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

11 Replies to “Rochestown roots, an Irish Homestead”

  1. Another superb story from bygone times. I love seeing these links with the past.
    I see the name “Doherty” on the event programme photos – any relation Andrew ?

    1. Chalk it down there was Kev. And no love was lost between crews in the regattas. My Moran forebarers are mentioned too

  2. A great read. Thank you
    My grandfather John Dillon lived in Rochestown also my great grandfather Patrick Hawe and I believe he drowned in 1933/34 a long the river Barrow.
    A wonderful place and spent all my childhood holidays there.

    1. My grandfather’s brother drowned in the Barrow above New Ross somewhere near meeting of the Nore & Barrow rivers.
      That would have been sometime after the turn of the 20th century as my grandfather was born in 1892.

    2. Thanks Bernie, rivers play a big part in the lives of those that live beside them, including tragedy I’m afraid

  3. So many memories.

    I grew up across the barrow and saw Rochestown every day. I remember the steam train going through to Waterford or Ross.

    I grew up in Mountain Ego on the Wexford side. Hefernans had the farms across from us.

    I left there in in February 1964. Says something about my age.

  4. The Ross river was a wonderful place Tommy Heffernan said his father told him never to start the harvest until after the 15th of August .as all the men would be at the salmon fishing until the 15th .. sad to say today the river and all the fishing places weirs and fishing homesteads are no longer used .

  5. A lovely read, I shoot on the bank of the river along Rochestown and Ballinlaw for duck and snipe and as long as i’m doing it I never knew there was a name on the island across in Fisherstown ( Goat Island ) You learn something new every day.

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