Captain Tom Donohue’s remarkable war afloat

David Carroll, author of Dauntless Courage, and a regular and ever-popular guest blogger with the page, brings us the story of Waterford sea Captain Tom Donohue who died on this day in 1949.

When Captain Tom Donohue, a fifty-nine-year-old native of Dungarvan, and the most renowned member of its maritime community, took command of the MV Kerlogue of Wexford in late 1943, he was no stranger to the shocking violence encountered at sea in World War ΙΙ and very much aware that neutrality was no safeguard for Irish seafarers.

Captain Tom Donohue. Courtesy of Waterford County Museum

The MV Kerlogue (335 tons) was built in Rotterdam in 1939, just prior to the outbreak of World War II for the Wexford Steamship Company. By late 1943, the neutral Kerlogue had been attacked by both sides as well as saving the crew of a Liverpool collier. As we shall read, she would go on to take part in one of most amazing and dramatic rescue operations of World War ΙΙ.

MV Kerlogue off Tuskar Rock, painted by maritime artist, Brian Cleare.

Back in 1941, Captain Donohue was in command of the Lady Belle of Dungarvan. Built in 1900, by J Fullerton & Co. at Paisley in Scotland, the Lady Belle was 140 ft in length, 24 ft beam, and had a cargo capacity of about 330 tons. She had been purchased by the Moloney Steamship Company of Dungarvan in 1925.

On March 26th, 1941, the Lady Belle was attacked from the air by the Luftwaffe while on a voyage from Dungarvan to Cardiff to collect a cargo of coal for her owners, A Moloney & Sons Ltd., Dungarvan. Ten miles SE of the Smalls, at the entrance to the Bristol Channel, she became the target of one of the many marauding German planes that pillaged the British coast. Although severely damaged, she made it to Milford Haven, under her own steam in a crippled condition. The crew was uninjured. She was sold soon after to Sheehan and Sullivan of Cork.

SS Lady Belle of Dungarvan.

The Lady Belle is still fondly remembered in the folklore and maritime heritage of Dungarvan. It also gives it name to a well-known pub, located in Grattan Square, Dungarvan.

On October 7th 1941, while sailing from Port Talbot in Wales to Rosslare, MV Kerlogue was damaged by a mine but survived. Earlier in that same year, on April 2nd, a British convoy was attacked by German bombers. Distress signals were seen by the Kerlogue, which altered course and went to aid of the disabled Wild Rose, a collier from Liverpool. The crew members were rescued and the Kerlogue managed to tow the Wild Rose and beach her on the strand at Rosslare.

In May 1943, Tom Donohue was serving on the SS Irish Oak, homeward bound from Tampa, Florida to Dublin with a cargo of 8,000 tons of phosphate fertiliser. At 08.19hrs on May 15th, when 700 miles west of Ireland, she was torpedoed and sunk without warning by
a then-unknown German submarine. Later it transpired that the identity of the submarine was U-608. Another submarine U-650 had encountered the Irish Oak on the previous day. The Irish Plane, the Irish Rose, and the Irish Ash responded to the SOS. The full crew of survivors was located by the Irish Plane, having spent eight hours in lifeboats and were landed at Cobh on May 19th.

May 1943 saw the greatest losses suffered by U-boats up to that time, with 41 being destroyed during the month- 25% of the operational U-boats. On May 24th, the German Naval Commander Karl Dönitz ordered a temporary halt to the U-boat campaign. Sadly, for the Irish Oak, this withdrawal had come too late.

Artistic impression of the sinking of the SS Irish Oak, May 15th,1943, 700 miles west of Ireland. Kenneth King Image courtesy of Cormac Lowth

Later that year, on October 23rd, 1943, 130 miles south of Ireland, on passage to Lisbon with a cargo of coal, MV Kerlogue was circled by a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Sunderland flying boat. Three hours later, she was attacked by two unidentified aircraft for over twenty minutes. Another RAAF Sunderland came on the scene and the Kerlogue signaled, requesting an escort and medical assistance. The Sunderland replied that help could not be given. The severely damaged Kerlogue limped back to Cobh, where it was found that the cargo of coal had saved her; without it, the shells would have penetrated the hull. The ammunition fragments were found to be of British origin. The identity of the attackers remained a secret until the thirty-year rule released Air Ministry documents into the Public Records Office at Kew, London.1 The aircraft were found to have been Mosquito fighters of No 307 Polish Night Fighter Squadron.

The Master of the Kerlogue on that voyage, Captain Desmond Fortune had both his legs fractured. The attack left Captain Fortune relying on crutches and suffering from wounds he received for the rest of his life. Second Officer Samuel Owens had shrapnel fragments in his chest and John Boyce of Rosslare and Jim Carty of Wexford were also injured.

The Kerlogue was repaired in Cork and on December 27th, 1943, with Captain Tom Donohue now in command, departed from Lisbon homeward bound to Dublin with a cargo of oranges.

All hopes that the Captain and crew had of having a trouble-free voyage were soon dashed. At first light on December 29th, the Irish vessel was in a position some 360 miles equidistant south of Fastnet and west of Brest, was repeatedly circled by a German aircraft signaling an SOS, and that help was required in a south-easterly direction. Kerlogue altered course and after two hours steaming came upon the most appalling aftermath of naval warfare from the previous day.

The German Narvik-class destroyer Z27 and two Elbing class torpedo boats, T25 and T26, had been sunk. More than seven hundred men, most of them dead, were in the water. The sea all around the Kerlogue was covered with men floating on rafts, on the wreckage, and in lifejackets.

These sailors had intended to escort Alsterufer, a German blockade runner, which was on a voyage from Kobe, Japan to occupied France with a cargo of rubber and other strategic war materials. The Admiralty in London had mounted ‘Operation Stonewall’ to intercept blockade runners and the cruisers HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise sailed from Plymouth to intercept her. An intense naval battle took place in the Bay of Biscay and in the action the two British cruisers, despite being outnumbered, sank the German ships with their 6-inch guns. Unknown to them, Alsterufer had been set on fire by a Liberator aircraft of 311 Squadron, RAF, and sunk on the previous day, December 27th.

Bay of Biscay where a fierce naval battle took place on December 28th, 1943.

“As rafts rose into view on the crests of the giant waves, we could see men on them and others clinging to their sides. At first, we did not know whether they were Allied or Axis until somebody noticed the long ribbons trailing downwards from behind a seaman’s cap which denoted that they were German Navy men.” 2

Captain Frank Forde in his excellent book, ‘The Long Watch: World War ΙΙ and the Irish Mercantile Marine’, graphically describes the action:

“For ten hours the rescue work continued, Kerlogue moving from group to group, dragging exhausted men, many ill-clad and suffering from exposure, on board. Cabins, storerooms, and alleyways were soon packed with shivering, soaked and sodden men; others were placed in the engine-room where it became so crowded that Chief Engineer Eric Giggins could not move around to tend his machinery, and so by signs – as none spoke English- he got the survivors to move the instruments he could not reach. Fourteen men were packed into the tiny wheelhouse, leaving the helmsman, Able Seaman Thomas Grannell of Wexford, barely room to steer. Captain Donohue had the most seriously injured placed in his cabin, and assisted by Third Officer, Garret Roche, began first-aid treatment. It was a hopeless task; there was no doctor on board, or amongst the Germans, and medical supplies were totally inadequate for the numerous injured. One man was burned from head to foot and though conscious when taken on board, died a few hours later. Another two died during the night. It began to grow dark about 4pm, but the rescue work continued by floodlight until 9pm when, with 168 survivors on board, Captain Donohue turned north for Ireland.”

Lieutenant-Commander Joachim Quedenfelt was the senior German Officer that was rescued. He was in command of the 1,300-ton torpedo destroyer T26. Out of a crew of 206, Kerlogue picked up 93 from this vessel. The German Officer described how after a night on a raft, he watched the next morning “the little ship bravely moving through enormous waves to pick up more and more of my comrades.” 3.

Lieutenant-Commander Quedenfelt requested that the ship sail to La Rochelle or Brest in France to land his men. Captain Donohue steadfastly refused, which was a very brave act when you consider the Germans outnumbered the Irish crew.

A roll call and inspection of the survivors after their first night aboard Kerlogue disclosed that three sailors had died. During the afternoon of December 30th, the Kerlogue stopped and the sailors were buried at sea. Subsequently, another wounded sailor died but it was decided to retain his body on board for burial in Ireland.

Under the terms of the navicert issued to Captain Donohue by the British Naval Authorities at the beginning of the voyage, he should have headed to Fishguard for examination and clearance before proceeding to Dublin. (The navicert was a permit given to neutral ships by the British Authorities that required them to call at a designated UK port for examination and clearance on both outward and homeward legs of their voyages from Ireland.) Because of the condition of the survivors and shortage of supplies, Captain Donohue headed for Cork, the nearest Irish port.

The Kerlogue maintained radio silence for fear of drawing attention to its destination. As luck would have it, the cargo of oranges proved to be valuable in sustaining the German sailors on the voyage and preventing dehydration. To avoid being spotted by Allied planes, the sailors were kept out of sight below decks during daylight hours, only coming on deck for fresh air at night.

At 22.00hrs on December 31st, when about 30 miles south of Fastnet, Kerlogue, broke radio silence and advised Valentia radio of their position and that they had 164 survivors on board, seven of them seriously wounded and one dead body. They requested medical aid on arrival. Valentia acknowledged the message and signed off with ’Well done, Kerlogue’. Fifteen minutes later, Land’s End Radio in Cornwall broadcast a message, which was repeated every fifteen minutes, instructing Kerlogue to proceed to Fishguard as required by the conditions of her navicert. This order was ignored by Captain Donohue, who acted in the tradition of Admiral Nelson’s ‘blind eye’ and switched off his radio receiver.

MV Kerlogue is met by the Irish Marine Service patrol vessel Muirchú and Motor Torpedo Boat, M1 at Roche’s Point at the entrance to Cork Harbour, January 1st, 1944. Painting by Brian Cleare and by kind permission of Mr Eoghan Allan of Cobh.

Captain Donohue described the homecoming as follows:
“At 10 am on Saturday, New Year’s Day 1944, we stopped off at Roche’s Point. Doctors boarded the vessel and sent some of the survivors ashore. I then proceeded into the harbour and docked at the deep-water quay in Cobh. I was boarded by the ship’s owners together with Naval, Military, and Red Cross people as well as some people of Cobh. The wounded men were removed ashore together with all other survivors. The crew and me went to the hotel for a good wash, food, and, needless to say, sleep. I had all the beds and bedding removed from the Kerlogue. Crew’s quarters cleaned, washed, and fumigated by shore people. We left Cobh on Sunday, January 2, shortly after 4 pm bound for Fishguard for examination.” 4.

The German sailors were taken to Collins Barracks, Cork, where one of the wounded, Petty Officer Helmut Weiss, died from burns. Along with Lieut. Braatz, who had died at sea, the two sailors were buried in Cobh but re-interred later in the German War Cemetery at Glencree, Co Wicklow. Once the other sailors were declared fit, they were transferred to the Curragh Internment Camp for the duration of the war.

When Kerlogue reached Fishguard, to obtain her clearance, Captain Donohue underwent what he described in the newspaper article by Tom Tobin, as ‘his most trying experience of all’. The senior British naval officer raged at Captain Donohue for not bringing the Germans to the Welsh port and threatened to withdraw the ship’s navicert. It was described as an ugly scene as the irate Dungarvan man, flushed with anger, reminded the shouting bully that his only concern was to save life. It was to the credit of the other Royal Navy officers listening, that they apologised for this ill-mannered outburst. 5

The Kerlogue eventually docked in Dublin on January 5th, 1944. A letter from Dr. Eduard Hempel, German Minister to Ireland, was delivered to Captain Donohue. In it, he expressed, ‘To you and your crew my profound gratitude as well as my high appreciation of the unhesitating valiant spirit which has prompted you to perform this exemplary deed, worthy of the great tradition of Irish gallantry and humanity. I hope to make your personal acquaintance soon.’ 6 Later, Dr. Hempel presented a solid silver cup to Captain Donohue with smaller replicas for each of the other members of the crew on behalf of the German Government.

Captain Tom Donohue died on December 2nd, 1949, and is buried on the grounds of Abbeyside Church near Dungarvan. John Young, the recently deceased Dungarvan maritime historian, previously remarked on how poignant it is that he was buried in a site that is only fifty yards from the sea.

In 1994, a Commemorative Service was held in Abbeyside Church to mark the 50th anniversary of the rescue. A wreath was laid on the grave of Captain Donohue and the ceremony was attended by members and relatives of his family, survivors, Naval and Diplomatic personnel, and Public Representatives.

Commemorative Service held in Abbeyside Church, May 29th, 1994. Photos: Waterford Co Museum
Kerlogue memorial on the Crescent, Wexford Quay. Image courtesy of Leo Coy

In 2015, a memorial was unveiled at Crescent Quay, Wexford to honour the ten men who risked their own lives in December 1943 to save the lives of others, responding to the age-long code of the sea- help a fellow seaman in distress.

David recently gave a public lecture on his book Dauntless Courage, which is now available to be viewed.

Bibliography:
The Long Watch by Captain Frank Forde, Gill, and Macmillan, 1981
‘The Kerlogue Incident’ by Patrick Sweeney, Maritime Journal of Ireland, Spring 1994, No. 31
A Maritime and General History of Dungarvan 1690-1978 by John Young
‘Why oranges were scarce that 1943 Christmas’. Newspaper article by Tom Tobin. Kindly made available by Waterford County Museum.

References:

1 The Long Watch, page 118.

2 The Long Watch, pages 119 /120. Words spoken by Chief Officer, Denis Valencie

3 The Long Watch, page 121.

4 ‘Why oranges were scarce that 1943 Christmas’. By Tom Tobin

5 The Long Watch, page 123.

6 Ibid.

Many thanks to Brian Ellis, Honorary Librarian, National Maritime Museum, and Willie Fraher and staff of Waterford County Museum for their assistance with this article.

A model of MV Kerlogue and other interesting information is on display at the National Maritime Museum, Haigh Terrace, Dún Laoghaire.

Arrival of the new Port Láirge

On the 18th of November, a significant piece of local maritime history was created when the new pilot launch Port Láirge was received by Port of Waterford at Dunmore East.

‘Port Láirge’ is a name well known in the maritime heritage in Waterford. The previous namesake Portlairge was the much-loved steam dredger that served on the Suir from her arrival on the 10th September 1907 until she broke down in late 1982.

The Portlairge, in her heyday, was so identifiable with Waterford that I chose it for my recent books cover from an original image by Jonathan Allen. Press on the photo if you would like a signed copy for a present this Christmas 🙂

The origin of the place name of course is contested. According to one of our foremost young historians Cian Manning, Port Láirge translates in English as ‘Port of a Thigh’ with one origin story attributing the name to the tragic fate of a young prince named Rot. He was attracted to sea by sirens, the winged mythical female creatures, perhaps seeking an intellectual conversation when he is then torn limb from limb with his thigh bone washing ashore at Port Láirge. I have also read that Láirge may have been a person, or indeed that looked down on from Mount Misery, the shape of the Suir at the city may suggest the shape of a thigh. Think I prefer Cian’s theory 🙂

Pictured at the Dunmore East pontoon taking receipt of the new Port of Waterford Pilot Boat,‘Port Láirge’, are from left: Captain Darren Doyle Port of Waterford, Joefy Murphy from Dunmore East, John Glody from Dunmore East, and Sean Whitty from Passage East. Photo: Mary Browne

Back to the boat. The €1m all-weather 15-meter interceptor was built by Safehaven Marine in Youghal Co Cork which was established in 1998 and employs 30 people. They have built over 110 vessels in that time including 48 pilot boats from all over the world. Their latest will be based at Dunmore East and will provide safer working conditions for pilotage personnel. The vessel is self-righting and capable of recovering if capsized by a large breaking wave. The vessel also offers a reduction in fuel emissions and is a more efficient pilot launch vessel for the Port of Waterford. More info on the design of Port Láirge here.

On Sea Trials. Courtesy of Safehaven Marine
Cockpit with all the mod cons. Courtesy of Safehaven Marine
Plenty of room and comfort for pilots. Courtesy of Safehaven Marine

On the Port of Waterford website Capt Darren Doyle, Harbourmaster, said, “We along with the maritime community here in Waterford are delighted with the new addition to the fleet of Port vessels. The work of the pilot crew is highly skilled and it requires a state-of-the-art vessel to ensure that this work can be carried out year-round in all weather conditions.”

As the ‘Port Láirge’ arrived off Dunmore East she shadowed the pilot launch she will replace ‘Tom Brennan‘. A pilot had just been boarded to the bulk carrier Minneapolis Miyo IMO 9875721 inbound to Port of Waterford from Taranto in Italy. Photo: Safehaven Marine

I think it’s important to mark the arrival of Port Láirge. For not alone is it an important event in the harbour, it’s also a vote of confidence in the ongoing running of the Port of Waterford and indeed to a lesser extent New Ross.

But in its own way, this event will one day be history too. From bitter personal experience, I know that such events will at some point in the future elude researchers. Time and again I endure the frustration of searching the internet and written sources to piece together the events of relevance to our maritime community.

David Carroll is currently helping me to try to track down the first pilot boats to work in the harbour via the National Archives. To date, we can say that following the establishment of the Harbour Board in 1816 the first such vessel that we could name was the pilot cutter Scott in 1824. We have managed to piece together many other vessels that served the pilots since. Post-publication fellow blogger Pete Goulding of Pete’s Irish Lighthouses fame contacted me with details of the pilot cutter Caroline in operation in January 1818.

Dunmore as it would have looked in the era of the Gannet and the arrival of the Betty Breen

And we know that although the majority of pilot vessels were bought second-hand and repurposed from fishing boats and pleasure craft, a small number were purpose-built for the pilot service. For example in  1856 the Gannet,  described as a pilot cutter 58ft x 16ft x 9ft and 40tons burden, was built and launched from Whites shipyard in Ferrybank, Waterford. It later came to a sticky end in December 1863 off Creaden Head. And in October 1951 the Betty Breen was launched from Tyrell’s boatyard in Arklow, operating from Dunmore East until 1993.

If you want a sense of what this new vessel can do, check out this video of her rough weather sea trials of punching through breakers in force 10 winds

So in marking the arrival of a new, Irish-made, purpose-built, vessel for the piloting service we are not just acknowledging a new boat. We are celebrating a long and proud tradition in seamanship, seafaring, and commercial activity that has enhanced and grown not just Waterford and New Ross, but the region itself. A major milestone, and for me anyway, a vote of confidence in the harbour for many more years to come.

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.


Halfway House and Jack Meades Pub

Halfway House

For this year’s Heritage Week event, and specifically Water Heritage Day I wanted to showcase a unique water-related site at the popular bar and restaurant known now as Jack Meades, but previously it was more commonly called Halfway House.  Over the next few Fridays, I will focus on some of the aspects of the site in the context of the historic role of the stream, Ballycanvan Pill, and the River Suir.  In this post I want to look at the location and the pub. 

Introduction

Water plays a crucial role in all our lives.  However, in previous generations, it had an added importance related to transport. Ships plied the ocean waves carrying freight and passengers around the globe, the rivers were a vital infrastructure allowing goods to be carried from and to inland locations that could take many days and significant expense to journey by poor and limited roadway.  I believe it was in this era that the placename “Halfway House” was born and the location originated; a halfway point from Waterford City to the busy shipping stop-off point that was Passage East and later Cheekpoint. 

Geography of the site

Halfway House is situated at a crossing point of Ballycanvan stream and Pill.  A Pill is a common enough word locally, originating in Norman times I understand and generally referring to a tidal stream.  The Pill is tidal (ie the river rises and falls to that point) up to the bridge, a fresh water stream lies above this and it must have been an ancient fording point of the stream. 

A sense of the location – OSI Historic Maps

The main road between Cheekpoint and Waterford comes through the site, but in the past it was also a roadway from Passage and Crooke to the city, joining the main road at Carraiglea and what we locally call Strongbows Bridge.  The current Passage and Crooke Road crosses over the bridge now at the site but that’s a more recent development,

Boundary sign from 1980 on the city side of the bridge. Authors Photo.

The site also marks three distinctive administrative boundaries.    As you cross the stream towards the city you leave the county boundary and enter the city.  It also marks the meeting of three District Electoral Divisions (DED’s) Faithlegg, Ballymaclode and Woodstown.  Within this it is also subdivided into six townlands, all of which converge at the crossing; Ballycanvan, Ballynaboola, Ballyvoreen, Ballymaclode, Ballygunnertemple, and Cross.  It was/is also surrounded by several large houses including Ballycanvan, Woodlands, Brooke Lodge, Mount Druid, and Blenheim.

Interestingly, the area was once commonly referred to as Alwyardstown, Baile an Adhlar Taigh – a historic reference to the first Norman-era landlord who ruled from Faithlegg an area of about 6000 acres that stretched from Cheekpoint and Passage to Ballytruckle in the city. Authors Photo

Irelands only Flyover Pub!

Before we leave the geographic description, it is worth explaining the bridge that currently stands as a means of travelling towards Passage East. You see the bridge is a relatively new construct (circa 1860) and it was apparently built at a time when a local business family, the Malcomsons (of Portlaw milling and Waterford ship owning and shipbuilding fame), were trying to gather investors to build a railway line to Passage East to take time off the journey from the city to Milford Haven. The plan failed, although the bridge was built, although the use of rail was later successfully implemented when in 1906 the SW Wexford rail line was built to connect the city with Rosslare and via ferry to Fishguard.

Passage East – Days of Sail and Cheekpoint and the Mail Packet

The place name of Halfway House is a common enough one.  According to my Oxford Dictionary, the term Halfway House has four meanings in the modern sense but perhaps the oldest and more historical based is a midpoint between two towns.  In this case, it’s a mid-point between Waterford city and initially the busy stop off point for shipping at Passage East and later Cheekpoint. 

A busy scene at Passage East in the late 18th century via BGHS http://gaultierhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com/2014/

Passage East was historically and administratively part of Waterford city, primarily in my opinion, because it was central to shipping.  Passage was the point where ships could relatively easily sail to; beyond Passage the river narrows, sailing was more difficult and so before the coming of steam power Passage was a much more accessible spot to anchor. 

Ships entering port could anchor relatively safely between Passage and Ballyhack.  There the customs could check on cargo and ensure the appropriate rates were applied.  Ships could be emptied by the Lighters and a myriad number of trades could be employed in looking after the ship’s needs.  Horse-drawn traffic would have abounded including carriages, carts, joulters, jarveys and so many other horse-driven transports. Passengers and goods would have been transported both to and from the area.  At a later point when the official Mail Packet Service was established at Cheekpoint in 1787, trade would have flourished to the village. 

As a consequence, these horse-drawn transports would have required a stop-off point.  The freshwater stream would have looked after the horses needs.  The pub would have catered for the men! On Redmond’s Hill, a forge operated by a family of the same name operated within living memory and it must have had a good market given the level of trade that would have passed the door. The site also had a shop, a post office and there were a great number of homes for those employed either in the big houses, the farms or in the businesses around the area.

Jack Meades Pub/ Halfway House

Over the door, on the way into the old bar at Jack Meades it states that the pub was founded in 1705.  It was recorded in November 1710, that one Jenkin Richards leased the Inn from William Harrison who lived at the time at Ballycanvan House. Richards was said to lease “the house commonly called or known by the name of “Halfway House”

The door to the old pub. Authors Photo.
Jack Meades Pub or Halfway House. Andrew Doherty

James Guest, (how’s that for a landlords name) and his son John were running the pub in 1721 and the family lived on the premises. The last of the family recorded were the brothers Robert and James Guest who dropped their lease in the 1770’s.  In the mid 19th Century,  1857 to be exact, the landlord of the pub was John Curtain.  When Curtain died, his daughter Elizabeth Meade took over.  Her son Thomas Meade was next to inherit, passing it on in turn to his son John, commonly called Jack. Jack ran it up to the 1970s at which point it passed to his own daughter Carmel. Carmel and her husband Willie Hartley run it still, although it has grown in size in the intervening period, and their son Liam runs the busy food part of the business.

It’s had a difficult time over the last two years as they have tried to survive financially during the Covid 19 pandemic, but it’s interesting to think that it survived the earlier Cholera outbreaks, the famine, and the Spanish flu. 

The site of course has many other water related features, and these I will explore over the new few weeks in the run into National Heritage Week 2021 and specifically Water Heritage Day on Sunday 22nd August 2021.  My original plan was to do a booklet of these pieces of information to be available for a guided walk on the site. However, due to my Covid concerns, this is still not a certainty. I might opt for an online presentation instead. This work will be supported by the Local Authority Waters Programme.

Next week – the two agricultural water-powered corn mills on the site, their design, operation, and the relevance of the stream and the tidal Pill in their operation.

My appearance on RTE Seascapes

On Friday 16th April I appeared on Seascapes, the RTÉ Radio 1 maritime programme with Fergal Keane. Fergal very kindly interviewed me about my book Waterford Harbour Tides and Tales. We covered the background to my blogging and writing, discussed the importance of Waterford as a port, and finished with the story of the Portlairge. If you would like to listen back the link is below.

https://www.rte.ie/radio/radioplayer/html5/#/radio1/11298779

Back as normal on the last Friday of the month.