The local regattas of Waterford, New Ross and the harbour have a long tradition, and the season of events in 1893 was as widely attended and as fiercely competed as any other years. To the victors went the spoils and the bragging rights, to the losers disapointment and a determination to do better at the next event. But tempers sometimes flared, plans went awry and drink added fuel to already tense situations. But it was in the racing competitions that the real drama took place and 1893 would prove to be a lively racing season as any other.
A recent email from Florida of a silver vase/cup which was presented at the Passage East Regatta of 1893 led me on a fascinating trawl for further information. The mention of regattas evoke a bright and energetic scene in my mind. Reared on stories of the older ones I can picture a flag boat, brightly bedecked from where the races were co-ordinated. The “quality” on their yachts and finer boats, the fishermen in their working craft, looking as clean and well turned out as any other, and their pride in their craft no less than the weathiest owners present. On land a variety of activities well attended by hundreds drawn by boat and foot from many miles. But it was on the water where the drama would be, fiercely contested races, disputes between crews, and bragging rights to the winners which brough huge pride to the boat, the crew and the winning village. As a child these exploits were often relived to me, the boats celebrated and the disputes grew legs in the telling, or so I thought. So although I could very well imagine the story around the photo of the cup I was keen nonetheless to try put weight to my theories. And so a search of the newspaper archives[i] brought the 1893 season alive to me. I will start it in chronological order of the events that I managed to discover.
At the AGM of the Waterford Boat Club in March some concerns were expressed at the lack of members given that the new club house in Ferrybank – that left the club with a debt of £64. The membership subscription was considered low, but as it was seen as a recreational pursuit at the time, the chairman was hoping that more numbers would come forward to facilitate a regatta later in the summer[ii]. A follow up meeting saw a committee appointed comprising of organisers, race starters, umpires and judges[iii]. However, in a later report it was “… decided, owing to the non-training of the crews to abandon the annual regatta… This announcement will, we feel sure, be met with regret, as this annual event was one of the most prominent aquatic fixtures in Ireland”[iv] Possibly an overstatement, but not perhaps, to the readers of the Waterford Chronical.
New Ross had no such issues. In fact the training was so hot and heavy in the boat club, people were putting their lives in jeopardy. From one report we learn of three separate incidents in the one week. Firstly a boat was wrecked when an over enthusiastic oarsman hopped aboard and went through the hull. The crew were none the worse for the wetting, but the boat necessitated a visit from the builder (Mr Rough) in Oxford, England who made the necessary repairs. Meanwhile another single rower smacked into a river boat at anchor. “…The stem of the skiff was considerably damaged, and she filled with water, the trainer having to swim ashore, dragging, as well as he could, the boat after him.” Finally a very capable oarsman had rowed as far as Annagh Castle but on returing up to Ross his Skiff was upset and sunk. Swimming to shore he righted and emptied his craft returning to New Ross none the worst for his adventure except for his wet attire.[v]
I’ve found a few dates mentioned for the New Ross regatta of that year, and it seems likely the event was rescheduled, but apparently it was run off on Monday June 26th. Ironically the same date as had earlier been proposed in Waterford. A report in the Waterford Chronical painted a wonderful picture of a Waterford city crowd arriving by the paddle steamer Vandeluer for a day of revelry and promenading, remarking on the passengers enjoying the views along the “majestic windings of the noble stream” but following arrival at the town of New Ross, the weather takes a turn for the worse, leading the writer to evoke Shakespeare “Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day, And make me travel forth without my cloak, To let base clouds o’ertake me in my way, Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke?[vi]
The races are run however including an open Cot race, Carvel built Yawl race for boats fishing inside the Tower of Hook, and a sculling Punt race. The race of the day was apparently the New Ross Boat Club Challenge Cup which was staged between the locals and Dublin University Boat Club, victory by a long margin to the locals was triumphantly recorded. Two other races were recorded; large Gig race and a skiff race. Numbers of competitors in the report were very small however, and I didn’t notice any boats from the lower harbour – perhaps their knowledge of the weather kept them away.[vii]
There was another side to the popular event however and for many weeks after, the courts dealt with several serious cases of public order. In one, Joseph Halligan of Ringville (situated downriver on the Kilkenny side) was brought before the Petty Sessions after he wielded a bottle at a brawl during the regatta. Halligan had arrive in Ross with his neighbours and friends to race in the regatta when some prime boys from the town, described as sailors and porters, had taken the oars to their boats and had refused to hand them back. Tempers flared and on one of his colleagues being knocked senseless to the ground Halligan went on the attack and broke not one but two bottles off his tormentors. Constable Kepple had made enquires and found that the defendant had been much provoked and on his evidence the bench decided to fine the defendant 1s with costs. His willingness to cooperate and the evidence of Constable Kepple were cited as the reasons for the leniency shown.[viii]
Another report under the headline of “Drunkenness and Rowdyism” dealt with several cases of assault while another weeks court report was headlined “The Faction Fight Near New Ross”, and detailed a dispute between rival fishing crews of cot men from Kilbrehon and the neighbouring district arising out of the regatta races.[ix]
The next meet of the summer was on Tuesday 12th September at Tramore. A report of the day described it “so far as the spectators were concerned… a thorough success” However in racing terms it proved a disappointment at least for sailing purposes. The course for all sailing races was “…from the flag boat at Cove, round flag boat at Strand, round flag boat under Brownstown Head, round flag boat a mile south of Mettleman, and home” There were ten races scheduled including for: Second Class Fishing Yawls, Half-decked Pleasure Boats, Lobster pot boats (oars and sail allowed), Passage and Ballyhack Fishing Yawls, Sailing Punts, First Class Yawls, Pair oared Punts, Swimming race, Coastguard Boats, Four Oared Yawls and a Duck Hunt. The following account was given of the Coastguard race which although understated I could well imagine was a matter of some pride, not to say hostility between these particular crews: “This proved an excellent race, and we should like see another contest between the same crews. The Blue Jackets strained every nerve in their rivalry, and if the Tramore crew was beaten it was little more than short head. Order finish was—Bonmahon 1st, Tramore 2nd, Ballymacaw 3rd and Dunmore 4th”[x]
Cheekpoint was held two days later, on Thursday 14th September. The scene was described as “an annual fixture, [which]…took place… under very favourable conditions, and was an unqualified success. A hazy morning was succeeded by a beautiful autumn day, and the lovely expanse of water which forms the confluence of the Suir and Barrow never looked to greater advantage, gaily-decked fleet of pleasure craft and fishing boats giving an unwonted air of animation to the scene” [xi]
Giving a sense of the popularity, the river had many boats on show, where the wealthier or more privileged spectators took advantage of some of the best viewing opportunities, whilst being royally entertained. As befitted the local landlord, Pat Power of Faithlegg House, took centre stage with his steam yacht Jennie[xii] – crewed by local men including members of the Heffernan and Barry families. The Jennie was “dressed with bunting from deck to trucks, and numerous and fashionable party were entertained on board by her popular owner.” Amongst other yachts present as spectators on the day were Mr J N White’s Neerid, Mr Murphy’s Pixie, Mr Gallwey’s Thyra, Mr J R Colfer’s Dunmore, Messrs Graves and McConkeys Irex, and many others that were unidentified.[xiii]
But it wasn’t just an event for the well to do. The article mentions that “The country folk [of which I would surely be included had I been there] assembled in great numbers along Cheekpoint Strand to watch the various contests, and we are glad to be able record that, although many of the rowing events elicited great enthusiasm and excitement, the day passed off without the least rowdyism or unpleasantness”[xiv] Perhaps proving the point, I found no mention of the event in court reports afterwards. Honest, I did look! That said, it was often while fishing or while visiting another village thereafter that sport could kick off. My father often recalled punch ups between competing crews due to a regatta race, where infringements, real or imagined, resurfaced and regularly led to trouble.
“There were numerous other events, including sailing and rowing races for fishing yawls, ships’ gig race, pair-oared and sculling punts, farmers’ race, pram [Prong] race, duck hunt, etc., all of which were well contested.” But according to the report the principal event of the day was the race for pleasure boats, which resolved itself into duel between Mr R Kelly’s Oceola and Mr J Barry ‘s Ballinagoul, and Mr Allinghams Otis. A vivid description of this 12 mile race that involved sailing below Duncannon and finishing with two laps around Cheekpoint to finish. It turned into a two horse race after the Otis lost her topsail, after trading places on several occasions a thrilling finish saw the Oceola beat Ballinagoul into second place by six feet.[xv]
The email query that started this quest for details of the Passage regatta was the last to be run of the 1893 season. Passage East was blighted by glorious sunshine and still breezes, which favoured those viewing and some of the rowing races but made a misery of the sailing. For the purposes of trying to identify the cup I thought it best to concentrate on the sailing races, of which there were four but only two given any great detail. “There were numerous entries for all the sailing races, of which two were for pleasure boats and two for yawls ; but these events were greatly marred by the want of wind. The chief race, for first class pleasure boats, brought the following to starting line —Mr Colfer’s Dunmore Allingham’s Otis, Mr Kelly’s Oceola, Mr O’Neill’s Naiad, Mr Barry’s Ballinagoul,” and Mr Power’s Mary Joseph. The course was from Passage Pier. A good start was made at 12.15, and with a light W.N.W. breeze, the run was quickly made; here the wind veered W.S.W., and Mary Joseph and Ballinagoul, in this order drew away from the others; however, the breeze soon got back about W, which just enabled boats lay their course on the return journey to Passage. The second round was very tedious, and running for Dunmore the boats were at times barely aide to stem the strong flood tide. Mary Joseph caught a puff off Glenwater, which enabled her to creep ahead of Oceola, and managed to increase her lead on the reach home. The finish was Mary Joseph first by about three minutes, Ocoola second, the rest a long way behind. In second pleasure boat race Mr H W Goffs Waterway won easily from Mr Paul’s Alarm and Mr Meade’s Seabird. The rowing were all well contested and in the afternoon donkey races, Greasy Pole and other sports, gave unbounded amusements to the large crowd on shore.”[xvi]
Unfortunately I could find no extra detail of the Passage events. I thought that through them I might get a better insight into the details on the cup and a lead on who may have won it, or the connection of Hubert Goff to the event. Goff was the son of Sir William Davis Goff the business man and keen sportsman who had a passion for sailing. However Hubert was only a young man at the time, so would he have had the cash or the interest in providing a prize for a sailing meet? My theory is that he did. We do know from the report that his craft the Waterway won the second pleasure boat race. But is this the cup he won. Personally I don’t think so. I’m basing this on a theory that the hallmarked cup/vase which stands 4.5 inches high was engraved before the event and that a later plaque was added with the winning boat and crew. It’s the only theory that I can imagine that fits with the writing that is there. Afterall, why would the cup maker go to the bother and expense of adding another piece to the cup if it was all engraved after the event with the winner? I’m open to correction or any other theories. Following through on this theory it is possible that the winner of this cup was the Mary Joseph, owned by Mr Power. Mere speculation here, as I have no further evidence, but Pat Power of Faithlegg had on son named Hubert who had also a passion for sailing and owned a number of sailing vessels. The only yacht I have a name for however is Star of the Sea, which was a boat he had built himself, apparently in the Rookery, Cheekpoint, which he sailed up until ill health prevented him.
Finally, the Passage regatta also led to court. In this case two young lads named Connolly and O’Gorman appeared in court at the Callaghane Petty Sessions on charges of having robbed a boat while attending the Passage East Regatta and used it to head back upriver to Waterford. However while enroute, they were rundown by the New Ross Steamer (The Ida at this time) and narrowly avoided drowning. Their solicitor could do little but appeal to the mercy of the court. Judgement was withheld but with a caution that compensation be made to the boat owner, Mr Arthur O’Neill of Glenbower.[xvii]
Despite hours of searching I found no mention of a regatta that year at Dunmore, Ballyhack or Duncannon. The season was brought to a conclusion with Passage East, and no doubt the long winter would bring retelling of the events, replays of the winning strategies and planning for revenge for those who narrowly lost out. It would all be replayed in 1894 and the competitions would be as fierce as ever. But that of course is a whole different story.
If you have any other information, images or memorabilia on the events of 1893 or any regattas in the area I would love to hear them in the comments or to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like a sense of the rowing races I previously wrote a story on the Cheekpoint regatta of 1909.
I have many people to thank for assistance with this piece. Paul Fitzgeral who prompted the search, John Diamond and Myles Courtney from New Ross, Joe Falvey from Waterford, Paul O’Farrell and Eoin Robson and Alison Cable. Each in their own way gave extra insight or their valuable time to help with details. I think the photos help to bring the story alive and I am indebted to Waterford County Museum and thier online catalouge of photograph used throughout the story. The responsibility for what is contained is my own.