Memories of a Harbour Boy. Dunmore East

Today our guest blog is provided by David Carroll who as a child lived in Dunmore East with his parents; Harbour Master, Captain Desmond Carroll and his Mother Freda. David has written a memoir of his time there, and has kindly entrusted it to me from which I have taken an excerpt. The piece I have selected specifically deals with his experience of Dunmore Harbour and the comings and goings around the Harbour Masters home.
My Father was appointed harbour master of Dunmore East in autumn of 1947, a post he served until he passed away in 1969. Being appointed harbour master at Dunmore East meant taking up the residence provided at Harbour Lodge beside the pier.
David and his Dad, Dunmore 1952
with thanks to Michael Farrell

Dunmore East is located on the County Waterford coastline where the estuary of Waterford harbour forms. People living in Dunmore East tended to drop the ‘East’ part and refer to the village simply as Dunmore. The village itself then divided into two parts: ‘The Dock’ where the harbour and pier were located and then ‘Lower Dunmore’ on the way to the Catholic Church at Killea. A beautiful park, running down to the cliffs separated the two areas. On the opposite side of the park was St. Andrew’s Church of Ireland and a number of large houses including the Haven Hotel, which had originally been called Villa Marina, when it was the home of the Malcomson family. Stretching entirely around Dunmore as a backdrop were the woods which give the entire village a beautiful panoramic view, particularly from the sea. The wood and park had been left in trust to the people of Dunmore for their enjoyment. Reaching Dunmore by sea had the advantage of seeing all the beautiful small coves and beaches stretching around the bay, many of them with colonies of noisy sea birds called kittiwakes. For different reasons, these all became favourite places of mine and I retain fond memories of all of them.

Our house was a particularly cold one. It was partly a one story cottage dating probably from the time in 1814 when Alexander Nimmo, a famous Scottish engineer commenced work on the new harbour at Dunmore to accommodate the packet station for ships, which carried the Royal Mail between England and Ireland. Records tell us that the work consisted mainly of a massive pier or quay with an elegant lighthouse at the end. Nimmo’s original estimate had been £20,000 but at the time of his death in 1832 £93,000 had been spent and the final cost was £108,000. By then (1837)* the harbour had started to silt up, and the arrival of steam meant that the winding river could be negotiated easily, so the packet station was transferred to Waterford.
 Dunmore East from the air –  circa 1963
With thanks to Michael O’Sullivan Waterford History Group (WHG)

Some additional bedrooms were joined on later at the end of the corridor. Photographs taken around the turn of 20th century show only the old part. It was a very damp house as a result of being so old. In winter my parents overcame this and kept the house as cosy as possible by keeping coal fires lighting all day and having plenty of paraffin heaters in the hallways and bedrooms, which we always called The Aladdin, a trade name for this type of heater. They could be a bit smelly and difficult to maintain but were pretty effective nevertheless.

Our house was at the start of the pier and from my bedroom I could see the lighthouse at the end and all the boats in the harbour and right out across the bay where you could see Lawveesh Rock, a headland with the local red rock and Councillor’s Strand and if looked to the left you could see ‘The Island’ which formed part of the harbour and where kittiwakes lived on the cliffs during summer months. It really was a wonderful view and you could spend hours simply looking out the window. No two days were the same, there was always a new boat sailing into the harbour or departing or moving her berth.
The harbour masters house is in the centre of the photo facing the dock
Via Michael O’Sullivan WHG

My father’s predecessor had been called Major Wilfred Lloyd and he had retired after a long time in the position. He had a son called Llewellyn who I suspected slept in my bedroom a long time previously. A compass had been carved into part of the wooden window frame and we always credited Llewellyn with this. From a very early age I therefore knew where North, South East and West were located and knew if the wind was blowing from the north, it was coming from the direction of Councillor’s Strand and this was the one that was feared as the harbour was unsheltered from this direction.

A south easterly wind or breeze came across from the Hook Head lighthouse located at the other side of the Waterford harbour estuary at the end of the long Hook peninsula. The pier gave shelter to the boats from this direction. Winds, tides, weather forecasts and conditions would form an integral daily part of our lives over the coming years.
There were two distinct users of the harbour and pier and all the facilities provided and these were the fishermen, who made their livelihood and provided for their families by fishing and then there was another diverse group who used the harbour for pleasure in rowing boats, sailing dinghies, yachts and motor boats. In addition visiting yachts came to Dunmore East every summer and this was a big feature in our daily lives. Occasionally there may have been a bit of tension between the two groups. In fact there was a lot more that united than divided them as all shared a great love for Dunmore and its beautiful harbour and of the sea and had the deepest respect for the sea and its power. Everyone was in agreement that the sea was a powerful force and could take your life away whenever it wanted. This was a theme that my parents kept coming back to time again while I was growing up.
A busy fishing harbour with Dutch luggers circa 1950’s early 1960’s
Photo via William Power WHG

If I was asked briefly as to what my father’s core role or job description was, it could be best summed up by saying that his job was to ensure that all users of the harbour was properly looked after. It was important that the fishermen had landing facilities and space to store ropes and nets and mend their nets and lobster pots. The people using the harbour for pleasure required simple access and safe and secure moorings for their boats. By and large, my father, using lifelong maritime skills and knowledge achieved that and was well respected and liked by everyone. The fishermen used the facilities throughout the full year but all sailing and boating came to an end in September. Summer and winter were quite different and even in spring and autumn there was always something new or different happening around the harbour. There was never a dull day!

In addition, my father had other duties, such as record keeping and submitting weekly and monthly data to the Office of Public Work (O.P.W.) in St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin, who were his employers. The O.P.W. was always referred to by everyone in Dunmore as the Board of Works. The O.P.W. had responsibility also for the harbours at Howth and Dun Laoighaire in addition to Dunmore East. Along with Donaghadee in Co. Down, these four harbours had been designated royal harbours and since partition the O.P.W. had administered the harbours in the South. Other ports and harbours around Ireland were administered by harbour commissioners or local authorities.
As soon as I could walk, I would accompany my father up and down the pier each day. Close to our house was a set of steps leading to the top of the pier wall at its starting point near Shannoon, a small clifftop mountain where the Pilot Station stood. On several occasions each day, my father would take his telescope and we would look out across Waterford Harbour mouth towards Hook Head lighthouse, three miles over on the Wexford coast at the end of the Hook Peninsula. Sometimes you could see a strange boat making its way towards the sanctuary of Dunmore. You had to guess where it might have come from and for what reason?
All ships leaving Waterford Harbour or destined for Waterford or New Ross located on the River Barrow would be picked out by father with his telescope and he could identify many of them by various means such as the distinctive painting on their funnels. In the evenings, the Dunmore fishermen would be making for home. The number of seagulls and other birds that swarmed overhead and behind the boats always gave a good indication in advance of a successful and lucrative day’s fishing. No seabirds usually meant no fish!
The porch entrance to our house was a very important part of harbour life. People would come seeking all sorts of information and advice from my father but mainly about the weather forecast. My father would listen each day to the ‘shipping forecast’ on the BBC radio service and would be able to pass this information on, which was vital to anyone putting out to sea. There was a chronometer, which is a ship’s clock, in the porch and this could be seen through the window. It was very accurate and was wound each day with a big brass key.
Another old photo with a view of the cottage, behind the masts and rigging
of old sailing vessels. Via Michael O’Sullivan WHG

The chronometer, which is still in my possession all these years later, was first used in a steamship called the Mary Monica, built in Port Glasgow in 1879 and belonging to my grandfather’s company J.J. Carroll, 38 City Quay, Dublin and was used to supply his coal business in Dublin from Ayr in Scotland. I have an oil painting of that ship in my house showing her in a storm in the Bay of Biscay and a faded date on the painting looks like 1884.

There was also a barometer which was constantly checked as this was an indicator of the predicted weather. When the barometer dropped, it was always a bad sign. All of this took place a long time before weather was forecast by satellite.
There was also a clock with no mechanism but just two hands that my father set manually each day to indicate the time of ‘High Water’. The time of high water and low water was vital to every user of the harbour. There was a small inner harbour called the Dock Strand, which dried out at low water and this is where all boats moved to if the skipper wanted to clean seaweed from the bottom of the boat, paint or carry out any repair or take a fouled rope or net from a propeller, which was a common occurrence. (see first video below) Knowing the tide times and how many hours you had before the boat would be re-floated was of vital importance.

Tides were also important for sailing craft leaving Dunmore East intending to sail up the Co. Wexford coast towards Arklow or Dun Laoghaire. As far as I can recall, the skipper needed to plan his voyage to be some-where around Tuskar Rock near Rosslare when the tide turned to derive maximum benefit from the tide and assist their passage. My father would have advised many a seafarer at Dunmore with this information.

I perceived my father to be the most important person in the harbour and this gave me a certain cockiness at that time as I accompanied him about his business and I probably thought that I was his No.2. My mother told me much later that I used to say to people “My father is the Harbour Master and I am the Harbour Boy”. I did not seem lack any self-confidence in those early years! I really did believe in my own little mind that it was my harbour. Who needed brothers and sisters when you had your own harbour instead?

A two video pieces of the time, to finish.  Firstly via a Micheal O’Sullivan WHG and filmed by Daithi O’Gorman

And finally fishing herring at Dunmore in the 60’s via Pathe News

If you would like to read the full piece as penned by David you can email him to request a copy at

* Some sources give the date as 1835

My thanks for assistance with the piece to William Power of Dunmore, Michael O’Sullivan Waterford History Group Facebook page and Michael Farrell of the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society.
This is the second guest blog, and the first of 2017. If you would like to contribute a piece, please email me at The only criteria is that it needs to have a maritime connection to the harbour. I will format, source the photos if required and add in the hyperlinks. Guest blogs will be published on the last Friday of each month. Our next will be a piece on smuggling by James Doherty.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:
F  T

3 Replies to “Memories of a Harbour Boy. Dunmore East”

  1. Hi Andrew, just quickly popped in to say I read the tale from Favid Carroll recently and it finally struck me that I was only a child but Capt Des Carroll was often in New Ross and he was regularly in the company of my grandfather and the rest of his friends chewing the fat sitting on The Quay on summer evenings. A vague memory but yes it was him for sure. Always in awe of a Captain

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