Arming the IRA – BGHS Talk

Arming the IRA – Running guns into Waterford Harbour 1921

By early summer of 1921, the IRA was facing a crisis in its conflict with British forces – a severe shortage of arms and ammunition.  This shortage was threatening to curtail operations by the active units and to hinder plans to extend the conflict to other, less active areas.  In June 1921 the combined Waterford Brigades had a rollcall of 232 officers and 2,044 men.  The total numbers of arms available to them was 56 rifles and 45 revolvers. Tom Barry estimated that there were only about 100 rifles available to his men in the Cork No. 3 Brigade, the most successful in the country, and it was this shortage of weapons that limited his operations, not a shortage of volunteers. It was the same in every other part of the country – weapons not men were the key factor.  This shortage was getting worse as British forces became more successful at locating and seizing arms dumps.  It is no wonder then that the thoughts of Michael Collins and other members of the IRA GHQ staff turned to the possibility of a large-scale operation that would bring in hundreds of weapons and transform the military situation. Three such operations were planned, from America, from Italy and from Germany. Only the one from Germany was successful. It landed arms in Waterford Harbour in November 1921.

Join us next Thursday 28th October in the Woodlands Hotel for this fascinating lecture

In the comings weeks I hope to have a guest blog on the story from Conor Donegan. If time allows I also hope to do a piece on some research I have done into the specific location of the arms landing.

Henry II, Crooke 1171 Recalled

Henry II, Crooke 1171 Recalled  is a two day event that the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society is hosting on the 23rd and 24th of October 2021. 

We had previously planned to hold it a week earlier on the 17th October 2021, which is the 850th anniversary of when Henry II first landed in the Barony of Gaultier, Waterford. We went a week later as Covid restrictions are to be relaxed.

Three great speakers and a very experienced chair

We are having a Panel Discussion in the Community Hall, Passage East at 3pm on Saturday 23 October. It will be chaired by Ray McGrath and the speakers and topics are;
Michael Fewer – The landing of Henry II with 4,500 knights and soldiers.
John Burke – The Knights Templar in the Barony of Gaultier.
Julian Walton – The Aylward Family of Faithlegg.

Booking is essential to attend this Panel Discussion. To book email BGHS at this address: baronyofgaultierhistorical@gmail.com

Numbers for the event are limited to an attendance of one hundred and will be given strictly on a first come basis. The event is free but donations would be welcome to offset costs.

Should be a wonderful walk, expect plenty of stops and historical inputs

On Sunday 24 October we will have our walk on the route that Henry took into Waterford. It is 14.25 Kms in distance and for those who wish to only take part in a small section of the walk, there is a free shuttle bus service. The Mayor of Waterford Cllr. Joe Kelly will open the event on Saturday 23 October at 3pm in the Community Centre, Passage East.

To book email society chair, Michael Farrell, at this address:  baronyofgaultierhistorical@gmail.com

Loss of the Gannet – an unholy row

On a dark December night off the coast of Dunmore East, the pilot boat Gannet spotted an incoming steamer and sailed on a line upriver to intercept.  The action would lead to the loss of the pilot boat and an unholy row in Waterford that would see the court of public opinion brought to the fore.  But that was still to come, our story starts on that winter night.

Pilot boat Gannet was built at Whites shipyard in 1856.  She was 40 ton 58ft cx16ftx 9 feet on what are now the city’s North Quays.  A predecessor, the Falcon, had been deemed unfit by the board.  The Gannet however had served faithfully alongside another vessel, the Seagull.

At 5.30 pm on December 3rd, 1863 the Gannet was on duty off the coast of Dunmore East, sailing around in anticipation of inbound ships requiring a pilot.  Captained by a Pilot Master, and when with a full compliment, 6 pilots aboard, she would respond to a raised flag in daylight or show a light in darkness from ships requiring pilotage. 

As the Gannet proceeded upriver towards Creaden Head, lights were exchanged with the ship, which later claimed in showed no signal for a pilot.  The ship was the SS Beta (built 1861; 747 gross tons, 220ftx30x17) of the Malcomson lines Waterford Steamship Company (WSCo).  The Beta was on a regular run between the port and London ( several reports state that she was calling to Waterford having sailed from Belfast for London).  The Captain had a Board of Trade Masters certificate for Waterford, exempting him from taking on a pilot, the regularity of sailing, and his experience having been determined that he was exempt.  In a later newspaper report that year Captain Upton was named as Master, but no Captain was named on the night of the incident in the reports I have found.

From later newspaper accounts, the Gannet hove-to above Creaden Head and three pilots got into the small boat that was used to board the pilots.  As they did so, they noticed the Beta change direction to pass astern to the pilot boat, and at this point, the Gannet came about to again intercept.  With no time to change course, the Beta rammed the hull of the pilot boat. [I]

Pilot cutter Seagull – with thanks to Richard Woodley, the cutter was a contemporary of the Gannet and may have looked somewhat similar

The cutter was struck on the port side, abaft the mast, and sank immediately.  The Pilot master with three pilots – Glody, Diggins, and Delaney managed to get aboard the steamer.  Their three colleagues, Butler, Power, and Ryan, were towed in the small punt to Passage East. [ii]

At the next meeting of the Board a discussion into the loss of the Pilot Cutter and whether to lease another.  There was a lot of upset as the master of the Beta had been quoted as telling the Pilot cutter captain that “He knew damn well he didn’t need a pilot”.  Members wondered if maybe ships should be required to signal a specific light that a pilot was not required!  A unanimous decision was taken to write to the Board of Trade to request an inquiry.[iii]

Creaden Head on a glorious Summers day, the area of river above it is where the incident happened

At the last Harbour Board meeting in December, a letter was read from the Committee of Privy Council for Trade in a response to a request from the commissioners asking for an inquiry into the case of the collision.  The response was not what the Board had hoped for, but they were of the opinion that since this was a case of a collision it was not of a character in which they usually interfered and therefore they declined to get involved.   However, after a discussion, it was decided that as the “Merchant Shipping Act stated that when a steamer met a sailing vessel it should keep out of her way and in this case the Beta did not, that the Board would request that the Board of Trade revisit their decision” [iv]

Given the earlier description of what had occurred…it’s difficult to understand how the Harbour Board came up with that decision.  But ask they did and refused again they were; receiving what was described as “a very definite and negative response from the Board of Trade”.  Somewhere amidst all this toing and froing one William Malcomson (WSCo & member of the Harbour Board) let it be known that he was happy to enter into arbitration to try to resolve the matter to the satisfaction of both parties. This was agreed to after a prolonged and rather fractious debate that went on long into the night.[v]

William Malcomson after Bill Irish

However, at some point in the following weeks, it seems that the Harbour Board took a decision to revisit this decision and made a request that the arbitration be overseen by Queens Advocate from Dublin.  This was interpreted by some as kicking the arbitration into a legal sphere.  And it provoked an unholy row.

A WSCo advert from June 1863 (and below) Waterford Mail – Wednesday 17 June 1863; page 1
It would seem that the ships normally came in to Waterford on the Thursday from Belfast, and sailed again on the Friday for London

Part of the problem seems connected to a letter written by the Steamship Company to the Harbour Board, that was overlooked at the monthly Board meeting.  However, the letter found its way into the papers, and not just in Waterford.  The response was explosive.  The court of public opinion cared little for the navigation laws of shipping.  The Malcomson family was then a huge employer in Waterford, and with an internationally good name in business and shipping circles.  A very long and detailed analysis of the matter was contained in the Waterford Mail, which excoriated the Board, pointed out Malcomson’s support for Waterford, the Board, and notable charitable good works, and questioned the very purpose of the Board.  The actions of the board were considered petty and unjust.  Malcomson’s position was that this was an expensive way to do business.  His position was that both sides should enter the arbitration in good faith and see if an agreement could be reached.  If there were points that were disputed, then these could be judged by the Advocate.  A much cheaper solution he believed.[vi]

The Harbour Commissioners offices were located in this building on Gladstone St at the time

At the Board meeting of March, Alderman Denny took the floor of what I can only assume was a very unsettled assembly.  He addressed the controversy and acknowledged the public disquiet in the city and how the matter had been handled.  He went on to extol the virtues of William Malcomson and the Waterford Steamship Company and also to discuss the current action believing it would have been better: “to have asked for reasonable compensation for the loss of the Gannet. The original cost of that boat was £1,150, and she was 7 years at sea, exposed to very trying and severe weather all seasons so that it is not too much to say that she lost 5% of her original value (PA obviously though not mentioned in the report) thus leaving her value at £757 or thereabouts.  If we make up our minds that the crew the Gannet was in no way to blame in the matter, then we are entitled to about £750, and more in fairness. If, on the other hand, it can be shown that the Gannet was wrong and that the fault did not lie with the Beta, are not entitled to a single farthing.”[vii]

Councillor Walsh rebutted this pointing out that it was right and proper that the Harbour Board take legal proceedings against Malcomson and WSCo.  At issue he felt was the livelihoods and property of the 7 pilots who were aboard the Gannet that night, and who were out of work since.[viii]

After much acrimony, a proposal was put forward from Mr Jacob saying that legal proceedings should be halted and that a request for a settlement of £600 be put to the WSCo.  This was seconded and eventually agreed to.  In what must have seemed like a very melodramatic twist, at this point, Mr. Jacob held up a letter from the WSCo stating that they would be happy to settle the matter for £600.  Game set and match to Mr. Malcomson it would appear.[ix] 

Members of the Harbour Board were insistent that an inquiry was required into the actions of the Pilot Master that night in the harbour.  Questions were raised about his fitness to operate, and the judgment of all the pilots on the night.  However, there were also pragmatic concerns.  What if the Board found that the pilots were in error?  Would the £600 be forfeit, would they come out the worse.  It seems that a subcommittee was formed to look into the matter, but I could find no report in the papers of the time as to any findings.[x]  I’d imagine that the vast majority of people had already heard too much about the incident.

But what of the Gannet?  Whatever the acrimony within the offices of the Harbour Board, the matter still existed of a sunken vessel and one less pilot boat to meet the needs of the port.   A wreck buoy was stationed directly over the vessel and a notice contained in papers as early as the day after the event. Subsequently, the wreck was raised, as it was an impediment to shipping.  My guess is that the damage was so bad, the pilot boat was dragged closer to the Wexford shore and dropped to the bottom.  Walter Foley told me previously that the salmon driftnet fishermen had a foul mark off Broomhill called the Pilot Boat.  It’s the only one that I am aware of that fits the bill.

The following notice appeared in local papers

Interestingly, the Gannet was not replaced.  Newspaper accounts later that year point to a drop in shipping and a struggle to meet the wages of pilots due to the resulting loss in revenue to the port.   Although other boats were employed at Passage, and an occasional replacement at Dunmore, the Seagull carried out the duties on her own at Dunmore East until she was replaced at some point in the early 1930s by the Elsie J.


Penny wise, Pound foolish: A further threat to the Barrow Railway Bridge

This coming September marks the 11th anniversary of the last passenger train to use the SW Wexford railway line and the Barrow Railway Viaduct.  The bridge is Irelands longest rail bridge but it would appear that this September may see another regressive step taken on the railway line – plans are afoot to close off the bridge and allow a span for shipping to remain open.

The Barrow Railway Viaduct crosses the river Barrow between Drumdowney in Co Kilkenny and Great Island in Co Wexford, a distance of 2131 feet.  The bridge which opened in July 1906 was the final piece that connected the railway lines of the South of Ireland via Waterford to Rosslare Harbour and the cross channel ferry service.

The opening span and the bridge nearing completion

Plans for the bridge were drawn up by Sir Benjamin Barker and work commenced in 1902 after a tender of £109, 347 was won by Sir William Arrol & Co of Glasgow. The initial stages of the work went well.  However, the twin pillars onto which the spans were placed had to be laid on a foundation of the river bedrock.  As they proceeded out into the Barrow (from the Great Island side) the depths they had to dig to reach bedrock got ever deeper and in some cases workers had to dig to 108 feet below the mean water level. Such extra work added a cost of £12,000 to the bridge

A ship transiting through on the way up to New Ross. The opening mechanism is housed in the building at the top of the swivel section, and operated by an operator using techniques very similar to changing tracks on a rail line.

Due to the needs of New Ross Harbour Commissioners, a swivel opening span was created to allow entry and egress to the inland port. This span was constructed on 4 pillars and originally turned with an electric motor (now mains), situated on the pontoon around the pillars.  The opening pivots with an 80 foot clearance allowing ships to pass.

On completion, the bridge was 2131 feet long. It consisted 13 fixed spans mounted on twin 8-foot diameter cast iron cylinders filled with concrete. 11 spans are 148 feet long and the two closest to the opening are 144 feet. The bridge is 25 feet above high water on the spring tides. The railway is a single-track steel line, built within the protective casing of a mild steel girder frame with cross trusses to provide stability.

On the 18th of September 2010, a final special event train traveled the line before closure. The end of the sugar beet trade spelled the end, passenger numbers were already low. Many argued at the time that it was the timetable that was the issue. In the intervening years, a plan was put forward to turn the line into a greenway to try to mirror the success of other areas, not least in Waterford. Another group South East On Track has argued that there are compelling reasons to maintain the line for rail.

However recently I read that I read with disappointment an exchange between Wexford TD Verona Murphy and Minister of State Colm Brophy on the Barrow Railway Bridge, and specifically the opening span. It would appear that for pragmatic reasons the span is to be left in the opening position as a means of reducing costs on Iarnród Éireann.  Subsequent to an all Island of Ireland rail review, this may be reversed.  However, my concern is that this is misguided as a cost-saving measure for the following reasons:

Sundown on the Barrow Bridge, but hopefully not literally

1.  The opening apparatus is virtually unchanged from the system first employed in the construction in 1906.  To my mind, notwithstanding how clever such engineers were, and how remarkably resilient the turning mechanism is, will the lack of use of this may lead to its decay?  If this were to happen the cost would surely be significant, perhaps outweighing any perceived savings.

2. The opening span was never designed to be left open.  When closed it is securely fastened or locked into position on either side to the existing bridge, ensuring the optimum position for holding it in place.  If allowed open the weight will no longer be displaced but directed downwards onto the foundation, and also leaving it at the mercy of tides and wind.  Again, any shift in this swinging arm, will incur a massive cost to repair.  Has there been any independent engineering assessment of this? And if it proceeds could not some extra support be provided to each side of the track to hold it in place securely?

A recent video I shot of the ships Rose and later Eems Exe passing through the opening span of the Barrow Railway Bridge on a journey up to New Ross Port.

Barrow Bridge is still a fully functioning piece of transport infrastructure, an architectural gem, and a heritage feature. But as a country that seems to be awash with money for the right kind of project, have we progressed so little as a state that a building such as this could be threatened with such an act of sheer vandalism because it saves a few quid? The Poolbeg chimneys in Dublin, built in the 1960s, are considered a treasure worth millions to preserve. Surely a unique and functional piece of transport infrastructure deserves more consideration by a state agency and its citizens. “Penny Wise, Pound Foolish” comes to mind.

Update post-publication. As of 10 am this morning 27/8/2021, IE staff are on the bridge installing gates on the Kilkenny side, also men with hi-viz jackets on the opening span and on the dolphins below.

The Ice House

Concluding our examination of the placename Halfway House today, we showcase another wonderful building on the site, the commercial Ice House- the fridge freezer of the 19th Century.  It utilised frozen water as a cooler area and a preservative for foodstuff – and my own theory is that the building was part of an operation in the proliferation of scotch weirs in nearby King’s Channel.

The building

The commercial Ice House is a circular build, approximately 20 ft in diameter on the inside and over 30 feet high.  I asked my good pal Andrew Lloyd aka fellow blogger (Bob the scientist) for a back of an envelop calculation on the capacity based on my measurements.  Volume =  πr2h =π×32×10 =90π = 280 cu.m.  280 tonnes of water or 260 tonnes of ice.  That’s a lot of ice. ( I may have overestimated the size, but even half of that is a lot of ice!)

In design terms, the wall to the South, which would have taken the most sun was six feet wide in the past and was of cavity construction.  Most designs have a preference for thatched roof and the entrance to the tower was a door near the roof and accessed from the present garden of the Kenny family home on the Passage Road.  This entranceway is north facing and would have had some protecting cover too, and possibly a number of feet back from the door to keep the air out.  I’m only speculating on this point having read of the design of other buildings.  I examined the area there some years back with Mrs Kenny and I could find nothing of a permanent nature like stone or brick, so if there was protection, it must have been timber.    (Mrs Kenny told me that she didn’t know much of the operation, except that the ice came by boat via the Pill)

Ice pits are often referred to in describing such facilities, but I think this may refer to such houses buried into the ground.  The Halfway house example is built into the hill which gives a certain amount of insulation.  The crucial part of such buildings was drainage, any melted ice had to be free to drain away, as ice sitting in water melted faster.  The better compacted the ice was the slower it melted (think of a snowman and how slowly it melts away, even after the snow has gone from the ground)  I’ve read that ice properly stored in such chambers could last years.

Apologies in advance for this amateur footage, but I took this in one take in an effort to give a sense of the building (Thursday 19th August 2021)
Dating the tower

No one seems to know the date it was built. I find it interesting that when travel writer and social commentator Arthur Young visited in 1796 and again in 1798 that he failed to mention it, suggesting it is a later build. This is also suggested by the Richard and Scales map, but the building does show up on the later historic maps.  I can find no written mention of the building or newspaper reference, so as unsatisfactory as it is we can only speculate that it was between the dates of Youngs visits and the historic maps series.  My own personal opinion is that is sometime between 1810-1825.  According to the information board at Jack Meades, the only known documentation associated with it was that a J Crawford was leasing the Ice House in 1853 at £2 per annum. Two John Crawfords were listed in Griffiths Valuations as running stores in the city at High St. Possibly relations or one in the same.

Purpose of the Ice House

Some have suggested it served a similar function to its smaller neighbour in Faithlegg, providing for the several big houses in the locality such as Ballycanvan, Mount Druid, Brook Lodge, the Blenheim houses, etc. I find this doubtful because of the quantity of ice that could potentially be stored.  If full it would have been many multiples the capacity of the Faithlegg House building.  My own theory has always been, that the Ice House was to assist with the Scotch Weir Fishery, in much the same way that the commercial ice houses at Lismore were used to preserve salmon from the Blackwater.

Although Ice as a means of preservation had been in practice for centuries, in the western world it had its limits.  This was because if fish was placed on a block of ice it would fuse with it and become damaged and worthless.  As a result, the ice was used to cool an area in ice houses, basements, or other areas, and indirectly kept the fish fresh.  That was until the 1780s when a hydrographer of the East India Company returned to London with a technique he had “discovered”.  Alexander Dalrymple was traveling in China when he spotted a perfectly fresh sea fish hundreds of miles from the coast.  Puzzled he asked how this could be.  He was introduced to a technique of fish preservation – chopped-up ice which could be used to cover fish, but which did not fuse with the flesh.  Harvested in winter, the ice was stored in “snow houses” and had been used throughout China for centuries.

Salmon fishing had a long history, but pressure on stocks was minimal, as it could only be consumed fresh in local areas.  This new preserving technique, coupled with the development of rail transport, led to a big demand for fresh salmon particularly in the new urban towns and cities of England’s Industrial Revolution.  It created an explosion in salmon fishing in Scotland initially which quickly spread to Ireland.  The fishing technique employed became known as the scotch weir method or stake net and it also enhanced (or corrupted) a traditional weir fishing practice allowing for much more fish to be trapped. 

an illustration of a scotch weir (there were many varieties including the adaption of the traditional Head Weir. They stretched to the shoreline, usually ran perpendicular to the shore, the fish encountered a wall of netting and swam towards the deep water where they encountered a “kill box” where they became trapped. These worked on both times of tides and there were numerous weirs in the Kings Channel and beyond

The ice required for this trade led to a growth in the building of commercial Ice Houses, not to be confused with an earlier practice of ice houses associated with the big houses.  The difference here was in terms of use and scale. The ice was used to box and ice fish. These boxes could if required be stored in the chamber and would be later sent to the port for direct export or via train to Dublin or further inland. As the use of steam driven ships arrived, fish could be on the London market in under 24 hrs of capture in Waterford, ensuring a premium price.

Where did the ice come from

Ice was originally sourced from local streams or such streams were diverted into low-lying fields or marshes where it froze on frosty nights and was harvested the following morning.  In Waterford, we have two placenames associated with this practice – Ice Fields.  I have speculated before that the local marshes with the low-lying level ground would have been ideal. 

Norweigan ice, being slid down to awaiting ship

An ice trade developed from America in the 1840s and from Norway in the 1850s.  This Block Ice was cut from natural sources in wintertime and exported directly or stored until summer when prices might be higher.   

From newspaper sources, it’s clear that the ice coming into Waterford was imported directly on what was commonly called Norwegian Ice Ships.  But it was also transhipped and there are many mentions in the later 19th Century of part cargos of ice aboard many of the steamers operating regularly to Waterford such as the SS Dunbrody and from ports which included Milford, Bristol, London, and Liverpool.

The earliest advert I could find is from the Waterford Mail – Wednesday 05 October 1853; page 1
Advert for ice from the Waterford Mail – Friday 01 August 1862; page 1. I would think it most likely that John Crawford is one in the same as the J Crawford leasing at Halfway House in 1853?
Waterford News – Friday 30 April 1869; page 2. I found adverts such as these up to 1898 in local papers

In May of 1875, Mr. Stephen’s monthly engineers report to the Harbour Board mentioned that the progress with the 2nd section of cutting (dredging) from the bridge had been impeded because of large ice ships discharging where the dredger was at work. 

Apart from my own knowledge of the icebox on the Barrow and a similar-sized Ice House in New Ross (Kelly’s Wood), the newspapers also mention one on the Manor in the city and two associated with pig production.  One at Williams St and the other in Upper Morgan St, where the Hyper Market is now located.  Both of these latter sites were of a different design and were built above the pig curing facility in the plants.  The ice was placed on iron-clad floors above these subterranean chambers and the cold penetrated the floor.  It was only required in summer but kept the meat cool as it hung for several weeks.

A description of the Queens Bacon Factory in Upper Morgan St is given here in brief  “a huge assemblage of buildings, perched on an airy height where cabbages grew until two enterprising northerners – the late Messers Richardson- covered it eleven years ago with their killing and curing houses…2000 swine bask in the disused sawdust in pens in the yard, the sawdust is used to insulate the ice in the ice house from the heat of the roof slates…700 tons of Norweigan block ice is housed in a loft over the curing floors of the factory.  They are laid out on a floor of iron and insulated by sawdust from the heat of the slates.  The ice diffuses through the floor to the cooling houses below an even temperature of about 40 degrees.  The pigs are there cooled and pickled from 10 to 20 days, according to the temperature of the season.  The final stage of the process is that the meat is packed before being exported either by the GWR Co to Milford or via the Waterford Companys Liverpool trade…” Waterford Standard – Wednesday 24 January 1877; page 3

I also found an account of one accident associated with the ice ships – “On Tuesday morning a man named Lannigan, employed board the Seagull, ice ship, unloading at the Market House Quay, fell into the hold and sustained injuries. It appears Lannigan, assisted by another man, was carrying a large block of ice, weighing over 400 pounds, when, as he was about laying it down catch a better grip, he toppled from the plank into the hold. His left temple is much cut, and one of his thighs broken.  He was immediately taken to the Workhouse Hospital, where now lies in a precarious condition.” The Munster Express – Saturday 29 April 1871; page 2

End of the ice Trade

The Ice Trade as it was known lasted up to the first world war when the dangers associated with ships crossing the North Sea brought it to a close.  Already plant ice (artificially manufactured ice) was replacing the natural cut block ice from about the 1870’s and eventually we would have fridges and freezers in our own homes.  Exactly when the ice house at Halfway House ceased operation I cannot say, but it is likely to have been in the early 20th Century.  Whenever it ended the building stands as a reminder of a very interesting and unique period of trade in our maritime history.

Interesting to note, that for some Ice Harvesting is still practiced…maybe it will make a comeback in years to come

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This year’s event is again supported by the Local Authorities Waters Programme.