Last week I visited Ballyhack Castle
in Co Wexford with my wife Deena. It was a bit of a day out, and most enjoyable as the sun shone, entry to the castle was free and neither of us had a care in the world on a welcome day off for us both. Later I posted about it on Facebook which drew a huge reaction, and it got me thinking. Firstly, there is so much available to us to see and do, that is literally under our feet. All it needs is a bit of planning. But it also got me to reminiscing about my first visit to the “hackers” when I was only a garsún and what an adventure it was.
I think it was 1978 when on a bright and clear Saturday, Jimmy Duffin announced that we would go for an adventure. Jimmy was a year or two older and basically whatever Jimmy decided was right and fine by us. So we set off up the High Road, along the Coolbunnia Road, over the Hurthill and down to Passage East. On the main quay Jimmy hoisted a flag on a short pole, and there we waited. In our company was William Elliott and Michael Duffin. I can’t recall if anyone else had come along, but if they did it would have been Michael Moran and Brendan Foley.
|Ballyhack circa 1970 courtesy of Brendan Grogan
According to Jimmy, he’d been over to visit his auntie Anne (White) and her family dozens of times, hoisting the flag was the method by which you called over the ferry to cross the expanse of water that separates Waterford from Wexford, Munster from Leinster. I have to admit I had my doubts. Standing on the quay, feet shifting nervously, conscious that the “sharks” of Passage didn’t take kindly to us Cheekpoint lads coming into their patch (not that it would any different if reversed), disparagingly referred to as “mudlarks” by some or shortened to “pointers” by most. Voicing my concern Jimmy was all bravado, shur wasn’t his cousins the Heffernans of Passage and everyone knew Sean Heffernan would break them in two if the looked crooked at his younger cousin.
Eventually, a boat was seen to depart from Ballyhack
quay and as the half decker without even a cabin pulled in to Passage a soft capped man called up to ask would we risk setting sail with him. Before we were in and settled Jim Roche had the measure of us, our parents and all belonging to us, and he chatted away about sailors and fishermen he had known from Cheekpoint, and of course he knew all our fathers. I have no recollection of payment, the reality is we would not have had much between us.
Community Notice Board
Don’t forget the Beat the Ferryman event Saturday 23rd June. As good a spectacle as anything you will see, and a great day out. Cheekpoint Fun day takes part the following day Sunday June 24th.
In Ballyhack we wandered around like lost souls. Apparently there was a football match on, and the village was practically empty. I can only remember that we tried to get access to the castle but it was barred to us and inhospitable looking. One other memory stands out of the day, as we met a lovely man with a jackdaw named “Jack” who asked after us and made us feel right at home. Maria Doyle told me during the week that this was Muck King, and that working in the OPW he often came across a hurt jackdaw, which he adopted and nursed back to health. He had a succession of such birds, all named Jack! She remembered one such bird that Muck fashioned a helmet for from a golf ball, which travelled everywhere with him on the handlebars of his Honda 50.
When it was time to return we strolled over towards the quay and signaled to Jim, who was sitting “in his office” as he described it, the window of Watty Byrnes Pub
, from which he could monitor his fares over and back the river. As fisherboys we would be in an out of Watty’s a lot in the future first to the shop for sweets and large bottles of pop, and later for large bottles of harder stuff.
|Deena getting some fascinating info from Bob Doyle on other off the beaten track sites to visit.
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Arriving home that evening in the 1970’s I must have presented a tired, bedraggled and hungry sight in the Mount Avenue. Coming in the gate my father, who was in the front garden, asked where I had been and laughed to himself when I answered. My mother hearing us came out, I suppose she had been worried, but it of course never entered me head. “Where we ya” she asked. “The buckos went gallivanting to Ballyhack” was all me father had to say before he cleared off to let me mother do the chastisement. He was probably making a mental note of the large bottle he would owe Jim Roche the next time they met on the high stool.
Last week Deena and I needed to raise no flag as the present Passage East Ferry sails like clockwork between the two villages, in everything except the most exceptional of weathers. For €2 pp we walked on and off and this time Ballyhack Castle was open to the public, fully restored and really a gem of tower house to visit. It’s free and is open Saturday-Wednesday all summer from 9.30-5pm. Bob Doyle, Maria’s brother in law, is one of the guides, and if you like talking history, you’ll enjoy a chat with Bob.
Thanks to Maria Doyle, who grew up with Ballyhack castle in her garden, for helping me with the details of this piece. Maria’s mam, Anne White nee Fortune (RIP) was Jimmy’s aunt and, coincidentally, a great friend of my grandmothers.
I publish a blog about Waterford Harbours maritime heritage each Friday.
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