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 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.”

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: 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


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

1901 Census.

The ‘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:

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.


1.  Keyes, Dermot. (2010). Mighty Suir frozen over. Munster Express. [online]. Available at: [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:  [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: [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.

Spanish fort at Passage East

Passage East stands at the head of Waterford Harbour, where a spit of sand runs out into the estuary.  Because of its location, it has long been of strategic importance.  Ships from early times could sail to the village before the rivers narrowed and were assured of a safe anchorage.   According to one of our foremost local historians, John Burke “Passage comes from the Latin word for a ferry “Passagium”.  One of the first references to the name is in the “Registrum de Kilmainham” when mention was made in 1325 of “Passagium”.  The village was well established by the 14th century.”[i]  My own research has not found any great insight into where the East came from, it does not show up in local papers until the 1830s.

Passage fort or blockhouse 1784 via BGHS

Although there was a castle in the vicinity from the time of the Knights Templer (Crooke) The first fort at Passage East was built circa 1568 by the citizens of Waterford to protect the city.  According to another local historian of note Jim Hegarty [ii]the fort was built by Spanish prisoners of war and to pay for the maintenance a tax was placed on local fishing boats called the “castle tax” which effectively meant that a portion of their catch, when sold at the fish shambles in the city, was forfeit to the city. 

John Burke at one of the popular Barony of Gaultier Historical Society summer walks (Hopefully to be returning this year after missing 2020) stated that the function of the fort was “…for the defence of the city and security of boats and ships and the maintenance of good rule and order amongst the fishermen and  in order to pay for the upkeep of the fort at Passage which defended the river, all fishing boats had to pay a toll with some of their catch”[iii]  McEnery states that “The towers primary purpose was probably to protect merchantmen from privateers”[iv]

The fort, therefore, seems to have had a role in protection not just of the city, but of the fishing boats of the estuary and lower harbour and the ships that anchored there.  Although I am using the word fort throughout, the term blockhouse is often used. A definition of which can be accessed here.

A birds eye view of the village, which includes the circular tower, via Mark Power of Waterford Epic Locations

Paul Kerrigan describes the fort as: “…a broad round tower mounting ordnance commanded the estuary and the anchorage.”[v]  Kerrigan also stated that in 1587 the tower was surrounded by a ‘tenaille trace’ as tensions mounted between England and Spain.[vi]  These works seem to have been rather a drawn out affair. In 1590 Edmund Yorke arrived from England to supervise operations and the city was to provide 150 labourers to support the necessary works at Waterford which included the Citadel in the city, Reginalds Tower, the fort on the rock (on the Ferrybank side and later to be known as Cromwells Rock) Duncannon and Passage.   However, in 1592 the Mayor of Waterford was requested to give an account of progress at Passage.  This was reported as moving along, the outer walls had been finished and only some inner works remained. [vii] Not exactly inspiring confidence or any sense of urgency or impending peril!

Passage as drawn by George Victor Du Noyer (1860s) There are remains to the left, which may or may not be assoicated with the fort

The greatest challenge to the fort came in 1649 during the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland.  Cromwells “Southern Design” was to take Ireland by “Hook or by Crooke” and although this changed when he diverted his invasion to Dublin, his troops eventually arrived at Duncannon after the fall of New Ross on 19th October.  Duncannon Fort was seen as the key to taking Waterford affording a clear water route to the navy.   The siege was commanded by Lieutenant General Michael Jones. Although Cromwell came to Duncannon to offer terms, the garrison commanded of Edward Wogan remained resolute and was untaken. Cromwell was now faced with a more difficult job at Waterford and would eventually lay a siege after his troops crossed into the county from Carrick On Suir.[viii]

Passage Fort was strengthened around this time by an extra 50 troops from the city under the command of the Marquis of Ormond.  However Michael Jones set his sights on the fort and after a surprise attack by a regiment of horse and three troops of dragoons, the gates were set alight and realising the danger, the soilders surrendered on quarter – being allowed to walk out alive.  Jones garrisoned the fort at Passage with 100 troops and then he proceeded downriver (most probably Creaden Head) where his troops captured two cannon overlooking the harbour.[ix] 

The siege of Waterford was settling in for the winter at this stage and the loss of Passage was impacting on supplies, particularly via the river.  It was decided that Passage needed to be retaken and so a plan was developed that would see troops under General O’Ferrall who were based within the city, and some of Wogans troops at Duncannon to join in a combined attack on the fort.  It commenced on the 12th December 1649 but the defenders were resolute, and four attacks were repulsed with lots of casualties, particularly from expert musketeers. [x]

An excerpt of Philips’s sketch of the Spanish Fort. I used this image in my new book as it happens. For a hi res image of the full sketch check out the NLI

On the 13th December Wogan brought over two battering guns and a mortar from Duncannon but before an attack could get under way, they were overrun by a relieving force of Cromwellian cavalry and dragoons led by Colonel Sankey.  It was a rout and the Irish troops were either killed, captured or forced to flee for their lives.[xi]

According to Jim Hegarty, Passage Hill was known as Cannon Hill from this era.[xii]

It would appear that there were some repairs carried out at Passage Fort following these events[xiii]  In 1663 Sir Willam Flower was appointed deputy Governor of Duncannon and Governor of Passage Fort.  Flower was responsible for repairing and reoccupying the fort. In 1666 extensive lands around the village were granted to Sir Nicholas Armorer, Governor of Duncannon for the use of the two forts.  In 1684 the fort mounted seven pieces of iron ordnance – a 12-pounder, a demi-culverin, three sakers and two falcons.  However the standing carraiges of the demi-culverin and one of the falcons were reported as defective. [xiv]

Perhaps the most important survey was carried out by Captain Thomas Philips circa 1685.  Philips was noted for his accuracy.  The sketch of Duncannon and Passage by Philips is certainly spot-on in terms of geographic location and positioning so it would be difficult to think that the depiction of the fort is anything other than accurate.  It shows the “Spanish Fort” at Passage as being very similar in description to the works of 1587.  The fort is seen out on the gravel spit on the lower side of the present village.[xv]

Philips plan for a new fort on Carrickcannuigh. Availble to view here at the NLI where you can increase the resolution and see the existing fort etc and Ballyhack.

Philips survey and proposals were submitted to James II in March 1686 and only Passage was recommended as offering the strategic value in terms of protecting Waterford and the three sister rivers from the threat of invasion at the time.  Philips proposals included a new fort, placed above Passage, on Carrickcannuigh Hill. This offered a direct line of fire on any fleet intending to pass the village or to land on the beach below.[xvi]

Paul Kerrigan gave this synopsis in the local Decies or the two principle forts protecting the city following Philips assessment   “At Duncannon there was one 24-pounder, two culverins (18-pounders), two 12-pounders , three demi-culverins , twenty two sakers and various smaller pieces. This was considerably less than the new Charles Fort at Kinsale – also badly sited like Duncannon- where there were five demi-cannon (32-pounders), three 24-pounders,twenty-one culverins, three 12-pounders, sixteen demi-culverins and many smaller pieces… At Passage the guns listed by Phillips were two demi-culverins, three sakers and two falcons, a small armament for such an important position to defend the estuary, a short distance from Duncannon on the opposite shore. Both Passage and Duncannon should have been provided with batteries of culverins or 24-pounders, which had a range of somewhat over a mile; with Passage and Duncannon some two miles apart the estuary between them and the deep-water channel off Duncannon would then have been adequately covered, making it difficult for enemy warships to sail upstream.”[xvii]

Sir James Jeffreys was appointed Govenor of Duncannon and Passage forts by Willaim III and held that position between 1690 and 1698.  Some of the works at Passage during his tenure included:

  • June 17th 1691 – paid Denis Sullivan for covering the castle in the fort with deal boards, mending the stairs and making beds for the soldiers
  •  July 10th 1691 – paid Richard Hughs for works at Passage
  • Aug 6th 1691 –paid Edward Spry for repairs at Passage
  • Oct 5th 1692 – paid John Dunn for repirs to the iron gate at Passage
  • Nov 23rd 1694 – paid H Parkes for several wateraills and mending the guardhouse

Despite these repairs, in 1711 the Duke of Ormond had the ordnance and other material at Passage removed [xviii]

Charles Vallency toured the southern Irish defences in 1777-8.  He was highly critical of Duncannon and it appears only the walls were still standing at Passage at the time.  He recommended that the battery be reinforced, with six 24-pounders and with mortars which would would delay any enemy force from passing or landing.  Vallency urged the same defences to be installed at “Faithlegg Point” which I presume would most likely mean the Mount at Cheekpoint.[xix]

With the outbreak of the American wars and the alliance with France, defences were upgraded and and Passage was revived.  Five 24-pounders and three 12-pounders were situated at the fort and a barrack to accommodate an artillery detachment.  This work took place between 1779-83 and was abandoned again within the next ten years.[xx]

Julians photo here of Passage east blockhouse

When war with France came, invasion was again a threat, and Charles Tarrant of the Royal Irish Engineers reported on the defences around the country.  His views on Waterford in 1796 included a proposal to reconstruct the now derelict battery at Passage to provide cross fire with the guns at Duncannon.[xxi] Interestingly the White Wall at Passage dates to this time,. I always thought of it as a sea defence, but perhaps it had a military defensive purpose? Over the next number of years Martello towers and signal towers were constructed to provide defence and advance warning and troop numbers were added to repulse any invasion.  The two Martello towers at Duncannon were built to counter one of the forts biggest weaknesses, its subspeciality to attack from higher ground.  With the defeat of the French at Waterloo we can only surmise that Passage fort was forgotten as an unnecessary defence.

I’m sure that over time the fort and its walls crumbled and disappeared.  Some into new buildings or developments at the village for example the extension of the main quay in 1870 or the building of the new smokehouse in the early 20th C. The relentless erosion of the sea probably played a part too.  All that remains now are some paintings, sketches and a small round flanker tower associated with the outer defences.

All that remains of a long history. Photo credit Michae Farrell BGHS 2014

Obviously much of the story remains to be told.  What role if any did Passage East play in those many centuries of use.  Or was it just fort that was used as and when needs must, and was then left vacant and neglected.  It certainly appears so.  One mention I found that might suggest an involvement with the Fort was after the Ulster Rebellion of 1641.  The English living in the city of Waterford were expelled ( apparently 350 men women and children were sent to Passage and I can only imagine they were confined within the walls of the Fort).  Later protestants living outside the city were rounded up, initially held in the city and then sent to Passage too.  Others were held at Duncannon and according to Power 48 people died.[xxii]  Its not clear in the account what happened to these people afterwards, but perhaps they were shipped out of the country.

Did the fort have any other part to play in significant events?  Too often Passage is stated but no details are given.  For example after the Battle of the Boyne King Billy left from the village, did he even give a passing glance to the fort?  Or when the Croppies were being marched for transportation to the village from Geneva Barracks, were they held within its walls prior to transhipment.  There must have been other purposes to the fort as a military establishment – if anyone has other insights or information I’d be delighted to hear them.

I’d like to thank the work of Julian, John and Jim who I have referenced in this piece, as I would have nothing to really go on without their work. Also thanks to my cousin James Doherty for some feedback and loan of resources.

[i] From an article by John Burke in the Barony of Gaultier Historical Societys Barony Echo. Accessed Saturday 23/1/2021

[ii] Jim Hegarty Time & Tide pp7-8

[iii] Accessed Saturday 23/1/2021

[iv] John Hartnett McEnery.  Fortress Ireland.  2006.  Wordwell Books.  Wicklow p7

[v] Paul Kerrigan.  Castles and Fortifications in Ireland 1485-1945.  1995.  Collins Press Cork. P37

[vi] Ibid p4

[vii] Ibin pp 41-41

[viii] Julian Walton with Frank O’Donoghue. On This Day Vol 1. 2013.  pp 100-01

[ix] Ibid pp102-3

[x] Ibid pp104-5

[xi] Ibid pp 104-5

[xii] Jim Hegarty Time & Tide p8

[xiii] Kerrigan p101

[xiv] Julian C. Walton Aspects of Passage East, Part II , Decies No. 11 , (May 1979) p 17

[xv] Accessed from 22/1/2021

[xvi] Kerrigan p114-117 and also

[xvii] Paul M. Kerrigan, The Fortifications of Waterford, Passage and Duncannon 1495 to 1690, Decies  #19      Summer 1985 pp13-23

[xviii] Julian C. Walton Aspects of Passage East, Part II , Decies No. 11 , (May 1979) p 20

[xix] Kerrigan p144

[xx] Ibid p149

[xxi] Ibid p150

[xxii] Patrick C Power.  History of Waterford City & County.  1990.  Mercier Press. Dublin pp 73-75

Dauntless Courage – Book Review

The arrival of Dauntless Courage, Celebrating the History of the RNLI Lifeboats, their crews and the Maritime Heritage of the Dunmore East Community was greeted with a wave of conflicting emotions this week.  Joy at seeing the book finally in print, tears of relief after two years of work and pride in the satisfaction of realising a book conceived and raised within a community of volunteers that makes up the RNLI.

Opening the book was a thrill, and the satisfaction of the smell of all those tightly bound hard covered pages only heightened the expectation that comes whenever I open a book.  Sometimes the first impressions are let down however, but not in this instance.  From the wonderful historic painting on the cover by local marine artist Brian Cleare through to the hundreds of photos and images on the inside, the quality of all are amazing and really bring the book to life. 

Running to almost 380 pages author David Carroll takes us on a journey through Dunmore.  Quite rightly in my view, David doesn’t start with the first lifeboat, Henry Dodd, in 1884.  He starts from the outset of the small little fishing hamlet through to the building of the pier and the coming of the mail packet.  Throughout, David continues to ground the lifeboat service in the community of Dunmore and in the life and times of the community which serves to remind the reader that unlike perhaps any other volunteer service, the RNLI relies on the maritime community in which it resides.

David captures some of the more heroic rescues of the past such as the rescue of five fishermen aboard the St Declan in 1952 which saw Paddy Billy Power and Richard Power receive awards for their valour through to the more mundane, but no less important shouts such as the provisioning and repairs to the SS Pauline in Tramore Bay in December 1932.  The book is so up to date, it even includes the Lily B rescue carried out off the Hook in October of this year.

Annie Blanch Smith at Dinmore 1958. John Aylward photo.

There are also the first person accounts from personalities in the area, people that are synonymous with the service such as Joefy Murphy, Frances Glody or John Walsh.  Sadly one of those recorded died before the book came to print, Stephen Whittle.  But this just highlights the importance of the book still further, in capturing and recording the first person accounts of those who have given so much.

It also records the crew, and the photos of those behind the scenes, the station support, the fundraising committee, the less glamorous jobs but without which such a service has no hope of maintaining itself.

The book is a testament to the volunteer committee that established around David to fundraise to bring the book to fruition.  It is also a timely boost to the fundraising fortunes of the station in these covid restrictive times.  But it is also a testament to the abilities of David Carroll, ably supported by his wife Pauline, and his deep regard for Dunmore and the people of the RNLI that the book has come to print. 

David in company with Brendan Dunne; lifeboat volunteer and a driving force behind the project

Dauntless Courage, Celebrating the History of the RNLI Lifeboats, their crews and the Maritime Heritage of the Dunmore East Community is David’s first book, but I hope it won’t be his last.  It deserves to be read by anyone with an interest in Dunmore East, anyone who enjoys maritime history, and anyone who supports the work of the RNLI.

The book is currently flying off the shelves. For stockists of the book and online orders check out the project website