Waterford’s Illuminated Fountain Clock

In 1864 Waterford finally had a new fully functioning landmark installed on its bustling quays. Construction had been a protracted, disjointed and often stormy affair as it was funded through an ongoing public subscription . The intention was to provide a clock that would be visible day and night to sailor and citizen alike in what was then Ireland’s busiest port. Perhaps reflecting the Victorian era, it was originally conceived as an Illuminated Fountain Clock. But to generations of Waterford people it became known as the Clock Tower.

An early coloured postcard via Michael O’Sullivan Waterford History Site

The Clock Tower was constructed in an era when time had become a crucial factor in shipping.  For centuries time and tide waited on no man.  But with the advent of steam power, ships now ruled the tides, arriving and departing to a set schedule.  Julian Walton states that it was built to a design of Charles Tarrant and described the motivation thus: “It was vital that everyone should know exactly what the right time was- ship’s crews and masters, merchants buying or selling their wares, drovers bringing animals to or from the quay and the carters loading and unloading cargoes” [1]

1894 image via Michael O’Sullivan Waterford History Site. Jarveys took paying passengers from the location, replaced in modern times by bus

But the reality of the construction phase was far from straightforward and the whole project was not without its challenges.  Certainly the first mention I could find didn’t auger well.  This was in December 1859 when members of the corporation were asked to vote on a motion of providing £150 from the water bailiffs fee for the purpose of providing the city quays with “an illuminated clock for the benefit of shipping”.  The motion was controversial however, many members felt the city could not afford it.  The motion was eventually passed by a vote of 19 councillors for, 9 against.

In May of 1861 it was announced that John Murphy had been appointed contractor for “the erection of the clock tower and fountain at the end of Barronstrand Street” In July the papers expressed relief that the first stage of the building had been completed, and a mound of stone had been removed. It appears that the initial foundations were not firm enough to cater for the soft mud and weak soil that lay beneath the chosen location.  In an effort to ensure a solid base it appears that tons of rocks were piled high on the spot and not until these had settled was the remainder removed and foundations undertaken.  (As I’m not an engineer, I’m open to correction on this interpretation)

In November another local paper article gave a list of subscribers who made donations to support the building project.  It confirms the struggle to raise funds which was by way of public subscriptions (an early form of crowd funding!): “…received the following subscriptions to the Clock Tower on the Quay:—Messrs. Cherry, Brothers £1; John Phelan, Quay 10s; Mr. Lenehan, Quay 10s; Mr. Thompson, High-street I0s; Dr. Condell 10s; Messrs Doherty and Clampert 10s; Mr. Locke, Quay 5s; Dr Scott 5s; Mr. Kelly, Little George’s-street 2s 6d; P. K. Reid 5s; Mr. Ross, Quay 2s Mr. Sullivan 2s 6 ; Mr. Behm 2s. Mr. John Phelan, Mr. Lenehan, and Mr. Locke, additional subscriptions”. 

In June 1862 the scaffolding around the building was wearing thin on the patience of locals, provoking comment and questions relating to the ever lengthening completion date.  In September relief was expressed when a weather vane had been placed atop and the scaffolding taken down.  Unfortunately it didn’t end the saga however, as a wish is expressed that the clock would be next to be put in place! By October one paper described it as a “useless monument” while another, perhaps in an effort towards optimism, reported that the Harbour Commissioners were helping out the funding appeal by donating £50 to the construction costs and £12 towards the clock itself.

It was as late as two years later before some good news was reported – “The appearance of this building is much improved the erection of a pinnacle over each of the four dials. Mr. Mosley (a local clock maker) is engaged in putting up the clock, which will have four transparent dials, each of which will be illuminated by four gas jets. The interior of the tower is rather small, and there will be much difficulty in winding and regulating the clock, in consequence of the contracted space in the interior.”[2]

The pinnacles as they look today. I’d imagine it was part of the original design, as they fit seamlessly into the structure.

The lighting of the clock seems to have proved another challenge and at various times there are reports of the gas being turned off due to a non payment of fuel fees.  The last mention I found about this was 1897.

Hobbit like access door (north side)

The fountain element of the Clock is also a bit of a mystery to me.  I presume this worked from the outset.  The features still exist to the present (on three sides), though not now in use.  The intention was that humans and horses could drink of the water.  However, one account from 1871, explains how a debate at the Harbour Commissioners monthly meeting received a deputation to lobby about watering cattle.  The water at the fountains was claimed to be unfit for human use, and that it could be redirected to troughs to provide for cattle stating it– “…was much wanted for the poor famished cattle…and their erection would not only prevent a great waste of water, but confer a great boon on the brute creation in the city.”  In the case of all great decisions – the matter was referred to the Quay Committee, who we are assured had “power to act”[3]

The twentieth century seems to have been more kindly towards the building, at least in the reportage.  The building settled into the built fabric of the city. Its newsworthiness is as a backdrop, it’s regularly a meeting place, a departure point for political rallies, union marches and religious processions.  It also features very regularly in the 1950’s newspapers for car accidents. 

My father in law, Vic Bible, recalled that in the early fifites you were either early or late for the pictures depending on which direction you approached the clock. A report of the time explains that “…for some time past the four faces of the present clock, grown old and querulous, have been unable to agree, and an independent referee —in this case Waterford Corporation—has decided that the only way to restore harmony is to retire the old and install a new timekeeper. Work on the change-over will, it is hoped, begin early in May. The Corporation proposes to install a modern auto-wound timepiece with four skeleton cast dials, backed with opal, to replace the existing movement in the tower, which is now more than 90 years old and completely run down. The firm engaged to do the work, Messrs. Potts, Marshall, Mills, of Leeds. It is also intended to clean and overhaul the stonework of the Tower at the same time.”[4]

If memory serves the building got a cleaning in recent years, possibly for the Tall Ships. To be fair it has stood the test of time, has served its original function quite well, and is certainly a venerable city institution. The Clock Tower is a building that deserves closer scrutiny, with some fascinating architectural features. It’s humbling to think of the struggles the city had in raising the funds to complete it, but for me it was certainly a struggle that paid dividends.


[1] Walton. J. O’Donoghue.F. On This Day Vol 1. (2013) Waterford.

[2] Waterford Mail – Monday 31 October 1864

[3] Waterford Standard – Wednesday 14 June 1871; page 3

[4] Waterford Standard – Saturday 25 April 1953; page 2

Rochestown roots, an Irish Homestead

This months guest blog is brought to us by Brian Forristal who remembers his ancestors in a small cottage in Rochestown, Co Kilkenny beside the fast flowing River Barrow. A family of boatmen and farm labourers, Brian’s recollections are set in the context of a walk, a few years back through the Rochestown townland. He stopped for a while outside the family homestead which prompted a flood of memories. Over to you Brian.

The zinc roofed cottage signifies the birth of the Forristal family from my perspective, as it was where my grandfather and great grandfather originated.  Looking in on it now, its position emanates ‘homestead’ and I can feel the pull of my roots back to this hallowed spot.  Passing by there on Saturday 17th October 2015, I could still sense very strongly the serenity and tranquility of the place, as I peered through the gates and cast my eyes across the remnants of family history. My grandfather, Thomas Forristal was born on 23rd June 1886 in the cottage in Rochestown, to the union of John and Mary Forristal nee Reddy.  He was the fourth of five children. 

His father is listed on his birth cert as a farm labourer, but on the 1901 census he was a boatman.  This coincides with the stories of him working as a ferryman on the river, probably seasonal work, and more likely he worked for the local farmers during the winter months.  Thomas is not listed on the 1911 census, which may infer that he was either out of the parish on that night, or had by then moved to Waterford city for work.

Brian’s hand drawn map of the area and the hunting ground of local fishermen

The five children born in the cottage include Thomas’ brothers James, Patrick, Jack and the eldest, a sister, named Bridget.  When the then owner, Jimmy Walsh showed me and my dad around the cottage in the 1990’s (Dad’s first visit since its new occupants)we were amazed at how small the interior looked.  What I found very interesting was where the fold down table was positioned; you could still see the brackets, a great space saver.  There were hollows in the wall which held the pails of water, so you had to be very economical with the little space that was available.  There was a small loft upstairs, which was a bedroom, and a room/shed next door was used for the same – which raises the question of where everyone slept?

Fishing and boating was in their blood and they fished on the Barrow.  My grandfather and his brother Jack took part in many regattas over the years and were very competitive; I have a copy of a programme from a Waterford regatta from 1925 in which they were both listed along with other men from Glenmore and Slieverue, and I know from talking to people around the parish that Jack in particular was feared by many crews in competition.

Their brother James is listed at home in the 1901census but by 1911 he is in Clonmel where he is a boarder at house #4 in Gladstone Street.  He is listed as 31 years of age and working as a clerk in a coal yard; he had joined the Irish Volunteers and was out in 1916.  During the War of Independence he joined the 3rd Tipperary Brigade and fought throughout that conflict, but played no part during the civil War.  He died on 29th May 1961 aged 78, and is buried in St Patricks Graveyard in Clonmel.

Landing place in the lower Barrow where boats were moored and a place of work, leisure and storytelling
Brian Forristal

John or Jack as he was more commonly known is also listed as a boatman in the 1901 census and may well have worked with his father during that period; he is listed as being 17 years old.  He also worked in various labouring jobs around the townland, but is best remembered for his rowing prowess on both the Suir and Barrow rivers.  Tommy Connolly (who Brian has introduced to us on the blog before) once said of him “By Christ, he was an oarsman” and in the only photograph I have of him he looks the part; tall, broad shoulders, wearing a cap and under his nose a sweeping moustache, fashionable at the time.  Unfortunately Jack died a young man from peritonitis in the city infirmary here in Waterford city on 19th July 1939 aged 55 years.  Quickly and without warning, as a burst appendix does, a silent and deadly killer that stripped Rochestown of one of its favourite sons.  At the present I am a year older now, than he was when he died, and that puts things into perspective.

A traditional boat of the lower Barrow, a prong with draft net ready to set on her stern. Brian Forristal

Paddy was by all accounts the quiet one of the family, I don’t know.  He was the last of the family to live in the cottage, and in old age moved in with my Grandmother and grandfather in Morgan Street.  I have a photograph taken with my grandfather and himself in the yard behind the house, in which he looks like he is smiling, and on the other hand grandad looks deadly serious.  He was also supposed to be very curious in appearance, and liked to dress well and look after his clothes.  Which brings me to Tommy Connolly telling me that if paddy walked down the mud to give a hand pulling a prong ashore, he would stroll back up onto the bank and there would not be a speck of mud on him.  When I put it to Tommy that would not be unusual if he had wellington boots on, he retorted that that he was talking about when he had his shoes on!  Surely impossible, but not according to Tommy, who stated that mud and dirt evaded him and he always looked clean and polished.  I have no idea of what paddy worked at all his life, a farm labourer no doubt, dad did not mention it, and now in the mists of time I realise I should have asked him more details.

Paddy remained a bachelor, just like Jack, and died on the 11th march 1953, aged 64 years, again laid to rest in the family plot in the Big Glen.

Glenmore Church

 My grandfather Thomas moved into Waterford city to work, and from family recollections he worked on the Clyde wharf as a docker/checker.  We found out that he was previously married before my grandmother came on the scene, and this was intriguing to me as I sought out this elusive woman, and what had happened to her.

Her headstone, at the back of the chapel in Glenmore, records her name as Catherine Roche, and she was from the townland of Scartnamore, not far from Rochestown.  She was born in 1886, and died in 1923 at the age of 37 years.  Family history tells me that she died whilst 7 months pregnant on their first child which was very sad.  The following appeared in the Waterford Evening News on Saturday March 3rd 1923.  Death of mrs K Forristal, (37)  We regret to announce the death, which took place yesterday at her residence, Morgan Street, of mrs Kate Forristal, wife of Thomas Forristal.  The funeral will take place tomorrow in Glenmore.

What a sad time this was for granddad, to lose the love of his life so young and so tragically.  Some years ago on one of our walks, dad and I went to Scartnamore, and we met Pat Grace who was able to  show us the ruins of the house that Catherine once lived in.  It was at one time a fine two storey country house set in off the lane in a medium sized haggard.  The ruin is now down to one level and overgrown.  It is situated near the end of the lane that comes in from the High Road and that runs towards Kilcolumn graveyard.  So it was a very remote setting brimming with peace and quiet, and having only a couple of cottages around them.

I often think of that day, March 4th 1923 with granddad standing at the graveside in Glenmore, a cold March wind in his face, and having to lay to rest the two most important people in his life.  Life throws up many unfair challenges to everyone, but he probably thought ‘why did I get the cruelest of them all?’  What if they had survived?  We would not be here today, and be able to talk about them and remember them.  His life then took another journey when he met my grandmother Sarah Foran.  He was working on the docks and she was employed in a shop in Patrick’s Street, over which she lived.  They married and had five children and the story went on from there, and here we are.  When I am in Glenmore graveyard paying my respects, I go to Catherine’s grave and say a prayer for her and her baby.  I feel I owe that to granddad at least.  Thomas Forristal died on the 29th April 1955 aged 68 years.

Clyde Wharf, where Thomas was employed, viewed from the North Quays via Brendan Grogan

As a tail end to the above I managed to get copies if the 1901 and 1911 census returns and we find Catherine aged 14, and registered as Kate in the 1901 census, living with her father and mother in Scartnemore-Rathinure.  Her parents John (farmer) and Kate Roche, her two brothers and two sisters.  Interestingly they had on the night four lodgers who were all navvy’s presumably working on the construction of the Waterford to new Ross railway line.  In the 1911 census she was still at home and aged 22?  One has to be very careful about some of the entries as the ages sometimes do not add up. The navvy’s were long gone from the house at this time.

And so, last but not least, we come to the only sister to inhabit that household, my father’s aunt Bridget.

The only image I have seen of her was a photocopy of a print that Billy Forristal gave me many years ago.  It shows Bridget standing outside the cottage, proudly wearing her hat, and overhead a magnificent canopy of reed thatch covering the roof.  To her side a bicycle stands against the wall.  All that I have been told of her by dad was that she was a lovely woman, proud and hardworking, who looked after the menfolk of the house, with diligence, family love and devotion, above and beyond the call.  She never married and lived all her life there in Rochestown.  Tommy Connolly told me a snippet of information about her, and that was that on the 1st may every year she would go out into the yard, and having cut a bough of hawthorn, she would place it on the top of the dung heap or tie it to the nearest tree, and then set about decorating it in honour of our lady for the duration of the month.  And so Bridget fades into the mists of time like so many others, and the faint memories leave their trace around the cross roads of Rochestown……and now we take to the road again…

Brians writing underscores the deep and lasting connection a sense of place creates. Its something I’m sometimes lucky enough to share with visitors to my own area. To see the old homestead, a grave, where a family member worked or went to school creates a deep bond with an area, a connection that seems to transcend time and place. But I’m also very conscious of those who are not remembered, who left no trace, not even the stones of their mud cabins remaining. Which brings to mindthe English poet Edward Thomas, and some specific lines from his poem Roads (1916)
“Roads go on
While we forget, and are
Forgotten like a star
That shoots and is gone.”

Next month Maurice Power takes us to Carrick On Suir where we meet a working boat and boat man, that in the fullness of time has almost become iconic.  That of course is my view, next month you can decide

Submit a guest blog

If anyone reading this has a blog that they would like to submit for consideration they can email me at tidesntales@gmail.com to discuss. The blog should relate to the areas maritime heritage be 1200 words approximately. I’m always delighted to get new material, and would love to hear from younger readers too, who might have ideas to share.  The purpose of the guest blog is to widen the scope and allow other  local voices to emerge from around the harbour, coast or the rivers of the three sisters

1495 siege of Waterford

During an eleven day siege of Waterford in 1495, a river bombardment by the cities defenders on Reginalds Tower, successfully sunk two and repelled nine other ships in an eleven day siege.  A cannon from one of those sunken ships was discovered in Waterford in 1901, and to date it continues to be the oldest known cannon from an engagement in Ireland, perhaps not surprising as it was also the first known use of cannon in a conflict in Ireland.

A recent blog explored the discovery of a 16th Century sailing ship off Duncannon, thought to be the Cromwellian Navy Flagship Great Lewis.  In it we mentioned the discovery of an intact ship lying beneath the sands of the harbour and how important it is to Irish and International underwater archaeology. 

An 18th century sketch of the tower. Via Seán Ó’Briain Waterford History Site
Copyright NLI More info and hi res from http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000619679/Holdings#tabnav
According to an article by Joe Falvey in an article in the Munster Express there was an added defence to the tower consisting of an outer wall upon which the canon were mounted.

As important and exciting that the discovery is, and the hope that future excavations might bring important artifacts to the surface including cannon, it is worth remembering that we already posses the oldest known Cannon in the country.  The Cannon was mounted on the side of a 15th Century ship, one of eleven involved in a siege that took place from the 23rd July to the 3rd August 1495. 

The back story to the siege is one of political intrigue and starts with a young man who arrived in Cork with a claim to royal origins.  The chap was Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be one of the children of the deceased king, Edward IV.  After Edwards death his two sons, Edward V, King of England (12 years old) and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York (9 years old) were locked into the  Tower of London by the man appointed to look after them, their uncle, Richard -Duke of Gloucester.  Richard did the dirt as they say, the boys “disappeared” and he assumed the throne as Richard III.  He would later be killed in battle and the crown passed to Henry VII.[1]

News of a rival for the crown of England was music to many ears, including Cork’s Earl of Desmond, who had his own interest in upsetting the political regime.  Using the story of the young prince who had been cheated out of his rightful birthright, Desmond  whipped up a fuss and raised an army to over through English rule in Ireland.  Recognising the main threat to any progress as Waterford, Desmond and Warbeck assembled an army at Youghal and marched on the city, and eleven ships landed at Passage, later travelling up to the city.[2]

Perkin Warbeck, a 15th C sketch
Via Wikipedia Public Domain

A siege was laid, but the citizenry were prepared.  The stout defences of the city walls were well founded, and a large dam was built across Johns Pill which flooded the marshes to the East of the city, giving extra security.  Any attacks were repulsed and following a sortie into the enemy camp the siege camp was routed and a number of prisoners were dragged into the city, beheaded and the heads mounted on sticks around the market place and walls.[3]

Meanwhile the eleven ships seemed to fair no better (Frustratingly I could find no specific description of the type of craft).  Canon mounted on the walls and defences that surrounded Reginalds Tower were able to blast the ships from their vantage point.  At least two ships were lost (one with all hands), the other nine ships broke and run for cover under a barrage of cannon, eventually mooring off Passage East.  (According to my cousin James Doherty, and some of the guides in Reginalds Tower, troops were landed from the ships near the tower, but the dam across Johns Pill was opened and the rush of water drowned some and led to the routing of others) Following the lifting of the siege, Warbeck fled to Passage East and embarked one of the waiting ships.  The Waterford citizenry were not content however, and four ships (described by one source as Galleys) were prepared and gave chase, but with no success.

Ireland’s oldest cannon on display in Waterford. Author Image. With thanks to Waterford Museum of Treasures.

Warbeck continued to find favour with others who sought to undermine the English crown, but it would appear he was only ever a pawn in more powerful peoples games.  He was finally captured by Henry VII and was hanged in 1499, but not before returning to Waterford for an even less successful attempt on the city in 1497.

Remarkably the siege of 1495 represents the very first recorded use of cannon in Ireland[4]  And the victory helped give Waterford its proudly displayed motto: ‘Urbs Intacta Manet Waterfordia’,  ‘The City of Waterford Remains Untaken’[5]

The city crest including the motto. Note three Irish galleys from an earlier victory . Author image.

The cannon mentioned at the outset is housed in Waterford’s Museum of Treasures and was dredged up from the river on the 4th January 1901. (Coincidentally, I think the dredger Urbs Intacta was in operation at that time).  The newspapers of the time were very exercised by the discovery and quickly dated the ordnance and its significance.  It was dredged up somewhere opposite the Clock Tower and at a point described as mid-way in the river.  At a meeting of the Waterford Archaeological Society in 1901 Major Cuffe gave a presentation on the significance of the ordanance and the item was on display.[6]

It’s a typical late 15th century gun which originally would have been attached to the gunwale of a sailing ship. It is almost a metre in length, and it most likely fired stone shot, rather than iron cannon balls.[7]  Its known by a number of names such as a Pierrier cannon (stone thrower) or a breech loading swivel gun. (Both links include some fine photographs)

I might return to the recovery of the cannon at a later stage. But if you want to see this amazing piece of ordnance, it’s on display in the Waterford Museum of Treasures

I’d like to thank the staff of Reginalds Tower and the Waterford Museum of Treasures who were a great source of information and support in researching this piece. I would also like to put out a call for any further information on the siege and the events over those eleven days. Despite reading everything I could find on it, including several modern books, I’m amazed so little detail is available. It’s also remarkable that many of the online sources about Warbeck and his campaign say little of his Irish journeys and in many cases nothing of the Waterford siege. I find this astonishing. Had Waterford fallen, its possible, if not probable, he would have had a secure base in Ireland to challenge the throne, which would surely have emboldened other enemies on the continent.

I found further support for the claim that this was the earliest use of Cannon in Ireland since publication. [8]

Next week, we visit the Ross River in a guest blog by Brian Forristal


[1] Walton. J. O’Donoghue. F.   On This Day Vol 1. 2013. Waterford

[2] Ibid

[3] Downes. E.  The Story of Waterford. 1914.  The Waterford News.  Waterford (pp58-61)

[4] http://irisharchaeology.ie/2014/05/irelands-oldest-cannon/

[5] Walton. J. O’Donoghue. F.   On This Day Vol 1. 2013. Waterford

[6] Waterford Standard – Wednesday 27 February 1901 page 4

[7] McEneaney, E. & Ryan R. (eds) 2004 Waterford Treasures, M.Y. Gallaghers, Waterford.

[8] Hayes-McCoy, G. A. “The Early History of Guns in Ireland.” Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, vol. 18, no. 1/2, 1938, pp. 43–65. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25535185.

Titanic. Waterford & Wexford connections

Introduction

The sinking of the RMS Titanic is a world renowned event.  I was reared on the story either from local storytelling or the movie “A Night to Remember”.  But it was only in recent years I even thought to research a local connection, when I came across a bronze memorial in Bunmahon to a man named Dwan who perished aboard.  This coming Monday 15th, Waterford Civic Trust will honour another man who was aboard. His name was Patrick O’Keeffe, a passenger who not just survived, but also ensured several others were saved too. 

The Titanic. 

Titanic was built by the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast for the White Star Line.  She departed Southampton on her maiden voyage on 10th April 1912 calling to Cherbourg in France and Queenstown (now Cobh) in Cork before crossing the Atlantic towards New York.  At 11.40pm on the night of the 14th April (about 375 miles south of Newfoundland), she hit an iceberg.   The “unsinkable” Titanic sank in a matter of hours.  Of the estimated 2,224 passengers and crew aboard, more than 1,500 died.

RMS Titanic via Wikimedia open source. Photographer: F.G.O. Stuart (1843-1923)

Patrick O’Keeffe

Patrick was born at Little Michael Street in Waterford City on 11th July 1890 to John O’Keeffe (a quarry labourer) and Catherine Fitzgerald Patrick was one of 9 known children.  Patrick had returned to Ireland for a holiday, having first emigrated to USA in 1910 with his uncles. 

Apparently homesick, he had returned home for a month’s holiday in 1912 and had an earlier return sailing booked aboard the RMS Baltic; apparently his brother persuaded him to stay an extra week so they could spend Easter together as a family and his booking was transferred to Titanic.

He boarded the Titanic at Queenstown as a third class passenger (his ticket cost £7, 15s as did all the 3rd class steerage passengers listed below). As the ship sank Patrick managed to make it to the steerage decks and he jumped into the freezing seas. Thanks to being a strong swimmer, he kept himself afloat, eventually pulling himself aboard the capsized collapsible B life raft.  He managed to rescue several others from the water and they were later picked up by the SS Carpathia and landed at New York. He was a number of weeks convalescing having sustained heavy bruising.

Patrick would go on to marry and have a family and worked for the rest of his life in America.  The memory of the sinking stayed with him, so much so, that Patrick never returned to his native country again.  He eventually died in 1939 and was buried in New York. For more information on the unveiling of the blue plaque follow the Facebook event link

Patrick O’Keeffe as a young man. Via Waterford Civic Trust

Frank Dwan

Frank (Francis) Dwan was born in Clogheen, Co Waterford, at the height of the famine in January 1847.  A fisherman by trade Dwan, in the 1911 census was living with his wife at Knockmahon, Co Waterford.  Several of Frank’s children lived in America and he decided to visit them in 1912, boarding the Titanic at Queenstown on a third class ticket.  His destination was Morris Plains, New Jersey where his daughter Alice Murphy and son Michael and their families lived.  He died in the sinking and his body, if recovered, was never identified.

George Francis “Paddy” McGough

Duncannon Co. Wexford crewman. George Francis “Paddy” McGough was born in Duncannon in 1875. He signed on to the Titanic as an AB (Able Seaman) at Southampton on 6th April 1912. He was plucked from the freezing waters by lifeboat #9 and took the tiller and steered the boat. On the SS Carpathia coming into view he was credited with saying “Let us pray to God, for there is a ship on the horizon and it’s making for us.” He went back to sea for the rest of his working life and died in 1940.

Community Notice. I’m happy to promote any event, subject to space, that is heritage focused and fits with the page mission to promote the maritime heritage of the three sister rivers and the harbour area.

Chief Purser Hugh McElroy

McElroy was living at Tullacanna (near Wellingtonbridge) in Co Wexford in the 1911 census but he was born in Liverpool and had spent his life at sea. He was put in charge of loading lifeboats as the ship went down. He was credited with keeping the loading in line and at one point discharged his pistol at two crew men who boarded a lifeboat and refused to make way. He went down with the ship, but his body was later recovered, identified and buried at sea.

Other Wexford folk

There were a few other Wexford souls aboard including Robert Mernagh, Passenger  (28) from Ballyleigh, Ballywilliam, New Ross. Interestingly he was another who had returned on holidays and was heading back to America.  He may have delayed his plans to travel, to await a relative from Bree Co Wexford; Elizabeth Doyle.  Elizabeth was also returning to America, having come home to Ireland to nurse her ailing father.  Both lost their lives. Another to die was crewman Laurence Doyle, fireman (27). Although his origins are unproven, he was thought to be from County Wexford. John O’Connor, Coal trimmer, Coolcotts, Wexford town, survived.

The sinking as depicted on screen over 8 minutes

Conclusion

I was told recently there may be another passenger from Dungarvan and a crew man that hailed from the Dunmore East area originally.  At the time of going to print I have not enough info to commit anything to paper but who knows in time we might enlarge the list.  Incidentally there are two other connections that spring to mind.  The staircase in Loftus Hall on the Hook peninsula was said to be built by the same craftsmen that built the staircase aboard the Titanic.  The other is another unproven anecdote.  But in Cheekpoint I was told as a child that the Belfast shipyard that built the Titanic, actually considered locating in Waterford in the late 19th C based on the local skills base, and had surveyed a site in Cheekpoint near the Sheag Rock.  Had that come to pass, perhaps the Titanic might have been built in Waterford! Unproven, by the author, as yet!

Hello, I’m Andrew Doherty. I’ve written a blog each Friday now since May 2014. Tides and Tales is completely self financed and done in my spare time. If you would like to subscribe to get it to your email each week, contact me at tidesntales@gmail.com Hope you have a great day

Vanquishing Cromwells flagship, the Great Lewis

On January 23rd 1645 one of the most surprising victories of any Irish action against the English was realised, when an Irish force managed to sink the flagship of the English parliamentary navy at Duncannon Co. Wexford.  The ship was the Great Lewis and she lies to this day beneath the sands of Waterford Harbour.

Back story

The background to this story lies in what is regularly called the Confederate Wars or in some cases the 11 years war 1641-1652.  Although there were many aspects to this upheaval which would ultimately lead to a civil war in England and end in crushing defeat for the Irish under Cromwell, a key motivation of the catholic uprising sought to win concessions from the English king, Charles I, as a reward for supporting him against the English parliament.   

The Great Lewis and her three comrades via local marine artist Brian Cleare. With permission of the artist.

“In May 1642, on the initiative of the Catholic church, Irish Catholics formed what could be called an Irish government at Kilkenny (the Confederate Catholic Association of Ireland) led by a supreme council elected by a landowners and Catholic clergy.  It took an oath to uphold the King’s rights, the Catholic religion and the ‘fundamental laws of Ireland’. Regular armies were formed under Irish Catholic officers who had served in continental Europe.”[1] 

Duncannon comes center stage

In 1643 Charles I signed an uneasy truce with the Confederates in an effort to concentrate his efforts against Parliament.  As is so often the case with civil wars alligencies chopped and changed and the troops stationed at Duncannon fort under Lord Lawrence Esmonde, initially loyal to the crown, decided to switch to the Parliament’s side.  As the fort was of such strategic importance, the confederates dispatched troops from Waterford to attack it under General Thomas Preston, while from England, Parliament dispatched four ships to support it with additional troops and supplies. 

The flagship of this group of ships was a requisitioned merchantman, the Great Lewis.  She was under the command of Captain Richard Swanley. The others were made up of the Madeline, (I’ve read elsewhere Mary and also Magdalen) Mayflower and Elizabeth. The command of the flotilla fell to a Captain Bell.[2]

The Irish had an advantage of height over the four ships that were at anchor below them in Duncannon bay.  During the night of the 22nd of January 1645 they moved their artillery to forward positions. As dawn broke on the 23rd they commenced firing upon the four ships, who realised they were in peril and prepared to make their escape.  But fate was on the side of the Irish, or was it exceptionally good timing? For as the tidal and wind conditions were unfavourable, the ships found themselves at the mercy of the elements and the Irish cannon fire. The sailors did what they could to withdraw their ships out of range, the Great Lewis being severely damaged in the process. 

A sketch of the siege from Hore. Via Wexford Co Library. With thanks to Michael Dempsey.

With her masts damaged and her deck on fire the ship drifted slowly away from the onshore barrage, later to sink on the 26th, supposedly with the loss of 200 men (a figure I find difficult to understand in the circumstances).  The other three ships escaped back to England once emergency repairs had been made.

Duncannon, looking from upriver

Discovery

In 1999 when dredging works were being carried out by the Port of Waterford on this natural sand bar, timbers were uncovered which prompted archaeological monitoring.  Subsequent underwater investigations discovered a 17th century wreck with canon sticking out of the sand.[3] 

Amazingly, the report (written by Dr Connie Kelleher) goes on to explain that “The wooden structure survives almost intact below the seabed, and the line of cannons, with their breech ends exposed, provide an insight into the potential nature and extent of this protected site.”  (See diagram below)

Perhaps predictably, given the little excavation work that has been carried out to date, it also expresses a word of caution “Though the historical evidence is plausible, further investigation is needed to determine the nature, extent and, if possible, the true identity of this wreck.”  I guess in the graveyard of a thousand ships, its well to be cautious until a proper assessment can be made.  The current level of investigation has only literally scratched the surface of the seabed.

A sketch of the wreck lying off Duncannon, note the tiny fraction exposed.
Archaeology Ireland, Heritage Guide No. 26: The Duncannon Wreck —a seventeenth-century ship in Waterford Harbour (May 2004) Copy supplied by Brian Sharpe

Nevertheless its importance nationally and internationally, even if not the Great Lewis, is undeniable.  

Kelleher continues; “ The historical and archaeological value of this site cannot be over-estimated. Although it would be excellent to positively identify the wreck, the fact that these are the substantial remains of a seventeenth-century ship is what is of real significance… it is the first shipwreck from that time to be discovered and then investigated in Irish waters. The possibility that it could have been directly involved in a period of our history that has left such an immense mark adds even more importance to the wreck, as does the realisation that we could, in fact, be looking at a war grave.”

Conclusion

The sinking of the Great Lewis was the turning point in the siege and a huge moral boost for the Irish, although the beleaguered garrison did not finally surrender until the 18th of March 1845.  (Some supplies and extra troops had been landed before the onshore barrage began)

Both events were significant achievements for the confederate forces, and you can’t help but wonder when Cromwell finally reached Waterford harbour did he have a particular malice towards the area when he thought of the humiliation of the loss of his navy’s flagship and the taking of the fort.

A previous guest blog by James Doherty gives a terrific insight to the era and specifically the activities pertaining to Duncannon Fort.

Next weeks blog looks forward to the Waterford Civic Trust event to acknowledge the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the unveiling of a blue plaque to a survivor of the tragedy, Philip O’Keeffe. The blog will focus on his story, but also at least three others from the county, and three others from the harbour area.


[1] http://www.theirishstory.com/2014/01/10/the-eleven-years-war-a-brief-overview/#.XKCAQ_lKgvg

[2] The Great Lewis and the siege of Duncannon 1645.  Kevin Downes.  Decies #60 pp155-6

[3] Archaeology Ireland, Heritage Guide No. 26: The Duncannon Wreck —a seventeenth-century ship in Waterford Harbour (May 2004)

For more information on the wrecks around Duncannon including the speculation on the Great Lewis see Connie Kelleher’s article Pirates, slaves and shipwrecks pp181-199 in Medieval Wexford, Essays in memory of Billy Colfer. Eds Doyle. IW & Browne B. 2016. Four Courts Press. Dublin