The ancient Ballinlaw Ferry

Andy Kelly Image

Introduction

My blog this week is different to the norm.  Firstly it’s a long form article, almost three times the length of my usual stories.  I had toyed with the idea of breaking it up, but decided to let it run.  Secondly I have had a significant amount of help with the story and two men in particular have favored me with their time, resources and assistance; John Flynn and Paul Grant.

The Ballinlaw Ferry has an ancient history.  It ran in various forms, probably from the early Christian era to the early 1960’s and must have transported tens of thousands of people in that time from the most exalted to the most humble and I’m confident that we will never really know the true extent of it.  A ferry crossing was an important part of the transport infrastructure to our fore bearers allowing as it did for short cuts to be taken before the engineering ability existed to construct bridges to ford rivers.   As such they played a role in defense, commerce, social cohesion and wellbeing, a good example being the present Passage East Ferry further down the harbour.

The Ferry Point on Great Island and the stretch of water across to Ballinlaw, taken from Ballinlaw Castle
Photo by Paul Grant. For more great photos and information on the area check out slieverue.com

Earliest ownership

My own, and probably anyone else’s educated guess about the age of the Ballinlaw Ferry is that it surely dates at least to the foundation of a monastery on the road to the ferry on Great Island (Inis Teimle) at Kilmokea.  At least when the island was picked by Herve de Montmorency as his base of operations after the Norman conquest we are told that it was chosen because of its strategic position on the Wexford – Waterford road, suggesting, if not confirming the pre-existence of the ferry.  The Island was passed over to William Marshall on his death in 1205 and remained as an important trading centre until it was eclipsed in favour of New Ross.[1]  

The first official record of the ferry operating on the Wexford side is 1282 when the provost of the local burgh (village, which was probably close but not in the Kilmokea early Christian settlement, but actually associated with a tidal salt water mill and associated farm, buildings etc close to the islands causway) was paying rent on actually two ferries on the island, Colkery and Portilash[2]

Kilmokea graveyard, alongside the ferry road

The historian Hore speculates that the “vestiges of two intrenchments by some supposed to have been thrown up by the Danes to defend the pass to Ballinlaw ferry”[3]

Elsewhere he claims three ferrys are operating on or associated with the Great Island; Of these Hore speculates that Colkery is associated with a weir- after the Gaelic word Coraidh[4] and although not stated I understand from as careful a reading as I can manage, that it was close to Dollar Point, upriver from the Island,[5] 

The next has a number of variations in the spelling including Porsyllach, Portilash, Portillagh, Portculagh and finally Kylmuke – so this perhaps is what we comonly know as Ballinlaw Ferry, there being a very obvious relationship with the last name and with Kilmokea.[7]

The third crossing point is a bit of a mystery, but Hore is of the opinion that it crosses to Cheekpoint. For example he states that in one case it is located past Loughtown and Newtown[8] later a mention of a ferry at Le Crook, which he discounts as being the placename further out the harbour but rather a geographic description of Cheekpoint[9] and finally a mention of a ferry from Kennock (Kilmannock) worth 2s 6d per year [10]

Various amounts of rent are given for the ferrys, but the Kilmokea/Ballinlaw operation pays the most; consistently in the 13thC 5-6s.  Farms are associated with the operation, perhaps as a means of sustenance, or (and I think more likely) as a description of the operation, ie that revenue was farmed from the operation of the ferry.  Interestingly the income dropped from the Island after a terrific storm occurred on August 1st 1284[11].  The mill and much of the farm were destroyed by floods and strong tides and damage was caused to fishing weirs.  It would suggest that there was a vibrant trade on the island that was badly impacted by the weather.

Perhaps as a measure of the ferrys importance, the rent for Kilmokea ferry is on par with the rent to operate the ferry in New Ross (5s), which is equal to the rent paid by burgesses (villages).[12]

In later years the ferry’s are less prominent in the accounts, and it is hard to judge if they were operating at all.  For example in 1397 “Richard II granted to Roger Codde the custody of the towne of Ross together with the mills, meadows, fisheries and ferries and the town of Dubarresilaund and everything belonging to it”[13]  Dubarresilaund referes to Great Island, when it was leased by John Durbaro de Llond who exported herring from the area to England.  However, as you can see there is no direct mention to the ferry operation.*

Ballinlaw Co Kilkenny. Photo Paul Grant
Much reference is made to the Waterford side, this is just a common phrase connecting the ferry with its destination, Waterford

The operation

Looking more closely now at the Ferry of Ballinlaw as regards the operation I have been told that two boats operated on the route, one for foot passengers the other for animals and that this appears to have been the case until at least the start of the 20th Century.  From local sources the preferred passenger transport seems to have been the locally abundant and popular Prong.  However a larger craft was required for animals.  One description was of a boat propelled by two long oars that rowed the vessel across the water.  This brings to mind a lighter, but perhaps it was just a large punt or other vessel (Prongs of great size were also built).  I was also told that within living memory horses were guided across by a boat as they swam the river.  The operation, no doubt, conducted when the tidal conditions were favourable.

In all cases the departure point from Great Island seems to have been the end point of the present roadway which we always called when fishing, the Ferry Point.  Two opinions were offered locally on the landing point of the ferry on the Kilkenny side.  One, that it was close to the present road as it meets the water at Ballinlaw, the other that it was further downriver at a larger quay.  Evidence of the historic maps series tends to prove both in fact to be right.  The 6inch of 1837-42 has it close to the present road, the 25inch map of 1888-1913 positions the landing point further down closer to Hennerbrys/O’Briens, perhaps as a consequence of the ending of the official route.

I found no information on the cost to patrons for a trip. However as the rent was similar for New Ross and the Kilmokea ferry it’s plausible at least, that the rates were similar. The New Ross Corporation book stated that the prices were as follows; ½d for every man and woman, 1d for every horse, cow or bullock, ¼d for every sheep or goat, ¼d for every stone of wool and ½d for each barrel of corn. [14] 

A fascinating account of connecting with the river paddle steamer Ida is worth quoting.  “But the most exciting experience of all was at Ballinlaw, when the ponderous ferry-boat with passengers and farm produce from the Great Island made contact with the Ida as she lay to mid stream.  To get the passengers safely aboard by means of a companion ladder involved considerable risk in rough weather.  But the Ballinlaw boatmen knew their job, and no accident occurred in living memory” [15]

 Another perspective is dated from 1786; “This is a very good horse ferry, but not so for carriages.  It is by much the most convenient way for travellers coming from Waterford, as the boat is on that side of the river; and for this reason you are subject to great delays if you come this way from New Ross – The other road is then recommended” [16]

A lighter being rowed in New Ross…a bit too big perhaps for the Ballinlaw animal ferry?
Via Myles Courtney New Ross Street Focus
Thought to be the Little Island Ferry on the Suir and perhaps a more likely similarity to Ballinlaw. Photo via Andy Kelly

What the papers say

A Headline[17] of UNRESERVED AUCTION OF HIGHLY-BRED DAIRY COWS appeared in the papers of 1863, from the Executors of the late John G.Ussher, at LANDSCAPE (2 miles from New Ross, 15 from Wexford and nine miles from Waterford via Ballinlaw Ferry.  Which I think highlights the benefit as seen by using the ferry instead of the road to New Ross.  The piece goes on to mention of the Ferry Inn, Ballinlaw, Slieverue, on the old stagecoach route.  This notion of a stagecoach route seems to tally with local stories I have heard, but I have nothing concrete to draw on as yet.

Underlining its use as a horse ferry I found this piece.  “Saturday morning a melancholy accident happened near the ferry Ballinlaw.—As Mr. Lumsden, Fethard, was riding towards Waterford, for the purpose of meeting his daughters, who were going from that city on a visit him, he was thrown from his horse and killed on the spot.—He was so much disfigured by the fall, that, although perfectly known in the neighbourhood when living, persons could not discover whom, or where he belonged, until his daughters arrived to the fatal spot, who were the first that made the melancholy discovery.”[18]

And it wasn’t just horses! This from an election of 1830 “A fine bullock donated by James Esmonde Esq. for the support of the Freeholders belonging to the Independent interest  during the approaching contest brought in triumph into town (Waterford) decorated with green ribbons, green boughs, laurel, and orange ribbons being attached to the extremity of the tail and the feet, on which the animal trampled. Mr Esmonde had him landed at Ballinlaw Ferry.  Numbers went from town, met him, and marched him on in regular procession.”[19]  Meeting objectors on Timbertoes, they finally entered the city after the procession was forced through.

And of course it wasn’t just law abiding citizens who traversed the waters. A Waterford city man named Patrick Goggins, described as a tramp, who was on the run in Wexford having attacked General Napper, used the ferry to make his freedom.  He “…crossed into Sutton’s Parish, going towards the Great Island, where he knew there a regular ferry across the river at Ballinlaw. A short distance outside the village of Campile, he met a policeman, who was on the look-out for him… and deliberately walked up and asked for a match. Of course the constable never imagined that Goggins would be so cheeky, and leaving the policeman, he passed on into the village, got a drink and a bun in one of the shops, and then set out for the Great Island district. Here he lay in concealment for some hours…crossed over in the ferry-boat. They crossed too, but could get no trace of him. As to his course on reaching the Kilkenny shore there are many stories told. One is to the effect that he walked through Mooncoin to Carrick-on-Suir and … to county Waterford from which he passed on to his native city, where among the lanes and slums of Waterford be has been since able to evade the police of the city…”[20]

And there were women trying to evade capture too! In a piece titled “The Adventuress in New Ross” [21] we learn of a Kilkenny lady named Keating, well known to the local constabulary of that city as a con artist.  She had spent several days in the town of New Ross and the outlying area tricking people out of their money.  “…she is known to have driven in a covered car from Waterford on the following day out to the Kilkenny side of Ballinlaw Ferry, and crossed over to the county of Wexford from which place all trace of her is lost completely. Where she has gone to, or where she is at the present moment, is now a mystery, but if the police had any grounds to go upon—or if any of the victims cared to make an information there is not much doubt but that the adventuress would soon be in ‘durance vile’ awaiting the sentence of the court. As it is, however, those who have been victimised are not inclined to go before the public and prosecute.”

And of course the weather impacted the ferry too.  In 1838 a S.E. gale washed out the causeway linking Great Island to the Wexford mainland, and also the ferry.  The condition of the causeway was described as “…been intersected several deep and wide chasms, and rendered impassable…” causing problems enough for the island, but impacting travel between Waterford Kilkenny and Wexford via the ferry”.  The article demands a more secure and better engineered causeway for the future of transport security.[22]

20th Century and closure

In terms of later years I have heard that the Barden family ran two boats until at least 1906, or the building of the Barrow Bridge.  I suppose it would be no surprise to anyone that the railways had a significant impact on it.  However locally I was told a service, unofficial perhaps, but a service nonetheless ran until the 1960s.

A member of the Shalloe family did kindly correspond with me recently with some family memories which I think are valuable and deserve recording.  “My granny was a Shalloe from the ferry / Ballinlaw…We were told the Hannigans and Heneberrys ran the ferry from the Waterford side…and that a few of the Shalloes ran it from Wexford side in the early 1900’s anyway ( Ned/ Markie/Michael). They all used prongs as it was very muddy on the Wexford side and you could pull up on the mud with the prong. My greatgrandfather Michael Shalloe ran a prong across. He told stories of dropping lads in under Snowhill who were on the run from the black and tans…The Lannons may have been involved in the 1800’s and the Shalloe/ Lannon families did inter marry”

In some sense the work of Jim Walsh[24] tallies with the family memories above. In it we read that the Barden family (who lived in what I believe was a coaching Inn on the Ballinlaw side)ran a licenced[25] ferry using two boats, one for animals, another for passengers.  Mail was transported, but was collected by horse drawn mail coaches (this seems to confirm that there was no system to carry coaches already suggested).  The last two ferrymen who lived on the Wexford side were said to be Larry Lennon and Markie Shalloe; Larry retired in the 1920’s, Markie retired circa 1963.  The last ferrymen on the Kilkenny side were said to be Neddy and Pat Doyle.

While walking around Ballinlaw last week I met Joe Malone who was happy to share some memories of the Ferry.  His thoughts of course tallied with my own in terms of these area and how close the communities were.  Joe recalled taking a group of Dutch cyclists across not so many years back as a favour.  They had come to Ballinlaw from Waterford thinking the ferry still ran.  They intended cycling onto Arthurstown where a youth hostel was to be their bed for the night.  Rather than show them the road to New Ross, he piled them and their bikes into his boat and dropped them across.  

I’m sure he or others like him would think nothing of doing likewise today.  Or at least they would if boats such as prongs, and those skilled in handling them were are numerous as heretofore.  Those days are fading fast of course and I think I will leave the final say on the men and their qualities to T.F. O’Sullivan[26]: “The test of a good boatman…was to negociate…the river bend at Ballinlaw, on a moonless night. The river at Ballinlaw is known as Paul Gauls, after a pub that stood on the shore there.** I never saw the name written down before I wrote it down myself, because old boatmen are not all that good at writing; but I have spelled it as I think an old boatman would, if he could.  Writing is another skill, to be sure, and no harm to those who have some use for it; but if you were rash enough to challenge a Barrow boatman’s skill the least you might expect as a reply is the proud boast of the Barrow Boys: ‘I’d steer down Paul Gaul’s if the moon was tarred”

Acknowledgements

I have a regular crew of helpers who come to my aid with links, contacts, books, opinions and advice and on this trip Frank Murphy, Jim Doherty and Michael Farrell were to the fore. But as I could find little in my usual resources on this topic I did something unusual, I put it out on social media in the hope of other leads. I had an overwhelming response, and too many to thank individually. But John Flynn not alone gave freely of his time, he also trusted me with his books and other materials which I am deeply grateful for. Paul Grant, likewise, could not have done enough to help me both in terms of time and resources and I am indebted to him for many of the images that I have used. Joe Malone was also very generous with both his time and his knowledge. I also would like to expressly thank Brian Forristal and Martha Bolger for information which is contained within the piece. I also received some worthwhile links and information from the local research section of Kilkenny Co Library. My thanks there especially to Nuala.

Lastly can I just say that I hope I have neither offended or misrepresented anyone’s information in the article. Any errors, omissions or inaccuracies are mine and mine alone and are based on my mis-judgement or mishearing/reading of material supplied. Happy to correct or amend as required. Please leave me a comment below or contact me at tidesntales@gmail.com

A piece recently recorded by Waterford Youth Arts on the boats in the Barrow and a short piece on the actual ferry

[1] William Marshall and Ireland.  John Bradley, Cóilin Ó Drisceoil & Michael Potterton, editors.  2016 Four Courts Press, Dublin (From a chapter by Billy Colfer, William Marshalls Settlement Startegy in Wexford (pp 260-261) via John Flynn

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

[3] Ibid p 198 & see also A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland Vol II), Samuel Lewis (1837):

[4] Irish for weir according to Hore p 205

[5] Ibid p 205

[6] I mention this here because in discussing the position of a ferry crossing to Cheekpoint the south side had three fishing weirs of note, one at Kents Point, the other at Culletons and a third at what we call the White Stone. This appears to be at variance with Hore’s later opinions on the Cheekpoint weir, but I mention it as i think there might be some merit in at least highlighting it.

[7] Hore.P.H History of the Town & County of Wexford. Dunbrody Abbey, The Great Island, Ballyhack etc. 1901 London pp 205-213

[8] Ibid p 205

[9] Ibid p 213

[10] Ibid p 219

[11] Ibid p 210

[12] New Ross Rosponte Ros Mhic Treoin An Anthology Celebrating 800 years.  Tom Dunne Ed., 2007. Wexford County Council Public Library Service p 216

[13] Hore.P.H History of the Town & County of Wexford. Dunbrody Abbey, The Great Island, Ballyhack etc. 1901 London pp 205-213p 223

[14] New Ross Rosponte Ros Mhic Treoin An Anthology Celebrating 800 years.  Tom Dunne Ed., 2007. Wexford County Council Public Library Service. p 216

[15] Quote from Jogging my Memory, The Monks School New Ross in the 1880’s.  Mark Canon O’Byrne.  From The Past: The organ of the Uí Cinsealaigh Historical Society. No 18 (1992) pp 55-74

[16] Quoted from “The Post-chaise Companion: Or, Travellers’ Directory Through Ireland”. William Wilson 1786 Dublin and accessed as a free ebook via Google Books

[17] Waterford News and Star Friday, July 03, 1863 Page: 1

[18]Hampshire Chronicle – Saturday 21 April 1798  page 2

[19] Waterford Chronicle – Saturday 20 February 1830 page 1

[20] Wexford People – Saturday 21 July 1894 page 4

[21] Wexford People – Saturday 07 October 1893 page 5

[22] Wexford Conservative – Wednesday 05 December 1838 page 3

[23] Email communication received over Christmas from Yvonne Uí Chuanacháin

[24] Sliabh Rua: a history of its people and places / compiled  by Jim Walsh.

[Publication- Ireland: The Jubilee and Bi-Centenary sub-committee  of Slieverue Parish Pastoral Council, 2011]

[25] As said earlier in the piece, I am unclear about the ownership/charter employing the ferry throughout much of its history.  From a conversation with my cousin James Doherty who is employed in Kilkenny Castle, it seems that the Butlers may have held this.  How they came to have it, or when requires further investigation.

[26] O’Sullivan TF.  Goodly Barrow, A Voyage on an Irish River.  2001.  Lilliput Press.  Dublin

*Paul Grant first mentioned the name of the ferry to me as Camnock, from the Irish suggesting the steep road of the knock, giving a very accurate geographic description of Ballinlaw even today. Jim Walsh records that in 1407 the ferry was leased for the sum total of 20 pence . In 1427 it is leased to a Richard Fitz John by the Earl of Ormond The Earl was reputed to have built Ballinlaw Castle as a defensive structure for the protection of the ferry Suggesting an important investment, and tallying with a similar investment at Grannagh.

**Poll Gaul was a lady, who ran the pub at Ballinlaw with her husband a man named Lyons. It was later taken over by the Halligan family, and later still (and to this day although no longer a pub) the Malones when Aggie Halligan married a Malone. Via Paul Grant

Passage East “invasion” of 1937

Passage East, Co Waterford

Throughout Wednesday 6th January 1937 and into the night, groups of men began arriving in the small village of Passage East in Waterford harbour.  Some arrived in buses, others by car and as the day went on into evening their numbers swelled to an estimated 500.  Teenagers to middle aged, from all class of Irish society, they clutched cases or bags containing their belongings.  They had one thing in common, they all were constantly looking to the river.  But who were they?, where had the come from? and what was their purpose?

Passage East, Co Waterford earlier in the 20th Century from the Wexford side of the river
Photo via Tommy Deegan Waterford History Site

The cause of the invasion was actually several hundred miles south of Passage East; Spain, and a civil war that waged at the time between a grouping of nationalist rebels which was led by a fascist dictator named Franco and the democratically elected government of Spain.  Now being very economically in terms of the background, and perhaps under simplifying it, the Irish newspapers, church and much of the population were on the side of Franco because the democratic government were seen as anti catholic.  Imagine a state where the church did not get to dictate your every moments thought and action! A broader analysis here from History Ireland

In late 1936, the once IRA leader, pro treaty fighter, friend of Michael Collins, one time leader of Fine Geal and founder of the Blueshirts, General Eoin O’Duffy, called for volunteers to fight on behalf of the nationalist side in the war.  The response was so positive that he went on to announced the formation of an Irish Brigade.  But there was a dilemma in this.  Ireland was a neutral country, and the government of the time, Fianna Fail under De Valera did not want to be seen as taking sides.  So volunteers had to be shipped out of the country in relative secrecy.  However, about 500 were said to have left from Galway in late 1936 aboard a German ship SS Urundi flying the swastika, and were seen off by crowds from the quays, causing embarrassment to the government. 

So in January, when the next shipment of volunteers were due to leave, they made their way secretly to Passage East, their goal was to embark another German vessel and sail to Spain.  That day and into the evening and night as the men arrived, the scene grew more problematic.  According to one report[1] it was “a cold and dreary night“ and “some remained in the public houses until closing time” however “the majority had to pace the cheerless streets hour after hour”

Another report[2] stated that at least some of the men found shelter in “the local hall where, where food was provided by the villagers”  

Their ship was due by midnight, apparently a night time boarding and sailing seen as the safest means of leaving their homeland.  The ship however never materialised and by the next afternoon plans were afoot to try secure busses to repatriate the volunteers.  Many had already fled said to be “disgusted with the whole affair, decided to go home and engaged motor cars”[3]  Their ship was rumoured to have been intercepted by the Royal Navy, but I have not found any evidence of that as yet.  Other sources seem to suggest that the Spanish were less than enamoured by the quality of fighting men that were coming from Ireland and may have actually asked the Germans not to sail!

A sense of the public support, a rally in support of Franco in Cork 1936.
Raised hands in sign of a cross Via History Ireland

The newspapers had a field day with the fiasco.  And the following week the Waterford Standard published a three column synopsis of the event and its aftermath, drawn mostly from the national papers.[4]  Recriminations start to fly and argument and counterargument are rife.

Mixed accounts feature in relation to their experience at Passage East, but nothing but praise is uttered towards the villagers.  Plenty of criticism is reserved for the organisation of the event however. Here’s an example

“Mr. Thomas Crimmins, Iveagh House, Bride Street. Dublin, who gave up his employment as a scaffolder … We left Beresford Place, Dublin, at 8.30 p.m, on Wednesday, and, without food or refreshments on the way, reached Passage East at 1.30 a.m. The only public house in the village that was open had been drunk dry, and the early arrivals had eaten whatever food there was. With hundreds of others, I walked the streets for hours on end in the darkness and cold. Some young lads —they could not have been more than 16 years—collapsed from hunger and exhaustion. A few of us were fortunate. We prevailed on a lorry driver from Kildare, who had pigs in the lorry, to let us share the lorry with them. We were so weary that, amidst the grunting and smelly pigs, we actually slept.”

A young man from Cork journeyed by bus, and they were ordered not to sing or make any noise, and the lights were put out as the bus passed through towns and villages. On alighting at Passage it immediately returned to Cork. They were left to sleep on the streets or wherever they could find a place to lie on. He went on to say “I slept on the open street. I had no supper, and I was hungry and cold. After some time we broke into an old, condemned schoolhouse but there was not accommodation for a quarter of us there and many of us still had to sleep in the street. From the schoolhouse we went to a club house in Passage East.”

The organisation itself was quick to defend itself, and rebutted much of the claims made. Another volunteer offered the following, and perhaps accurate, assessment:  “I knew I was not going on a picnic, and if men grumbled about the hardship they suffered for 24 hours on this occasion I am confident that their services would not be much of an acquisition to the Irish Brigade”

From what I have read on the topic it would appear that the Galway contingent was the last to enter the conflict from Ireland on the Nationalists side.  As it happens, the men in Passage could probably be said to have had a lucky escape.  The Irish Brigade did not cover itself with glory in the conflict and within a few months of 1937 they would be disarmed and asked to leave Spain due to a variety of embarrassing incidents.  In their defence they were poorly trained, poorly led and had effectively been sold a pup as to the reality of the conflict they were entering.

O’Duffy takes a salute from the Blueshirts.

Of course Irishmen also fought on the opposite side in Spain as members of the international brigade, and with much more distinction.  A book from their perspective that I could heartily recommend is by a Waterford man Peter O’Connor and called a Solider of Liberty; recollections of a socialist and anti-fascist fighter.  

Mark Power has a series of podcasts from a local perspective on the civil war that I would recommend

I’d like to thank Clifford Elliott and his son of Passage who first mentioned this event to me and got me interested

Long form article on the conflict

A book on the era recommended here by Frank Murphy


[1] Belfast News Letter Friday 8th January 1937 P 7

[2] Northern Whig Friday 8th January 1937 p 8

[3] Belfast News Letter Friday 8th January 1937 P 7

[4] Waterford Standard – Saturday 16 January 1937 page 8

Alfred D Snow – Prelude to a disaster

Alfred D Snow Andy Kelly image

The story of the loss of the American sailing ship Alfred D Snow is well known in Waterford harbour.  Following a ferocious storm overnight the American sailing ship was seen at 9am inside the Hook with much of her sail taken off and working upriver with a SSW Gale at her stern.  By 2pm that day nothing would remain of the ship or her 29 crew after she grounded on the Wexford side of the harbour, close to Broom Hill. But where had she come from and what had she already endured?

Alfred D Snow was a three masted fully rigged timber sailing ship, built in the Samuel Watts shipyard in Maine, USA. Sometimes her type was referred to as a ‘Down Easter’.  She was 232 feet long with a beam of 42 feet.

She sailed into San Francisco bay on what was described as a gloriously sunny day almost 6 months before, on the 20th July 1887.  She was one of 26 deep sea ships; both sail and steam in the Bay that late afternoon and as the sun set she found herself anchoring beside another ship from her home state of Main the Joseph B Thomas under the command of Captain William Learmond.  As was customary in such situations, the officers and crew made the most of the opportunity to visit each other’s craft and share yarns and news of home.

Alfred D Snow
Alfred D Snow. Image courtesy of Andy Kelly

The skipper of the Alfred D Snow was Captain William Willey and he was described by a contemporary as “handsome with his jet black hair, moustaches and side whiskers”, and was held in high regards by his crew and the business people he dealt with. 

She was 143 days out of New York having sailed around the Cape Horn.  Tragedy had followed them on the trip however, not uncommon in the days of sail, as first a 26 year old Swede named Charles Lindgren fell from the rigging on March 28th and was killed instantly when his head struck the rail.  On April 8th the main topsail staysail block gave way and struck a German sailor, 30 year old Chas. Brown.  He died two days later of his injuries.  Both men were buried at sea, as was custom at the time.

In the hold of the Alfred D Snow was a mixed manifest including 1000 tons of steel rails and once removed an outbound cargo was secured.  A local businessman William Dresbach, known as the wheat king of California, chartered her to carry a cargo of wheat (3150 tons, valued at $95,000) and 36,000 feet of dunnage lumber.  She loaded her cargo in Oakland and on the 31st August she sailed out through the Golden Gate Strait into the pacific and turned south for the Horn.  Her trip according to most accounts was described as uneventful, however as we already know, her arrival into Waterford harbour would be anything but.[1]

Approaching the Irish coast a south east gale started to blow. The crew battled bravely but in vain and as the storm grew in force they were forced to seek shelter in Waterford Harbour. She rounded the Hook on the morning of the 3rd January (a Tuesday) 1888.  Her sails were reduced, leaving her without much helm, the ship tried to either work its way up the harbour or under the Hook peninsula, in an effort to find shelter.

On land the people were helpless to give direct assistance; despite the turn out of the local coastguard on the Wexford side, the ship and her crew could not be reached from the shore. The Dunmore East lifeboat, Henry Dodd was called but didn’t respond until much later in the day with a makeshift crew, which was a matter of controversy at the time. The paddle tug Dauntless did try to respond. A telegram reached Captain Cotter who immediately departed from sheltering at Passage East.  It was a trip in vain however; manoeuvrability was hampered after a paddle wheel was damaged in the fury of the seas. 

An oil painting of the Lynmouth lifeboat Louisa, by artist Mark Myers.©RNLI
A contemporary craft to the Dunmore lifeboat of the time. The Henry Dodd was stationed at Dunmore from June 1884.

The crew of the Dauntless could clearly see the ship was grounded.  From a distance they witnessed the ship heeling on to her side, the waves crashing aboard, and the desperate efforts of the crew to launch a ships boat.  This they lowered into the sea with some difficulty and eventually got away with some of the crew.  The onlookers were helpless however as it was swamped and all aboard were drowned. Their remaining crewmates took to the rigging of the ship, hoping for salvation. As the gale continued to roar and the seas continued to pound, the ship started to break up and the exhausted crew were washed away, swallowed up in the surf[2].

Although the memory of the tragedy lives on, I can never help but ponder how unkind fate was to these sailors.  Having endured the roaring forties, the Cape, her surging greybeards and the might of the wintery Atlantic, had she made the Tuskar Rock that night she would surely have survived as she entered the relative shelter of the Irish Sea.  We will never know for sure of course. Several other questions are posed too of course, for example can we be certain the 29 man crew survived the trip to reach the Irish coast? These will have to wait for another time.

I would like to thank David Carroll, Brendan Dunne, Joe Falvey Mark Holoan and Captain Willeys gt gt granddaughter Betsey White for assistance with this piece


[1] The details of the preceding paragraphs, except the introduction, was taken from an article titled The Wreck of the Alfred D Snow. By Michael D White in the March 2018 edition of Sea Classics.  Vol. 51, Iss. 3 Pp 10-14

[2] Power. John. A Maritime History of County Wexford. Vol I 1859-1910. 2011. Olinda Publications. Kilmore Quay

New book 2019 – Stories from the Aft Oar

2019 is upon us, and whatever about new year resolutions, one promise I’ve made myself is to publish a second book.

I had planned to write a new book during this year but having had the good fortune of working on a rebrand of Faithlegg House combined with a wonderful sun filled summer and three week holiday in Canada…it all fell through. The intention was to write a maritime history of Waterford but the project was too vast and it will have to wait for a few more years, or another writer.

But I have scoped out a project for myself, one that’s achievable I think once my other commitments such as work, family and community don’t get in the way.

My working title is Stories from the Aft Oar. And here is an abridged introduction and chapter layout to give you a sense of the project.

Salmon fishing at Cheekpoint 2006
Andy Cunningham & Sonny Doherty
Photo Tomás Sullivan
A potential cover for the book
Andy Cunningham and my uncle Sonny Doherty hauling salmon driftnets at Cheekpoint 2006
Photo courtesy of Tomás Sullivan

The Irish have an old phrase for the passing along of local culture and lore.  Ó Ghlúin go Glúin, or from knee to knee.  In short, that stories told to children on the knee of their elders are in turn passed along to the next generation by the same process.  So strong was this connection that the Gaelic word for generation is the same as knee.  But in a fishing community such as mine, and particularly as the old ways were breaking down in my youth, these tales or yarns were told to me while drifting for salmon, in the company of fishermen.  Hence the working title, as we rowed the punts using oars, and the skipper always sat at the aft oar.

The greatest source of my stories has been my father, Bob Doherty; sailor, fisherman, factory worker, gardener and raconteur extraordinaire.  But my father’s ability to tell a story has sometimes caused me difficulties, specifically credibility because when I start with “According to my father…” I have to acknowledged that he was noted for his tall tales.  Pat Murphy, a friend of his who worked with him at the Paper Mills factory in Waterford in the 1970’s recalled to me recently one such tale.

Pat had a car and as they shared the same shift, he brought my father with him to work. One very frosty morning Pat stopped at the collection point but there was no sign of my father. A few weeks later Pat was in the canteen in work and thought he’d blackguard my father and so he mentioned to some of his colleagues about Bob sleeping it in some weeks previous.

My father came straight over and made answer “Well now mates, Pat Murphy don’t believe it, but I have since rectified the problem. I was out on the road one day not long after the incident and I met a man and we fell to talking. I mentioned how on frosty nights the clock don’t work so good. Well the man was an engineer and he was very interested and insisted on seeing it, and after carefully examining it, told me it was a tropical clock. Christ I said, I bought it when sailing overseas in Egypt, but the chap never mentioned that. A few days later a lagging jacket arrived by post from the engineer, and do ye know what? – it hasn’t lost a second since”

According to Pat each of the men looked from one to the other and then to him. But my father wasn’t done yet. “And I’ll tell ye now mates, I haven’t been late for Pat Murphy since”

And all Pat could do was agree, he hadn’t. He was regularly asked by his ex work colleagues for years after if Bob Doherty’s tropical clock was still keeping time.

My father Bob on the left, sailors tattoo proudly displayed

So my father had a bit of a reputation when it came to stories, but over the years I have found more than a grain of truth in many of them as indeed I have found similar in much that I was told as a child.  There’s no stories of tropical clocks here, but who knows maybe there will be in the future!

A prospective outline of the book and chapters

Introduction

Tides and Tales

Blurb

Biography

Chapter 1              Press Gangs – my father

Chapter 2              Buttermilk Castle – nanny (NLI Photo)

Chapter 2              Mail Packets – Cheekpoint quay and the village Andy joe and others

Chapter 3              Paddle Steamers – Early transport – Christy Doherty (NLI Photo)

Chapter 4              Captain Cook and the Lady that was buried twice (Church photo)

Chapter 5              Dollar bay pirates – walking on the strand

Chapter 6              Weir Wars (photo of Castle Weir – Johnny Moran as a child)

Johnny Moran, a gran uncle who emigrated and died in America. Photographed at the Castle Weir 1930
Photo by Fr Michael Doyle
I got the original from America recently from my cousin Brian Moran to help with my work

Chapter 7              Alfred D Snow – Big Patsy Doherty (painting – Brian for permission)

Chapter 8              Quarantine Station – Eamon Duffin

Chapter 9              Hobblers –

Chapter 10            Coast Guard – Jim

Chapter 11            Spider Light – John –

Chapter 12            Darkie Burns and the Schooner B I – Ellen – (Photo of BI Pat?)

Chapter 13            Banshee Attack at Coolbunnia – Halloween times

Chapter 14            Captain Tebbenjoahnnes lucky escape  (sketch of UC class?)

Chapter 15            Coningbeg & Formby – (Source a hi res image)

Chapter 16            Captain Udvardy – nanny (PM maybe for an image?)

Chapter 17            Escaping the cairngorm

Chapter 18            Pat Hanlon/Altmark my father

Chapter 19            The boys that lassoed the mine and saved the Barrow Bridge

Chapter 20            Campile Bombing -my father

Chapter 21            The Great Western – Tom Sullivan  – (NLI photo?)

Chapter 22            Minaun Hill Cross – my father  (via Brian Moran)

Chapter 23            MV Ocean Coast – Maurice Doherty yarn (Fathers award)

Chapter 24            Building Great Island Power station – Pat Murphy yarn

So my plan this year is to work on creating this book for self publication in the summer. However, I might also submit an outline with some sample chapters to publishers in the hope of securing a book deal. It never entered my head with my first book, Before the Tide Went Out, but my experience is that without publicity and the support of a publisher it is difficult to get the book seen at a national level. I’d certainly recommend self publishing to anyone, but I’m no businessman and a publisher might take the hassle out of stocking, publicity etc which takes so much time.

If you have any comments, feedback or encouragement I’d love to hear it. Here’s to a wonderful 2019 for us all, a year of good health, safety and wonderful stories of local maritime history. Thanks for all your support. Andrew

Christmas in Aylwardstown

The last guest blog of 2018 comes from the River Barrow and brings us back to simpler times in the company of the Connollys of Aylwardstown via the pen of Brian Forristal. The area of Aylwardstown is beside the river Barrow close to Glenmore on the Kilkenny side and Tommy was well known in Cheekpoint as a builder and repairer of the distinctive local boat the Prong. Brian like myself was raised around the river and has a deep appreciation of it and the people who lived upon it. I loved this account and I believe you will too.

Tommy realised as he looked to the north east that there was snow on the wind and it was blowing savagely down an angry River Barrow.  He knew that there was a lot of work to be done before Christmas arrived and the last thing he needed was a blizzard of snow to delay him.

That Christmas tree he had seen last week in Graiguenakill, softly nestled in a grove of larch wood needed chopping before anyone else cast their eye on it.  A splendid specimen, not too tall so as to fit into the kitchen of the cottage nicely, and not too broad as to impinge on the tight space near the dresser.   He had better go soon and cut it down for he had to drag it back to Aylwardstown across the fields as he did not want anyone else to see him take it out of the larch wood.

That was one of the pre Christmas jobs to be done, another was to kill the goose he kept on the commons and had been fattening for the previous months. Extra kindling had to be brought in, in case the weather took a turn for the worst, which meant dragging it from the cutting shed situated just north of the cottage on the river bank.  Country cottages were always adorned with holly and ivy for the festive season and gave a natural feel of the outdoors, indoors; this had to be gathered from the surrounding fields.

The late Tommy Connolly, Photo by Brian Forristal

He dallied about which to do first and after much soul searching decided to go after the tree, that was the one that could not wait, all the rest would still be here when he got back.

He informed Molly that he was heading for Graiguenakill to cut the Christmas tree and would be gone for a few hours.  She asked him would he be back for his dinner at 11 o’clock and he said he would, seeing it was only 8am, he thought he had plenty of time to get there and back.

Gathering an axe from his shed he headed along the road as far as the railway tracks and cut into the fields that ran behind kelly’s big house, then veering right in the direction of Carrigcloney until he met the road that ran back to the river.  Moving on north west from here he cut across the large stubble field behind Killivory/Kilmokevoge ruined church, he was now in sight of the glen where the larch wood was.  He crossed the stream at the end of the gorge and climbed the winding lane that led through the larch wood.  About half way up this lane and in behind the first few lines of larch stood the tree that Tommy had eyed up weeks before.  Taking off the rope that he had carried around his shoulder, he firmly gripped the axe with both hands and began to chop at the butt of the tree.  While it did not take long to cut through the stump, by the time he had felled it he had worked up a good sweat, which kept the biting cold at bay. He proceeded to tie the rope around the butt and then headed for home making his way more or less back along the same route taken previously towing the tree behind him.

When he got to the ditch at the far end of the stubble field, just as he was about to push the tree over onto the road, a voice bellowed to him from the roadside, it was Dermoy Ryan from Killivory just along the road.

“I see the Christmas tree is free again this year Connolly?” he shouted

“As every other year” he retorted back.

“You must be frozen to the bone crossing that 5o acres of stubble, come up to the house and we will have a Christmas drink to put the heat in you”

Tommy tied the tree to a fence post on the inside of the ditch, out of sight from anyone using the road.  Both of them headed to Dermoy’s cottage along the roadway and went inside, Tommy sitting in beside the fire to feel the warmth of the glow.  Dermoy handed him a full glass of whiskey and then joined him by the fire.

Both men talked and drank for ages and those reminisces of years ago entered their conversation with laughter and good banter.  One glass led to another and before long Tommy had forgotten about the time and the dinner, when something tweaked his memory he jumped up suddenly and bade Dermoy farewell and a happy Christmas and sprang out the door to look for his tree.  Luckily his tree was in the same spot so he untied it and headed for home, even though as a much slower pace that he had left that morning.

It was now around 1 o’clock and he still had a number of jobs to do around the cottage.  Getting back to Aylwardstown he was met by the wiry comment from Molly that a liquid lunch must have been provided by the fairies considering the state he was in.  He shook off the verbal onslaught and brought the tree into the cottage and sat down and had his dinner before tackling the other jobs on the list.

Molly said she would look after the tree and decorate it while Tommy finished his dinner and got on with the other jobs.  Having soaked up much of the whiskey he set about killing the goose for the Christmas table and was glad he had a few that morning to steady his nerves.   The kill was swift and humane and the bird did not suffer, the prized goose was prepared for the pot and left to hang until the flesh was ready for the pot in the days to come.

A bustling South St. New Ross pre 1940’s
Courtesy of Myles Courtney, New Ross Street Focus

By now a few flakes had started to fall and gathering in the holly and ivy was now paramount before the real cold spell arrived.  Two fields over towards Carrigcloney lay a grove of hazel and hawthorn trees which had a good covering of ivy and would be easy enough to pull from the trees.  Having arrived and pulled the long strips from the bark he rolled them into circles and tied them down, now they were handy to throw over the shoulder for the short journey home.

For the holly he would travel up the lane and over the railway tracks to the Phelan’s land.  On the boundary ditches lay some good specimens of holly which always supplied a good crop of berries; without the berries the spirit of Christmas would not sit in the cottage, this was his way of thinking.

With all that collected and left in the yard, Molly worked away at making it into shapes that were accessible inside the cottage.  The list was dwindling and now all that was left was to get the train into New Ross and gather the groceries to tie them over the festive spell.  A little extra would be bought in the event the weather turned bad and they were unable to get out of Aylwardstwon over the coming weeks.  Shopping completed Tommy would head into the local pub to catch up on the news with old friends and acquaintances, while Molly would head over town to do the last few bits and pieces.  When fishermen get together there is no stopping the talk and the time passes quickly, half one after half one soon disappear and merriment ensues.

As dusk begins to fall and Molly returns to collect Tommy, they both head across the bridge to catch the returning train.  Weighed down with several bags they would be glad to see the sight of the cottage and the flowing river, home they would be, tired but happy that they got through the necessity of the festive shop and they could now relax and enjoy it all together.

Glenmore railway station. Photo via Paul Grant.

Christmas morning brought a late dawn with grey skies and a bitter cold feel to it.  Tommy had a blazing fire going early on to keep the bitter cold out and the crackling of the blocks sent slivers of red hot wood out into the centre of the cottage room.  Dinner was prepared early as they usually had theirs at about 11 o’clock in the morning. At that time Molloy and himself sat at the little table that looked out over the yard and out to the river and rejoiced in the little feast that lay before them.

 The shortness of the winter light soon caught up upon the Barrow valley and Molloy drew the curtains and settled down to the evening.  The television was put on first to see if there was anything of interest to watch, failing that the radio was engaged and some traditional Irish music would sooth the evening away.  Tommy was often tempted to take down the fiddle and join in with the music, but he preferred a few people to play to than rather an almost empty room.

Both of them sat in on the fire and watched the embers glow and talked of the day, what tomorrow might bring and past Christmas’s had went.  The clock chimed on the wall and the night was still, crackling logs the only intruder into the stillness.

About 8 o’clock when all was quiet a faint knock appeared on the front door, slightly startled Tommy shouted to know who was there.

“Tis Seán Óg Kennedy from Rathinure”

Tommy opened the door and the dark shadow of Seán entered the cottage spouting seasonal greetings to them both.

On been asked what brought him out on a dark and cold night, he said he could not put up with listening to his brothers bickering any longer in the house, even on Christmas night they argued about the price of cattle, what field to sow potatoes in next spring, who’s turn it was to feed the calves in the morning.  He had enough and strolled to the river to find a bit of solace and a quiet corner to sit in.

Shuffling in on the floor he warmed his hands and then Tommy handed him a glass of whiskey and the chat ensued.  They talked well into the night and the sign of sleep never set upon any of them.  As the clock chimed midnight Seán decided he had taken up enough of their time and decided to head for home.  Tommy offered him a spare bed in the back room if he did not fancy going out.  Declining, he faded into the darkness of the night with the words of Tommy ringing in his ears not to go home by Kilcolumn graveyard as the dead would still be about celebrating the festive night and he might get caught up with them.  If he felt any fear at walking home at that hour it was the last thing he wanted to hear then.

The cottage door was bolted and the two elderly people made their way to their bed.  Another Christmas night had passed and now they looked forward to the New Year and the coming spring, when the haggard would take all his attention to get ready for another growing season. The spirit of Christmas had for another year settled on the cottage by the Barrow and gave it its blessing, all was quite there again.

©Brian Forristal

My thanks to Brian Forristal for bringing that slice of life from the River Barrow at Christmas, even if you did not know the people I’m sure the characters depicted would be familiar to you.  A neighbour of the Connollys on the Wexford side of the Barrow was John Seymore, known as the god father of self sufficiency who I have written about before. Guest blogs are published on the last Friday of the month and if you have a story to share about the three rivers or the harbour area please submit it to tidesntales@gmail.com 

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