Cheekpoint sailors in a River Mersey rescue

On Saturday night, 12th Nov 1955 my Father, Bob Doherty and two others from Cheekpoint, my Uncle John and Jimmy (O’Dea) Doherty, were departing Liverpool as seamen aboard the MV Ocean Coast in dense fog.  They were carrying general cargo and were bound for Falmouth.

MV Ocean Coast was a twin screw motor cargo vessel of 250 ft in length and a 38ft beam and 1,790 tons deadweight .  She was built for short sea route trips by Leith shipyard for the Coast Lines shipping company and was launched on 31st July 1935.  During the war years she had served the war effort as a supply vessel to Gibraltar and North Africa.  She also played her part in the D Day landings servicing Omaha beach carrying petrol.

MV Ocean Coast

At 22:10 that night the Ocean Coast sent out the following message “Queens Channel, Q15 Buoy, River Mersey.  There has been a collision between two unknown ships.  I am anchored and sending a lifeboat over.  Strong ebb tide running.  One of the ships in the collision has sunk”

It would subsequently emerge that a fully laden Swedish motor oil tanker SS Juno inbound had struck the SS Bannprince which was operated by S William Coe of Liverpool.  The Bannprince was crewed by Northern Ireland men and had been built in 1933 in Glasgow.  She was 165ft 5″ long with a beam of 27ft 2″ and a deadweight of 716 tons.

SS Bannprince

Like the Ocean Coast, the Bannprince had served with a volunteer crew during the war.  She helped to evacuate 337,130 Allied troops from Dunkirk between May and June 1940, following this she was taken over for “Unspecified special government services” and was one of the first ships to land at Sword beach during the D Day landings with much needed medical supplies. 

The Bannprince was outward bound that fateful night, fully laden with coal for Colerain in NI.  The first the crew knew of difficulties was when the ships horn sounded three shrill blasts moments before there was an almighty crash and the ship healed over.  She would sink in ten minutes and most of the crew of 9 had no time to get a lifejacket.  Her lifeboats were submerged..  In the freezing Mersey the crew did what they could to stay together and help those that couldn’t swim into lifejackets found floating or other debris that would sustain them. 

Motor Tanker WWII era

It was almost an hour between collision and the calls from the lifeboat of the Ocean Coast were heard in the water.  At this point most of the sailors were close to exhaustion and had drifted apart.  The boat my father and Jimmy O Dea was in rescued six and a lifeboat from a sister ship Southern Coast picked up the remaining 3 men including the captain and the only crew man to lose his life, second engineer James Ferris of Limavady, Derry.

My father had to jump in the water at one stage to help some of the men out of the water.  Later this gave rise to a yarn from Jimmy O Dea about how they were rowing back to their ship when they noticed my father wasn’t there. They turned back, rowing now with a vengeance only to find my father swinging off a buoy shouting “where the hell were ye then ship mates???”

The Certificate my father received in 1957

They put the six survivors aboard the New Brighton Lifeboat and returned to the Ocean Coast to continue their voyage.  On the 3rd April 1957 my father along with 5 other crew men received a certificate from the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society in recognition of their efforts.  The Captain received a silver cigarette box and the chief officer a parchment.

The Ocean Coast continued to give service into the 1960’s when she seems to have been sold for scrap,  The Bannprince was risen from the Mersey as she was a hazard to shipping and was sold for scrap to a Dutch shipyard.  The Juno, which was only lightly damaged, returned to work. but I couldn’t source any further information.

My father went to sea as a teenager like so many other men of his generation.  Himself, Jimmy and Uncle John are now gone to their rest, and with them probably most of their best stories.

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
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The SS Alfred D Snow and Cheekpoint Green

When I was a child I used to come to the cottage on the Green on Sundays, long weekends and summer holidays.  It was my Grandparents, Tommy and May White’s house and it was always full of cousins, aunts and uncles and lots of gatherings and parties were held there.  Grandad had bought it in the 1950’s from “Billy the Green” Doherty who had reared a large family in the house.

The summers were the best because you got to play all day on the Green and be with your friends from morning til night.  The village was always busy in the summer months too with fishermen on the quay, coming and going from fishing, mending nets, checking boats.  There were always visitors on holidays and people coming to Mac’s for food.

When the cottage was full with cousins Nanny would make up extra beds in the sitting room and we would all pile in.  In the mornings the jackdaws in the big open fireplace would waken us with their squawking and flapping wings. 

My favourite place to sleep though, was in the small back bedroom. We were told this was an old ships cabin from a ship that had been wrecked in the harbour many years before.  This room had a low wooden ceiling with some iron rivets across it in places.  There was a small skylight which was then closed in place but could have been opened in the past to allow fresh, if salty air into the cabin on a ship that crossed the Atlantic for her trade.  It was a cosy room and often too hot on a warm summer evening.  It was only years later that I learned that the cabin came from an American ship called the Alfred D Snow.

The Alfred D Snow was a three masted fully rigged all timber ship which was built in the Samuel Watts shipbuilding yard in Maine USA.  She was 232 feet long with a beam of 42 feet and was built in 1877. 

image courtesy of Andrew Kelly

She left San Francisco on Aug 30th 1887 bound for Liverpool with a cargo of wheat under Captain William J Wiley.  She had fair weather on the trip, including the rounding of Cape Horn but as she came up towards the Irish Sea a south east gale blew up and the captain found that evasive measures were required.  The crew battled bravely but the storm grew in force and they were forced to call into Waterford Estuary to try find some shelter.  Sails were dropped, leaving her without much helm and they tried to inch the ship in under the hook peninsula that would have given them some shelter.  However the ship struck the sand close to Broomhill and got stuck fast.  Heeling over, the waves crashing over, the ships boats were launched with some difficulty and one managed to make it away but it was swamped and all aboard were drowned.  The others took to the rigging in the hopes of salvation.

On land the people were helpless to give direct assistance.  The Dunmore East lifeboat was called but didn’t respond until much later, which was a matter of controversy at the time.  The tug Dauntless did try to respond.  She was sheltering at Passage East but as she approached one of her paddles broke and she drifted helplessly away back up the harbour.  As the gale continued to roar and the seas continued to pound, the ship started to break up and the remaining crew were washed away and they too were drowned. 

In total all 29 crew men died.  Mostly American but also men from England, France, Germany, Norway and Russia.  There was an Irish crew man named Michael O Sullivan but I haven’t found out where he came from.  However in researching this piece I did learn that there was a survivor; the ships dog, a sheepdog, managed to swim to shore and climbed up the rocks to safety.

During the days that followed the Captains body was recovered and was shipped home for burial in a lead lined, brandy filled casket, (I wonder did he like a drink?).  Other crew men were interred in Ballyhack, but most were never found.  Pieces of the wreck floated in all along the harbour.  These were secured by the Coastguard apparently and were auctioned off.  That’s one possibility for how it arrived in Cheekpoint.

A model with the cabin behind the foremast
image courtesy of Andrew Kelly

Locally, it is said that it came to Cheekpoint quay and using rollers was brought up the village and the backroad and then down behind the cottage and put in place.  The Boreen wasn’t wide enough apparently.  It remained as it was until a few years back when my cousin renovated the house, so that in total the shipwrights at Samuel Watts yard created a cabin that lasted over 130 years.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to sleep in the cabin, but I don’t know if I would have slept so soundly had I known the whole history of the ship at that time.

Deena Bible 23/8/2014
Piece first read at the Heritage Week event in Reading Room Cheekpoint

With thanks to Andrew Kelly for further information.
John Power – A Maritime History of County Wexford Vol 1(2011)

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
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SS Pembroke and Cheekpoint

SS Pembroke – AH Poole Collection NLI
The SS Pembroke was built of steel by Laird Brothers of Birkenhead, in the year 1880 and was originally a paddle steamer.  The company was founded by John Laird.   The Pembroke was registered at the Port of Milford.  In 1896 she was altered by the shipyard into a twin screw steamship as shown above.  The photo seems to me to show her off Seedes bank inward bound to Waterford with Buttermilk Point in the background.

She was operated by the Great Western Railway Company and did regular sailings on the Milford Haven to Waterford route and as such would have been a regular to the people of Cheekpoint and the Waterford estuary.

She departed Milford port on the 18th February 1899 with 28 passengers, the mail, and a cargo of 28 tons, under the command of Captain John Driver, and with a crew of 30. Passing close to the Saltee Islands off the Wexford coast,  the master, spotted breakers a-head, and immediately reversed the engines to full speed astern.  The response came to late and before the way could be taken off her, she struck the Islands.

Aground – AH Poole Collection NLI
As passenger takes up the story; “…we were thrown out of our bunks onto the cabin floor.  For a few seconds we heard a terrible sound underneath the vessel.  The rest of the passengers thought that the vessel had collided with another vessel and was sinking…When we got on deck, other passengers were huddled together in a group, half dressed.  Among the passengers were some ladies, who seemed very calm, while male passengers were running about in terror.  The captain ordered the boats to be launched and by 7 o clock all the passengers were landed on the island”1
There were two men staying on the Island at the time who guided the ships boats in, and treated the passengers to tea and comfort.  The second mate then set off for Kilmore Quay where he raised the alarm.  The entire fishing fleet set to sea and the tug “Flying Huntsman” part of the Waterford Steamship Co fleet which was then at Dunmore responded and eventually took on the passengers, cargo and the mail and brought all to Waterford that same day.
A man named Ensor from Queenstown (Dun Laoighre) was engaged as salvor and it was considered feasible to refloat the ship.  This was achieved five days later on the 23rd Feb and under the ships own steam, but with several tugs on stand-by, she was brought into Waterford harbour and up to Cheekpoint.2
Aground again, but purposely
AH Poole Collection NLI 
Inspection in progress – AH Poole Collection NLI

She was re-grounded at the Strand Road, above the main quay, and it seems that it was a major draw for city and country people alike.  The photo above shows clearly the benefit of re grounding the vessel as a full view could be got of the damage and temporary repairs could be carried out.  Once done she sailed once more for Lairds for repairs.

The Pembroke returned to service the Irish Sea and continued up until 1916.  In that year she was given over to general cargo runs and she was retired and sold for scrap in 1925.  The subsequent inquiry into the incident on the Saltees makes for interesting reading and parts of the account have been taken directly from that source. 

The original story was passed on to me by Tomás Sullivan Cheekpoint.

1 & 2. John Power – A Maritime History of County Wexford Vol 1(2011) pp 377- 381

 All photos above are sourced from the National Library of Ireland and were part of the AH Poole Collection.

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
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Cheekpoint and the Three Sisters – The influence of the river on the community

The Cheekpoint Fishing Heritage Project will host a social evening in the Reading Room Cheekpoint on Saturday 23rd Aug 2014 at 7.30 – 10pm.  The event has a charge of €5 but senior citizens and children are free. Funds raised will go towards the running costs of the Reading Room.

Each year since 2005 the Cheekpoint Fishing Heritage Project has contributed an event to the annual Heritage week celebration.  The week focus’s attention on our country’s rich and varied heritage.  The first year we participated was to stage an event as part of the Ireland Newfoundland exchange and included the now infamous Prong race which can be viewed via you tube.

Subsequently we did static displays of fishing practices, presentations about the fishery including a history of artisanal fishing practices, a presentation on weirs and the origins, a number of guided walks around the village and strand and last year we delivered 10 symbols of our fishing heritage to our biggest group of attendees yet.

This year is again something very different.  We will host a social night in the Reading Room to which anyone with a song, poem or story about the fishery or our maritime past is welcome to contribute.  It will be an informal setting but will include a cup of tea and plenty of entertainment.

A number of people have generously offered to come along on the night and contribute something already.  To whet the appetite here’s a synopsis of what you can expect –


Music with a watery theme will be provided by a number including; Dylan Bible and Brendan Martin,  Tom Mullane, and Members of Passage East Community Choir

We have a wide variety of poems from the village and William Doherty as agreed to come along and recite one of the more popular – The Schooner BI

Waterford historian James Doherty – will tell of the remarkable WWII life of Patrick Hanlon who was sailing with the Merchant Marine and was a prisoner aboard the pride of the German fleet the Admiral Graf Spee.

Ray McGrath, who is working on a place names of the River project will present some of the outcomes, and possibly seek some further assistance, names such as the Lady’s Rock, Glassy’s Dock, Walsh’s mud, Sullivan’s quay and the White Stone are sure to feature

Eamon Duffin’s most recent work has been published with the Tramore writers group .  This is the second collection with the group and Eamon has been published elsewhere.  His writing includes our fishing heritage and captures the uniqueness of it beautifully.  Eamon will do some self selected readings on the night. 

Sean Doherty will look at the Weirs in the three rivers and talk about the use’s and the heritage attached to them.
Deena Bible will remember her summers on Cheekpoint Green as a child and her sleeping place when she stayed there – the salvaged cabin of a 19th Century sailing ship
We will also do a 5 minute slide show of the senior citizen Christmas dinners of the 1980’s and possibly a piece from RTE’s nationwide about prongs and punts which was broadcast in 2006.
For myself, I will do a piece about my father, who received an award with others from his crew, who rescued 6 sailors from the SS Bannprince from the river Mersey in the winter of 1955

Needless to say pieces from others in the community on the night will be encouraged / welcomed.  But if you just want to come along and enjoy the contributions of others you will be most welcome
Hope to see you there on the night

Saturday 23rd August 2014, 7.30pm Reading Room, Cheekpoint.


I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales

Water water everywhere…

Politicians in Ireland are currently at each others throats
on the matter of water
charges
.  Whatever your political
views, which probably lie on or between two polar opposites – that water is a
human right and should be provided free out of existing taxes, to water should be privatised and
turned into a commodity – my philosophical view is that water is a valuable resource
which should be cherished.

My grandmother,
Nanny, thought me a lot about valuing water, or as she put it “sparing”
it.  She would pour water from the tap
into a plastic basin which sat in her Belfast sink in the kitchen every
morning.  Very often the water would
rinse an egg from under a chicken before it was boiled for breakfast, do several rinses of dishes during the day
and her to wash her hands as required.  It might be
topped up with water being drained from steamed spuds or veg.  Usually it was early evening or night time
before the basin water was thrown out, but never discarded.  No, it went on plants in pots, a shrub in the
garden or maybe to wash the steps. 

We often chided her about it, but of course to her it was
just a habit.  Nanny would tell us about
walking as child to the wells to draw water. 
It was the child’s job and was done as soon as they were strong enough.  It was a daily chore, seven days a week
and had to be done even before she would go to school in the morning and on her return.  It was also a
woman’s job, as her brothers would have been fishing as soon as they could pull
an oar.

Spring well at Barn Quay
The
closest well in the Russianside was on the strand between Morans Poles and
Whelans Road.  This was 200 yards away
and was a steep climb up to the house with the filled pails, one in each
hand.  Sometimes this was tainted with
seawater following a flood or a storm. 
She would need to wait then for her father and the neighbours to remove
the seaweed and flotsam, pour lime into it to cleanse it and then give it a few days to
settle.  While waiting she would need to
walk to Ryans Quay a further 300 yards to the nest nearest well.

She was born in 1919 and it was not until the early 1950’s
that the council constructed the new house and provided the luxury of a tap
outside.  In the 1960s, Chris Sullivan
(who did all the odd jobs around when he wasn’t fishing) put a new tap and
Belfast sink into her back kitchen.  But
although the water flowed her old habits remained.

The other water source she valued was the water barrel.  She had one at the front and back, placed
under the down pipe of the gutters and she often used it to wash, saying her
hair was always softer after the rainwater. 
She also vowed that it was much better for watering plants.

One of the wells that still is in use is the well pictured above at the Barn Quay.  We often drink from it and to my mind it tastes delicious.  The Teen’s told me that Jenny O’Brien recently did a science project for school in water analysis and used the water from the well which emerges out of the cliff face where once there was a Slate quarry.  Apparently the water was pure and free of any pollution.

The other wells that I can recall; one in the high street
under Margaret and Des O’Keffee’s , one in the basement of Daisybank House, one in the Rookery, one in the Marsh under
Mahon’s (now Ray McGraths), three in
Coolbunnia; by Ned Powers  as you head up
the Hurthill, below Everetts (where Malachy & Michelle Doherty now live)
and at “Maggie Mooncoins” below my brother Robert’s.  The nicest well water I remember was at Larry
Cassins on the Old Road.  As children we
often stopped with my mother to slake our thirst.  He would come out with some mugs and
distribute them round to us as my mother filled them from an earthenware jug
that was always available. I have no doubt but there were many others.

Water Pump on the Green, Cheekpoint

I’m not sure when the
water pumps were added to the village landscape, but there were two.  The first is still in place on the village
green and was in use into the 1980s. Pat Murphy of the Green told me it was
there before his family arrived in the 1940’s. 
It’s still a beautiful feature but if memory serves it was painted green when I was a child.  The other was at the cross roads, between the
present shop and my Uncle Sonny’s house. 
It was removed by the council in the early 1990’s. 

According to a recent piece I read in the Irish Independent by Damien Corless (09/08/14), wells were built across the country following the discovery by John Snow in London, that Cholera was spread by dirty water.  The discovery in 1854, led to a building boom of parish pumps across the UK including Ireland – which had been ravaged by cholera at the end of the famine period.  Perhaps the Cheekpoint pumps date from that period. 

Some recent maps I’ve seen would tend to support this view.  Looking on the OSI site at their historic maps of Ireland I learned that some of the first maps produced of the area, Historic 6″ map doesn’t show the well on the green, these were drawn between 1829-41.  However, it is shown on the Historic 25″ maps which were dated 1897-1913.  So at least we can see for certain that it dates from 1913, and most probably earlier.

De La Salle scouts having a drink at the well on Green 1969
photo courtesy of Brendan Grogan

Pat Moran remembers walking up the Mount to a
tap on the road by Josephine Elliots, so perhaps the council were supplying water in other
areas using a similar method.  Pat was a child at the time so it would have been in the mid to late 1950’s. His story got me thinking about a tap at Joanie Hanlons (where Charlie and Paul Hanlon now live) which was inside her hedge but away from the house.  I always wondered why it would not have been placed on her house wall.  Maybe it served the Russianside in a similar way.

Nanny’s habit of water conservation was learned at an early age, and her valuing
of water lasted her lifetime.  It was
something to be spared and used with consideration.  There’s a lesson there for us all whatever
our political outlook.  And in the future
it could save us a lot of money.

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  

F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales