1904 Waterford Royal visit from the River Suir

On Monday 2nd May 1904, Waterford hosted a royal visit to Ireland’s oldest city. The event is very well recorded in history books, but one aspect receives a lot less attention, and that is the naval presence.
On a wet Friday evening on the 29th April(1) four Royal Navy warships steamed up the harbour and arrived at the city to take up stations for the royal visit.  Three of the ships tied up along the quays; H.M.S. Melampus(1890) under Commander G.H. Gamble, H.M.S. Curlew(1885) under Lieut. and Commander Harold G. Grenfel, and H.M.S. Skipjack(1889) under Lieut. and Commander Llewellyn Griffiths. The flotilla was under the ultimate command of Rear Admiral Angus McLeod, who flew his flag from H.M.S. Aeolus(1894), which was commanded by Albert S. Lafone. The Aeolus was anchored in the middle of the Suir off Reginald’s Tower.
HMS Aeolus from the NLI Lawrence collection L_CAB_02086
A clear hi res image to be viewed at the following link
King Edward VII and his wife Alexandria and their daughter Princess Victoria arrived to Waterford’s North Station on Monday 2nd May from Kilkenny. Alighting from the train they were paraded across the bridge and along the quays which were bedecked with bunting, flags, floral displays and crowds of onlookers. (For a wonderful photograph follow the link to National Library of Ireland). The public decorations were supplied and carried out by Mr F Wilkins & Brother of Liverpool. Reports state that it took a fortnight to complete, and following a storm on the Sunday night, workers were joined by volunteers to try repair the damaged displays prior to the arrival of the royal party.

The shipping in port was reported to have been “illuminated with bunting” including the warships. One report states that “Most of the ships in the magnificent river were dressed rainbow fashion” At night the naval vessels “presented a memorable appearance of brilliancy”. (Waterford Standard 4May 1904 p3 gave two other vessels involved ; Julia and Stormcock, a tug based at Queens Town) A royal salute was provided as the royal party entered the city from the guns of the Aeolus. Naval personnel performed a guard of honour on the Mall and a navy band played under the direction of Commander Grenfell.
The royal party went to City Hall before a trip to the Waterford showgrounds for a horse jumping event before returning to the city. They departed from the south station via part of the now Deise Greenway to Lismore Castle.
HMS Melampus
For a hi resolution black and white photo see NLI Lawrence collection L_ROY_00128
HMS Curlew via Michael O’Sullivan on Waterford History Group
NLI Lawrence collection L_ROY_03642
Hi Res http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000322779
Although unstated in any of the coverage, an unmistakable element of the Naval presence was a display of force(2). Any thoughts of public dissent against the royals were probably curbed by what these four warships could do to the town. The large number of sailors on duty is clear to see in the NLI photos of the quays that day. For example, I noted in one as the carriage paraded along the quay a guard of naval personnel was standing to attention along the route with guns and bayonets fixed in place, standing three feet apart. The last role of the navy for the event seems to have been a firework display later that evening, which was described as “elaborate” and was supplied by Messrs Brock of London.
Notwithstanding the obvious security aspect of these ships in port, they must have provided a colourful spectacle, not to mention a welcome boost to the local taverns and perhaps a trip home for many of the local seamen that were undoubtedly aboard. I’m uncertain when the ships departed Waterford but I did find a mention of the Aeolus and Melampus being on duty later the same week, back at Kingstown for the royal party departure from Ireland on Wednesday 4th May, sailing on an evening tide.

(1) I’m indebted to Avril Harris for this detail, contained in the diaries of her father-in-law, Ernest Harris.  Avril wrote initially that “Four gunboats were in the river for the occasion, one of them named Skipjack‘. Some of the populace went onto the river on the ‘Clodagh‘ for a better view.”  The Clodagh is perhaps best known by a later name following her transition under the Clyde Shipping flag of SS Coningbeg
The actual diary entries for the period are as follows:
Friday 29th  ‘Wet in the evening. the gun boats came up.’
Sunday 1st. Ernie and his two brothers ‘went for a walk. We went over the ‘Skipjack‘. Mum’s the word’
Monday 2nd says ‘The King came. I rang at 1 o’clock.’ (He was a bellringer in Christ Church Cathedral) ….. ‘Saw the King twice. Saw fireworks from the Clodagh‘.

(2) one report lists the following; “Streets were guarded by troops, bluejackets and policemen…1st Battalion Leinster Regiment, 2nd Battalion Leinster Regiment, 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment, 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion Kings Regiment and 3rd Battalion Worcester Regiment.” Dublin Daily Express 3rd May 1904. P5

Other sources
Waterford Chronicle, 7th May 1904. P2
Waterford Standard, 7th May 1904. P5
Newry Reporter, 3rd May 1904. P4
Irish Independent, 2nd May 1904. P6

Thanks to James Doherty, Paul O’Farrell, Avril Harris and Frank Murphy for points of detail.

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