Vaccine rollout welcomed in the Russianside

I’m delighted to be able to announce that all the residents of the Russianside, Cheekpoint, Co Waterford will receive the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 later this morning. Due to diplomatic considerations, a media blackout was insisted upon until now by both the Russian embassy and the Irish Dept of Foreign Affairs.

As most blog regulars will know, the small community of Russiansiders, here in the village of Cheekpoint, Co Waterford owe the origins of the placename to a shipwreck of many years past. The Russian sailors were taken in by the community, and those that died were buried on the local strand.

The event was largely forgotten after the Russian revolution, but in recent years with a change in political leadership and the effort locally to revive an awareness in the story, stronger links have been forged between the country and the small rural community.

In recent weeks the Russian embassy contacted local resident Kate Cunningham, a leading member of Busy Fingers, the Knitting and Crochet circle. As a gesture of solidarity between the Russian State and the community, Kate was asked to liaise with her neighbours, and in strict confidence test the waters as to the willingness to accept the offer.

Although some concerns were expressed about this being a publicity stunt, the offer was overwhelmingly accepted due to the ongoing shortages of other products. Specific guidelines have had to be accepted, including the media silence. However, it is with great expectation that we look forward to the vaccine rollout this morning. A large media gathering is expected and strict access to the Russianside will have to be observed. I look forward to posting pictures later today.

Update: The Gardai have already set up a checkpoint at the village cross roads

Pilot Boats of Waterford Port

A recent announcement that the Port of Waterford had commissioned a new pilot boat to be called the Portlairge II prompted a flurry of communication to me asking for details and some of the history of the pilots.  So this months blog is a journey from 1816 to the present looking at some of the piloting in the harbour and in particular those vessels that held the title of pilot boat

Waterford Harbour Commissioners were established in 1816, which included pilotage as a central function.  Captain Thomas Hunt was appointed Pilot Master by Trinity House and Benjamin Conn was appointed his deputy.  On the 1 November 1816 Conn brought 19 men who had been appointed as the first pilots to the offices in town to receive their instructions.  Not long after another 11 men were appointed.[i] 

One of the earliest images I have of a pilot boat operating at Dunmore East, this is the Seagull. The longest serving craft on the station that i am aware of. Image courtesy of Richard Woodley.

My understanding of the pilots function really only comes from a modern perspective and so I won’t pretend to know for sure.  But the pilots were charged with replacing the Hobblers who had operated in the harbour, possibly for several centuries.[ii]  Ships entering port would signal by flag in daylight or by lantern at night.  Dunmore was the outer pilot station with Passage as an inner station.  A third boat is mentioned in the early years, but I don’t know if this was in the city, Cheekpoint or a relief boat.  In the early years many ships only required pilotage to Passage where they anchored and were emptied by lighters.  Others proceeded up to the city, or to Cheekpoint where a New Ross pilot took charge.  Pilots were obviously required for the outward journeys too.

The first mention I could find of a pilot boat was 1824 when the Scott answered a distress signal  from the steam packet Ivanhoe.  The pilot boat was joined by the revenue cruiser Hound, both of which were based at Dunmore where, it would seem, the Ivanhoe was bound with mails.[iii] Elsewhere in 1824 I found mention of a pilot boat called Caroline. There was also a sad account of a young Passage lad named Hearne who was lost off another pilot boat Sarah.[iv]

A modern scene in rough weather gives a sense of the difficulties faced by pilots and pilot masters in day of sail, as well as days of power driven vessels. An Arklow boat coming in the harbour with Loftus Hall in the background on the Hook Peninsula. Photo courtesy of Brendan Grogan

In 1826 both the Scott and the Caroline are mentioned in the one report. They have spoken with Roger Stewart and brig Wellington, Eliza and Ann and the brig Agenoria and have reported back on the port of departure, port of destination, master, cargo and the number of days at sea.[v] Although such a procedure might seem silly to us now, in those days of sail with little by way of communication, such details were vital elements of passing along intelligence to sailors families, the ship owners and the merchants with an interest in the cargo. Such intelligence was passed along to ships agents, nautical publications such as Lloyds List etc.

Normal day at the office! Photo courtesy of Brendan Grogan

According to the accounts of the commissioners in 1830 the income from pilotage amounted to Inbound – £1, 775 13 10 and Outbound – 1,577 3 10.  Various costs are mentioned in terms of pilotage incl timber, cordage and sails etc for several pilot boats, cost of two six oared yawls for the pilot establishment £53 18 3, the rent of the ballast office and watch houses at Passage and Dunmore, subsidence of pilots and assistants on board the pilot boats and the salaries of Pilot Master, Deputy Pilot Master and Acting Deputy Pilot Master.  There was also the wages of 39 pilots, 10 assistants and of extra pilots occasionally employed.  Just as an interesting aside for the die hards of harbour history, there was also a substantial sum mentioned in excess of  £4k for the widening of the of the channels of the upper and lower Ford to 210 feet wide, 7 feet deep at low water on ordinary spring tides.[vi]

In Late November 1830 the pilot boat Enterprise of Dunmore went to try assist the schooner Unity of New Ross, Andrew Power, master.  She was laden with coal for her home port and got into difficulties to the west of Dunmore, the Enterprise tried to come alongside and failing this encouraged the crew to make more sail in an effort to get her off the shore, but she grounded at Black Nobb and although four of the crew were lost, one was rescued from the shore.[vii]

A more modern approach to boat outhaul and maintanence, the Maritana ex Catherine Downey being hauled out at Waterford. Photo courtesy of Tomas Sullivan, includes the late Lenny Neill

At the August meeting of the Harbour Commissioners in 1842 a wide ranging discussion took place into the pilots and in particular the current pilot boats on station.  Three vessels were named:

  • Dart – a small, good weather boat, but of limited use in storms. 
  • Enterprise is described as a vessel “…whose decks were so split by the sun, that the men were continually wet when between decks, by the spray.”
  • Scott – suggested that she be temporarily repaired and sent down to replace the Enterprise

The Dart was described as an experiment, which had paid dividends to the port in that she cost less to buy, had increased the number of vessels boarded by pilots to a tune of 25% and this offset any perceived loss due to inability to travel in bad weather.  It was claimed that because she was a novelty there was a prejudice against her.  This prompted a rather barbed comment that “The committee did not rely on the airy statements of casual visitors to bathing places…” for information on their craft.  After a long discussion the decision of the committee was that the Scott and the Enterprise be repaired and the Dart be discontinued, on the understanding that she was a danger to the men who served in her.  As you will see from the advert below, such decisions took time to be realised however.

Waterford Mail – Saturday 07 January 1843; page 3

The early 1850s were a difficult time for one pilot boat in particular.  The Falcon was designed by a Dublin naval architect named Marshall.  Interestingly, when asked if the pilot master (Alcock) had been consulted on the design, this was very quickly brushed aside in a very dismissive way.  It seems the pilots experience was nothing to a man of learning from Dublin.  The plans were agreed and handed over to Mr Albert White, of Whites Shipyard, Ferrybank…and that as they say was only the start of an unholy fiasco. 

For details of where to buy my book Waterford Harbour Tides & Tales, see the following link

According to the late Bill Irish the smack Falcon was built in 1852.  She was 51ft long x 14ft beam  x 9ft draft and was 37tons.[viii]   However a war of words and letters would later break out, the completed Falcon was considered by her proposers as a fine vessel, but the pilots and their employers were less than satisfied in the vessels seaworthiness.  Ultimately it all ended up in court, and as far as I can determine the Falcon never saw service for the Commissioners.  As part of the settlement some of the expense of the project was to be recouped and invested in a new boat from Whites, the Gannet (1856) described as a pilot cutter 58ft x 16ft x 9ft and 40tons burden.[ix]

In 1859 I found the first mention of a vessel that went on to have a sterling career with the pilot service, Seagull.[x]

In 1862 there was a couple of interesting agenda items at the monthly meeting of the harbour commissioners.  Mr William Hogan at Passage brought a complaint about the colocation of a telegraph office in the pilot house at Passage and the inconvenience this might cause to his office.  This was not seen as a major issue by the commissioners however.  I can only suppose that this dates the origins of a telegraph connection from the village?  Meanwhile Board member TC Spencer expressed concern about the costs associated with the running of the pilots, which he stated were running at a loss of £800 PA.  In another interesting aside, a letter was read from a Mr B Dawson, Cork “…with respect of storm signals being erected on the quay for the benefit of shipping, stating the suggestion was made from purely philanthropic motives and that the expense would be only about £14”[xi] I’ve long theorised about some flag based communication or other means within the harbour, I look forward to finding out more about this detail.

In 1863 the pilot boat Gannett was sunk after a collision with the steamer Beta close to the bar above Creaden Head.  The matter was considered to be the fault of the master and crew of the pilot boat and there was an appeal for her replacement as it was felt that with only one boat at Dunmore, piloting would suffer.[xii] 

In 1868 a salvage claim was before the court of admiralty which describes an incident between the brig Cherubin and mentions two pilot boats.  One is The Joseph, described as a decked craft of 27 tons which was used for pilotage although it seems she was merely a relief boat. It appears the regular boat was under repairs, while the Seagull is described as not available as she was up the haven at Passage.

The Seagull had a sometimes a bit part and sometimes a major role in the years after including the loss of five coastguard men at Broomhill in 1869  and the inquiry into the wreck of the Alfred D Snow (1888) but due to space constraints, I will jump to 1913.  At a meeting of the pilot committee of the Harbour Board in 1913 pilots Glody and Kirby of Dunmore East station were called as representatives of the pilots (then numbering a skipper [Pilot Master?] and nine pilots).  A number of issues were raised including pay, conditions and work. The pilots objected to having to man the trawler Uncle Sam even for a few weeks in summer as a substitute while the Seagull was at Waterford being repaired.   The trawler was not sufficiently comfortable, but they had nothing to say against the Seagull, except that they would prefer a motor or steam boat.[xiii] The concern for comfort arose as the pilots lived aboard the vessels for days and sometimes longer as they awaited ships. A tough life, with little comforts, a dry bunk and decent food was surely not much to ask.

An interesting photo via Paul Duffin from Feb 1957, the Dunmore East Lifeboat Annie Blanche Smith brought in to assist his grandfather Jack Donnelly off an outbound Puerto Rican ship MV Menchy in very high seas. For readers with a copy of David Carrolls Dauntless Courage see p 152 for another photo

In April 1933 I found a mention of a pilot cutter named the Elsie J.  She was on station in 1932, as the details given are about running expenses including repairs during that year amounting to £182 1s 11d.  The costs have increased due to the repairs that were carried out.[xiv]  As of now, I can’t determine when she commenced on station however.  In October 1937, an unidentified pilot cutter (possibly the Elsie J) had a lucky escape after a sudden change in wind direction caused the boat to drag the anchor and she was driven towards Councillors Strand.  The pilots aboard had no choice but to man the small punt and escape towards the shore.  Fortunately they landed safely after an “exciting tussle with the huge waves”.  Equally as fortunate, the anchor stuck fast just off the shore, and the cutter was spared[xv].

The Lily Doreen at Dunmore in the emergency era. Photo by Theo Harris

In June 1942 an unnamed pilot cutter “…recently acquired arrived in Waterford from Limerick…  The vessel is in the command of Capt Stubbs, a Waterford native”[xvi]  I am speculating this is the Lily Doreen because when she was sold in 1951 it was mentioned that she was bought second hand from Limerick.  In June 1947 it was reported that the Lily Doreen had been struck by the Milford Haven steam trawler East Coast and that Tyrells of Arklow had estimated the damage to cost £450 to repair.[xvii] 

My neighbour Brigid Power often told me the story of how she would walk up with her mother and siblings to Coolbunnia from the village to watch for her father Capt Andrew Doherty who was pilot master on the Lily Doreen and i would imagine he also served on the Elsie J. When they were at Passage East at night he would signal them with a lantern on the dusk and it was his way of reassuring his family that all was well. To the best of my knowledge the Lily Doreen was replaced in 1951.  She was advertised for sale in December.[xviii] 

Her replacement was still at Dunmore East when I was fishing there in the 1980’s the Betty Breen named after the daughter of then chairman of the Board, Martin S Breen, and Betty also performed the naming of the vessel in October 1951 at Tyrells boatyard in Arklow.  The Betty Breen made her maiden voyage to Waterford shortly afterwards and it was said that her arrival was witnessed by a large crowd.[xix]

The Betty Breen being overhauled. Photo via Brendan Grogan

The Betty Breen had a busy time of it at Dunmore.  Although she played a role in numerous rescues and other events, one of the more interesting I found was the case of the Liverpool pilot which she took from the ship Chriapo, en route from Liverpool to the West Indies for bananas.  Having sailed out the Mersey into a NW gale, he could not be retrieved and so headed for Dunmore and the Betty Breen, and then to Waterford and via train to Rosslare and home.[xx]  At least this pilot had a less eventful trip, than his colleague Philip Barrio at Passage East in 1892. The Betty Breen was advertised for sale in the summer of 1993, her service days were over.[xxi]

A number of vessels have served the pilots since including the Catherine Downey, later Maritana, the Tom Brennan (Jan 1994) the Dun Mhor (2016).  I have no doubt that I have missed a few others as the searching via newspapers has its limitations.  If any reader can add more details I would appreciate it. Undoubtedly the Portlairge II will see many years of loyal service to the harbour. Hopefully it won’t be as eventful as some of her predecessors but either way I look forward to seeing the vessel in operation this coming September.

Portlairge II currently under construction in Youghal, expected to hit the harbour in Sept 2021. Phot courtesy of Capt. Darren Doyle

My thanks to Tomas Sullivan for helping with getting this started, to Darren Doyle at the Port of Waterford, to Brendan Grogan and Paul Duffin for photos.  Needless to say, all errors and omissions are my own.


[i] Mary Breen.  Waterford Port and harbour 1815-1842.  2019.  Four Courts Press. Dublin. p 33

[ii] Andrew Doherty,  Waterford Harbour Tides & Tales.  2020.  The History Press.  Cheltenham. (see chapter 9 Sails Ahoy Hobblers. pp 62-65) 

[iii] Waterford Mail – Saturday 06 November 1824. Page 3

[iv] Waterford Mail – Wednesday 27 October 1824, page 2

[v] Waterford Mail, Saturday 12th August 1826, page 4

[vi] Waterford Mail – Wednesday 17 February 1830; page 1

[vii] Waterford Mail – Saturday 04 December 1830; page 4

[viii] Bill Irish.  Shipbuilding in Waterford 1820-1882.  (2001)  Wordwell Books. Wicklow.  P.240

[ix] Ibid

[x] Waterford Mail – Saturday 13 August 1859; page 3

[xi] Waterford Mail – Wednesday 19 February 1862; page 2

[xii] Waterford Chronicle – Friday 15 January 1864; page 3

[xiii] Munster Express, Saturday, August 23, 1913; Page: 6

[xiv] Waterford Standard – Saturday 08 April 1933; page 7

[xv] Waterford Standard – Saturday 30 October 1937; page 3

[xvi] Munster Express, Friday, June 12, 1942; Page: 3

[xvii] Waterford Standard – Saturday 14 June 1947; page 6

[xviii] Irish Examiner, Thursday, December 06, 1951; Page: 7

[xix] Waterford News and Star, Friday, October 12, 1951; Page: 3

[xx] Irish Examiner, Saturday, January 03, 1959; Page: 7

[xxi] Munster Express, Friday, July 09, 1993; Page: 9

Venus B – a tragedy long remembered

A guest blog by David Carroll tells the tragic loss of the barque Venus B on Feb 21st 1885 at Ballymacaw and how it lived long in local folklore

From 1937 to 1939, the Irish Folklore Commission enlisted more than 50,000 schoolchildren from 5,000 schools in Ireland to collect folklore in their home districts. This included oral history, topographical information, folktales and legends, riddles and proverbs, games and pastimes, trades and crafts. The children recorded this material from their parents, grandparents, and neighbours. The scheme resulted in the creation of over half a million manuscript pages, generally referred to as ‘Bailiúchán na Scol’ or ‘The Schools’ Collection’. Schools in the Barony of Gaultier took part in the project during the 1930s and by a remarkable coincidence, two girls, from two different schools living a few miles apart wrote about the same shipwreck from information received from older people living in the locality and the legends and folklore associated with the tragic events of February 1885.

Bad weather hit Ireland in February 1885. The Waterford Standard on Wednesday, February 24th reported that the severest storm of the winter blew on Saturday night in the Irish Channel and shipping due in Dublin was badly delayed. The weather along the South East coast was also severe. There were reports of ships having to put into Passage, one a sailing ship ‘Crusader’ with two boats smashed, three sails carried away and bulwarks damaged. Also, a steamship bound for Liverpool from Norfork U.S. put into Passage short of coals, having lost an anchor and 50 fathoms of chain off Creadan Head.
A headline in the same paper read as follows:

THE STORM
WRECK OF VESSELS TRAMORE AND
BALLYMACAW – ALL HANDS LOST

“The storm which swept over the country on Saturday has proved a most disastrous one, many accounts of shipping disasters being at hand. A wreck which took place at Tramore is particularly sad…[for] of the entire crew, not one was saved…….”

The vessel in question was the Camilla, a schooner from Cork with a cargo of coal that was wrecked close to the Brownstown Head side of Tramore Bay with all crew lost, despite valiant and courageous efforts made by the lifeboat in Tramore to rescue them.

The report continues as follows:
“Another shipping disaster occurred at Ballymacaw early on Sunday morning. A large barque, which had been ascertained to be the Venus B of Fiume, bound to Rio Janerio from Liverpool with a general cargo, Captain Sablich. When the vessel was observed it was between one or two o’clock in the morning, and shortly afterwards she was dashed on the rocks at Long Cliff, under the cottage of Mr Kiely. It was blowing a very stiff gale at the time, and the sea was washing with considerable force over the vessel. The coastguards hastened to render assistance, although it was conjectured from the fact that no lights were shown that the vessel had been abandoned, and this supposition was borne out by the fact that there was never any exhibition of life on board. Nothing on this head is however certain, as owing to the hour when the vessel struck, and the consequent darkness, but little knowledge could be gleaned as to her belongings. When day broke she was found to be the barque already named, and to be of 650 tons register. Portions of the cargo and wreckage continued to be washed ashore during the day, and it was then seen that she had been laden with railway iron, household utensils, crockery, ware etc. Some traces of blood, which were observed to be on the figure head, would lead to the supposition that some of the crew had received injuries of a more or less serious nature. The scene was visited by a large number of people on Sunday, when the most eager inquiries were made as to most probable fate of the crew, who must all have perished. The sea, which continued to break over the vessel, rendered her total breaking up a question of time. On Monday, it was reported that she had all gone to pieces, and on the same day a body, probably that of one of the ill-fated crew, was washed ashore.”

Source: nzhistory.govt.nz
1863 wreck from New Zealand (HMS Orpheus)- a fate similar to that of the Venus B.
On March 18th 1885, the following notice appeared in the Waterford Standard:

Readers may wonder as to how a sailing ship from a land-locked country such as Austria could come to be wrecked off the Irish coast. The answer is that prior to 1918, the political landscape in Europe was completely different. In 1885, Austria-Hungary was an empire, the largest political entity in mainland Europe. It spanned almost 700,000 square kilometres and reached down to the Adriatic Sea. Fiume, home port of the Venus B is now called Rijeka, a major port and industrial city in western Croatia.

Source: www.pinterest.com The port of Fiume c. 1890, the home port of the barque Venus B.

The two pupils from the Gaultier Barony that participated in the Irish Folklore Commissions ‘Schools Collection’ in the late 1930s were Mary Flynn from Portally and Kathleen Gear from Ballymacaw. Mary Flynn was a pupil at the Convent School in Dunmore East and transcribed information passed to her from her grandmother Mrs. Power of Portally, described as being over 70 years. Kathleen Gear was a pupil at Summerville school in Corballymore and recorded the story of the Venus B as told to her by her father Patrick Gear, aged 60 years.

While there are a number of small errors made in the stories as regards the correct name of the ship and the actual year, both accounts are fascinating and colourful to read and give us much more anecdotal information that we fail to get in newspaper accounts. We are told that the first person to see the ship in distress was Jim Gough. The 1901 Census lists Julia Gough, a widow aged 64 years living at Graigue, Rathmoylan with her son, Michael. It is probably correct to say that Jim was Julia’s husband. His name also appears in Griffiths Valuation – Waterford 1848-51.

Both scribes tell us that all the bodies recovered from the shipwreck were buried in Rathmoylan graveyard. The actual number of crew members has been difficult to ascertain. Kathleen tells us that many people in Ballymacaw got in new floors from the timber salvaged from the wreck. I wonder if any of those floors still remain? Both Mary and Kathleen also refer to the location of the shipwreck as being called the ‘wrack hole’.

Mary Flynn wrote that a man who came from Waterford to buy crockery fell down the cliff and was killed. She also writes that the shipwrecked vessel was then called the ‘Phantom Ship’ by older people in the district as it was always seen sailing up from Ballymacaw to the ‘old ship rock’ in Port Leanaibhe before a storm. Kathleen Gear also relates that following the shipwreck, the lights of the Venus B could be seen sailing into the ’wrack hole’. She writes that many people saw them.

As a young lad I spent some wonderful times during school holidays in the 1960s with Paddy Napper Kelly lobster fishing and also catching mackerel with Nicko Murphy along this picturesque but rocky coastline. There was always a forlorn and eerie feeling around Falskirt Rock with all the seabirds present as well as the incredible rock near the shore that looked like an old sailing ship and was so named. In stormy weather with poor visibility, I have no doubt that a person could easily mistake the rock for an actual sailing ship. But what about the lights? How do you explain that?

Coastline near Ballymacaw with Falskirt Rock visible in the distance. Photo credit Neville Murphy

Maybe the answer lies with the famous Irish folklorist Lady Gregory – a close friend of WB Yeats, who had a fisherman explain to her over a hundred years ago: “The fairies are in the sea as well as on the land. That is well-known by those that are out fishing by the coast.”


Thanks to David for that facinating account. David is of course author of Dauntless Courage, Celebrating the History of the RNLI Lifeboats, their crews and the Maritime Heritage of the Dunmore East Community which was published in December 2020. The book is almost sold out, but some copies are still available. More details from the project website

References:

The Waterford Standard, February 24th 1885
The Waterford Standard, March 18th 1885

1901 Census.

The Duchas.ie ‘The Schools Collection’ contains many transcriptions of stories about shipwrecks and other maritime stories from pupils living on both the County Waterford and County Wexford sides of Waterford Harbour.

‘‘A Novel and Unusual Spectacle’’; Ice on the ‘Three Sisters’ in the Late 19th Century

A guest blog by Conor Donegan

Standing at the end of the breakwater in Dunmore East two Sundays ago, I couldn’t help but admire the beauty of the frost covered cliffs and the white roofs all around the village, despite the intense and bitter cold. The estuary was alive with the sound of a thousand gulls following the sprat fleet, who judging by the landings made at the harbour day after day, have enjoyed one of the best seasons in years. The multi-coloured hulls stood out strong against the intense, inky black of the water, which made me shiver just to look at it.

The vibrancy of that Winter scene got me thinking about what the Harbour would look like in even harsher conditions. Pictures of icebergs and great sheets of snow flashed through my mind. Had Waterford ever seen such scenes in times past? Suspiciously, when I got home a post appeared in the Waterford Maritime History Facebook group by Michael Butch Power detailing just such an occasion in December 1878, when the sheer force of ice almost caused the destruction of the Timbertoes bridge in the city.

I quickly disappeared down a rabbit hole in the Irish Newspaper Archives and discovered that this was by no means a unique phenomenon. The freezing of the River Suir further inland has occurred during many severe Winters in the past (at Cahir in 1903, Carrick-on-Suir in 1947 and at Fiddown Bridge in 2010, to name just a few).  However for it to freeze solid at the city quays, where the river is considerably wider and deeper, and pose a serious threat to shipping and infrastructure, is quite another thing. Three years in particular stand out; 1867, 1878 and 1881.

 January 1867 saw temperatures across Ireland plummet to -15 degrees Celsius.  The Waterford News of 18th January reported an almost total absence of native grain being produced for the markets, due to the heavy ground frost.  Icebergs floated aimlessly down the City quays and the paddle steamer Shamrock, which was in the final months of a thirty year career spent plying between Waterford and New Ross,  remained tied up for many days.  Fears were raised over the potential destruction of the Timbertoes bridge, and a ‘railway steamboat’ was commandeered to act as an ice-breaker, smashing up the larger bergs before they could damage the pillars and abutments. 

Ultimately, Timbertoes survived the barrage, but her counterpart on the Barrow was not so fortunate. Conditions in Kilkenny and Wexford seem to have been much harsher than at Waterford, with the Nore and Barrow being reported as frozen solid ‘…for sixteen miles above Ross’.  The American architect Lemuel Cox is perhaps best known for building the aforementioned Timbertoes in 1794, but he had also designed and built the bridge at New Ross in 1796   (the Waterford News article of 25th. Jan 1867 states that it was actually built by a private company in 1779, but most other sources agree on the later date).

Local opinion however seems to have been somewhat critical of Cox’s work, and the local press dismissed the bridge as having been ‘…long regarded a nuisance’ due to its shakiness.  Having been raised to allow the passage of a ship, the central drawbridge remained firmly stuck upright until it was swept away, the structure eventually giving way arch by arch due to the immense pressure of the ice floes, with only two arches remaining on the Kilkenny side and one at the Wexford end. 

A boat service remained the only way of crossing the river until a new and more substantial iron bridge was built in 1869.  In the long running port dispute between the two towns from 1215 to 1518, New Ross’ difficulty had been Waterford’s opportunity.  Such was the case again when parts of the bridge floated downriver to the City quays, where some quick-thinking coal porters lashed and secured the timbers, and used them as firewood.  Thus many a Waterford home was heated through the last days of that harsh Winter, by the remains of the New Ross bridge.

View of Lemuel Cox’s bridge at New Ross, circa 1832. Destroyed by ice floes in 1867. Source: https://eoceanic.com/sailing/harbours/16/new_ross.

December 1878 stands out as yet another extreme Winter in the south-east, one that saw a return of the mesmeric sight of icebergs on the ‘three sisters’. Despite the often clichéd view of the Victorian era as an age of joylessness and almost puritanical conservatism, it appears that people made it their mission to take advantage of the inhospitable conditions and enjoy themselves. Although he reported conditions in south Kilkenny as being akin to Siberia, the Piltown correspondent of the Munster Express, for example, focused on the great benefit that occurred to ‘…lovers of skating’ of whom there was ‘…plenty enough in this locality’.   A large, frozen pond on the demesne of Lord Bessborough attracted crowds of people from many miles around, and although the skating constituted ‘fine sport’, the correspondent was keen to deny any suggestions of impropriety or frivolousness; ‘No lady ventured out alone, but was always accompanied by a gentleman (her bachelor if you wish), who always took great care not to let her ‘come to grief’’.

While the good people of Piltown entertained themselves, things were getting far more serious downriver. Solid blocks of ice, three or four feet thick, were being hurled against all manner of objects on the river and such was their strength that the ice often cut through timber, and even iron.  A lighter moored at the City’s railway station was cut in half and sunk; another on it way upriver to Carrick-on-Suir avoided a similar fate by just ‘…half an inch of planking’. The wooden piles of Timbertoes were under severe pressure, and a large number of anchors were sunk a distance from the bridge in a bid to break up the ice, whilst heavy chains were used to secure the structure in place lest it be carried out to sea by a combination of retreating ice floes and gale force winds.  Comparisons with her New Ross cousin were inevitable, and the ‘…feeble old dilapidated’ state of Timbertoes was lamented.  Ultimately however, Spring rolled around, the ice melted and the bridge survived intact. This is all the more exceptional when you consider that in those dying days of 1878, and early 1879, the Suir was frozen solid as one gigantic sheet of ice, making it possible to walk across the river from the South Quays to Ferrybank, providing a ‘…novel and unusual spectacle’ for the citizens of Waterford.

Report from the Munster Express, 28th Dec. 1878, p. 4. Note the reference at the end where it is said such scenes were not seen in 40 years. This suggests the freeze of 1878 was even more severe and dramatic than that of 1867.

Novel and fascinating though these Arctic-like scenes may have been, for the people of Waterford and the wider region extreme weather caused real hardship and misery, compounded by the general poverty of the nation at the time. In January 1881, Ireland and Britain experienced a ‘great blizzard’, one of the most severe in recorded history, in which many snow drifts exceeded 20ft.  The Mayor of Waterford, Alderman L. A. Ryan, convened a meeting at City Hall for ‘…the purpose of creating a fund to provide coal, so badly needed in many a homestead in this penetrating and death-dealing season’. 

Employment in the city was severely impacted, though this was somewhat alleviated when the Corporation hired large numbers of labourers to help clear the snow and ice from the footpaths and roads.  Many of the local charities, including the St. Vincent de Paul, were unable to keep up with the increase in demand for their services, as many families were plunged into desperate circumstances. 

On the evening of Thursday 20th January a great sheet of ice drifted down from Carrick and once again became lodged at Timbertoes bridge.  Ever keen to avoid a repeat of the New Ross incident fourteen years earlier, the Bridge Commissioners tried to blow up the ice with dynamite, an operation performed unsuccessfully by an Edward Jacob.  More effectively, the two steam tugs Father Matthew and Suir spent the remainder of the month breaking up the ice by creating semi circles around the central arches of the bridge, thus helping to alleviate some of the pressure.  Old Timbertoes had once again survived the freezing of the Suir, though this was not universally welcomed. Whether this was due to the perceived run-down state of the structure, or its despised status as a toll bridge (a situation which did not end until it was acquired by Waterford Corporation in 1907), the Waterford News reported that it was ‘… a circumstance which some people seem to regret’.  Spring came, the ice and snow disappeared and a burden was lifted off the shoulders of the people of Waterford.

View of Timbertoes bridge, Waterford, circa 1890-1900. Built in 1794, it was replaced by Redmond Bridge in 1913. Note the immense size of the Suir at this point, five times wider than Dublin’s Liffey. The transformation of the river into one solid sheet of ice must have been quite a sight. Source: U.S. Library of Congress

Fast forward back to the present, 2021. Winter has officially ended and although the weather seems to suggest otherwise, we are in now in Spring. As a part-time retail worker, much of my conversation with customers revolves around meteorology and how cold or otherwise the day may be. Usually I’m inclined to agree with said customers that is there is a particular bite in the wind this morning, and sure isn’t it only a day for the fire? Having looked back at those extreme weather events a century and a half ago, I don’t think I’m entitled to complain about such things ever again!

Those dramatic images of icebergs floating by Adelphi Quay, or any one of the ‘Three Sisters’ frozen solid from bank to bank, are incredible to picture in one’s mind, and it is a terrible pity there doesn’t seem to have been any photographs taken to record such sights. Romantic images aside, we should not forget that these events also caused considerable hardship to people all across Waterford Harbour, be it in terms of fuel poverty, unemployment, loss of shipping or the destruction of vital bridges and other infrastructure.

The crises people faced in 1867, 1878 and 1881 are not too dissimilar from the battles we face today with Covid-19. In both cases, daily life became a stagnant, seemingly never ending malaise caused by events largely outside human control. Yet as the weather improved each time in those three years, the big freezes always ended and the omnipresent ice gradually disappeared, as this virus surely will too someday. As President Barack Obama said on his visit to this country in 2011, ‘Whatever hardships the winter may bring, springtime is always just around the corner’. That was just as true in past times as it is now in our time.

Some stills here of a frozen Suir at Fiddow in 2010 uploaded by Joe Cashin

My thanks to Conor Donegan for this fine account. Its a story I have longed to write, and I am delighted to have it featured here now for the tidesntales crew. Conor currently attends UCC, and is presently doing an MA on the History of the Irish Revolution 1912-23. He has written for the blog before on the HMS Brave Border Incident and was recently published in the 2021 Decies: ‘1917: U-boats on the Waterford Coast’ based on his BA dissertation.

Endnotes

1.  Keyes, Dermot. (2010). Mighty Suir frozen over. Munster Express. [online]. Available at: http://www.munster-express.ie/local-news/mighty-suir-frozen-over/. [Accessed on 26th Jan. 2021]

2.  Dixon, F. E. ‘Weather in Old Dublin’. Dublin Historical Record, vol. 13, no. 3/4, (1953), p.101.

3.  Waterford News, 18th Jan. 1867

4.  Doherty, Andrew, Waterford Harbour: Tides & Tales, (The History Press, Cheltenham, 2020), pp. 30, 31.

5. Waterford News, 25th Jan. 1867

6. Ibid

7. Ibid

8. New Ross Standard, 4th Mar. 2017

9. Waterford News, 25th Jan. 1867

10. Ibid

11.  Bassett, George Henry. (1885). Walls, Gates, and Bridges of New Ross – Wexford Guide and Directory, 1885. Library Ireland. [Online]. Available at: https://www.libraryireland.com/genealogy/bassett/wexford/walls-new-ross.php.  [Accessed on 31st Jan. 2021]

12.  McEneaney, Eamonn; Ryan, Rosemary; (Eds). Waterford Treasures. (Waterford Museum of Treasures, Waterford, 2004), p.66

13. Waterford News, 25th Jan. 1867

14. Munster Express, 21st Dec. 1878

15. Ibid

16. Munster Express, 28th Dec. 1878

17. Ibid

18. Ibid

19. Ibid

20. Ibid

21. Simons, Paul. (2021). Blizzard in 1881 left people trapped in their homes. The Times. [online]. Available at: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/blizzard-in-1881-left-people-trapped-in-their-homes-hb6dh0bzf. [Accessed on 1st Feb. 2021]

22. Waterford News, 21st Jan. 1881

23. Ibid

24. Ibid

25. Ibid

26. Manning, Cian, Waterford City: A History, (The History Press, Cheltenham, 2019), p.102

27. Ibid

28. Waterford News, 21st Jan. 1881

Centenary; Loss of the Esperanza de Larrinaga

A guest post courtesy of Liam Cheasty and Pat Sheridan

A centenary is defined as the one hundred anniversary of a significant event and in 2021 there will be many related to the War of Independence and partition of Ireland in 1921. However, while conflict and strife bring about many tragedies that are noteworthy ordinary life can be equally dramatic and hard. On the 2nd of February 2021 is the centenary of the death of my maternal grandfather James Quilty, my mother’s father. James was born on 18th of February 1893 to Andrew and Mary Ann Quilty .

Image courtesy of Liam Cheasty

In 1911 James was 18 and lived at 11 Roches Street in Waterford City with his parents, his twin sister Mary Kate and a younger brother Patrick who was 16. The census shows five children had been born to Andrew and Mary Ann and four were still surviving. Andrew Quilty is listed as being a labourer as was James and Patrick. Mary Kate is listed as a sailor.

James’ memorial card. Image courtesy of Liam Cheasty

Roches Street no longer exists and it is now the side entrance to De la Salle College. The houses were small with mainly large families of mostly labouring men and would have been known as a tough street in its time. James married Johanna Lonergan who lived in 1911 at 58 Lower Yellow Road. That house is now knocked and there is an opening between the Yellow Road and Mount Sion Avenue. Hanna was also born in 1893 and her parents were John and Mary who were from Carrigeen in Mooncoin on the other side of the River Suir. John Lonergan is also listed as being a labourer and they had six children. When James and Hanna married they lived at 72 Doyle Street. My father’s parents, William and Annie Cheasty lived at 43 Doyle Street almost directly across the road. In 1920 my four grandparents lived in Doyle Street, none of them lived long enough for me to know them.

In 1920 James and Hanna had two daughters Maura and Tish with Hanna expecting my mother. This was shortly after the First World War and times were tough in Waterford with lots of unemployment and the poverty that goes with it. As a struggling young man James had to get work where ever he could, so he went to sea as an able bodied seaman.

James Quilty signed up to a Spanish owned company trading in Liverpool, Larrinaga Steam Ship Company. This line had been founded in 1861 by a Basque from Mundaka near Bilbao called Ramón De Larrinaga initially serving Spanish Colonies in the Philippines and Cuba. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 the company prospered hugely with many Basques moving to Liverpool.

On the tenth of December 1920 James Quilty sailed from Liverpool on the SS Esperanza de Larrinaga bound for the Americas. Esperanza is the Spanish for hope and it was built in 1907 and was 109 metres long. It had a top speed of 10.5 knots and a grt of 4981 tons. There were three other Waterford born sailors on board, John Furlong, Thomas Hunt and John Ryan.

The Esperanza de Larrinaga had been hit by a German torpedo from UB-65 on 13th of May 1918, 35 miles north of Lough Swilly, Ireland. There was one casualty. The vessel was successfully beached, refloated and repaired. Some of its crew in 1920 would probably have been on board when it was torpedoed. I am not sure where the Esperanza de Larringa was destined for on the outward journey but the return cargo was American grain loaded in Norfork in Virginia. The return journey was to Reggio Calabria on the very toe of Southern Italy, a massive journey across The Atlantic , through the Straits of Gibraltar and down the Mediterranean sea.

Image courtesy of Liam Cheasty

The Esperanza sailed out of Norfolk in on 2nd of February 1921 as did the Ottowa, a 3,600 ton bulk oil tanker . Sailing out of New York on the same day was the Italian owned Monte San Michelle, quite a large vessel at 6,517 tons. On the night of the 2nd of February 1921 a dreadful hurricane developed in the Atlantic. A French steamer Vicorieux and the Belgian owned Bombardier were abandoned by their crew the storm was so bad. The other three ships were lost with all hands lost and no signs ever found. More info on the sinking here. Four Waterford born men, including my grandfather James Quilty perished that awful night. For a sailor on his maiden voyage and with little experience one can only imagine the horror he went through on that faithful night.

Meanwhile back at 72 Doyle Street in Waterford it must have been a really tough time for Hanna Quilty that February. Firstly she lost her husband to the sea, later that same week her own mother died and on 24th February she gave birth to my mother, Kathleen. She was now a widow with three infant children to take care of but she was a survivor. Taking the £50 she received from The Larrinaga Shipping Line she moved to 77 Lower Yellow Road opened a hucksters shop in her front room, where she raised her three daughters who went on to marry and raise their own children.

This guest blog of this important centenary comes courtesy of Liam Cheasty and his cousin Pat Sheridan. I’m indebted to both men for the research, keeping this story alive and allowing me to share it with the tidesntales crew.