My Quarantine story featured on Sunday Miscellany

I’m delighted to be featuring on the RTE Radio 1 Sunday Miscellany radio show again this week. It will be broadcast Sunday morning, 23rd February 2020 after the 9am news.

This is my second appearance on the show, and unlike my previous appearance with “Steamboat” which was live from the Theatre Royal, Waterford this is a pre-recorded studio broadcast which was taped in the RTE studio in Waterford during the week. 

My debut in a recording studio, photographed by my daughter Ellen

My topic is Quarantine, a topical piece in light of the continuing concern with the spread of Corona Virus.  I won’t need to link this as it is on almost every news programme and indeed was trending again on twitter yesterday after riots in Ukraine specifically over quarantine concerns, a prison outbreak in China and the first death reported in Italy amid a spike in reported infections.

The Italian connection fits nicely into my piece, as I do mention that the word Quarantine comes from the Italian, ‘quaranta- giorni’, meaning ‘forty days’ a reference to a 40-day isolation period for ships originating during the Black Death, which wiped out an estimated 30 per cent of Europe’s population in the 14th Century.  The phrase Giorni really caught me out in the broadcast, but the producer, Sarah Binchy managed to straighten me out.  In fact she showed patience throughout as she coached me in the art of transforming the written word into spoken presentation.

A quarantine guardship Rhin, protecting the harbour entrance at Sheerness. Source: National Maritime Museum of Greenwich, London

My piece, needless to say, also looks at the practices of Quarantine in a historical context and focuses on the provision of a hospital at Passage East when the normal means of transport was by ship. Air travel is a little more challenging to curtail.

The line up for the show includes

Too Fruity For Words, by Mary Dowey 

Try, Try Again, by Dónal Hayes;

The Waiting Room, by Mary O’Malley;

Quarantine, by Andrew Doherty;

and Waiting For Beckett, by Grace Neville

On a another note, RTE Nationwide will do a three night special on the Three Sister Rivers network this coming week. On RTE 1 Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7pm. Here’s a promo to whet the appetite

The Royal Navy comes a calling

This months blog started with an intriguing photograph of an unidentified naval vessel anchored at Passage East at the start of the last century. With help, my research led to her likely identity and the purpose of her visit; recruitment of young men from the area into the navy.

The photo that started this story, from Hore’s History of Wexford . The ship is seen anchored between Passage East, Co Waterford and Ballyhack Co Wexford.

Last year following a loan of Hore’s History of Wexford from John Flynn of Ballycullane, Co Wexford I came across an intriguing photograph of an unnamed naval vessel anchored at Passage East.  As normal with such queries, I posed it online, and knew that a trusty crew of die hards would soon be on the case.  There was a time when naming these individuals was straightforward, but at this point the network has grown so vast that I am best to not even try.  Initially we thought that the ship might be HMS Calypso (If I recall rightly it was Paul O’Farrell who first identified the similarities) one of two ships in the Calypso class of corvettes built for protecting trade routes and colonial police work.  Both she and her sister ship had the distinction of being the last two sailing corvettes built for the Royal Navy.  The Calypso had a solid career including survey and salvage work before becoming a training ship.  In 1902 she transferred to Newfoundland.   However apart from speculating that she might have been part of the naval manoeuvres which I had blogged about previously, I could not find much more information about her. And if she was present with such a large flotilla why was there not a greater number of ships in the vicinity?

After a bit more digging a more likely candidate emerged, her sister ship HMS Calliope, which my cousin James Doherty discovered had been in the harbour on a recruitment drive.

A newspaper clipping which James Doherty sent along to me.

The Calliope was a perfect vessel for recruitment purposes as she had a heroic reputation. This was earned when her Irish born captain (later Admiral) Henry Kane (another positive from the perspective of potential Irish recruits surely??) had daringly escaped a tropical cyclone in Samoa in 1889, an incident that passed into naval folklore. Whilst trapped between a coral reef and other anchored vessels Kane commanded his crew in making a dash for the open sea, and against all odds the Calliope escaped, whilst many of the other ships were damaged or destroyed. As an aside there were two Cork men aboard on that fateful occassion; Michale Finnie and David O’Mahoney.

The Calliope then was a celebrity and as such was an easy story to sell to the newspapers of the time, and indeed there were many articles that mentioned this.  It would be easy to imagine the heroic tale stirring the blood of young lads looking for a career or a way out of the hard grind of the fishing trade. 

Calliope under sail and with a shorter funnell. It must have been subsquently raised as I’ve seen a multitude of images of her with a higher stack. Photo courtesy of the State Library of Victoria

The Munster Express of late August 1904 described the visit thus:  “H.M.S. Calliope left Waterford on Thursday morning, after a stay of a fortnight. The training ship was decidedly successful in obtaining recruits, close on fifty boys being accepted from among those who presented themselves for enlistment. A scratch local football team, collected and captained by Mr T. J. Kennedy, played the sailors at Christendom (Ferrybank, Waterford) on Wednesday afternoon. . The match resulted in a win for Waterford by five goals to three.”[1]

However a national paper gave a conflicting and negative account, raising a recurring bugbear of the Irish Catholic Hirearchy – religious practice, referring to her visit to Waterford it explained that “Her presence in the city has given rise to no little commotion, and has revived the resolution passed some time ago by the Irish Hierarchy appealing to Irish boys and Irish parents to abstain from aiding the ranks of the navy till such time as the Government would place Catholics on the same terms as Protestants respecting the presence of chaplains on board the vessels. A copy of the resolution was extensively placarded over the city and district, and it is satisfactory to be in a position to remark here that but a very limited number of toys affianced themselves to the condition of things existing to-day on board of his majesty’s ships. On the opening days of the recruiting fully 60 candidates presented themselves for examination, and it was expected that the strength of the navy would at that rate be considerably augmented if it was to continue so.  Then the poster appeared, Catholic parents were warned, and Catholic boys were appealed to not to join. The Hierarchy make no point of the recruiting on political grounds, they speak only on the broad issue of religious equality. The “operations” from the appearance of the poster received a check, and as a sum total of all the energy displayed by the Admiralty in their desire to obtain recruits, and taking into account the fact that the Calliopo remained over the best part of a week to forward the “prospects,” only a grand total of 32 boys could be found to join the Royal Navy during the long Sojourn in the Suir. Let there be no mistaking these figures. It has been said that 85 recruits resulted from the “operations,” It was no such figure, 32. and 32 only was the sum, and all of the “operations and “prospectus” associated with the recruiting.”[2]

My grandfather left with fellow Cheekpoint native John Scurry. They are pictured at Gallipoli, my grandfather a merchant seaman probably on a supply ship, Scurry in his navy uniform. One question that intrigued me was if had joined on the Calliope visits. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it’s a question I have still to answer. Photo with thanks to James Doherty

In relation to the identity in the photo, there was one issue with this and the information I had found on the 1904 recruitment; the first edition copy of Hore’s History that John had lent to me was published in 1901 which led me to speculate on whether there was a previous visit.  A wider search revealed an earlier recruitment drive of 1900; several articles from the time discuss her visit and she was reported as calling at Belfast, Greenore, Kingstown and Dunmore East (one article stating that she was estimated to reach Dunmore of the Wednesday, 5th September, 1900). The Calliope was crewed at the time by 13 officers, 202 men and 183 boys.  A report from the Irish Times[3] goes on to describe the large numbers who came aboard at Kingstown to visit the ship and enjoy the entertainments put on for their amusement including an exhibition by the crew of their duties.

A later poster for WWI accessed from: https://www.google.com/search?biw=1366&bih=608&tbm=isch&sxsrf=ACYBGNSD2tE4ZWSEY3P79MM48weFLa2dZg%3A1579778324411&sa=1&ei=FIEpXtXgGIaO8gKy7Jpg&q=royal+navy+recruitment+posters+1800s&oq=royal+navy+recruitment+posters+1800s&gs_l=img.3…38495.45448..45813…0.0..0.163.1997.35j1……0….1..gws-wiz-img…….35i39.ODvtueqiBk8&ved=0ahUKEwjVuubuzJnnAhUGh1wKHTK2BgwQ4dUDCAc&uact=5#imgrc=nsvDvlrbZDxikM:

In June 1900 the Belfast Newsletter[4] carried an article advising parents of the importance of their sons physical health if they wanted to secure a position in the Royal Navy.  The surgeon of the Calliope,  Dr Keogh, described the three main issues that went against those presenting for positions: Poor sight, chest measurement under regulation and irregular teeth.  With the exception of chest size which might be helped with exercise and a good diet, its hard to imagine what the poor parent could do with the other issues.


Illustrated London News for 27 April 1889; artist’s conception of HMS Calliope being cheered on by the crew of USS Trenton as Calliope escapes from Apia Harbour. Calliope actually passed to Trenton’s port side. It would be easy to see how such an image and story would appeal to young men seeking adventure. Accessed from wikipedia – Public Domain images

Disappointingly I could find nothing in the Waterford papers of the 1900 visit, this despite going through the reports page by page for the month of September.  It’s as if the ship never arrived at all.    The photo tends to suggest it did.  But there again it could have been a different event, we could be wrong about the actual vessel, or I might just have been unlucky in the papers I scanned.

There were many points I had hoped to develop as part of this months research, but I’m afraid the death of my sister Eileen took priority.  To be honest, I found it even hard to find the time and energy to put this together, and my apologies to regular readers if it comes across a bit higgledy-piggledy .  The outstanding elements was to explore the startegies used by RN recruiters in the era, to look at the life of a recruit at the time, I was keen to try locate any record of who was recruited and something of their career. Unfortunately any search options I tried in the UK National Archive gave me no results. The question of the dispute with the clergy was of interest to me too, and although I could only give it a paragraph, its a question that I would have liked to be clearer on.  Another element I meant to explore was a nugget of information that William Power Snr of Dunmore gave me previously of the provisioning of such ships at Dunmore and the quantity of beer consumed by sailors on their trips ashore. There must be similar information in related to Passage East and Ballyhack.   All for another time, hopefully. 

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Returning to sea; My father in 1963

Whilst researching a story recently I happened upon a small snippet in the Passage East Jottings in the Munster Express dated 25th January 1963. It was just a mention of my father who was unmarried at the time, and he had just joined a ship at New Ross after spending a christmas at home.

It was just the little snippet to give my mother a lift in these dark weeks after the death of my sister Eileen. She immediatly went to retrieve his discharge book in an effort to identify the ship. Once it was carefully unwrapped from its plastic protector she leafed through the pages unil she came to the year, and lo and behold was delighted to find the entry. According to the book, he had actually joined the ship on Friday the 18th January.

The ship was the MV Amber, a small glasweigan coaster that was launched in 1956 from the Ailsa Shipbuilding Co. Ltd., Troon. She was owned and operated by the
William Robertson Shipowners Company of Glasgow. Unfortunately I couldn’t discover what she was carrying either into or out of Ross. But my father stayed on her for the first few months of the year before moving to a new ship in London. I couldn’t help smile to myself at the Derry entry as Londonderry… He bristled ever time he heard the town described as such.

MV Amber. Of No: 185045

The ships didn’t really hold much interest to my mother, but she did realise that London (Dock Road where the seamen gathered to secure ships to the farthest flung ports in the world) was mentioned a lot that year. She recounted meeting my father that same year in Mary and Bob McDermotts home in Londons east end and how, although they had known each other in Cheekpoint, it was the first time they went out together.

As she leafed through the entries she charted the gaps in his ships in terms of their relationship, such as their wedding of Christmas 1964, my birth and his quick return to sea, an extended period at home when he got a shore job on the construction of the Great Island Power Station and an even longer period ashore when he got a factory job in the 1970’s.

My fathers photo in his discharge book. 19 years of age.

I was concious that although my mother has had tears in her eyes on almost every visit I’ve made these last few weeks as she grieves for her youngest daughter, that this time the tears were of a different nature. Memories perhaps of happy times, missed opportunties or maybe those absences of my father when she was struggling with a young family.

Leaving her she was smiling again, wrapping her precious paper memento away in its protective plastic with her other treasures and I couldn’t help but think how much different we all become in the presence of love. My fathers papers would be a curiosity to a maritime researcher, but they are a biography to a family member, at least one with an interest and an emotional connection, to fill in the gaps of what is not transcribed. And to hold the actual document; to think that he held it, carried it in his pocket and read it from time to time, so much more relevant than any entry located online.

My normal last Friday of the month blog returns next Friday, a story of trying to identify a warship that led to a story of royal navy recruitment in 1900 and 1904.

Christmas 2019: Going Back

Since I started blogging in 2014 I have set aside a blog for Christmas. It’s a break from my normal fare, but isn’t Christmas a break from routine too! At least for those of us lucky enough to have a job that doesn’t involve pulling a shift over it. So for this year I wanted to reflect back on an advert from my youth and the sentiments it evoked

There was a popular Christmas  advert on TV growing up which unlike many ads on RTE at the time, contained a powerful story line. It featured a dad (I presumed) collecting his son from the train at Christmas, whilst the ad cut between what the son saw as they drove to his brightly lit home, where his mother (again a presumption) prepared for his arrival by turning on every conceivable electrical device imaginable.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, It was for the Electricity Supply Board and featured a song by Dusty Springfield called Going Back. 

I’ve no doubt but the popularity of the advert is that if Christmas evokes anything it’s an equal measure of nostalgia for things of the past and a yearning for family, to have them close and part of our lives. 

The advert stuck a chord at home because we were reared with stories of emigration and separation.  My mother often spoke of the journey back from London at Christmas on the boat train, the meeting of friends and neighbours on the long, tiring journey and the excitement of spotting Cheekpoint for the first time in six months from the train, as it came across the Barrow Bridge.  Although it was a short visit, with not a lot by way of extravagance, every moment of it was squeezed for enjoyment and celebration before the hard slog of the return loomed within a week.

She often recounted the visit of 1963 when the forecast was so bleak they were not even sure if the ship, St David, (or it could have been the St Andrew) would sail from Fishguard to Rosslare.  But it did, and on making it home on Christmas eve, the snow started to fall.  It snowed for much of the Christmas, but it was the return that would prove the most difficult.  Firstly the snow was so bad on the ground that cars couldn’t travel, and on reaching Rosslare a NW gale was blowing so hard, the ferry needed anchors to claw her way out of port.  After a horrible passage, they boarded an unheated train only to get trapped for the night in a snowdrift somewhere on the line.  The bright lights of London lost their appeal after that.

the third St David to operate on the route between 1947-1969: Accessed from
http://www.simplonpc.co.uk/GWR1.html#anchor1457599

My father had other memories, ones we only heard of much later.  Having left home to go to sea from the age of 19 many of his Christmas’ were spent in the company of fellow seafarers in distant ports, or on the ocean wave, where the only difference between that day and all the others was that the duties were reduced to the essentials and the stewards and cook made sure there was ample food for all. 

One yarn that we heard much later on was of an apparent Christmas in Spain where after the crew went on the batter ashore, they ended up in jail.  Next morning they appeared before the judge and when my fathers name was called the judge asked if it was an Irish surname.  “It is your honour” my father replied.  “What part of the country are you from” asked the judge.  “Waterford yer honour sir” he replied.  “You’re not one of the Doherty’s from Cheekpoint are you Bob?”  “The very same yer honour” “Case dismissed” cried the judge, continuing “Hope you will stand me a round the next time I visit the Suir Inn”  

Given the role of emigration in the country at the time, I’m certain that the ESB advert struck a chord with most Irish homes, and that’s probably the reason it became so popular.  It was aired for many years and it is still talked about on radio and TV shows to this day, particularly at Christmas time.

Over the years that advert has come to represent something deeper for me however; loss.  Those that are no longer with us, the distance between the memories and the present, where people like my grandmother who was so central to everything in our lives is no longer present, a once central element to the ritual that was Christmas.

My earliest memory of this was walking down the Russianside lane with our new toys in hand, eagerly waiting to show them off.  The smell of the fry from her kitchen, the warmth from the fire in the living room and the excitement of unwrapping her gifts to us.  Its telling, I suppose, that I remember nothing of the gifts we recieved, only her presence and her home.

Nanny never had a Christmas tree (until much later when we as teenagers insisted on getting it for her), her decorations were more traditional and centered around holly and ivy which was placed on the mantle and the glass case, and mixed with the faded blessed palm behind the pictures on the wall.  Her crib was a plastic drawing that she sellotaped to the wallpaper underneath the sacred heart lamp.  A red candle stood on her window sill and would be lit each night of the Christmas.

There was one particular feature of the house that seemed to mean more than anything else to her however, Christmas cards. These came from all over the world, and stood on the glass case, the mantle and on a string set under the mantle that sometimes went over and back twice or three times to accommodate the number, and ensure each could be seen.  As she got older the cards diminished as those who could send them were no longer living, but the ritual of opening, reading and displaying never diminished for her, nor did the sharing of the information that they contained.  And although at times it became a chore to me as she reread a message for the umpteenth time, it never lost the magic for her. 

Late 1990’s in the Russianside on Christmas morning…with the first of the next generation

As we grew from children to teenagers and into adulthood and we ourselves had children, the tradition could not be broken, and each year until her last, the house expanded to absorb the growing families of each of my siblings, and of course mine.

When she finally left us in 2002 it was as if a chain had been shattered and we were set adrift.   But families are resilient, and new traditions are born or adapted and so the gathering fell on the open door of my parents.  And although my father is no longer part of the ritual either, it’s well to remember that the gatherings on Christmas morning are creating the memories and the rituals that our children will carry into their adult lives.  When I asked my daughter Ellen what was the best part of Christmas day this year, she didn’t hesitate or have to think twice, it was joining her cousins in Nanny Mary’s on Christmas morning.

It probably won’t be Dusty Springfield or an advert for the ESB, but there will be some present happening that will create the nostalgia of the future for the present generation.  The world may change and trends will come and go, but I firmly believe the central element of family will remain at the core.  And family is not just about those that are present, it’s about those that are miles away, or indeed no longer living.  For me, that’s what that ESB ad evoked, in the imagery but most particularly in the lyrics and the haunting sound of Dusty Springfields voice: 

I think I’m goin’ back
To the things I learned so well in my youth
I think I’m returning to
Those days when I was young enough to know the truth

Now there are no games
To only pass the time
No more coloring books
No Christmas bells to chime
But thinking young and growing older is no sin
And I can play the game of life to win

I can recall a time,
When I wasn’t ashamed to reach out to a friend
And now I think I’ve got
A lot more than a skipping rope to lift

Now there’s more to do
Than watch my sailboat glide
And everyday can be my magic carpet ride
And I can play hide and seek with my fears
And live my days instead of counting my years

Let everyone debate the true reality,
I’d rather see the world the way it used to be
A little bit of freedom’s all we’re lack
So catch me if you can
I’m goin’ back

Songwriters: Carole King / Gerry Goffin

Goin’ Back lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Songtrust Ave

Happy Christmas 2019

I would like to wish all my readers a happy and peaceful Christmas and hope everyone will have a healthy, prosperous and productive 2020. Looking forward to more blogs and of course the publication of my second book in April. Take care for now.