My wife Deena and I have participated and/or coordinated an event for every year of Heritage week since 2005. For this year’s event we initiated an online project exploring the placenames along the Three Sister River network of the Barrow, Nore and Suir. The event ran from Saturday 15th August with twice daily storys from guest authors and concluded on Sunday 23rd August, Water Heritage Day with a new webpage; An A-Z of Placenames of the Three Sisters. You can view it at the link below.
I got my first glimpse of Carrick Beg in Nov 1974 when my then girlfriend invited me up for the weekend. It didn’t take me long to get to know the neighbours as I began to spend more and more time up here after that.
Straight away it became very apparent how important the river was to so many locals with salmon fishing being a great provider of a few bob when the season was in. Families by the names of Norris, Power, Doherty, Fitzgerald, Brett, Tobin and many more fished the Suir in what became known to me as their Cots.
Each family would have their own distinctive way of making their own boat as I found out when I was told who owned such a cot by a man named Tom Brett. His fishing days were all but a memory as he was a retired man when I got to know him. In his day the cots he built were sought by many as they were so well made. What a storyteller he was too. You’d always meet him on one of the bridges with all his butties reminiscing of the days and nights they fished and with every story those salmon grew bigger.
Sadly all of these men are gone now and the fishing traditions that have lasted centuries are but a shadow of the past with very few from these families using the river now except to walk what is called The Blueway. Those that still fish the river are mainly confined to Treacy Park with the Power family continuing the tradition of casting their rods from their Carrick Cots.
Submitted by Jerry for ourThree Sisters Placenames project – Heritage Week 2020
When I was in my early teens my friends and I would cycle miles to pick strawberries. In the evenings if we were passing an old graveyard on our way home we would go in and look for the oldest dated headstone or an unusual inscription. One evening one of the lads said that he had heard that there was a pirates grave in the graveyard in Great Island. Of course, we had to go to look for it.
After a short search we found it, an old headstone dated 1789 with a skull and crossbones on the back. That was my first visit to Kilmokea cemetery, little did I know that years later I would be passing it every day in my job as a postman. As it happens it is not a pirates grave but a frequently used depiction inscribed on headstones to remind us of our mortality.
Between 2012 and 2016, as a member of the Sliabh Coillte Heritage Group, I took part in a series of geophysical surveys in the Kilmokea Enclosure which surrounds the cemetery. It is recorded as an Ecclesiastical Enclosure dating from the Early Medieval Period. If anybody called to see our progress while we were conducting the surveys I would enjoy bringing them into the cemetery to show them the various historical artefacts that can be seen there. In particular, it has the smallest high cross in Ireland at just 56cm high. Also there are Bullan stones/Holy water fonts, the base of a standard high cross, some cut and dressed stones from old buildings along with the base of a small medieval church. There is one grave marker that is very interesting. It is shaped like the lid of a coffin with the widest part turned down. The edges are chamfered and apart from that, there is no inscription or carvings on it. I sometimes wonder where did it come from or who decided to place it there.
During Heritage Week in 2019, I met geologist Dr. Bill Sheppard who has a particular interest in relating local rock to the building stone used in National Monuments. Subsequently I showed him around the area of Great Island including a visit to the Kilmokea Graveyard. While we were looking around the cemetery Bill noted the range of rock used in the gravestones and artefacts. These included granite, various limestones some with trace fossil trails, local shale rock and, of particular interest, two eighteenth century-dated headstones of rock not found in southeast Ireland. These two were of metamorphic schist rock with a characteristic shiny texture. One of these contained a mineral thought likely to be kyanite. The year of interment on this stone was 1784 in the family name of Foley and on the other stone were engraved the years 1794, 1841 and 1855 with the family name of Kent. The source of such rock is very limited in Ireland and restricted to Co Mayo, the Ox Mountains or close to the main Donegal granite, for example near Cresslough. Further afield, no such rock is known to occur in England or Wales, however, they do occur in Scotland.
I think that it’s remarkable that around 250 years ago there was a such trade in headstones that they would be transported hundreds of miles and end up in a small country graveyard like Kilmokea. It is certainly possible, if not probable that they journeyed here via the Three Sisters. To me that fortunate meeting with Bill is a typical example of no matter how familiar you are with a place something really interesting and exciting can be in full view and you won’t see it until the right person comes along and points it out to you.
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Dr Bill Sheppard in the writing of this piece.
Submitted by John as part of our Three Sister Placenames project for Heritage Week 2020
Edmund Spenser, the 16th century English poet penned the words ‘the gentle Shure that making way. By sweet Clonmel, adorns rich Waterford’. As we follow the river Suir we reach Ireland’s oldest city founded by the Vikings and are presented with a majestic Quayside. The British architectural historian Mark Girouard (grandson of Henry Beresford, 6th Marquess of Waterford) remarked that it was ‘the noblest quay in Europe.’ The Quay is a mile in length with the Dublin Penny Journal of December 1832 recording ‘and presents a continued line with scarcely any interruption throughout its entire extent’. Surrounded by natural beauty, the city which thrived along a river that afforded a depth of water from twenty to sixty-five feet at low water which could accommodate vessels of up to 800 tons mirroring mansion pieces on a Monopoly board.
As one enters Waterford city by crossing Rice Bridge and turning left the half-way point of the Quay is marked by the Clock Tower. The renowned 19th century Gothic style landmark also illustrates the previous industriousness of the city’s docks with water troughs for horses. Continuing along the Quay you will pass four laneways on the right with the last of the quartet being Keyser’s Street. The city derives its name from the Norse Veðrafjǫrðr meaning ‘Winter Haven’.
However, it is not the only name that Waterford bares of it’s Viking past. The aforementioned Keyser’s Street is a name of Norse origin while the street dates to the medieval period. ‘Keyser’ meaning way of the ship wharf or path to pier head. The former Publicity Officer of South East Tourism, Patrick Mackey noted that this is where the ship wharves were situated. The street runs southwards of Custom House Quay and reaches the junction of High Street and Olaf Street. As part of the Viking fortifications, there stood a Keyser’s Castle and by 1707 these walls from John Aikenhead’s Coffee House (the first coffee house in Waterford city and listed in the corporation minutes of 1695) to William Jones’s new house by Goose Gate (named after the 17th century Searcher of Customs Thomas Goose) were pulled down. It was ordered that the stones from the battlements would be used in the construction of a Corn Market where the old Custom House stood.
Down through the centuries this street has been referred to by a couple of different names. A deed of lease between William Bolton and a clothier, Samuel Pearn records the name Kimpsha Lane. In the Civil Survey map of 1764 the street is referred to as Kempson’s Lane.
Now the street captures the hustle and bustle of modern life from the trade union movement to the workings of the General Post Office. It’s best to finish with the words of a 19th century poem evoking Waterford’s Viking connections with the story of Keyser Street in mind:
Like golden-belted bees about a hive
Which come forever and forever go
Going and coming with the ebb and flow,
From year to year, the strenuous Ostman strive.
Close in their billow-battling galleys prest,
Backhands and forwards with the trusty tide
They sweep and wheel around the ocean wide,
Like eagles swooping from their cliff-built nests.
And great their joy, returning where they left
Their tricorned stronghold by the Suirshore
‘Mid song and feast, to tell their exploits o’er –
Of all the helm-like glibs their swords had cleft,
The black-haired damsels seized, the towers attacked.
The still monastic cities they had sucked.
Submitted by Cian for our Placenames of the Three Sisters project for Heritage Week 2020
Due to Covid 19 I’ve had a couple of new experiences recently, firstly I haven’t used an alarm clock since the middle of March! I thought I would have to wait until I retired to enjoy that treat, but not so, due to working from home. Secondly, for the first time ever I began to realise that I live a privileged life, appreciating, that few things really matter in life, one being where you live when confined to staying within two kilometres of your home, and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere better. I live in the house where I was born, in Crooke, directly opposite Duncannon Church on the Wexford side. My daily 40-50 minute walk takes me past Geneva Barrack to the Barrack Strand, down the lane at Newtown and back towards Passage up onto the road again by Johnny’s Lane, between Burke’s shop and Crooke Chapel. While the Lane has had more footfall in recent months due to the lockdown, it is still rare to meet anyone especially in the early mornings apart from a few locals, who like myself, walk it daily.
I know it as Johnny’s Lane, called after an old man who lived where Burke’s shop is now, called Johnny Hearn. I have only the vaguest memory of Johnny and am not even sure if it is my memory or someone else’s but I remembered my mother showing me a photo of my cousin Dermot Heffernan with Johnny as she told me where the lane got its name. With time on my hands, I recently sorted through my mother’s photos and memories. I was delighted to come across this photo of Johnny and Dermot taken at the top of the lane, both deceased now RIP. The Lane may have a new name now, as lanes are often called after those who live there, but to me it will always be Johnny’s Lane.
The Lane has an abundance of wild life, with several ancient crab apple trees, ready for making Jelly in the autumn, elders with flowers in the spring and berries in the autumn both good for making wine, meadowsweet with its pungent smell on a damp summer morning, sloes still green but ready soon for Christmas sloe gin, the nettles and docks grow in abundant companionship, one ready to undo the deeds of the other. A large branch from one of the crab apple trees fell last winter and the path has had to re-route around it while the broken branch is still growing apples. Left there, it provides cover for birds, wild animals, insects and plants. Us humans giving way to the natural world for a change. Without human upkeep the lane grows in abundance and reproduces and self-fertilises as it has done for ever. Its deadwood is providing cover for years before rotting back into the ground. In the spring the top of the lane is full of wild garlic releasing its strong smell underfoot on a crisp morning.
The Lane holds an untold history and many secrets. It has been the site of children’s camps and games and other devilment and still is no doubt. The strand still holds the memory of the cockle women, my grandmother Ellie Murphy and Aunt Molly among them, who picked on a low tide, bent over, heads low, among the rocks on the strand below. They carried and carted sacks of cockle and winkles up this lane. Its stone ditches at either side, still visible in parts, are wide enough for an ass and cart for those lucky enough to have one. Paddy Ryan recently told me that his mother Statia, daughter of cockle women Janey Organ, as a young girl helping her mother collapsed walking up the lane under the weight of the bag of cockles that she was carrying, damaging her hip. She spent nine months in bed but her hip never healed and was unable to pick cockles again. The injury impacted on her for the rest of her life. Statia was a kind and lovely woman and a regular visitor to our house when I was a child. I remember her playing ‘this little piggy’ with my toes, I was probably around the age of two.
Some mornings as I head up the lane from the strand, I stop and look back and on a full tide with the sun rising and dancing on the water I feel thankful to the cockle women and others who lived in Crooke and Passage before us who saved this lane for us by walking it. And though we can travel more freely again I continue to feel privileged to live in such a stunning place with this wonderful river that has provided for many of us who live here, in more ways than one.
Submitted by Breda for Heritage Week 2020