Mino – “As rotten a ship as ever put to Sea”

Whites & Penrose slipways, Waterford. Andy Kelly Collection

On Saturday morning, 30th October 1875 the schooner Mino of Cheekpoint, Co Waterford was run ashore on the Wexford shore by her captain and crew.  Aground on the sandy shoreline the first wave to break over her stern carried the timbers away and this was quickly followed by her afterdeck.  As locals rushed to the scene, the crew who were huddled in the bow, were assisted ashore with the help of ropes and cared for in local homes.  The crew of the Mino were fortunate to have survived, but was this a case of bad weather, poor seamanship or something more sinister?

The strand at Ballyhealy – with thanks to Kev Somers. Erosion is a real problem in the area and we must assume that the Mino grounded further out from the present shoreline.
Ballyhealy on the map, located between Kilmore Quay and Carnsore Point

The Mino, was a 180 ton, two masted schooner, built in Prince Edward Island in 1858.   The schooner was advertised for sale in Liverpool in May of 1862 and was subsquently bought by Captain Thomas White of Cheekpoint, Co Waterford for £229.  In an advert of the time the Mino was described as “…a most remarkable vessel;  carries 140 tons, on 9 feet water; sails without ballast; takes the ground; is well  found in stores, and quite ready for immediate employment. This vessel is admirably adapted for the coasting trade, and sold in consequence of being too small for present owner’s use. Dimensions: Length 73 feet, breadth 20 feet , depth 9 feet ”[1]

White became the vessels master and used the ship in the coastal trade that she was so suited to, carrying cargo such as wheat and pit props from Waterford and returning with such staples as coal.  In 1872 it would appear that White stood down from his position and Captain Pat Brien of Wexford took command, followed by Captain Crotty, Captain Michael Barry of Cheekpoint and lastly, Whites brother in Law, Edward Kavanagh.[2]

Small promo here for Brian and Jacks new book. The launch will take place on Thursday Dec.12th at the Wexford Library at 7pm. The Book is a hardback cover 450+ pages with 300+ images,many in colour. A must for my Christmas stocking if anyone is looking for ideas!

According to Kavanagh the Mino departed Waterford (20th September 1875) for Cardiff with pit props and then to Newport to take on a 125 tons of coal.[1]  The departure was delayed for sometime due to weather and eventually they sailed on the 16th October for their stated destination, Cheekpoint, Co Waterford.  They put into Milford Haven on the 23rd due to “stress of weather”.  When they again set sail on the 29th October they again ran into heavy weather off the Smalls.  The Mino started to take water and although two pumps were manned, the water gained on them and the ship became unmanageable.  At 5am on the morning of the 30th October Kavanagh ran the Mino ashore on Ballyhealy strand.  Thanks to local assistance, himself and his crew were saved.[2]

Later that morning the scene was visited by William Coughlan the Collector of Taxes and Reciever of Wrecks at Wexford.  Members of the coastguard were also present and the condition of the wreck was immediately obvious to them.  The Mino had practically fallen apart and it would seem that Coughlan was determined to get to the bottom of it.  A shipwright from the Board of Trade was summoned and from the 6th-7th of November Robert Bell surveyed the wreck. He confirmed what most onlookers could determine for themselves, that many of the Mino’s timbers were in a rotten state.[3]

An advert from the front page of the Wexford People – Saturday 27th November 1875

 The wreck was eventually auctioned off but I could find no reference to the cargo of coal which was destined originally for a Mr Davis of Waterford.  If the schooners owner, Captain White, was feeling the loss of his ship and income, things were only going to go from bad to worse. 

Just after Christmas 1875 Captain White was summoned to appear at a preliminary hearing at the Callaghane Petty Sessions to explain why he should not be prosecuted under a charge of sending men to sea in an unseaworthy ship. The shipowner faced stiff questioning before the presiding magistrates—Hon Dudley Fortescue, chairman ; Sir R J Paul, Bart: Capt Armstrong, Capt Coughlan, P Fitzgerald, Esq, and G I Goold, Esq, R.M [1] 

I’m not aware of any photo of the Callaghane courthouse, but as we can see from this old OSI map, the building was located beside the RIC barracks after the present pub on the main Dunmore East – Waterford road.

It was decided that White had questions to answer and in March 1876 he appeared before Judge Barry in the Waterford Azzies where over two days he was tried by a jury of his peers.  The evidence was overwhelmingly against the man.  Both the coastguard and Receiver of Wrecks were clear as to the condition of the craft, his ex captain, Michael Barry explained how a Board of Trade official in Wales had cautioned of the ships unseaworthiness and that he had communicated this to White, prior to leaving the ship.  The master of the Mino Edward Kavanagh deposed that he thought the ship was fine up to the storm in the Irish Sea, but his evidience was undermined when it was revealed that he was a brother in law to White. Two other crew, the mate Michael Power, and a sailor named John Milton, stated they were unaware of any issues as regards the craft. Their evidence was all the more strange because arguably the most convincing prosecution evidence shown in court was parts of the ships timbers.[2]

In his own defence White gave a good account of himself, stating that he had skippered the ship up to four years previously when ill health caused him to withdraw. He had regularly had the ship overhauled on the Penrose Graving Bank in Waterford and had spent large sums to maintain the ship.  However, he could only provide three receipts for small repairs totalling £12 for the years 1873/4.  And he could offer no witnesses to vouch for the claimed work, despite the fact that they were supposed to take place in the city.  The judge, perhaps in frustration, asked White if he had a bad memory to which White replied “A very bad one”!  Two local businessmen spoke up on Whites behalf; Shipping agent Downey and corn merchant Thomas Quigley![3] 

Whites & Penrose slipways, Waterford.  Andy Kelly Collection
Whites & Penrose slipways, Waterford (Part of what is now the city’s North Quays. Andy Kelly Collection. On balance I would think this is the most likely location of the graving bank mentioned .
The Graving Bank I am most familar with in the city was located where the present Bus Station is based. Basically this was a portion of the shoreline that dried out when the tide ebbed and allowed workmen to overhaul a ship. Photo courtesy of Damien McLellan.
A ship in the graving bank in Waterford, listing in and allowing access to the hull

The jury retired but quickly returned with a guilty verdict.  Judge Barry sentenced Captain White to two months in jail and was reported to have stated that the Mino was as rotten a ship as ever put to sea!.  The irony was that if Kavanagh had not managed to ground the ship and save his crew, White would probably have never been prosecuted.  The Mino would be just another statistic of wrecks on the Wexford shore.

Postscript:

But that is not the end to my story.  I grew up with stories of Captain White and his extended family who lived in Dobbyn’s House, Cheekpoint.  The family had a strong connection with the sea, and as is often the case, were no strangers to tragedy. For example I was told that a son of the family died at Cheekpoint quay following a fall from a mast of their ship.  I can’t say that this was Thomas Whites son, or that the fall was from the Mino.  I have yet to find any proof.  But I did find one very sad and curious event that might change the readers opinion of this account.  For four years previously, a twenty year old sailor on the Mino was drowned in the Barrow following a boating accident.  His name was John White and he was described as the Captain of the Mino’s son. [4]   In the court case White stated that he had stood down as Captain four years before. Was this event the cause of his retirement as master? Ultimately was this the reason for his ill health?  In the modern era such an event would be considered important as regards the Captains mental health, and would almost certainly be used in his defence as a contributory factor. 

The Anderson/White/Hill family plot in Faithlegg

Thanks for dropping by and reading. If you have any observations, questions or extra information I would be delighted to recieve them, in the comments section below or by email to tidesntales@gmail.com. I publish a new story on the maritime heritage of Waterford harbour on the last Friday of each month. I also post daily updates on Facebook and Twitter. Andrew Doherty

Steamboat! – My Radio Debut

I’m delighted to be featuring on the RTE Radio 1 Sunday Miscellany raido show. It will be bradcast Sunday morning, 17th November 2019 after the 9am news.

This was my second attempt to submit a story to the very popular RTE Radio 1 show, now in its fiftieth year. My story is titled Steamboat, and through it I give a sense of what it was like to be a driftnet fisherman at Cheekpoint in the 1980’s, including an insight into local traditions and how deep they ran.

It features myself and a friend, Paul Duffin, as young fishermen. Because we grew up on the river we instinctively know its rules, one of which is that when drifting across the channel, steamboats have to be avoided. Sometimes that means you loose your drift. Drifts were hard won at times, and no fisheman wanted such an outcome.

Paul and I in the centre flanked by my father Bob on left, and brother Robert on right. My younger brother Chris is holding the salmons tail.

Here’s the lineup on the morning:

Friendly Front Door at University Hospital Waterford, by Lani O’Hanlon;

Steamboat, by Andrew Doherty;

Baby Clothes, a poem by AM Cousins;

Learning to Drive, by Ian Maleney;

Those Summer Nights of Long Ago at the Céilí, by Catherine Foley.

Music:

You’ve Got A Friend, by Carole King, performed by the Kalimbas: Cathy Forristal and Clíodhna Gahan on vocals and Damien Kehoe on guitar and vocals;

The Steam Packet and Miss McLeod’s Reel, played on uileann pipes by David Power;

A Stór Mo Chroí, played on tin whistle also by David Power;

Living in Yesterday, composed and performed by the Kalimbas;

And The Drops of Brandy, a slip jig, played by David Power on uileann pipes with Benny McCarthy on button accordion, Brendan Clancy on fiddle and Dónal Clancy on guitar.

A shot courtesy of RTE of the stage. I’m in the background, shaking it out

As elated as I was to have a piece chosen for the show, it became a case of be careful what you wish for. For I was very nervous on the day and I didn’t stop shaking throughout the performance. Hopefully this doesn’t come through. It certainly didn’t put me off however, as I’m already working on another submission. Its a story of how the river speakes to fishemen, well to fishermen who are fully present in its company. If you miss the show on Sunday, or if you are abroad, the podcast will be available on the Sunday Miscellany website.

Here is the subsequent Podcast for the show.

Waterford’s Commander Mark Anthony

Mark Anthony was born in Waterford in 1786 and at fifteen joined the Royal Navy serving for close on twenty years until retiring to take up a post as harbour master at Dunmore East.  

Mark Anthony was born second in line to Joseph Anthony and his wife Juliet Lambert at Seafield House, Stradbally in 1786.  Like many second born sons, sure in the knowledge that he would inherit nothing of significance, he joined the navy as a midshipman in 1801 aged 15.  Regulars may recall a parallel with another second born Waterford lad, Henry Bolton.   

Young Mark travelled via the regular mail packet from Cheekpoint, joining his ship the HMS Hunter at Portsmouth on July 14th 1801. The Hunter (1801 – 18 guns) would later sail in convoy for the West Indies in an attempt to disrupt Spanish trade. In an action off Cuba in 1803 where 15 crewmen died he was promoted to master mate to the HMS Clorinade, apparently in recognition of his bravery and combat skills.

The Naiad towing the damaged Belleisle in Gibraltar. Public Domain photo accessed from
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Naiad_(1797)#/media/File:Naiad_and_Belleisle.jpg

In September 1804 he joined HMS Naiad (1797-38 guns) which was part of Nelsons fleet at the battle of Trafalgar. Again he distinguished himself as the crew came to the rescue of Belleisle (74 guns) which was in danger of grounding and in the rescue of 56 enemy sailors from the Achille.

While aboard Theseus (74 guns) he was promoted Lieutenant by commission dated 22nd April 1808 and was transferred to the Baltic station where he saw action against the Danes. He was First Lieutenant aboard the sloop Sarpen during the disastrous Walcheren campaign. In 1811 he was aboard Stately (64 guns) where he was employed in the defence of Cadiz and Tarifa. Other ships he had an association with include; Fury, Bomb, Orestes, Boyne and apparently his last ship Queen Charlotte (1810).

At this point Mark Anthony was a veteran of several campaigns and he had the scars to prove it.  He had a severe injury to his thigh from a gun recoil and had suffered an ankle dislocation, leaving him with a permanent limp.  He sought a shore job*  and leaving the service early, and without a pension, he took up a job as harbour master at the newly opened Dunmore Eastmail packet station in August of 1818.  He quickly became a recognisable figure to travellers coming and going from the quay where “…his cheery ways brought solace to many a nervous voyager…”  

Alas there were troubles ahead for Dunmore East, steam power was already being used elsewhere which would make the voyage to Waterford city more appealing.  But it would appear that it was the silting of the harbour at Dunmore that sealed its faith as a packet station.  In 1835** the station moved, and with it Mark Anthony was out of a job, and without a pension or any compensation. He was made a freeman of Waterford on October 15th 1835, and promoted  Commander in 1849.  He died while living with his sisters in Catherine St in the city on the 1st June 1867.  He was later buried with his family in Ballylaneen Church and graveyard Co Waterford.  

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* Following the victory over the French there was a reduction in the number of vessels and therefore a shortage of positions and opportunities for promotion in the Navy. Perhaps this was a factor in Anthony’s decision. * *My own research gives me a date of 1835, but I’ve read several other years mentioned, both for the commencement and the closure. I have yet to properly research the mail packet at Dunmore and hopefully that will firm this up, for me at least.

Here’s a blog post on what life was like for an ordinary navy sailor in the era.

Today’s blog referred to the following:
An article on the Anthony family by Hubert Gallway, Decies #16 January 1981. Colclough.B & O’Neill.W Waterford & Thereabouts.  1993
Self published by Waterford Graphics, Waterford Hickey.T & Keane.J.
Stradbally na Déise. 2007. Stradbally Tourism & Enterprise group. Fewer. TN. Waterford people, A Biographical Dictionary.  2004.  Ballylough books, Waterford

Julian Walton also mentions Anthony as one of the Waterford men involved in the action at the Battle of Trafalgar in On This Day Vol II.

Waterford and the River Suir: A Family bond

Since I went to the monthly format I have stopped the very popular guest blog segment. However, as Cian Manning publishes his new book on Waterford I asked if he would consider sharing some memories of why the river and our maritime past means so much to him. Much like myself, it’s becuase of a deep family tradition.

Front cover of Cian’s new book

Ireland’s third longest river, the River Suir is 184 kilometres long and for centuries was a major artery bringing the life blood of trade and visitors to the island’s oldest city – Waterford. It has seen Norsemen traverse its waves to settle on its banks, Anglo-Norman mercenaries have travelled along its estuary, English kings have followed it as their entry point to Ireland and in later centuries would see many Irish leave the port of Waterford to explore the globe in search of opportunities and a better life not afforded to them in their homeland.

     The ebbing and flowing of the rivers tide represents the story of the city of Waterford from its early development as a Viking settlement to becoming a medieval walled enclave. The city was a place of intense religious devotion in the 13th century and would transform into a modern European city over the course of the 18th and 19th century as a hub of industry and commerce. This is reflected in the numerous shipyards that sprang up over the period. This was accelerated by the development of steamships and in June 1817 the Princess Charlotte was the first such vessel recorded on the Suir.

     A noteworthy shipyard is that of Pope & Co which constructed the SS Kilkenny in 1837, it was purchased by the East India Company and later renamed the Zenobia. The noted maritime historian Bill Irish stated that this vessel ‘was one of the first steamships to make the passage around the Cape of Good Hope to India.’ By 1841, Waterford and Cork accounted for 41% of ships built on the island of Ireland. Such demand led to the development of the Neptune Shipyard in 1843. Their steamship the SS Neptune was one of 40 ships built at the yard till 1882. It was one of the first steamers to regularly service the London-St. Petersburg route. On her journey up the River Neva, she was boarded by Tsar Nicholas I who decreed that whenever the Neptune was docked at Petersburg it did not have to pay its port tariffs.


SS Neptune. Illustrated London News.
Andy Kelly collection

     Sadly, the Neptune Shipyards demise was precipitated by the decline in the fortunes of the Malcolmson family who declared themselves bankrupt in 1877. The interests of the Malcolmson’s shipping empire were assumed by the Clyde Shipping Company, the oldest steamship company in the world. Originally in partnership with the Malcolmsons they operated services from Belfast to Plymouth and Waterford to London. Another successful route of the Clyde was the Waterford to Liverpool route in transporting travellers and cattle. Though the events of the First World War would cause some troubled times for the Clyde and tragic events for the people of Waterford that are still hard to quantify to this day.

     Just ten days before Christmas 1917, the SS Formby and SS Coningbeg were torpedoed by German submarine, U-62. Altogether 83 people perished aboard the vessels, sixty-seven of whom were from Waterford. The master of the U-boat, Ernest Hashagen details in his memoirs the stalking of the Coningbeg:

It is rather dreadful to be steaming thus alongside one’s victim knowing that she has only ten or perhaps twenty minutes to live, till fiery death leaps from the sea and blow her to pieces. A solemn mood possesses the few upon the bridge. The horror of war silences us. Every one of our orders, every moment, every turn of a wheel is bringing death nearer our opponent. All is exactly settled in advance. We, too, have become part of fate.

Only one body was recovered from the sinking of the two Waterford ships, that of Annie O’Callaghan, a stewardess on the Formby. My great-grandfather James Manning was one of the victims (a cattleman aboard the Formby) of the tragedy. Living at Roanmore Terrace in the city, James was the father of nine children. His widow was Mary, a Tipperary woman, aged 40 in 1917.

     My grandfather Michael was the third youngest of their children. Waterford must have been a very bleak place that Christmas as the families waited by the quayside for news of their loved ones. The uncertainty must have been heart wrenching. Hope is eternal but can be a very bitter pill to swallow as time passes with little reward in such faith. In 1924 a message in a bottle washed ashore with a note from a soul clearly resigned to their fate. The morsel which survived the ravages of the seas read “We will never reach the Hook” and signed “Jack”. The family were issued with a Memorial Plaque known as “Dead Man’s Penny” which has sadly been lost.

Monument to those lost on the steamers Coningbeg & Formby

     James’s son Michael went on to serve in the army (reaching the rank of Sergeant) of the Irish Free State and was a successful participant in the All-Army Championships winning the ‘Hop, Step, and Jump’ now known as the ‘Triple Jump’ at Croke Park in 1924. Michael was adept at signalling and undertook courses in ‘Chemical Warfare’ from October 1937 to January 1938. In concluding his career with the army in order to support his young family of four children, he followed in his father’s footsteps and worked as a docker for Clyde Shipping. It must have been a very difficult decision with the memory of his father’s death in mind. However, it was necessitated by the need to provide for his family. The memory of my grandfather Michael lives on in his children Terry, Oliver, Elizabeth and Bennie while my great-grandfather’s name is enshrined in stone on the wonderful monument located at Adelphi Quay erected in 1997 in honour of those who perished in 1917.

Michael with his fellow Clyde dockworker colleagues

     My connections to the River Suir and the sea are not only exclusive to my paternal side but also my mother’s side of the family. My maternal grandfather was Thomas ‘Tunney’ Murphy of Ferrybank. He was a keen hurler playing with the local club and later Erin’s Own. His own father William ‘Feehan’ Murphy numbered the Shamrocks side which won back to back county titles in 1915 and 1916. My grandfather Thomas served as a ‘fireman and trimmer’ with Irish Shipping in the latter part of the Emergency. He carried out the duties of cook ‘unofficially’ with his speciality being bacon and eggs. To add some variety to the menu he would re-package the meal as ‘rashers’ and eggs. Some of his notable voyages were on the Irish Ash with destinations including Montreal in Canada and North Africa in 1945 while he was aboard the Irish Rose which reached New York in 1946.

   His love of the water came from his own father as the family punt was passed from generation to generation. Thomas’s father and grandfather were carpenters with Hamilton’s. The punt was docked near the mud boat Portlairge which served in dredging the river Suir for decades. My mother was the youngest of three children and was ten years younger than her nearest sibling, her brother Raymond. Thomas Murphy died in April 1973 aged 49, ten days short of reaching a half-century. My mother was just eleven years old when he passed away. The memories and moments spent between my grandfather and my mother Miriam on the punt (painted in Corporation colours) are some of her most cherished of a relationship that cruelly ended too soon.

Thomas with his son Liam on the streets of Waterford 1950’s

     My brother Olin and I are still regaled by stories of salmon magically jumping into the punt (left by those our grandfather had done favours for in his later career as a Corporation worker) or to the hair-raising incident of when a ship nearly hit the boat with my grandfather and his daughter in it. Apparently he had drifted off, but Olin and I like to think it’s the rogue-ish sensibilities of playfulness (that we aim to continue) than that of nodding off carelessly.

     Such bittersweet moments are evoked in my uncle Liam Murphy’s poem about the funeral of his father Thomas titled ‘Donal Foley Played Hurling With My Father’ (published in Issue 3 of the Poetry Ireland Review) and the lines:

my fathers funeral stops outside theatre royal

beside corporation yard where he worked and died

near where we lived and laughed in my childhood

closeby on the river his boat floats

on a flood of memories

No further words can adequately conclude the story of my family and our relationship to the River Suir and the sea. The lyrics of Bruce Springsteen, the words of WB Yeats or the images revealed in this piece can not elevate the stories of the Manning and Murphy families to a way of life that is more alien to my brother and I, our boat trips have been as tourists along the Amstel, Seine and Liffey. To us a novelty was a way of life for centuries which we can just about cling to. The River Suir is the impetus behind the narrative of Waterford. The story of my family is an intrinsic part of that history like the stories of many a family of this city. Memories do not flood back unless they are told, I’m glad my parents shared a reservoir of them to me.

Cian’s new book was published yesterday by the History Press. It’s called Waterford City, A History.  I want to wish Cian the very best of success with it and hope he gets the support he deserves. The launch of ‘Waterford City: a history’ will take place on Friday 15th November at 18:30pm in the Book Centre. Donnchadh O Ceallachain, curator of the Medieval Museum, will speak at the event and will be accompanied by music from Waterford duo Deep Foxy Glow. 

You can contact Cian by email if you would like to wish him well, get more information, or find out about stockists camanning93@gmail.com

Rockabill & Tuskar; The last of the Clyde

To generations of locals, the Clyde boats were a by word for employment, trade, emigration and holidays and the final two that were often referred to at home were the Rockabill and the Tuskar.  Two very different ships, two different personalities but two ships that were part of the very fabric of a maritime port like Waterford.

The Clyde boats of my parents’ generation of course represented the last of the ships and a fine coasting tradition that spanned well over 100 years.  The Clyde Shipping company started out life, unsurprisingly I guess given the name, in Glasgow on the banks of the River Clyde in 1815. As the company prospered it entered the Irish market in 1856, initially to Cork but quickly to other ports such as Waterford.  It was a stalwart of the Irish goods trade, particularly in the South East, and Waterford as a result of its location was a pivotal hub. In 1912, the company further strengthened this link when it bought the rival Waterford Steamship Company.[i]

The old Clyde Shipping Co Offices
The old Clyde Shipping Co Offices, Waterford Quay

Down the years there have been many notable ships, none more so than the Coningbeg and Formby But two that are equally deserving of mention are the Rockabill and the Tuskar

The Rockabill(1931) was named like all the Clyde ships after a lighthouse (or lightships) around the coast of Ireland and the British Isles. She was built by D&W Henderson & Co on the Clyde.  Her maiden voyage took her from Liverpool to Waterford on the 5th February 1931.  She was primarily a cattle and cargo carrying ship but she had accommodation for 12 first class passengers on the starboard side of her upper deck and steerage passengers too.  Meals were provided but were not included in the cost, which was said to be very appealing to passengers, especially on rough crossings![ii]

Rockabill at Waterford. 29/10/1954 Shortall CQ.47. Andy Kelly Collection

She departed from Waterford quays between Reginalds and the Clock Tower and dropped cattle to the Wirral shore of the Mersey and later dropped her passengers to the West Waterloo Dock (east side)[iii]

Sailings continued during WWII until she was requisitioned for war duties in Liverpool on the 15th Sept 1943.   Sailings continued with relief ships on the route including the Skerries.  She finally returned to the route on the 4th May 1946 (at which point the Skerries was sold).[iv] 

After the war her routine was set at a fairly leisurely pace.  Her twenty hour (approx)  trip commenced on a Saturday from Liverpool arriving at Waterford on Sunday.  She left again on Tuesday arriving into Liverpool on Wednesday morning.  Sailing times were set to suite the tidal conditions. A cabin berth was £3 10s single or £6 return. Steerage was £2 single fare (Not many travelling in steerage would have the luxury of returning after all) Children between 1-14 were charged half fare.[v]

Some described the Rockabill as an unlucky ship and several accidents/incidents were recorded about her, perhaps because she lacked the power required in strong tidal conditions.  There’s a locally famous image of her across Redmond’s Bridge in Waterford on 15th December 1956 after she drifted into the bridge while turning.  Luckily both the bridge and the vessel  survived the incident as she floated away on the ebbing tide. Another incident occurred on 1st June 1942 – three miles east of Hook – when she ran aground but was fortunately towed to safety by the coaster Mayflower[vi]

The Rockabill against Redmond Bridge, Waterford. (L.M. 035 05) Andy Kelly Collection.

My aunt Margaret told me once that she first emigrated to Liverpool aboard the Rockabill in the 1950’s, extended members of the Doherty’s were fairly well established in the port at that stage, I imagine my father probably took the same route when he first went to sea on the Coast Line ships from that port too. As far as I can recall my grandfather actually sailed on her for a time too.

Rockabill last sailed into the port of Waterford in April 1962.  The Waterford News & Star of Friday 6th April[vii] recorded the event on the front page with a photo and headline ”Today a 31 year-old connection will be severed” and went on to outline her role in the port and the technical difficulties that hastened her demise.  Her final journey out the harbour brought her to Cork, and the breakers yard of Haulbowline industries Ltd.  It was an historic journey and worthy of recording.  She was the final steamer (coal burner) of the Clyde fleet and had proudly borne this mantel since 1953.  I’m guessing as such she was our last coastal trading steamer and so ended a chapter of our maritime history which started with the first steamers that operated such as the Mail Packet ships at Dunmore East (early 1820’s) or the Nora Creina in 1826.

Her replacement was a few months in coming on duty and when she did she was for a very different function. The Tuskar (1962) was built by Chas. Connell & Co as a motor vessel of 1,115 tons, launched on the 18th April 1962.  She was designed to carry cargo and containers however and her maiden voyage to Waterford was not until the 26th June 1962 (the MV Sanda covered the route in this time).  She worked the route until the 10th December 1968 before being sold to a Yogoslav company and renamed the Brioni.  She would be broken up in 1988.[viii]

Tuskar crew at Waterford. Any help identifying the men appreciated. Martin Tracey 1st man on left, Tommy Connors second from left, Des Hutchinson 6th from left and Tommy Cleere 7th. Davy Fardey 3rd from right. Photo courtesy of Demma Hutchinson (son of Des)

I suppose the reason that she was known so well to me was that my father sailed on her, for a time in 1968 after the new job he had come home to on the building of Great Island Power station was complete.  But maybe it’s also because, as was often the habit with the Clyde, that there was more than one vessel to have the name.

Although there were five ships that shared the name, the first I have information on is Tuskar (1890) which acted more in a relief capacity on the Waterford route from what I have read and was lost on the West Coast of Ireland during WWI. Tuskar (1920) was specifically built to accommodate the trade on the Waterford run and first sailed the route on the 1st September 1920.  She worked alongside the Rockabill for a time but after import duties started to take a toll on the company’s business she was sold to Swedish owners in 1937.  She would later be seized by Nazi Germany and her ultimate fate was to be sunk off the Greek coast in 1944.[ix]

SS Tuskar (1920) leaving Waterford. Andy Kelly Collection

The arrival of the MV Tuskar into Waterford was covered in many of the national papers of the time and according to the Cork Examiner[x] she arrived into Waterford on Monday 25th June.  On Tuesday a reception was held aboard and she was shown off to an invited audience. (although Des Griffin of the Waterford Maritime History Facebook page told me recently that although he was only a child he was able to go aboard and explore the ship from stem to stern) The guests included the following dignitaries: “Councillor John Griffen,  Mayor; Mr. Sean Gillen, City Manager; Mr. F. Cassin. Chairman of the Harbour Board; Mr P. Breen, President, Chamber of Commerce, were received on board yesterday. The attendance also included Captain Chestnut, Mr. William Logan, and Mr. A. Cuthbert. Glasgow, managing director and director of the company respectively, and Mr. W. D Sterling, a local manager.”

The article went on the describe the ship as a ; “1,597-ton vessel… a 15 ton and three five-ton cranes…equipped for the container traffic with accommodation for 450 cattle and a refrigerated hold for 100 tons of frozen cargo. Her speed is 14 knots.”  She departed on Wednesday with a general freight cargo and what was to be her mainstay on the route 370 cattle and 40 horses.

Her career was short-lived and there is little of the drama or excitement that would be connected to her forbearers.  The one tragedy with which she is associated in the papers was the drowning of a 16 year old apprentice at the L&N of Broad Street as it then was.  James Hanrahan of Morrison’s Road was lost down the side of the Tuskar when she berthed at the Clyde wharf in June 1966.  James was apparently cycling along the quay with his fishing rod when the bike swerved and James was thrown over the handlebars.  James’ body was later recovered by the Portlairge in September.

MV Tuskar, photo courtesy of Frank Cheevers

In 1967 she was reported as carrying up to 1000 live pigs, the largest consignment to leave the port since WWII, accumulated due to a bacon strike[xi].  While in 1968 the Munster Express[xii] carried a photo of a powdered milk shipment being loaded aboard, paid for by the Cork Rotary Club and bound for Liverpool and hence India to assist as famine relief.

But in December of 1968 the newspapers both national and local carried the story of the sale of the ship.  A company spokesman explained in the Irish Independent[xiii] that the sale was partly due to government policy to slaughter and process animals in Ireland.  Perhaps not surprisingly the Munster Express[xiv] was more concerned about the impact on jobs the route closure heralded and more generally in the position of the Port of Waterford in the overall scheme of maritime affairs in Ireland.

The sale of Tuskar was only another step in the sad decline of a once vital employer in the city of Waterford and her environs and although the company offices would remain open for another few years the writing was on the wall.  Today all that remains are the iconic offices on Customs House Quay, the sculpture to honour the crews of the Coningbeg and Formby and the fading memories of those that were lucky enough to see them sail into port. 

I’d like to thank Demma Hutchinson and Mark Fenton who helped me with this piece, both their dads also sailed on the Tuskar.  If anyone has any memories to share of crew or as passengers  I would be delighted to receive them for addition to this piece.


Sources used includes:

McElwee. R.  The Last Voyage of the Waterford Steamers.

[McRonald. M.  The Irish Boats. Vol II Liverpool to Cork and Waterford.  2006. Tempus. Stroud. Gloucestershire. Pp130-137