New Book announcement

I started 2019 with a pledge to publish a new book. Well I’m a lot of the way there, but there’s been a hiccup and I wanted to give a brief update.

As I said in January my working title was Stories from the Aft Oar and my chapters were based on stories I had heard while fishing, principally from the skipper of the boat who was always on the aft oar. But every time I mentioned the title I ended up having to explain myself. Several offered other suggestions but it was Carrick on Suir poet, Michael Coady, who really set it out for me recently and offered an opinion that I thought made a lot of sense. Since my blog name is now so recognisable and does exactly what it says on the tin, why not use it as the title. I had to agree.

Changing the title meant a slight rewrite of the chapters and I needed to tweak the introduction; and at this point I think it reads very well. I have twenty three chapters and the lay out is as follows

Although the time and effort that is going into the writing is the biggest challenge, another stumbling block has been the location of original photos. I have secured several from the National Library of Ireland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historic Monuments of Scotland. Brendan Grogan, Andy Kelly and Brian Cleare have also come to my aid. I had hoped to secure some others but the costs were prohibitive.

One real boost was a call from John O’Connor who was able to supply me with an original Annie Brophy image of the Spit/Spider Light at Passage East, and subsequently Charley McCarthy sent me on a copy of the blueprint of the structure which nearly blew me away. Its probably too large to include in the book but I must try to get it displayed, perhaps for heritage week.

The cover has caused some problems too. I had originally opted for a smashing photo by local photographer Tomás Sullivan who did so much great work to support my first book. The feedback was not positive however, as it was thought it would be too similar to the first book and cause confusion. I had considered a wonderful black & white image of the Portlairge by Brendan, but as the publisher recommended colour I may go with an image of the Alfred D Snow supplied by Brian Cleare.

All these issues were surmountable with time and energy and good will. But the one issue I could not beat was funds.

I had hoped to get some funding towards self publishing the book; about €4,000 for the costs of photos, proofing, printing and launch. I thought I’d made a fairly good submission to the Creative Waterford fund and looked forward to a welcome boost to the project this week. Alas it was not to be. I already knew that our maritime heritage was fairly low on the agenda nationally, let alone locally, but I had hoped that given the cultural value of it to a port city I might have made the grade. I was surprised at how heavy the rejection hit me, but with a good nights sleep i’m past it, and on to plan B or perhaps C.

Plan B is to try secure an established publisher such as Penguin or O’Brien Press etc. I had tried this earlier on and got one rejection from Mercier. But the real reason I held off sending any more was not fear of rejection but rather a requirement from the others that the book be completed. It will be by this weekend, after Deena has helped me with another proof read (make that about four!)

Plan C, if required, is to basically strip everything back in terms of scale and try self finance. I was doing the numbers today and although I had planned for 800 copies I could reduce this to 500 perhaps, although this saves relatively little. I could reduce the number of photos…a real disappointment, and forgo the professional proof reading. Another hit could a proper placename map. The version on Before the Tide Went Out was a self effort and fairly crude. I had also some ideas for the launch, that in hindsight were just frills that can be done without.

But for now unfortunately, it’s back to watching this space. I’ll get there eventually, and it will feel all the more sweet when I do.

Tides n Tales moves to a monthly format

In May I came to the difficult decision to change my weekly martime blog to a monthly publication.  Several people have asked me why and so I thought it best to set out my thoughts and reasons. 

I first started blogging when in college as a mature student studying community education and development.  Journaling was a personal development tool used on the course, allowing students to reflect and intertwine theories and concepts used, into the everyday language and practice of the student. It also provided a space where a tutor can see that assimilation. I tended to write copious notes, and delighted in rewriting these into what I hoped was a cohesive narrative.

A print of Waterford looking westwards from Dunmore Road area dated to circa 1831. Its an engraving by W. Taylor from a print by W.H. Bartlett and I understand it comes origially from a publication called Ireland Illustrated.

When I commenced with the tour guiding of Russianside Tours I decided to continue the practice, seeing in it a valuable way to record the information, knowledge and skills I had gained over my years in the locality.  It came as a complete surprise when I shared these on social media and got a positive reaction. Eventually this grew to include the wider community of the rivers and its villages. In embracing the wider communities, I moved to Waterford Harbour Tides & Tales. Late last year, with the support of Ronan Cleary of Eagle Dreams, I self funded a new website.  Who was I to start researching and writing this I thought, yet who better?  No one else seems minded to.

In those four years I have, along with those guest blogs, contributed 277 stories (so far) to showcase the areas rich maritime heritage traveling the lengths of the Suir and Barrow and as long as Kilmore on the Wexford shore and Bunmahon on the Waterford coast.  Some stories had thousands of viewers, some hundreds, but I have enjoyed putting each and every one of them together.

An old advert, of an old website, I managed somehow to create myself

The fulfilling part is knowing that many people enjoy the stories as much as I do, the feedback is gratifying and the offers of extra information and access to peoples private documents is, at times, humbling.  This week alone I received emails from America, South Africa, Australia and the UK.  Visited people in New Ross, Great Island, Dunmore and took trips to Lismore and Clonmel.  The kindest offer this week was an opportunity to take a boat trip around the Amsterdam canal system whenever I get to visit. 

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of course is the friendships and the support along the way. All those who have liked, commented and shared a story are supporting me in a very real way. And then of course there are those who are regularly available with IT advice and information. Too many to mention personally, but I have to acknowledge people like Frank Murphy, Brendan Grogan, Andy Kelly, David O’Carroll, Maurice Power, Brian Boyce, Tomás Sullivan, Brian Cleare, Paul O’Farrell and John Flynn who go out of their way to help me source information at a personal cost to themselves in terms of their time. Then there’s my cousin Jim Doherty, who doesn’t let a week pass without a call and some advice or other on a particular story or lead.

If I had one reaction to readers who don’t know me personally, when meeting me for the first time, its surprise.  In general they thought I must be retired to be putting so much obvious time and energy into the stories.  (It’s why I started putting my photo on some of them in recent months – it wasn’t vanity!!) Truth is I work a three day week and although I had hoped I might develop an income from my obvious passion, the opposite has occurred…Its costing me actual money and hours per week. I know it’s a passion, and it’s worthwhile, and if you do what you love you will never work a day in your life and all those memes you see on facebook but…!

so much time, energy and enthusiasm…

So over the last few months I’ve explored how I might retain what I love doing but pay the bills.  Not just that but allow me to grow what I do.  I have a few ideas, all of them based on the maritime heritage of my area, mostly from the perspective of enhancing not just my situation, but the situation of others in the harbour villages.  My deep fear is that I will start down a path that will just cost me more, but if I don’t start down the path I’ll never know if I can make a real difference in terms of the harbours rich cultural heritage. 

I’m also working on a chapter for a forthcoming history book for the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society, hope to contribute a chapter to this years Deice’s, am part of the editorial team supporting David Carroll on a history of the Dunmore East Lifeboat and am up to my oxters with the local development group in trying to enhance the local community, and an officer on the committee of the local boat owners assoc. in trying to provide pontoon access at Cheekpoint for river craft.

Stay tuned, my new blog format commences Friday 28th June…a story of a ship wreck in the harbour that made national headlines for all the wrong reasons.  Oh and my new book.  I’m currently finalising the photographs, and trying to get some sponsorship to help with costs.  Come hell or high water I’m launching September 2019. 

Not vanity! How could I be vain with a head like that!!

Williamo’s barge, 29B

This mornings guest blog comes from Carrick On Suir but as with all things connected to the water, it travels fairly widely. Maurice Power, another of those supporters of my blog that I have come to rely on, introduces us to an institution on the River Suir in Carrick On Suir. An institution embodied in a man and a boat; Williamo’s barge – 29B. Over to Maurice…

Recently a photo of William O’Callaghan’s barge was shown on our local facebook site Things I Miss About Carrick and somebody wondered where it is now. His barge was the last working sand dredger in Carrick and possibly the only one which used a mechanical digger to extract sand and gravel from the river bed.

Williamo’s barge taken from North Quay in Carrick looking across to Carrickbeg. Williamo normally moored the barge tied up to the buttments of the New Bridge (Dillon Bridge) In Carrick. It kept the kids from playing on it.

Williamo, as he was known, grew up on the river coming from a family with deep roots in the navigation of lighters and yawls which transported goods from ships lightened in Waterford. Lighters would typically transport goods with a burden of 40/60 tons they had a draft of 2′ 9″. Prior to the introduction of the tug the Fr Matthew by Earnest Grubb which was the first steam tug to operate on the river between Waterford and Carrick lighters were navigated by the use of poles, sweeps (oars 30 feet long which took 6 steps forward and 6 steps backward to operate) and sails. To continue to Clonmel the goods would be transferred to Yawls which had a burden of 20 tons and a draft of 16″. These were towed in pairs with a team of 12 horses to Clonmel. Williamo’s father, Daniel, was part of the last crew to tow yawls to Clonmel in 1922. When the railway was introduced in the early 1800s river trade dwindled until it finally ceased the 1960’s. However the long tradition of excavating sand from the riverbed continued up to Williamo’s retirement when it finally ceased.

Williamo was noted for his knowledge of the river and was often called upon to help others who were unfamiliar with the river for assistance or advice on navigation issues. He was a very genial and approachable individual who loved to tell stories and relate experiences. Williamo was also known in times of need, and noted in times of tragedy, recovering several bodies from the river.

 So what was the History of Williamo’s barge? Firstly using photographs and the help of guys from Inland Waterways and the Heritage Boat Association I was able to establish from unique profiles on her hull such as a sharp bow, lower rubbing streak, upper rubbing streak which stops short, tiny washboard that Williamo’s barge was registered under the title number 29B.

The first record I could find of 29B was an advertisement in the Freemans Journal dated the   27th September 1873 offering for sale 13 canal boats the property of a Patrick Coyne deceased which included a barge 29B.

Again in the Leinster Leader dated the 29th of March the property of a Mr M Mitchell deceased from Enfield were up for Auction. The sale included a canal boat 29B in working condition.

 Barge 29B was first weighed in Killaloe on the 24th of October 1912 under the ownership of Murphy Brothers of Rathangan, Co Kildare.

On the Grand Canal via the Irish Press April 21st 1934

Dimensions recorded were Length 60 feet, Breadth 12 ft. 9ins. Stem height 7ft. 2ins. Stern height 7ft.2ins. and laden with 50 tons in weight she drew 4ft.2ins. She also had 50 gallons of fuel in her tanks. The weigh master was a Denis Crowe from Killaloe. She would have been fitted with a standard Bollinger engine. A  Mr D.E. Williams, General Merchant from Tullamore, bought her in 1947. He was the founder of the world famous Tullamore Dew Whiskey Company.

29B was then passed on to a Denis Ronan of Athy. A photo from the Kildare Nationalist shows her giving tours during a carnival in the early 1950s. It’s interesting to note the lack of health and safety regulations in this era.

In 1956 she was sold onto Messrs Deegan of Waterford who subsequently sold it to Williamo. He used her on the river until his retirement in 1983 when she was bought by a Mr Gerry Oakman from Athlone. Gerry brought her back up to the Shannon by way of the Barrow Navigation system and the Grand Canal where she worked as a work boat on various  projects on the Shannon before being retired and converted into a live-aboard barge in Shannon Harbour Co. Offaly.

Last year she was again sold on and moved to Lough Derg where she is on a hard stand and is undergoing a major refit. The photo above was taken about a month ago.

Probably the last photo of barge 29B in operation in Carrick on Suir. Williamo at the helm and his son at the bow. Photo by John Denby. Carrick on Suir

I was fortunate to be party to the facebook discussion and follow up research of Williamos barge on the Things I Miss About Carrick on Suir Facebook page. Social media has many negatives associated with it, but virtual journeys such as these that reach deep into a locality’s past and weave a path to the present are surely one of the platforms positive achievements. Just like the Carrick natives, the photo above reminded me of so many boats that signified my own childhood and to this day, such as the Portlairge, my uncle Sonny’s pilot boat Morning Star or the harbour launch as she crewed the buoy gangs to work.

I can only thank Maurice for sharing it with me and everyone else who is part of our online community. In preparing for this piece I recalled an iconic image and a wonderful poem by Carrick poet Michael Coady. On checking with Maurice he confirmed that they were about the same man. Michael’s poem which features in his book of the same name (Going by Water) celebrates Williamo’s life and his connection with the river, and features an image of his coffin borne by river to burial. As I haven’t asked permission to use any of it, can I just recommend that you keep an eye out for it. In a few lines he really captures the essence of the river and how it embodies us.

This will be my final guest blog in the current format, but it certainly will not be the end of sharing the best of our maritime heritage. On a personal level the series has proven to be the most emotionally draining. In some cases editing other peoples work, or offering suggestions that might risk offence. There is also the extra pressure of making sure that I make no mistakes in the formatting or that it reaches a wide audience. I have been fortunate over the years that I have had copy for each month, and that through this I have been able to extend the reach of what I personally can do, by sharing the passion, intelligence and personal insights of others who share my appreciation of our maritime heritage. We might be few in general terms, but I think the blog has proven a genuine interest and appetite for recognising and celebrating the boats, people and industries that thrived in our three sister rivers and her harbour.

I’m celebrating the four years of the blog at an event in the Reading Room, Cheekpoint on Saturday 8th June at 7.30pm. All welcome.

Farewell Madcap & Zayda

 On a bright but blustery dawn in June 1928 three vessels departed Waterford’s quays.  Leading the small convoy was a powerful tug, towing two old sailing ships.  Although the tug was a stranger to the city, the sailing ships were anything but.  To anyone looking on the scene must have proven ironic if not ignominious.  For these were the ports last sailing vessels; Zayda and the Madcap, and they had given over fifty years loyal and trusted service to the city, only to be made redundant by steam power. 

The story of these two sailing ships is also a story of Waterford and one man in particular, Geoffrey Spencer.  Spencer was the son of a local farmer, but not being first born had to make his own way.  He married into a coal merchant business at John Street (His wife was Catherine Lyons, daughter of a coal merchant, who later inherited the yard).

Madcap and Zayda moored off Coal Quay (just to the east of the Clock Tower) Photo via Michael O’Sullivan (Waterford History Site)

A coal merchant was at the mercy of all kinds of middle men unless the business could import its own coal and so Geoffrey bid on a decrepit old ship called the Oriental when it came up for auction in the city. The ship was so bad that his was the only bid.  With the profit from this first vessel, he reinvested in expanding his fleet and other ships followed including the Arrow, Caradoc and the Olga.  I read that he was also part owner in the SS Silkstone that sank in the river by Ferrybank and was a total wreck.  The Caradoc sank following a fire off the Coningbeg and the Olga grounded at Duncannon 20th April 1895 and was a total loss. I’ll need to do more digging into the others.

The Zayda was a brigantine and was built at Bideford in 1869.  The Madcap was also a brigantine and was built at Brixham in 1871.  As far as I can tell they were built specifically for Geoffrey Spencer and both entered into the coal trade.  Both ships would have been painted green which was the colour that Spencer chose for his ships. (a detail I’m indebted to Brian Cleare for this detail) The norm was to bring pit props or other heavy cargo from Waterford to Wales and then return with coal.  The ships feature regularly in Lloyds list and seem to have made a steady income.

During the Great War both ships were requisitioned, armed and staffed with a naval crew.  There is one account that because the Madcap was so well known the admiralty fitted another ship out in her likeness to act as a Q ship and sunk five submarines in this role (Q ships were armed to the teeth, but disguised as ordinary merchantmen. U Boats didn’t like to waste torpedoes on them, so they surfaced and ordered the crew to evacuate the ship prior to sinking them with the deck gun. Q ships would take this opportunity, drop the deck disguise and fire upon the sub).

Although the regular sailing time between Cardiff and Waterford was given as 19 hours, in 1921 it took the Madcap just a bit longer!.  Under Captain Furniss she departed the Cardiff Roads in February 1921.  She ran into her first difficulties at the Barrels and having shed her canvas limped into Fishguard.  Following repairs she departed, getting as far as the Tuskar before a hurricane of wind forced them to run ahead of it up the Irish Sea, eventually making shelter at Belfast Lough.  Her third trip was no better, this time managing to find shelter at Kingstown / Dun Laoighre.  It was April before she finally arrived back in her home port, two months later.

Zayda, a Poole photo originally via Michael O’Sullivan (Waterford History Site)

Madcap and Zayda were victims of progress however.  Ships such as these had to be loaded and emptied by hand, a slow and grueling job. Industrial techniques were advancing however and metal grab cranes could drop a bucket into the hold of a steel built ship and quickly and cheaply empty them. Joseph Spencer, Geoffrey’s heir , decided to tie the sailing ships to the quay (by the Clock Tower)  and there sat for several years and, like any unused craft, fell into decay.

At 5am on June 8th 1928 they finally left Waterford’s quays under tow by the tug Eastleigh of Bristol.  The ships had been sold to a ship breakers yard in Appledore. Behind the tug came the unmanned Zayda, and at the rear was the Madcap with a temporary crew of four under Captain Cox.  As if she had no wish to leave her natural home, almost immediately the Madcap started to make water and the crew had to man the pumps constantly to keep her afloat.  Although they crossed the Irish Sea, off the Welsh coast the winds freshened from the south’ard and the Madcap started to settle in the water and became unmanageable.  The crew struggled to maintain her, but an inspection below confirmed the worst, and using a small tender they got away just in time, and were fortunate the tug was nearby.

When the Madcaps temporary crew eventually arrived back to Appledore their families stood on the quayside waiting and prayers of thanks were offered by the local vicar for their safe return .  I’ve no doubt the people of Waterford were relieved to hear of the crews deliverance, but I’d imagine there was a certain satisfaction too, to think that the Madcap had went to the watery element, rather than being stripped and possibly hulked to end her days as a floating pontoon.

As I celebrate four years of blogging each Friday I am going to mark the occasion on June 8th, all welcome
  • I used several newsreports in todays blog. 
  • Waterford Standard – Saturday 05 December 1936 page 50-51
  • Western Morning News – Monday 11 June 1928 page 5
  • Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Friday 15 June 1928 page 14
  • I also used an article clipping by the Munster Express’ Michelle Clancy (It was cut from the paper and passed on to me several years back but with no page or date – I think it might have dated to the Tall Ships 2011)

Dunbrody Abbey

As a child growing up in Cheekpoint, Dunbrody Abbey loomed large in our lives.  It might have been in a different county, might have been separated by a fast lowing expanse of water, but it was a landmark that everyone knew, and I think, were proud of.  We learned about it in school of course, and our parents had stories of visiting it by boat, and it even found its way into newspapers and local poetry.  One that I still recall to this day was often recited by my grandmother.  The words were contained on a yellowed newspaper clipping that was folded into a decorative teapot that sat inside her glass case (the spot where all the treasures were kept, including her best china, our first curls and tatty ornaments we brought her back from school tours!) The poet was a local woman Kathy Leech and the poem went at follows:

Thankfully I typed this up years ago, although I have no year of publication or what local paper published it. Kathy was an elderly woman who loved in the High St in the village when I was a child. Reading the poem for the first time all those years back it struck me as strange that someone then so old was once young, vivacious and full of the joys of life.

The Abbey was founded after the required land was granted to a religious order by Herve de Montmorency (uncle of Strongbow), after the Norman invasion of Ireland. The first grant was to the monks of Bildewas in Shropshire, England.  However a monk (Alan) sent to scout the site found the area inhospitable and hurried home.  Actually he didn’t really put a tooth in it; “…the waste of the place, the sterility of the lands, and the wildness and ferocity of the neighbouring barbarians…We might incur no small damage or loss, if we should attempt to send any to those parts in order to inhabit and dwell.”[1]   Needless to say they decided against a move to the area, but eventually a sister abbey in Dublin, St Mary’s, accepted the ground and work got under way around 1182. It would become known as the Abbey of St. Mary le Portu (St Mary of refuge), although I have read that this refuge concerned Hervey’s wish of the establishment – to provide a sanctuary /refuge for travellers.  However Hore says that it refers to an earlier incident where ships in Strongows invasion fleet found shelter in the Pill[2]

The name Dunbrody is speculated by Hore to connect to a fort (dun) of a man named Brody and he speculates that the spot was an ideal location for an abbey. In contrast to Monk Alan’s report, he described it as sorrounded by fine Oak forest to the North and West, rich pastureland to the east and south (in Alan’s defence perhaps it was only potentially rich pastureland when he visited), fresh water flowing by, an abundant river of fish and a ready supply of wine through the port of New Ross.

An image of the Abbey and Campile Pill from Coolbunnia, Waterford (where I spent my first seven years) by our local photographer of note Tomás Sullivan. (Carraig Byrne in the distance)

One theory about such grants is that it was part of a settlement pattern of the English rulers, a way of managing the land and securing the strategically important harbour area.  The lands stretched from Dunbrody and Campile, along the river front to Duncannon and inland as far as Battlestown (Where the Deise and Ostmen of Waterford battled Raymond le Gros) and Sheilbaggen.  In all it totalled 40 caructaes or ploughlands the equivalent of 13,000 acres today.[3]

According to Billy Colfers judgement, and I certainly respect that, when completed it was one of the finest Cistercian abbeys in Ireland.[4]  Not alone was all this land put to productive use, but so too was the rivers with weirs for catching fish, the castle at Buttermilk, possibly for governing shipping, and St Catherines fortified church in the grange of Nuke.  But like everything the winds of change must blow and eventually the abbey was dissolved.  According to the website of the abbey visitor centre the demise started when its last abbot, Alexander Devereux, granted to the King, his heirs and successors, the Abbey and all its possessions circa 1542. The lands and Abbey subsequently became the property of the Etchingham family, and later through marriage it passed to the Chichester family, who own the lands to this day, although the site of the Abbey was handed over to the State in 1911 (not the Irish State at the time obviously)[5]

Berangers sketch of Dunbrody 1780 RIA from Hore

In my childhood and into my earlier days of fishing a trip to Dunbrody by boat was an annual occurrence. Landing as we did in those days from the Pill, the abbey was naturally the first facination, but over time I became less interested in it and more drawn to a small, ruined church, adjacent to the Pill.  Lost beneath ivy and adjacent to a tiny but well kept graveyard I would explore and try to imagine what life was like at the time this building was in use.  It always reminded me somewhat of the old church at Faithlegg, perhaps because of its size but also the carved dressed stone of its entrance door, contrasting nicely with the rougher cut stone of the walls. 

From Hore What he describes as a Water Gate – the church and graveyard are situated on the right.

In later years I would discover that this is probably in fact the first church built be the monks that came to the area.  It was customary to have a place of worship as the work progressed, and generally located beside an entrance gate, hence Cappella ad Portum – the chapel by the gate.  The monks would forsake this early church leaving it to commoners who worked the surrounding lands, or weary travellers seeking an intervention from on high to protect them on their journey.  The monks of course had their own place of worship, which was exclusively for their own use. It’s also interesting to me that when I was part of the four person voluntary committee led by Kevin Ryan (and included Pat Murphy and Damien McLellan) who worked to preserve old Faithlegg Church that some evidence of the construction at Faithlegg suggested that our church had possibly been constructed by monks from Dunbrody.

One of the best videos available on the ruins as they stand today, from Waterford’s Mark Power

Whether you are interested in history or not, a visit to Dunbrody is a marvel. Its open for the summer season at present and its certainly worth dropping by. I’ll leave the last words to a young Waterford lad returning from school in England named Thomas Francis Meagher who in a few brief words captured the essence of the site for me :”… the ruins of Dunbrody  Abbey – an old servant, with torn livery, at the gateway of the noble avenue.” 

To mark the fifth year of the blog I’ve organised an evening in the Reading Room Cheekpoint on Saturday 8th June form 7.30-9.30.  I’ve invited a few friends, neighbours and colleagues to share a specific blog, a memory prompted by a blog or something that has emerged from a blog.  I’m calling it Tide Line as it marks some changes to the future direction of the blog. Its open to all, free of charge and it promises to be a lively night, hopefully with plenty of laughter. 

[1] Colfer. B.  The Hook Peninsula. 2004. Cork University Press. Page 43

[2] Hore.P.H History of the Town & County of Wexford. Dunbrody Abbey, The Great Island, Ballyhack etc. 1901 London. Page 40 (I’m indebted to John Flynn for the loan of his copy)

[3] Colfer. B. The Hook Peninsula. 2004. Cork University Press p44

[4] Ibid p 66

[5] Accessed from  Sunday 12/5/2019