beyond picked the cockles. Collectively known today as the Cockle Women, in an effort to support their families, these women picked cockles from the west banks of Passage to Tramore from Monday to Thursday, working to the times of the tides, then boiled them, shelled them and bagged them on a Thursday before transporting them by ass and cart or on foot to Waterford city for selling on a Friday. Many of the women were widowed and this was their only source of income, many others were supporting their families as their husbands were at sea and would not get paid off until their trips were over. 

An important recognition for us here in Waterford in 2019

Herring Lassies

Another group were known as the Herring Lassies (elsewhere Lasses).  Women (initially Scottish) who followed the herring boats to cut and preserve the fish for transport and sale.  A hard job in all weathers, these women followed the fleet and set to work onshore in areas like Passage East and Dunmore East where their skill and dexterity was prized.  Many local women participated too.  I remember the fishing sheds at Dunmore in my youth filled with women, working to process the fish.

Photograph taken at the Fish House in Passage in 1936. Molly Murphy, on the left, and Nellie Connors nee Robinson on the right. Molly, daughter of cockle woman Ellie Murphy was herself a cockle woman. Nellie was daughter of cockle woman Ellen Robinson (Nana). Both women were in their early 20s here and lived side by side in the Brookside, Passage East throughout their lives and were lifelong friends. The women worked with great skill and speed using long sharp wooden handled knives. They wore long rubber aprons and rubber boots as it was wet work, particularly hard in the colder weather. The fish scales can be seen glistening on their aprons from gutting the herrings before they were salted and smoked as kippers. Passage had a vibrant Fish House and produced Kippers, Red herring, bloaters and cured salted herring for export to England, Europe and sold throughout Ireland.  Information via Breda Murphy with details taken from The Fish House by Arthur E. Neiland


It wasn’t all work thankfully.  There are records of women participating in the regattas locally.  In some cases these were female only in other cases it was a pairing, male and female.  One such account which I published was the Cheekpoint regatta of 1909 which describes a third option. 

Mary Fleming, Mary Sherlock and another unidentified lady from Great Island
with a medal they won in 1913 for rowing in a local regatta.  Photo courtesy of Mary’s grandson Liam Fleming,

Ladies’ Pair Oared Punt Race (one gentleman allowed to either row or steer) Prize value £3.

1st, Invicta – The Misses Fleming, Great Island and Heffernan (Cox)

2nd, Lily – Mrs Hennebry, Ballinlaw (Stroke) Miss Hennebry, do, (Bow) P. Hennebry (Cox)

3rd, Eily – Mr T.W.Brewer, Waterford (Stroke) Miss McCarthy, do (Bow) AN Other (Cox)

Johnny Moran with Sheila Doyle rowing off Ryan’s Shore – the 1950s.

In relatively more recent times, in yachting circles, Daphne French, a famous yachtswoman, lived at Dunmore East in the 1950s and 60s. A topic that David Carroll may guest blog on in the future.

Although women did go to sea, think for example of the pirate queen Grace O’Malley, according to legend she went to sea at eleven years old, forging a career in seafaring and piracy where she was considered a fierce leader. 


As times moved on, women’s role on the high seas may have diminished but it was common enough for sea captains’ wives to accompany them on their travels, and on more than one occasion a sinking ship in the harbour here witnessed the captain’s family being rescued.

Somewhere in my files, I have the details of at least one captain’s wife who helped to avert disaster.  From memory, they had endured a rough Atlantic crossing, the Captain had been on deck for many days, and entering Waterford harbour for refuge he passed the bar above Creaden and made his way for Duncannon.  There he seems to have misjudged the lights, but his wife who was at his side, correctly identified the course and countermanded his orders.  The crew obviously paused, looking to their Captain for guidance, who wisely yielded to his wife’s advice.  They later safely anchored at Passage and awaited more favourable conditions.  (I will add the specific details when I retrieve the newspaper clipping)

Then there was the legendary Kate Tyrrell of Arklow who went to sea as a child with her father and took on many of the admin tasks associated with the running of a vessel.  But Kate wasn’t only a bookkeeper, she also had the sea in her blood and she rose through the ranks to become a ship’s captain in 1886. 

Of course, I can’t not mention Rosa Udvardy, who nursed her ailing husband aboard the Honved off Cheekpoint in the 1930s.  After he died, he was laid to rest in Faithlegg and now a palm tree marks his grave

Rosa supported by the crew and the villagers of Cheekpoint at Faithlegg Graveyard in 1932

Women and families also travelled aboard ships in my younger days.  Well I remember the beautiful young Dutch girl aboard her father’s coaster at anchor at Cheekpoint in the 1980s and how I stared at her mesmerised as we sold a small salmon to the cook after he called us alongside. 

Lighthouse Female Assistant

Oh and although the wives and daughters of lighthouse keepers often did the work to maintain the burning lights that kept the sea lanes safe in the past, I wasn’t aware until Pete Gouldings latest blog that on the 15th April 1866, twenty-one woman took their rightful place in the pantheon of lightkeepers, all in the new role of Female Assistant with the Ballast Board.

Recent times

Much has changed in the attitude towards women, and opportunities that were in my childhood seen as the preserve of men, are now as likely to be carried out by women.  Of course even then things were changing.  My late sister Eileen was as happy drifting for salmon as any of us.  Julie Ann Doherty and Marcella Duffin fished with their dads as hard as any of us.  Josie Whitty of Nuke fished for years as did many of her daughters. 

A new initiative for me, a voucher system for some of my walks in 2024 are now available for Christmas. A person can use the voucher against any of the walks, or indeed use it to bring a number of guests on any one walk. Vouchers are postcard sized and can be posted if required.

My generation had women like Grace O’Sullivan who went to sea with Greenpeace. Grace was aboard the Rainbow Warrior when the French sunk the vessel in an effort to stop the awareness raising of the country’s nuclear testing in the Pacifics. Frances Glody of Dunmore also broke new ground, working with the Harbour Board to assist with piloting communication at Dunmore East. In 1981, Frances became the first female all-weather lifeboat crew member at Dunmore East Lifeboat Station, taking over from her retiring father. Numerous women now volunteer with the RNLI in Ireland including at Dunmore.

Now women can assume any position they aspire to at sea and in our Navy too.  Even our local Harbour Master at Dunmore East, is now a lady, the very capable and no-nonsense Deirdre Lane.  There’s even a list of the top 100 women in shipping. Although it’s a very unequal world, in an Irish context, it’s a far cry from the era of my grandmother, and the struggle to survive.    

White Stone – Cheekpoint fisherman’s foul mark

A lighter in operation in New Ross

For generations of Cheekpoint fishermen, the White Stone was a foul mark to be wary of, a river-based location that was notorious for dragging nets to the bottom and causing costly damage. 

Recently I stumbled upon the back story to the foul, the cause of so much anxiety and upset to us drift netters of the past.  It arose from a dispute following the introduction of scotch weirs and the difficulties posed to traditional navigation, especially in this instance to craft using the Campile Pill.  But needless to say there were different opinions and numerous twists and turns before the White stone foul emerged!

Placenames on the river

I’m certain that my regular readers will be well aware of the relevance of place names and the important role each play in preserving the history and heritage of a locality.  In a fishing community river or coastal place names can be just as valuable but with an added significant role in fishing terms too.

Place names on the river at Cheekpoint denoted the commencement or end of drifts, marked hindrances to navigation or fishing, and useful landmarks for the location of nets, eel pots, etc.  They also marked fouls, spots notorious to fishermen, a location to be avoided, skirted around or just to show more caution.  One of the most infamous marks for the Cheekpoint men was the White Stone.  This blog looks at the origins of this foul mark, arising from some research I had conducted previously into the navigation of the Campile Pill. 

Salmon Driftnetting at Cheekpoint

When fishing salmon driftnets on the flood tide at Cheekpoint we principally concentrated our efforts along the Shelburne Bank, to the Campile Pill, and along up the “bank wall” – the embankment that held in the reclaimed marsh land at Kilmannock in Co Wexford.  The drift terminated at Great Island Power Station. 

As you proceeded up the bank wall, there was a mark in the wall, made by a piece of flat faced white rock which gave us the name White Stone.  This marked a notorious foul and as we approached the drift nets were hauled aboard, which pulled the boat away from the shore, and crews had their own preferred distance of net to retrieve.  (Later in the tide you might tighten up the foot rope, and take a chance on passing over) When a crew was satisfied, they would wait patiently for the onrushing tide, to drag the punt upriver, and once safely passed, the crew would resume the drift by setting the nets back into the shore.  Depending on the time of tide, some crews would set the entirety of the nets out at this point, others waiting until they got up to the “pailing” – a concrete fence post, before setting the remainder of the driftnets along the mud, or the wall – depending on how high the river had risen.   

A recent video highlighting the location
Salmon Fishery hearing 1864

Now the origins of the foul were reputed to be an old weir, but only recently did I actually get more details of this, arising from evidence gathered in New Ross in 1864. The hearing was part of a fishery commission established to examine fish weirs located countrywide – many of which had been established in the early 1800s as Scotch Weirs or had been adapted from the traditional Head Weirs.  I’ve written numerous accounts of the Weir Wars that resulted

Some of the placenames featured in my first book, Before the Tide Went Out.
Note the White Stone at Great Island

At New Ross, on March 10th, 1864 the Commission sat to gather evidence into the Kilmannock Weir with the three-person special commissioners in charge – Fredrick Eden, Captain W Houston RN, and W O’Conner Morris.   

From the report, it seems the only matter under examination was the impediment that the weir might cause to navigation, specifically traffic between the Pill and the River Barrow.  We learn that Mr. Knox of Kilmannock is the owner and the weir is fished by Richard Hewitson.  These men were represented by Mr. Ryland, instructed by Mr. Boyd, and called several witnesses to highlight that the weir posed no issues at all. Opposing this evidence was Mr. E Carr – representing the Nore, Barrow, and Suir Navigation Co. 

The entrance to the Pill is just below the lighthouse on the Bank Wall…we called this the Corner of the Pill

I won’t go into the opposing views that were reported, these continued for several days, though it is interesting to note that Fredrick Eden was less than enamored with the information provided stating that “…The evidence on both sides is biased and is to be taken with considerable caution.”

Legalities of the Kilmannock Weir

He summed up the legalities quite definitively, however – Basically the weir at Kilmannock was granted legal status under the fishery act of 1842 –  this was based on a lease dated 1669.  However other documents now presented had caused concern as they pointed to a different weir – in a different location, and the weir at use in 1864 was actually repositioned after the embankment was constructed, (The embankment is not shown in the first OSI map of the area {1829-1842} but is in the subsequent edition from 1914) or perhaps before in anticipation of its construction.  Therefore the weir was not strictly legal, as the older legal documents were for a weir, which was at that point either part of the embankment or covered in soil on the reclaimed marshland.   The decision made was that the weir should be removed.

Mahons Weir. Cheekpoint, Photo credit: William Doherty
Salmon Fishery hearing 1867

The weir verdict must have been appealed however as in 1867 it was again before the Salmon Fishery Commission in New Ross.  On this occasion appealing a decision to remove or alter the Kilmannock Weir was Maurice Wilson Knox of Kilmannock.  Several witnesses were called who operated lighters on the Pill to clarify that the weir was no impediment to navigation. 

An extract from Sayers chart of the harbour in 1787, no embankment and I’d imagine the weir was close to the first line on the right, where the river meets the shoreline at low water. I’m afraid no weir is shown in the location on any map or chart I have, not even in the OSI historic series. The only weir in the vicinity is a flood weir shown close to the present jetty and Kents Point.

The first witness was Matthew Power – a boatman on the Pill, working lighters for 45 years.  Power described his trade, and that they carried limestones from above Waterford and reached the Cheekpoint area (I’d imagine he means here Snow Hill or Drumdowney Point) on the ebb tide where they anchored.  On the next flood tide they crossed to Cheekpoint and (depending on the tides and weather I guess) sometimes waited on the next tide before crossing to the Pill.  They went up the Pill on the flood tide.  No detail is given of how long the journey was, but I would imagine it could be two tides – as they would be under too much pressure to make it through the New Bridge.

Power later clarified that was a tenant of Knox but that the only difficulty posed by the weir was if they were heading to the Ross River (Barrow) and even that was not a major issue.  They generally headed towards Waterford and they used a single-lug sail when the wind was right.  The weir he claimed was no impediment on this tack.

John Carroll of Horsewood (spelled Hore’s Wood in the article) was another witness who had worked the Campile River for 40 years.  When heading to New Ross, he steered a course well outside the weir, keeping a line for Kents Weir on the Great Island.  He stated it was useful on a foggy night as a landmark as there is no other light (suggesting there was a light on the weir perhaps).  He remembered boats going up inside the weir in the days before the Embankment was built but not since.   The lawyer acting on behalf of the Cotmen Mr Carr, is less than taken with their evidence however and although it is not part of the article it is obvious that Carr knows very well the issues caused by the weir for lighters depending on poles and oars to get into or out of the Pill when trying to keep to the shore heading for New Ross.

A lighter in operation in New Ross
A lighter in operation in New Ross – courtesy of Myles Courtney

Another witness is a Coastguard based at Arthurstown Daniel Jenkins.  Jenkins gave evidence about the tides and how the weir impacts these.  A fisherman Richard Power had no issue with the weir either – the ground is too steep for trawling and no great advantage there to a drift net either apparently (Cheekpoint fishermen of my generation would certainly disagree – and in the 1870s there were 90 driftnet licences in the harbour area!).  Another boatman Michael Doyle also gave evidence. 

The Commission made no decision on the day – asking for a survey of the site by the Coastguard officer, to be completed in the company of one of Mr Knox’s men, and once submitted a decision would be forthcoming! 

The White Stone
Outstanding Questions

I can’t find any detail as to how the White Stone in the wall originated. It seems to have been there from the outset of the building of the embankment. I’m also not clear as to the exact date for the removal of the weir, and I can not be sure if this was a redesigned head weir that had the wing extended to the shoreline, or some other specific design like some of the scotch weirs in the Kings Channel for example. 


Whatever part of the weir that was left behind when ir was removed, proved to be a considerable obstacle up to my years of salmon driftnetting.   Although we have not set a driftnet at the spot since it was banned in 2006, I daresay any of those left who remember the foul would still show it some respect if were allowed back fishing tomorrow.

As regulars will know I am deeply interested in the workings of the Lighter vessels and the lightermen, and this evidence has given me a rare glimpse into the activities of these men. The details of the journey from Grannagh to Campile although brief, give a glimpse into the lives of these men who worked in harmony with the tides in order to move their freight cargos. Patience was a virtue, they had to have a deep knowledge of the river and its tides, but they also required a lot of luck for the job to go well. I’m ever hopeful of finding other snippets of their lives as my research continues.

I’m grateful to Tommy Sullivan for letting me discuss the White Stone with him recently to clarify some points. Its been so long ago I like to check in with others to be sure I am not imagining stuff. All errors and omissions are my own needless to say.

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Sturgeon – the Cot men’s nemesis

Living beside the meeting of the three sister rivers, and having fished it for over 15 years, I’ve been lucky to see quite a variety of fish over that time.  By far the largest and most incredible was a Minke whale, which beached but which my brother Robert, Pat Moran, and I managed to refloat in 1993.  But one fish has eluded my sight, another large fish, and a contemporary of the dinosaur; the Royal Sturgeon.
Royal is an appendage associated with the Sturgeon which dates to the reign of Edward II.  An act decreed that “…the King shall have the wreck of the sea throughout the realm, whales and great sturgeon.”[1]  As Ireland was part of the realm, the rules applied here too.  Essentially if you caught a fish you were expected to hand it over to the crown.  In fact one of Waterford’s Royal charters granted by Charles I “…granted to the mayor, sheriffs, and citizens of Waterford…the fishing of Salmon and other fish of every kind, (Whales and
Sturgeons excepted) [2]
The fish itself is an amazing creature.  It can live to a great age, a huge size, and is so old; it swam in the seas in the times of the dinosaurs.  It’s a bottom feeder and tends to swim in the seas.  But like salmon, these anadromous fish, migrate to freshwater to spawn and this has brought them into contact with fishermen.
But not by me, and I can never recall hearing of one being caught in the Cheekpoint area.  However, on a recent trip to the local dispensary, I fell to mention this to Dick Mason.  Dick who has lived here almost 30 years and fished all his life remembered his father catching one in a driftnet in the 1950s in Passage East.  The fish was taken away by the fishmonger Michael O’Neill, but Dick recalled that for all the hype about royal fish, the payment later received was poor enough.
A Royal Sturgeon was landed at Dunmore East 13 May 1952 by MFV Tulip
l-r Frank McDonald (skipper), Tommy McGrath (owner) Johnny Rooney, John Dando Whitty & Davy Muck Murphy
The fish was displayed for two days in the Dunmore East fisheries shop High St Waterford
before being sent as a gift to Eamon de Valera, then president of Ireland.
Photo via Michael Farrell, Barony of Gaultier Historical Society.  Supplied by John Burke
A trawl of the newspaper archives was most revealing about the fish, and in brief, there are accounts of them being caught from Baginbun to St Mullins, Dunmore East to Carrick On Suir. The largest I have found thus far was caught by snap net fishermen near Mount Congreve and was recorded as 9ft 3” and weighing 2¼ cwt. This fish was sold to Mr Crawford, fishmonger of Lombard St Waterford and it was said that the roe(fish eggs, or caviar as Sturgeon roe is more popularly known) in the fish was such that it would have filled the Suir with Sturgeon [3] Crawford comes up frequently as a purchaser.
A frequent sentiment expressed in the papers is that the cot men (on both the Suir and Barrow)who fish the snap net are often “terrorised” by the creature, apparently damage to their nets was common and there were fears expressed of their boats being upturned.  It appears it’s the power of the fish, rather than any malcontent that is the issue. Given the cot size of 14ft with little by way of freeboard[4], such concern is perhaps unsurprising.
The appendage of Royal fish seems to be oft repeated in the newspapers, and many but not all, seem to find their way to London.  Some appear to be sold locally and others end
up in Dublin.  “A very fine Sturgeon was taken in the river on Wednesday and was on view at Mr. Crawford’s next day.  The greater part of it has, according to ancient usage and custom, been sent to the Lord Lieutenant”[5]
Some purchasers were more entrepreneurial than others of course.   Three fishermen near Fiddown Bridge spent two hours wrestling with a sturgeon on a fine May morning in their cots.  The specimen was eventually tired out and dragged ashore where it was killed.  A “speculator” snapped it up for a pound, but headed straight for the Tipperary racecourse and “…exhibited the curiosity at 2d per head…”   The report states the fish was nine feet long and weighed 100 pounds. We don’t get any information on how much the speculator realised, however.[6]
Carrick on Suir is the scene of the most drawn-out encounter in the summer of 1848 which involved 12-14 cots, the majority of the town as onlookers, and “…an immense sturgeon…” which was later said to be 7½ feet long and weighing 169lbs.  From the article, it would appear the cot men went out with the specific intention of catching the fish, as they were “…armed with spears and boat hooks…” The onlookers on shore assisted by watching the Sturgeons progress and when it traveled under the arch of the old bridge they quickly alerted the cot men who formed a line to prevent it from moving back down.  A man named Healy managed to pierce the side of the fish with a spear, but it recoiled so heavily that the spear shattered off the side of the cot, and Healy was thrown from the boat.  The river became crimson with blood as the fish swam away, but was prevented from escaping downriver by the line of cots. 
Meanwhile, on shore, the spectators were shouting encouragement, directions, and advice.  The fish turned away again and was driven towards shallow water by “…Mr. Freemans Brewery…” where another cot man George Coghlan managed to harpoon the fish with a boat hook. The Carrick fishermen later exhibited the fish to the public in the town and afterward in Clonmel from which they realised £4 and later sold it to Mr. Pim of Clonmel for £2 10s.[7] Although a horrible end for the sturgeon, for the local fishermen in famine era Carrick it must have been a windfall.
There does not appear to be any regularity of capture, from the papers at least.  The fish appear to be occasional visitors or perhaps occasional catches.  A report from 1852 on the harbour is interesting in relation to this.  “On Thursday last a splendid Sturgeon, measuring eight feet in length, and other proportions corresponding…is the first of the kind which has been taken in this district for the past 14 years…”[8]  The capture was in a weir in the lower harbour.
Despite all my searching I cannot find any reference to a fish being caught at Cheekpoint.  But then again I should not be surprised.  My father never told me of any!  In recent
years attempts have been made to preserve and encourage Sturgeon back into European waters.  I’m not sure that even if successful we would ever see Sturgeon of such a scale as reported in those papers of the nineteenth century, but I for one would dearly love to see them make a return.
I’d like to thank Dick Mason, Denis O’Meara, Michael Farrell and Maurice Power for assistance with this piece.
[1]  Went.A.E.J. The Status of the Sturgeon, Acipenser Sturio L. in Irish Waters now and
in Former Days
.  The Irish
Naturalists Journal. Vol 9. No. 7 July 1948.
Pp 172-174
Waterford Mail. 14th June 1865. p.2
[4] Patrick
C Power. The Lower Suir – Boats and Boatmen long ago.  Tipperary Historical Journal. 1991.
Waterford Mail.  4th July 1857 p.4
[6] Waterford
Standard. 27th May 1876. p.2
[7] Wexford
independent. 17th June 1848. p.1.
Waterford mail. 19th June 1852. p.2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Billy Colfer. The Hook Peninsula

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cork Examiner. October 4th, 1869

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Carroll

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

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


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