St Patrick’s Day – my first parade

I wrote previously about growing up in Cheekpoint in the 1970’s and how the feast of St Patrick was primarily a religious occasion and a very welcome day off from school, if it fell in mid week.  As I recalled in that piece getting to the nearest St Patricks Day parade, along the quays of Waterford city, was a problem when you didn’t own a car.  We normally traveled by the Suirway bus service, but apart for a service to the church, this didn’t go to town except on a normal Friday and Saturday run.  So generally the day was spent wandering around with our mates, and just enjoying it as a day of rest and a break from our lenten sacrifice.

1969 parade, with a perspective which was close to my own
Photo via Waterford History Site, originally posted by the Munster Express facebook page

But despite all that, we actually did get to a parade one year, and I was so young the details are very hazy.  I was probably six and living in the old cottage in Coolbunnia that looked down on the harbour, a spot where my brother Robert now lives with his family.  My father Bob and brother Robert, (my sisters Kathleen & Eileen were possibly too young to be with us), had walked down to the village after mass.  It may have been to visit our grandfather and his daughter, aunt Ellen or maybe it was just to my fathers aunts shop Molly Doherty at the cross roads, but as we returned up the hill a care rare sight of the time, a car, drew up.

Matt “spoogy” Doherty and his wife Marie called to us through the window and asked if we wanted a lift.  They had their daughters aboard the car, and were heading to the parade.  My father thought he meant to the house, and said it was alright, we’d walk.  But Matt and Marie meant the parade, and after a short deliberation, we piled into the back with the girls.  I don’t remember who was there, but like ourselves the Doherty girls were steps of stairs; Eileen, Mary, Bernadette, Gladys and Jacinta. 

The statue of Luke Wadding in place, it was erected in 1947 and was since removed to Greyfriars and replaced by a statue to TF Meagher. Postcard from authors collection.

I have no recollection of the car trip, but I was probably disappointed with the view.  We always sat in the front seats of the bus going to town, and it afforded a great view of the countryside, a car just couldn’t compare.  But the excitement of heading to the parade probably made up for it. We parked at the Three Shippes Bar on the Park Road and strolled in Williams St to the Tower Hotel, where we clambered onto steps to get a good view.

From here we could see the curve on the quay where the parade would come down, rounding Reginald’s Tower as it did so.  In the middle of the road stood the statue of Luke Wadding, which was a fitting backdrop as this Waterford man was responsible for making the St Patricks day a feast day of the church and helping to make it a worldwide event. Of course two other events that are internationally recognised have a Waterford connection, we were the first city to have a parade in 1903 and the Waterford born ambassador to America, John Hearne, introduced the now annual event of presenting the American president with a bowl of shamrock.

That information would come in later years. Standing on the quay that cold damp afternoon, I waited in anticipation, not really knowing what to expect.  At this remove I can’t actually remember much of the parade, but I presume the marching bands, the floats on trucks and scouting troops would have all made up the event.  But two memories stand out; the wailing sound of the pipe bands as the bagpipes raised the hair on the back of my neck (as it still does to this day) and the sight of the army with their gleaming uniforms, guns on their shoulders and best of all the trucks, guns and a tank with a long menacing gun barrel that left me awestruck.

I remember being glad when it ended as I was starting to shiver in the thin March breeze coming down the quay and whistling through the buildings.  However on regaining the car we were disappointed to find that some careless motorist had abandoned their car across our own, and we were hemmed in.  Matt tried valiantly to squeeze through but it was impossible.  And the two men debated what to do. There were people milling about, but no one approached the car, we could be waiting all day for the owner to arrive.

The cold was starting to seep into me at this stage and I was beginning to think that we were stuck and would never get home.  There may have been tears, I don’t recall.  But the men were not to be beaten and in desperation they clutched the boot of the miscreant and started to bounce it out of the way. Some men raised their voices and approached, and I thought my heart would stop.  But instead of an altercation they lent a hand and moments later the way was clear and we headed home.

A 20 min video of the parade of 1996. A bit jumpy and hazy but fascinating nonetheless

To this day I can’t remember if my mother knew we had gone, or recall anything being said on our return.  She was probably relieved our father hadn’t taken us to the pub to wet the shamrock.  Although it would be many years before I went to another St Patricks Day parade, I can’t say I was in a hurry to go back after the incident with the car.  But there again, I wouldn’t have missed the adventure for all the world.

Loss of the sailing ship Lady Bagot

We have recently explored the exploits of a noble New Ross sea captain, John Williams. This week I wanted to look into some of the activities of one of his ships, the Lady Bagot.

The Lady Bagot was one of several vessels operated by the Graves family of New Ross and skippered for several years by Captain Williams.  We saw recently how she had been in the right place at the right time in the rescue of the crew of the brig Atlas.  In brief, arriving alongside the brig which had healed over on her side, Williams ordered his ships boat lowered and his crew row to the stricken vessel and attempt a rescue. In heavy seas and at great risk to themselves all the crew of the Atlas were eventually rescued. Little, I’m sure, did her crew know that that kind deed which they bestowed would be desperately needed by themselves within a few more months.

On the 21st October 1847 the Lady Bagot left go her moorings in her home port of New Ross and with the assistance of the Waterford Steamship River Services paddle steamer Shamrock was towed down the river Barrow to the harbour where she made her own way to sea.  Her master was Captain Anderson, who had replaced Captain Williams earlier that year.

Sailing ship heaving to in heavy weather. Drawing by Antoine Morel-Fatio.
Public domain access Wikipedia

For many years her regular passage was New Ross – Quebec.  Passengers fleeing poverty, starvation and seeking a new start were the outgoing manifest, timber (a backbone of the Graves family business) the return.  A measure of the numbers fleeing the country can be gauged by a report of her arrival into Quebec on the 1st June 1846 when she was just one of four ships from the Waterford area; President  of New Ross –Captain Grandy and Thistle – Captain Thomas and Lawrence Forrestal – Captain Toole both  from Waterford city.  Other ships recorded that week hailed from amongst dozens of European ports but included Liverpool, Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Derry and Galway.[1]

Although the trips were regular, not all were without incident.  The account from previously shows how dependent such sailing ships were on the elements and the Lady Bagot was no different.   For example in August 1845 she was reported off Cork with her bowsprit lost having being in a collision with a larger vessel off St Pauls on the 24th July[2].  She later put into Youghal for repair[3].  A few months later, December of 1845, she was again in the wars[4].  She put into Halifax NS having departed Quebec for Liverpool.  She had lost her anchors, chains, her mizzen mast was cut away and other damage was reported but not described.  She finally left Halifax on 5th February 1846.[5]

Williams last voyage that I could find was a round trip to New Orleans in December 1846 arriving back to Waterford (New Ross I’m sure) in May[6].   Her next outward bound trip was reported on 15th June 1847 but no details are given, however she is reported as arriving in St Johns NB in July under her new master; Captain Anderson.[7]

A great talk this coming Wednesday, hosted by the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society. Breda has guest blogged for us previously, hopefully she might reprise this talk for us at a later stage

 As we mentioned earlier, Anderson sailed for Savanah in October and thanks to the Duchas Schools collection we have access to some mentions from the ships log for detail.[8] Having arrived into port of 18th December 1847 it would appear the crew left their hair down.  One crew man, Martin Moran, was detained for fighting with a “coloured man” whilst two others “gave way to drunkenness” These may or may not have been Joseph Irvine and David Cooper who were elsewhere described as “getting into scrapes”.  On the 24th December a crew man William Simpson had an accident onboard, falling into the hold.  This required hospitalisation and he was not released until January 6th.  No other details are given of the 7 week overlay but eventually the Lady Bagot sailed on the 4th February 1848 with her hold filled with timber, apples, molasses, sugar and rice.

A few weeks later (possibly Tuesday 28th February) the Lady Bagot sailed into heavy weather.  The log records that at 2pm a squall split the foresail, while by 3pm a complete hurricane was blowing with the seas crashing over the ship and Anderson surviving being washed overboard after a crewman grabbed him by his hair (the ships dog was less lucky).  At 4pm the ship “hove to” and using a storm mizzen the crew were set to operating the pumps to remove water from her holds.

Another excellent talk this coming week delivered by a regular guest Blogger Joe Falvey

All that day and the next the crew stayed manning the pumps but by midnight up to four feet of water was reported in the hold.  By 8am of the following morning the water was still rising.  It was then that a passing American ship the Oregon under Captain Healy came upon them.   Anderson requested that she stand by until the next morning in the hopes that the crew could arrest the worsening situation, but they were out on their feet with exhaustion and the carpenter having found the waters rising at an alarming rate (8 ½ feet at that stage) the captain gave the order to abandon ship.

As they boarded the Oregon, the Lady Bagot was down to her chains and Healy later reported after he arrived at Le Harve that they left the Lady Bagot in a sinking state at latitude 47 longitude 14.   

Next week I’m unraveling a mystery of a ship photo that reveals another occasion in Waterford’s history with a connection with the river. Its titled, at least presently, as the “Visit of the Stormcock  I will also have a blog on Sunday morning to honour the national holiday; St Patricks Day. Have a lovely weekend wherever you be.

[1] Lloyds List; Monday 29th June 1846; page 3

[2] Ibid; Saturday 30th August 1845; page 3

[3] Ibid; Tuesday 2nd September 1845; page 1

[4] Ibid; Friday 16th January 1846; page 2

[5] Ibid; Monday 9th March 1846; page 1

[6] Ibid; Monday 17th May 1847; page 2

[7] Ibid; Monday 16th August 1847; page 1

[8] Duchas School collection at accessed on Sunday 10th March 2019

“Taking the Boat” the Great Western

Generations of people from Waterford and the surrounding areas “took the boat” to a better life, for work or to just escape the strictures of Irish society. One of the ships I heard most about as a child was the Great Western. I think her popularity in part stemmed from the fact that there were actually three vessels that shared the name and all operated from Waterford.  The first Great Western (1867-1890) was a paddle steamer, whilst the next (1902) was a twin screw steamer which operated on the route until 1933 and replaced by a third Great Western (1933). 

These ships were all part of the Great Western Railway Company, which sailed from a depot at the Adelphi Quay in Waterford city, close to the present Tower Hotel. Initially the company sailed to Milford Haven and from 1906 to Fishguard.

In 1923 a curious incident befell the second Great Western as she passed down the river close to Cheekpoint.  From the Kilkenny shore, in the trees of Drumdowney, shots were fired into the ship narrowly missing the wireless operator, named Daly, and the master, Captain Owen who was standing on the bridge.  No motive was discovered for the affair.

Departure during WWI from the Great Western Railway wharf (Adelphi Quay, Waterford)

A passenger with a literary turn of phrase, captured the departure at the very same point a few years later, but this time the ship was showered of love, rather than bullets!

“…I stood in the shelter of the bridge of the ss. Great Western on a warm, showery Saturday afternoon early in September. The light grey clouds were playing tig with the sun. It was a half-hearted game touch and run, for the sun was gloriously disdainful. After weeping copiously for a short time in the gleaming brightness, the clouds cleared away in chagrin from the blue sky.

Perched on a deck raft a freckled, Titian haired girl scanned the river bank as we approached Cheekpoint. There was searching look of farewell in her eyes. And then as the riverside hamlet at the foot of the Minaun hove in sight a white handkerchief fluttered from her hand. From every doorway there was an answering response. Away In the distance little groups outside isolated whitewashed cottages signalled to her their parting greetings. Young people on the quay gesticulated, and children ran among the trees and along the path bordering the river shrieking their good-byes. Two prawngs(prongs),boats with high, curved prows peculiar to the Passage and Cheekpoint fishermen—were almost mid-stream, and young men stood up and waved their caps to the girl on the deck raft. There were tears in the girl’s eyes as the scene faded away and the Great Western rounded another bend of the Suir and nosed her way past Passage, Duncannon Port, Woodstown and the Hook lighthouse to the smooth, open sea in the gathering dusk…”[1]

I was most familiar with was the last of these, which commenced on the Waterford – Fishguard route in January 1934.  Built by the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead in 1933 she was another twin screw steamer 283 feet long and 40 feet wide.

An advert for the company dating from the opening of Fishguard in 1906

She didn’t get off to a great start, for as she headed downriver she was forced into evasive maneuvers after another craft crossed her path “…It was then that a swift current caught her stern and carried her on to the bank where she had to remain until the next tide to be re-floated. With extreme difficulty she made the trip to Fishguard, where she was examined by the company’s diver last Monday. On the result of the examination it was found necessary that she should be sent back to her builders in Liverpool for repairs to her stern. Until her repairs are completed she will be replaced by the Ardmore.[2]

The route was expanded in 1939 to three sailings a week, commencing with a 7pm sailing on Monday 6th March[3].  During WWII she was painted in camouflage colours, carried gun platforms on her bow and was used for troop transportation. Although I have heard people say she was involved in the evacuation of Dunkirk I have never as yet proved it. 

Emigration was a primary function of the vessel and this report from one week in August of 1949 gives a clear idea of the numbers. 

“Cross-Channel Visitors Seven hundred and seventy-seven visitors —232 more than arrived —returned to England during last week the ss. Great Western sailing to Fishguard. On the outward journey the vessel carried 274 on Tuesday, 203 on Thursday, and conveyed about 300 Saturday evening. She brought 189 in Tuesday, Thursday and 261 on Saturday morning”[4]

TSS Great Western in camouflage colours WWII entering Waterford. Photo via Tommy Deegan. She was later armed with guns on her forward deck.

My mother often spoke about her journeys and the companions that were with her, it read like an address book of the village, her uncle Christy Moran heading to London to work on the buildings, Pat Murphy, Patsy Moran, Charlie Hanlon etc heading to Wolverhampton, Michael Elliott, Andy Joe Doherty, Anna Sullivan and so on.  All heading away to work and sending vital money home to keep families together.  In my mothers case she would wash floors, serve in shops and work in factories, see the lights of 1960’s London before coming home to marry.  In a way it was an adventure, but the journeys down the harbour, or later on the boat train over the Barrow Bridge were still difficult when leaving but all the more joyful on the return.

I think the most poignant story I know of is the leaving of the Condon family from the village in 1955.  The 50’s were a hungry and bleak time nationally so much so it’s been described as a black decade, or a lost decade.  Chris Condon recently recalled the leaving to me.  His dad Christy had invested in new nets to fish in 1954 but even the fish seemed to have deserted the country.  Christy chose the boat to England, but he left his wife May and his eight children at home. 

Christy was set up in a job by his brother Laim.  Liam had come in from a cold, wet and fruitless night of fishing with my grandfather (Andy Doherty) in 1946 and spotted an advertisement in a local paper for a new engineering firm, British Timken in Northampton.  He was interviewed in a hotel in Waterford and was given the job on the spot.  He was foreman by the fifties and he helped Christy find his feet in the same company, and with the job he kept the family fed and earned enough to put a deposit on a home.

TSS Great Western, the third and final ship in her standard livery, Photo via Frank Cheevers

In the summer of 1955 he returned to Cheekpoint and the family readied themselves for the journey.  The family were a vital part of the community, went to school, to mass, played on the village green, swam off the quay.  Steps of stairs, they were part of the vitality of the community.  The decision to leave was a huge wrench. 

The evening they sailed down from Waterford on the Great Western the village turned out to wave them away.  Fires were lit from the Rookery to the Mount Quay and their cousins, the Rogers family, lit a fire at Passage East.  Another local, Tom Sullivan, told me that he was a deckhand on her that evening, and he overheard one person saying that if only she would sink now passing the village, the children could swim ashore, and never have to leave.

The scourge that was emigration has never really let the country.  But the last trip of the Great Western was Christmas of 1966.  It wasn’t that emigration was coming to a close, although the industrial improvements of the Sean Lemass Government were having an effect.  Air travel was coming to the fore and now those who went abroad had a quicker and more comfortable way of travelling.  She was replaced with a container ship, a freight system that would become the backbone of shipping in the city for the next few decades, until the closure of Bell Lines in 1997 (I think). She brought an end to a proud shipping tradition in the area. Here’s a link for the many other ships from the company that were involved.

This is a heavily edited excerpt from a chapter of the same name that I’m working on for my forthcoming book called Tales from the Aft Oar. I intend to publish it later this year. I’d be delighted with any feedback on the story or the book, you might let me know in the comments section.

Next week we join the crew of a local sailing ship, the Lady Bagot as they battle to prevent her sinking in the Atlantic.

[1] Waterford Standard – Saturday 07 October 1933; page 6

[2] Waterford Standard – Saturday 24 February 1934; page 4

[3] Waterford Standard – Saturday 11 March 1939; page 7

[4] Waterford Standard – Saturday 27 August 1949;  page 3

A noble ships master – Captain John W Williams

Many will be aware of the reputation of the famine era ship the Dunbrody of New Ross for kindness and consideration shown to her passengers fleeing starvation and poverty.  The ship came to mind recently when I read a post on the New Ross Street Focus Facebook page which described a doctor on the Canadian side of the Atlantic who expressed relief that so many of the sick had already died on the crossing meaning a light workload in his capacity as medical superintendent at Quebec.  To be kind to the man, maybe it just highlights how overworked he was.

The current replica ship which was built in New Ross is based on the original Dunbrody (1845) built in Quebec under the watchful eye of her first master Captain John Baldwin, who captained her from 1845 to 1847.  Due to a lack of regulation famine era cargo boats were quickly converted to carrying passengers, and unscrupulous ship owners could squeeze hundreds onto vessels that could only comfortably hold a fraction of it.  A common expression used to describe these vessels was coffin ships. The Dunbrody however had a good reputation, and this appears to have had as much to do with her owners as the masters of the ship, initially Baldwin and latterly John W Williams.

The replica Dunbrody. Author collection

Williams was born in Wales and went to sea at an early age.  He settled down and married the daughter of a seaman, Captain Tide of New Ross and lived at Quay St., in the town.  A sense of the qualities of the man are typified in an account of him a few years before he took the helm of the ship.

On the 18th September 1845 Williams was master of another Graves ship the Lady Bagot[1].  When under sail in the Atlantic his ship spotted a distress signal from another sailing ship the Brig Atlas of Quebec sailing under Captain Thomas Hobson.  Arriving on scene Williams and his crew discovered the Atlas on her side and her ten man crew clinging to the hull for their lives.

The Atlas had had a torrid month of sailing.  On the 20th August she had sailed with a cargo of timber for Sunderland, England.  On the 28th she ran into a storm and she started to ship water.  By the 30th her crew were full time at the pumps, trying to keep the vessel afloat.  On the 17th of September she was again in trouble with the weather in the Atlantic, lost part of her bulwark and again started to take water.  By 6pm that evening the topsails carried away, but as all hands were needed on the pumps, these were left to flap away from the masts.  By 4am on the 18th the ship was so deep in the water, that she was losing her helm.   At 10am the pumps were left and the crew made ready to abandon ship.  It was then that the Lady Bagot was sited.

Dates for your diary this coming week in Waterford

By the time she arrived alongside the Atlas was on her beam and the crew were clinging on for dear life.  The ships boat was launched from the Lady Bagot and with the second mate in charge came as close as they dared in the breaking seas.  A line of rope was cast and missed but eventually it reached the shipwrecked sailors grasp and was tied onto the wreck.  Eventually four of the crew, one at a time managed to drag themselves across and into the boat.  As four was the limit, they returned to the Lady Bagot, but the conditions being so bad, some of the crew refused to go back.  Williams called for volunteers to replace them, and he joined them too.  Eventually the remaining six shipwrecked sailors were rescued.

Captain Hobson went on to say that Williams treated the crew more like brothers than shipwrecked sailors and for the next seven days of voyage he acted as a real Samaritan to those that were sick or injured. 

Cramped and crowded steerage conditions via Mayo Co Libraries

Williams leadership and seafaring capabilities were obviously rewarded and he received command of the Dunbrody from Captain Baldwin in the spring or early summer of 1847.[2]  He went on to serve aboard her with distinction and from what I have read it would appear that he made at least two trips per year to Quebec mostly and return[3] and when he finally retired[4] he set up a coal importation business Quay Street, New Ross.

In 1872 Mr Graves proposed Williams as a replacement for the then sick Harbour Master of the town.  This offer was accepted and he earned the title of Deputy Harbour Master.[5]

He died on Thursday 8th October 1899 in New Ross aged 88.[6]  His obituary which appeared in the New Ross Standard had this to say “…In those dark ages of travelling on the high seas, long periods elapsed in the passage across the Atlantic, and very often the captains of the old timber ships of those days, acted very tyrannically and cruelly towards their passengers. But there were exceptions, and in the case of every such exception, the passengers as a rule made up a subscription at the end of the voyage, and presented their kind-hearted skipper with some suitable article as a token of their affection and regard…and the writer of this notice was shown some of the numerous souvenirs he received from his passengers in affection for the kindness he ever displayed in making their trying voyages in the old wooden ship as endurable as possible. Long ago Captain Williams retired from the sea, and started business in Quay-street. Old age had been severely telling on him for the past two years, and on Thursday night he breathed his last, having received the last rites of the church from Father Prandy. On Saturday his remains were interred in St Stephen’s cemetery, a large and respectable funeral having attended…”[7]

I would like to thank Myles Courtney for his assistance with this piece.  I’m sorry to say that I could neither find an image of Captain Williams or of the ship Lady Bagot.  If anyone could help me in locating same I’d really appreciate it as it would certainly add to the blog.  I will have a follow up on the trials and tribulations of the Lady Bagot in a few weeks time. I’m also hoping to put some more focus on emigration and the Newfoundland fishery in coming months.

[1] This extract is taken from a letter of thanks published the Cork Constitution Saturday 18th December 1845.  You can view the letter here: Schools folklore link

[2] The Lady Bagot was lost the following year in the Atlantic en route from Savanah under Captain Anderson under the very same conditions as the Atlas.  All crew were rescued. I plan a blog on this in coming weeks

[3] For more on emigration from Waterford and New Ross in this era see a Tommy Deegan article published in Decies #51; 1995; page 54

[4] The last sailing he commanded that I have found was Dunbrody, arrival at Quebec on Sept 10th 1869 (she departed New Ross in July).  Lloyds List Wed 29th Sept 1869; page 8

[5] Weford People; 24th February 1872; page 7

[6] New Ross Standard; 14th October 1899; page 4

[7] Ibid

A fit Situation for His Majesty’s Packets: building the Harbour at Dunmore

Today’s guest blog comes from Roy Dooney who has previously delivered a facinating presentation to the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society on the building of Dunmore harbour. I’m indebted to Roy for typing up his presentation for sharing with the readership. I found it a fascinating piece and I’m sure you will too.

The title of this piece is taken from the Act of Parliament just over two hundred years ago, dated 3rd June 1818, described as “An Act for improving and completing the Harbour of Dunmore in the County of Waterford, and rendering it a fit Situation for His Majesty’s Packets.”

The King at the time was George the Third who reigned from 1760 until his death in January 1820.

The Act of Union came into force in 1801 to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. By 1821 the estimated population of Britain was about 14 million, and that of Ireland was about 7 million. So Ireland, with a rapidly growing population, was a major part of the United Kingdom.

Dunmore pier with railway line used in construction phase

In our modern era of constant cheap and direct communications, it is important to remember the huge primary importance of the postal service in past times to maintain links of trade, public administration, security and news between Britain and Ireland.

There had been an unsuccessful French naval invasion in 1796, followed by a rebellion in 1798.

There was another abortive rebellion led by Robert Emmet in 1803.

Britain was at war with France from 1793 until the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Information flows were central to keeping London well informed about what was happening in all parts of Ireland.

Getting the mail backwards and forwards through the shortest possible sea crossings was a priority for the Post Office.

The first postal route to Ireland from London was through Bristol and then Milford Haven in Wales.

In late 1813 the Post Office sought applications for the design and construction of a new packet station in the Suir Estuary, much closer to the open sea than the then packet station for Waterford at Bolton (Cheekpoint).

At that time the ships from Milford Haven had to sail upriver, often against contrary winds, tides and the river itself. A packet station “lower down” would allow the mails to be landed at an earlier place and be taken by road to Waterford. This would be faster and more reliable than the vagaries of sail.

One of the main reasons for using Milford Haven for mails was that since most of the mail originated in London, the route from there to South Wales was a better road, faster and safer than that through Chester, across North Wales and Holyhead.

Oilean na gClioch which features a fine pointed arched bridge (see left of photo). This was designed by Nimmo and is similar to others he designed at Poulaphouca in Wicklow and Shaughnessy’s Bridge in Connemara. Authors collection.

The historian and map maker Gerald of Wales c. 1188 described Milford Haven as “the most excellent  harbour in Britain for ships to enter” and it was the point of departure to Ireland of many Royal and military expeditions.

Among many others these include Strongbow with Henry the Second as early as 1171, Prince John in 1185 and then as King John in 1210, Richard the Second in 1397 and Cromwell in 1649.

Dunmore was settled at quite an early stage. There was a grant in 1203 from King John to Heverbrichtof Dunmore and a Manor of Dunmore referred to in 1287.

A fishery is referred to in 1303.

By 1774 there was a reference to “eighty sail of fishing ships now belong to this small port.”

The oldest house still standing in the village from c 1790-1800 is Virginia Cottage on the hill from the lower village going up to Killea.

The first plan for building the Harbour at Portcullin Cove was submitted in March 1814 by 31 year old Alexander Nimmo to the Post Office.

Work began on building the Harbour in September 1815.

At the end of June 1818 the Government announced that: “as the Packet Station has been changed from Passage to Dunmore and a Post Office having been established in Dunmore it will be necessary for those residing in that area to have letters addressed “Dunmore East” to avoid confusion with Dunmore, County Galway.”

On July 7th 1818 an official notice appeared which stated that “on and from 7th inst. The British mails will be despatched from Dunmore East to Milford.”

Steam packets Meteor and Royal Sovereign which operated on the Milford Waterford route circa 1824
Maritime Museum Greenwich, via Roger Antell

Dunmore was designated as one of five Royal Harbours in Ireland through which mail was conveyed. The others were Ardglass and Donaghadee in Northern Ireland, and Howth and Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) to the north and south of Dublin respectively.

Nimmo was a quite extraordinary man whose contribution to designing and building the harbour in Dunmore, as well as many other projects across Ireland was enormous.

He was one of a number of Scottish engineers who played a transformative role in modernising transport in Britain and Ireland.

He first came to Ireland to work on bog engineering in the West and went on to plan and develop at least 50 piers and harbours ranging from North Mayo to Greystones in Wicklow.

This bust of Alexander Nimmo is the only likeness of him recorded and was done by his friend John B Jones in 1845. It is in the Royal Dublin Society.

The Tidy Towns committee in Dunmore East unveiling a plaque in June 2018 at the Harbour   to remember Nimmo who died at the age of just 49 in 1832.

Nimmo was a brilliant engineer but his correspondence in the National Archives with the Post Office and Dublin Castle show a repeated weakness when it came to accounting for monies spend and keeping the project on budget.

For its time, the construction was ambitious and complex.

Rock was quarried locally from the cliffs above the Harbour and a little further away above the Flat Rocks. It was then moved down to the pier on a railway. Stone had to be blasted and then cut by hand.

Limestone was also quarried in Dunkit and floated down the river on barges.

One of Nimmo’s achievements was to make a diving bell that worked. It was subsequently used in other projects in Ireland, particularly the Wellesley Bridge in Limerick which he designed.

Nimmo’s original plan had included a lighthouse and in July 1818, when the Harbour was about to enter service, the Secretary of the Post Office asked the Ballast Board in Dublin, who ran the lighthouse service, to let them set up a temporary light at the end of the pier.

George Halpin who designed the lighthouse was one of the great men in Irish lighthouse history responsible for many others around the country.

The design is of a fluted Doric column of which there is only one other in Ireland – the Haulbowline Lighthouse – in Carlingford Lough.

Dunmore East lighthouse circa 1900

Dunmore’s importance as a harbour for post and trade was under threat before it was finished.

Steam ships with greater strength and reliability were already in service. By 1817 the first steam ship on the Irish Sea travelled between the Clyde and the Mersey and a paddle steamer between Carrick on Suir and Waterford was in service.

The Post Office built its own steam ships for the mails and went into service from Holyhead in 1821, Dover in 1822 and Milford Haven to Dunmore in 1824.

As the steamers became more powerful they had no difficulty making the passage upriver to the extensive quays in Waterford and its concentration of merchants and mail coach connections.

Dunmore also grew as a resort, and by 1824 Ryland referred to it as “formerly a place of resort for fishermen, but now a fashionable and delightful watering place.”

Dunmore harbour changed from a packet station to a fishing port as the 19th century progressed. In more recent times it has undergone extensive re-modelling as excavations and infill have taken place.

As Nimmo’s biographer Noel Wilkins says of the Harbour today: “The visual prospect along the main quay (the original Packet Quay) towards the fluted lighthouse rising majestically at its head, has a certain boulevard-like quality that is decidedly unusual in fishery harbours, recalling the grandeur of its original purpose.”

My thanks again to Roy for this great addition to the blog and an insight into the making of Dunmore harbour. If anyone reading this has a blog that they would like to submit for consideration they can email me at 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.