Whilst researching a story recently I happened upon a small snippet in the Passage East Jottings in the Munster Express dated 25th January 1963. It was just a mention of my father who was unmarried at the time, and he had just joined a ship at New Ross after spending a christmas at home.
It was just the little snippet to give my mother a lift in these dark weeks after the death of my sister Eileen. She immediatly went to retrieve his discharge book in an effort to identify the ship. Once it was carefully unwrapped from its plastic protector she leafed through the pages unil she came to the year, and lo and behold was delighted to find the entry. According to the book, he had actually joined the ship on Friday the 18th January.
The ship was the MV Amber, a small glasweigan coaster that was launched in 1956 from the Ailsa Shipbuilding Co. Ltd., Troon. She was owned and operated by the William Robertson Shipowners Company of Glasgow. Unfortunately I couldn’t discover what she was carrying either into or out of Ross. But my father stayed on her for the first few months of the year before moving to a new ship in London. I couldn’t help smile to myself at the Derry entry as Londonderry… He bristled ever time he heard the town described as such.
The ships didn’t really hold much interest to my mother, but she did realise that London (Dock Road where the seamen gathered to secure ships to the farthest flung ports in the world) was mentioned a lot that year. She recounted meeting my father that same year in Mary and Bob McDermotts home in Londons east end and how, although they had known each other in Cheekpoint, it was the first time they went out together.
As she leafed through the entries she charted the gaps in his ships in terms of their relationship, such as their wedding of Christmas 1964, my birth and his quick return to sea, an extended period at home when he got a shore job on the construction of the Great Island Power Station and an even longer period ashore when he got a factory job in the 1970’s.
I was concious that although my mother has had tears in her eyes on almost every visit I’ve made these last few weeks as she grieves for her youngest daughter, that this time the tears were of a different nature. Memories perhaps of happy times, missed opportunties or maybe those absences of my father when she was struggling with a young family.
Leaving her she was smiling again, wrapping her precious paper memento away in its protective plastic with her other treasures and I couldn’t help but think how much different we all become in the presence of love. My fathers papers would be a curiosity to a maritime researcher, but they are a biography to a family member, at least one with an interest and an emotional connection, to fill in the gaps of what is not transcribed. And to hold the actual document; to think that he held it, carried it in his pocket and read it from time to time, so much more relevant than any entry located online.
My normal last Friday of the month blog returns next Friday, a story of trying to identify a warship that led to a story of royal navy recruitment in 1900 and 1904.
Since I started blogging in 2014 I have set aside a blog for Christmas. It’s a break from my normal fare, but isn’t Christmas a break from routine too! At least for those of us lucky enough to have a job that doesn’t involve pulling a shift over it. So for this year I wanted to reflect back on an advert from my youth and the sentiments it evoked
There was a popular Christmas advert on TV growing up which unlike many ads on RTE at the time, contained a powerful story line. It featured a dad (I presumed) collecting his son from the train at Christmas, whilst the ad cut between what the son saw as they drove to his brightly lit home, where his mother (again a presumption) prepared for his arrival by turning on every conceivable electrical device imaginable. Perhaps unsurprisingly, It was for the Electricity Supply Board and featured a song by Dusty Springfield called Going Back.
I’ve no doubt but the popularity of the advert is that if
Christmas evokes anything it’s an equal measure of nostalgia for things of the
past and a yearning for family, to have them close and part of our lives.
The advert stuck a chord at home because we were reared with stories of emigration and separation. My mother often spoke of the journey back from London at Christmas on the boat train, the meeting of friends and neighbours on the long, tiring journey and the excitement of spotting Cheekpoint for the first time in six months from the train, as it came across the Barrow Bridge. Although it was a short visit, with not a lot by way of extravagance, every moment of it was squeezed for enjoyment and celebration before the hard slog of the return loomed within a week.
She often recounted the visit of 1963 when the forecast was so bleak they were not even sure if the ship,St David, (or it could have been the St Andrew) would sail from Fishguard to Rosslare. But it did, and on making it home on Christmas eve, the snow started to fall. It snowed for much of the Christmas, but it was the return that would prove the most difficult. Firstly the snow was so bad on the ground that cars couldn’t travel, and on reaching Rosslare a NW gale was blowing so hard, the ferry needed anchors to claw her way out of port. After a horrible passage, they boarded an unheated train only to get trapped for the night in a snowdrift somewhere on the line. The bright lights of London lost their appeal after that.
My father had other memories, ones we only heard of much later. Having left home to go to sea from the age of 19 many of his Christmas’ were spent in the company of fellow seafarers in distant ports, or on the ocean wave, where the only difference between that day and all the others was that the duties were reduced to the essentials and the stewards and cook made sure there was ample food for all.
One yarn that we heard much later on was of an apparent Christmas in Spain where after the crew went on the batter ashore, they ended up in jail. Next morning they appeared before the judge and when my fathers name was called the judge asked if it was an Irish surname. “It is your honour” my father replied. “What part of the country are you from” asked the judge. “Waterford yer honour sir” he replied. “You’re not one of the Doherty’s from Cheekpoint are you Bob?” “The very same yer honour” “Case dismissed” cried the judge, continuing “Hope you will stand me a round the next time I visit the Suir Inn”
Given the role of emigration in the country at the time, I’m certain that the ESB advert struck a chord with most Irish homes, and that’s probably the reason it became so popular. It was aired for many years and it is still talked about on radio and TV shows to this day, particularly at Christmas time.
Over the years that advert has come to represent something deeper for me however; loss. Those that are no longer with us, the distance between the memories and the present, where people like my grandmother who was so central to everything in our lives is no longer present, a once central element to the ritual that was Christmas.
My earliest memory of this was walking down the Russianside lane with our new toys in hand, eagerly waiting to show them off. The smell of the fry from her kitchen, the warmth from the fire in the living room and the excitement of unwrapping her gifts to us. Its telling, I suppose, that I remember nothing of the gifts we recieved, only her presence and her home.
Nanny never had a Christmas tree (until much later when we as teenagers insisted on getting it for her), her decorations were more traditional and centered around holly and ivy which was placed on the mantle and the glass case, and mixed with the faded blessed palm behind the pictures on the wall. Her crib was a plastic drawing that she sellotaped to the wallpaper underneath the sacred heart lamp. A red candle stood on her window sill and would be lit each night of the Christmas.
There was one particular feature of the house that seemed to mean more than anything else to her however, Christmas cards. These came from all over the world, and stood on the glass case, the mantle and on a string set under the mantle that sometimes went over and back twice or three times to accommodate the number, and ensure each could be seen. As she got older the cards diminished as those who could send them were no longer living, but the ritual of opening, reading and displaying never diminished for her, nor did the sharing of the information that they contained. And although at times it became a chore to me as she reread a message for the umpteenth time, it never lost the magic for her.
As we grew from children to teenagers and into adulthood and we ourselves had children, the tradition could not be broken, and each year until her last, the house expanded to absorb the growing families of each of my siblings, and of course mine.
When she finally left us in 2002 it was as if a chain had been shattered and we were set adrift. But families are resilient, and new traditions are born or adapted and so the gathering fell on the open door of my parents. And although my father is no longer part of the ritual either, it’s well to remember that the gatherings on Christmas morning are creating the memories and the rituals that our children will carry into their adult lives. When I asked my daughter Ellen what was the best part of Christmas day this year, she didn’t hesitate or have to think twice, it was joining her cousins in Nanny Mary’s on Christmas morning.
It probably won’t be Dusty Springfield or an advert for the
ESB, but there will be some present happening that will create the nostalgia of
the future for the present generation.
The world may change and trends will come and go, but I firmly believe the
central element of family will remain at the core. And family is not just about those that are
present, it’s about those that are miles away, or indeed no longer living. For me, that’s what that ESB ad evoked, in
the imagery but most particularly in the lyrics and the haunting sound of Dusty
I think I’m goin’ back To the things I learned so well in my youth I think I’m returning to Those days when I was young enough to know the truth
Now there are no games
To only pass the time
No more coloring books
No Christmas bells to chime
But thinking young and growing older is no sin
And I can play the game of life to win
I can recall a time,
When I wasn’t ashamed to reach out to a friend
And now I think I’ve got
A lot more than a skipping rope to lift
Now there’s more to do
Than watch my sailboat glide
And everyday can be my magic carpet ride
And I can play hide and seek with my fears
And live my days instead of counting my years
Let everyone debate the true reality,
I’d rather see the world the way it used to be
A little bit of freedom’s all we’re lack
So catch me if you can
I’m goin’ back
I would like to wish all my readers a happy and peaceful Christmas and hope everyone will have a healthy, prosperous and productive 2020. Looking forward to more blogs and of course the publication of my second book in April. Take care for now.
On Saturday morning, 30th October 1875 the schooner Mino of Cheekpoint, Co Waterford was run ashore on the Wexford shore by her captain and crew. Aground on the sandy shoreline the first wave to break over her stern carried the timbers away and this was quickly followed by her afterdeck. As locals rushed to the scene, the crew who were huddled in the bow, were assisted ashore with the help of ropes and cared for in local homes. The crew of the Mino were fortunate to have survived, but was this a case of bad weather, poor seamanship or something more sinister?
The Mino, was a 180 ton, two masted schooner, built in Prince Edward Island in 1858. The schooner was advertised for sale in Liverpool in May of 1862 and was subsquently bought by Captain Thomas White of Cheekpoint, Co Waterford for £229. In an advert of the time the Mino was described as “…a most remarkable vessel; carries 140 tons, on 9 feet water; sails without ballast; takes the ground; is well found in stores, and quite ready for immediate employment. This vessel is admirably adapted for the coasting trade, and sold in consequence of being too small for present owner’s use. Dimensions: Length 73 feet, breadth 20 feet , depth 9 feet ”
White became the vessels master and used the ship in the coastal trade that she was so suited to, carrying cargo such as wheat and pit props from Waterford and returning with such staples as coal. In 1872 it would appear that White stood down from his position and Captain Pat Brien of Wexford took command, followed by Captain Crotty, Captain Michael Barry of Cheekpoint and lastly, Whites brother in Law, Edward Kavanagh.
According to Kavanagh the Mino departed Waterford (20th September 1875) for Cardiff with pit props and then to Newport to take on a 125 tons of coal. The departure was delayed for sometime due to weather and eventually they sailed on the 16th October for their stated destination, Cheekpoint, Co Waterford. They put into Milford Haven on the 23rd due to “stress of weather”. When they again set sail on the 29th October they again ran into heavy weather off the Smalls. The Mino started to take water and although two pumps were manned, the water gained on them and the ship became unmanageable. At 5am on the morning of the 30th October Kavanagh ran the Mino ashore on Ballyhealy strand. Thanks to local assistance, himself and his crew were saved.
Later that morning the scene was visited by William Coughlan the Collector of Taxes and Reciever of Wrecks at Wexford. Members of the coastguard were also present and the condition of the wreck was immediately obvious to them. The Mino had practically fallen apart and it would seem that Coughlan was determined to get to the bottom of it. A shipwright from the Board of Trade was summoned and from the 6th-7th of November Robert Bell surveyed the wreck. He confirmed what most onlookers could determine for themselves, that many of the Mino’s timbers were in a rotten state.
The wreck was eventually auctioned off but I could find no reference to the cargo of coal which was destined originally for a Mr Davis of Waterford. If the schooners owner, Captain White, was feeling the loss of his ship and income, things were only going to go from bad to worse.
Just after Christmas 1875 Captain White was summoned to appear at a preliminary hearing at the Callaghane Petty Sessions to explain why he should not be prosecuted under a charge of sending men to sea in an unseaworthy ship. The shipowner faced stiff questioning before the presiding magistrates—Hon Dudley Fortescue, chairman ; Sir R J Paul, Bart: Capt Armstrong, Capt Coughlan, P Fitzgerald, Esq, and G I Goold, Esq, R.M 
It was decided that White had questions to answer and in March 1876 he appeared before Judge Barry in the Waterford Azzies where over two days he was tried by a jury of his peers. The evidence was overwhelmingly against the man. Both the coastguard and Receiver of Wrecks were clear as to the condition of the craft, his ex captain, Michael Barry explained how a Board of Trade official in Wales had cautioned of the ships unseaworthiness and that he had communicated this to White, prior to leaving the ship. The master of the Mino Edward Kavanagh deposed that he thought the ship was fine up to the storm in the Irish Sea, but his evidience was undermined when it was revealed that he was a brother in law to White. Two other crew, the mate Michael Power, and a sailor named John Milton, stated they were unaware of any issues as regards the craft. Their evidence was all the more strange because arguably the most convincing prosecution evidence shown in court was parts of the ships timbers.
In his own defence White gave a good account of himself, stating that he had skippered the ship up to four years previously when ill health caused him to withdraw. He had regularly had the ship overhauled on the Penrose Graving Bank in Waterford and had spent large sums to maintain the ship. However, he could only provide three receipts for small repairs totalling £12 for the years 1873/4. And he could offer no witnesses to vouch for the claimed work, despite the fact that they were supposed to take place in the city. The judge, perhaps in frustration, asked White if he had a bad memory to which White replied “A very bad one”! Two local businessmen spoke up on Whites behalf; Shipping agent Downey and corn merchant Thomas Quigley!
The jury retired but quickly returned with a guilty verdict. Judge Barry sentenced Captain White to two months in jail and was reported to have stated that the Mino was as rotten a ship as ever put to sea!. The irony was that if Kavanagh had not managed to ground the ship and save his crew, White would probably have never been prosecuted. The Mino would be just another statistic of wrecks on the Wexford shore.
But that is not the end to my story. I grew up with stories of Captain White and his extended family who lived in Dobbyn’s House, Cheekpoint. The family had a strong connection with the sea, and as is often the case, were no strangers to tragedy. For example I was told that a son of the family died at Cheekpoint quay following a fall from a mast of their ship. I can’t say that this was Thomas Whites son, or that the fall was from the Mino. I have yet to find any proof. But I did find one very sad and curious event that might change the readers opinion of this account. For four years previously, a twenty year old sailor on the Mino was drowned in the Barrow following a boating accident. His name was John White and he was described as the Captain of the Mino’s son.  In the court case White stated that he had stood down as Captain four years before. Was this event the cause of his retirement as master? Ultimately was this the reason for his ill health? In the modern era such an event would be considered important as regards the Captains mental health, and would almost certainly be used in his defence as a contributory factor.
Thanks for dropping by and reading. If you have any observations, questions or extra information I would be delighted to recieve them, in the comments section below or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I publish a new story on the maritime heritage of Waterford harbour on the last Friday of each month. I also post daily updates on Facebook and Twitter. Andrew Doherty
I’m delighted to be featuring on the RTE Radio 1 Sunday Miscellany raido show. It will be bradcast Sunday morning, 17th November 2019 after the 9am news.
This was my second attempt to submit a story to the very popular RTE Radio 1 show, now in its fiftieth year. My story is titled Steamboat, and through it I give a sense of what it was like to be a driftnet fisherman at Cheekpoint in the 1980’s, including an insight into local traditions and how deep they ran.
It features myself and a friend, Paul Duffin, as young fishermen. Because we grew up on the river we instinctively know its rules, one of which is that when drifting across the channel, steamboats have to be avoided. Sometimes that means you loose your drift. Drifts were hard won at times, and no fisheman wanted such an outcome.
Here’s the lineup on the morning:
Friendly Front Door at University Hospital Waterford, by Lani O’Hanlon;
Steamboat, by Andrew Doherty;
Baby Clothes, a poem by AM Cousins;
Learning to Drive, by Ian Maleney;
Those Summer Nights of Long Ago at the Céilí, by Catherine Foley.
You’ve Got A Friend, by Carole King, performed by the Kalimbas: Cathy Forristal and Clíodhna Gahan on vocals and Damien Kehoe on guitar and vocals;
The Steam Packet and Miss McLeod’s Reel, played on uileann pipes by David Power;
A Stór Mo Chroí, played on tin whistle also by David Power;
Living in Yesterday, composed and performed by the Kalimbas;
And The Drops of Brandy, a slip jig, played by David Power on uileann pipes with Benny McCarthy on button accordion, Brendan Clancy on fiddle and Dónal Clancy on guitar.
As elated as I was to have a piece chosen for the show, it became a case of be careful what you wish for. For I was very nervous on the day and I didn’t stop shaking throughout the performance. Hopefully this doesn’t come through. It certainly didn’t put me off however, as I’m already working on another submission. Its a story of how the river speakes to fishemen, well to fishermen who are fully present in its company. If you miss the show on Sunday, or if you are abroad, the podcast will be available on the Sunday Miscellany website.