Shanoon, Dunmore East

David Carroll

Shanoon, Sean Uaimh – “Old Cave” Canon Patrick Power, Place names of the Decies

Pedantic people might tell you that Shanoon, the rugged stretch of high cliff that overlooks the harbour at Dunmore East is strictly not within the ‘Three Sisters Family’ of Rivers, Suir, Barrow, and Nore. I would beg to differ. One Royal Charter afforded to the merchants of Waterford enhanced the role of the Mayor, by adding the title Admiral of the Port of Waterford, whose outer limits were specified as a line linking Hook Head in County Wexford with Red Head, just west of what is now Dunmore East. So ‘Shanoon’ gets in by the skin of its teeth as it is close to Red Head[1]

A chart from 1787 (Before the harbour at Dunmore East was built) showing Shanoon Point in relation to Red Point (Red Head) and Hook Point..[2]

But Shanoon was famous an exceptionally long time before 1356. Long before recorded history, people lived close to the area. Prehistoric artefacts collected over a forty-year period by the late Noel McDonagh, a former Dunmore East fisherman in the area close to Creadan Head, having been examined by eminent archaeologists, concluded that some of these finds were over 10,000 years old. This indicates that the area would have been one of the oldest settlements in Ireland.[3]

For protection from enemies or wild animals, small communities would erect their huts on narrow strips of cliff-top which projected out into the sea. On the inland side of this projection an embankment would be erected as a defensive measure. These habitations were known as promontory forts and Iron Age people established a promontory fort overlooking the sea at Shanoon. [4]

The name Dunmore derives from Dún Mór – the Great Fort [5], which was a promontory fort built close to Black Knob on Shanoon near the old Pilot Station. This should not be confused with a large castle, believed by Julian Walton to have been built by Lord Power of Curraghmore around the late 15th century, probably in the 1470s, of which only one tower remains today, close to Ladies’ Cove.[6]

Nowadays, a well-appointed car park has been constructed on Shanoon, which gives motorists a splendid view of the entrance to Waterford Harbour, and the Hook Peninsula. It also the starting point for a delightful walk along the cliffs-tops out and back to Portally of four kilometers. Learn more about this walk from Ray McGrath’s Gaultier Heritage Rambles:

When I was growing up in the 1950’s, the Shanoon played a big part in my life. It was a larger area then, before the 1960’s when part of it was blasted away to provide the material to construct the new fishing harbour.

This aerial photograph taken before WW2 shows Shanoon very much like it was during the 1950s. Anecdotally, the photo was taken by the RAF who were carrying out reconnaissance of the Irish coastline.

The three abiding memories that I had of Shanoon, growing up were: Pilots, cows, and ‘Black Knob’.

When I was a boy, the Waterford Harbour Pilots were based in the look-out station perched strategically on top of Shanoon. From here, in a time before modern navigational aids, they were able to observe all shipping arriving at the entrance to Waterford Harbour bound for the ports of Waterford and New Ross. As Ray McGrath has written “Waterford Harbour Pilots have come from a small number of Dunmore and Passage families, including the Glodys, the Fitzgeralds, the Walshs, the Bastons, Whittys, and Dohertys. Mariners owe much to their knowledge, skill and dedication”. [7]

At the time, a myth abounded that the pilots had been based on Shanoon for more than a century but in recent years, I have learned that this was not true. What happened was that when a new pilot cutter Betty Breen arrived in 1954 to replace the Lily Doreen, the pilots found the accommodation onboard to be very cramped and decided to move to the station on Shanoon, which was lying vacant at the time.[8] Originally, the building had been the signalling station for HM Coastguards, who departed from Dunmore East in 1922.

To get from the station to the pilot boat, the pilots took a short cut down a steep path in the cliff closest to the harbour. This was not a path for the faint-hearted as a slip could end in tragedy. Needless, to say, I was under strict instructions from my parents never to attempt to take that path to gain access to Shanoon.

Also, during the 1950s, William Power of Powers Bar, who has had a butcher’s shop beside the pub, rented the Shanoon from the Office of Public Works (OPW) for the purpose of grazing some of his cattle. The nuns teaching in the nearby Convent School often became alarmed when they looked out and saw cows dangerously grazing right at the very edge of the cliff on the harbour side of Shanoon. As a pupil in school, until I was aged eight years old, I can still recall the nuns despatching a senior girl up the village to raise the alarm and witness Andy Taylor, the butcher, still in his butchers apron, and a young Billy Power running down the road with sticks to hunt the cows back from the edge of the cliff.

A more recent aerial photo of Shanoon, reduced in size. The arch that joined Black Knob with Shanoon is now missing. It was a victim of a severe 1960s gale. The remains of a gun-post used during the ‘Emergency’ are still visible. Photo: Neville Murphy

‘Black Knob’ was the rock at the end of Shanoon, where the cliff took a 90˚ turn towards the start of the pier at Dunmore East. It was probably during a severe gale in the 1960s that the arch that joined it to Shanoon collapsed into the sea. The landmark had great significance for me as I was strictly forbidden from going past it alone in a boat as at that point you would be away from sight in the harbour, where my father kept a vigilant watch.
For a brief period, I used to set a lobster pot close to Black Knob behind the pier but fishing for shellfish was not my strongest forte.

One thing that I still regret is that I never had to explore or even view from close-up the cave that runs under Shanoon. It is called ‘Merlin’s Cave or Cove’ on charts. Access from the cliff is impossible and even trying to get close in a small rowing boat would be dangerous and probably not recommended.

Shanoon has witnessed and withstood a lot of bad weather over the years. It is particularly vulnerable to severe weather coming from a south-easterly direction. A poet, who only described him or herself as ‘MH’ submitted a seventeen-verse poem to the Munster Express in 1895. It tells of the dreadful storm took place in 1888 when the Alfred D Snow was lost on the County Wexford side of Waterford Harbour. The ‘cone’ raised on Shanoon would have been a signal hoisted by the Coastguards to warn of an impending storm. Here are the first three verses:

A GALE AS ONCE WITNESSNED IN DUNMORE EAST
All early in the bleak forenoon
The cone is raised on the Shanoon;
And every sign on sea and land
Denotes a gale is at hand.

The sky is of a sable hue,
Which almost hides the Hook from view,
And from the strands and coves below
White bubbles around the village blow.

As if disporting in the sky,
In all directions, seagulls fly.
While by the cliffs and darksome caves,
Black divers stem the curling waves.

Submitted as a contribution to Heritage Week 2020

  • [1] Brophy, Anthony Port of Waterford: Extracts from the Records of the Waterford Harbour Commissioners from their Establishment in 1816 to the Report of the Ports and Harbours Tribunal, 1930. Decies No 60, 2004.
  • [2] https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b53011020p/f1.item.r=tramore
  • [3] Carroll, David Dauntless Courage, Celebrating the history of the RNLI Lifeboats, their crews, and the Maritime Heritage of Dunmore East, 2020
  • [4] Fewer, TN, A Brief History of Dunmore East, discoverdunmore.com
  • [5] Power, Canon Patrick, Place names of the Decies, (Cork, 1952).
  • [6]Carroll
  • [7]Gaultier Heritage Rambles: The Dunmore to Portally Cliff Walk, Waterford News and Star, Sept. 03, 2019
  • [8] 2020 Interview with former Harbour Pilot and Lifeboat Coxswain, John Walsh

5 Replies to “Shanoon, Dunmore East”

  1. Great stuff again.
    I was there about 5 yr ago, watching crazy kids diving in of the rocks and some lucky buggers catching mackerel.
    I never had my rod with me as I only called in there as a detour visit on the way back from Mahon Falls

  2. Love this piece, David! Such fond memories of those days. I actually remember the storm that broke Black knob, but can’t put a year on it.

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