Gallivanting to Ballyhack 1978

Last week I visited Ballyhack Castle in Co Wexford with my wife Deena.  It was a bit of a day out, and most enjoyable as the sun shone, entry to the castle was free and neither of us had a care in the world on a welcome day off for us both.  Later I posted about it on Facebook which drew a huge reaction, and it got me thinking.  Firstly, there is so much available to us to see and do, that is literally under our feet.  All it needs is a bit of planning.  But it also got me to reminiscing about my first visit to the “hackers” when I was only a garsún and what an adventure it was.
I think it was 1978 when on a bright and clear Saturday, Jimmy Duffin announced that we would go for an adventure.  Jimmy was a year or two older and basically whatever Jimmy decided was right and fine by us.  So we set off up the High Road, along the Coolbunnia Road, over the Hurthill and down to Passage East.  On the main quay Jimmy hoisted a flag on a short pole, and there we waited. In our company was William Elliott and Michael Duffin. I can’t recall if anyone else had come along, but if they did it would have been Michael Moran and Brendan Foley.
Ballyhack circa 1970 courtesy of Brendan Grogan

According to Jimmy, he’d been over to visit his auntie Anne (White) and her family dozens of times, hoisting the flag was the method by which you called over the ferry to cross the expanse of water that separates Waterford from Wexford, Munster from Leinster. I have to admit I had my doubts.  Standing on the quay, feet shifting nervously, conscious that the “sharks” of Passage didn’t take kindly to us Cheekpoint lads coming into their patch (not that it would any different if reversed), disparagingly referred to as “mudlarks” by some or shortened to “pointers” by most. Voicing my concern Jimmy was all bravado, shur wasn’t his cousins the Heffernans of Passage and everyone knew Sean Heffernan would break them in two if the looked crooked at his younger cousin.

Eventually, a boat was seen to depart from Ballyhack quay and as the half decker without even a cabin pulled in to Passage a soft capped man called up to ask would we risk setting sail with him.  Before we were in and settled Jim Roche had the measure of us, our parents and all belonging to us, and he chatted away about sailors and fishermen he had known from Cheekpoint, and of course he knew all our fathers.  I have no recollection of payment, the reality is we would not have had much between us.

Community Notice Board
Don’t forget the Beat the Ferryman event Saturday 23rd June.  As good a spectacle as anything you will see, and a great day out.  Cheekpoint Fun day takes part the following day Sunday June 24th.

In Ballyhack we wandered around like lost souls.  Apparently there was a football match on, and the village was practically empty. I can only remember that we tried to get access to the castle but it was barred to us and inhospitable looking. One other memory  stands out of the day, as we met a lovely man with a jackdaw named “Jack” who asked after us and made us feel right at home.  Maria Doyle told me during the week that this was Muck King, and that working in the OPW he often came across a hurt jackdaw, which he adopted and nursed back to health. He had a succession of such birds, all named Jack! She remembered one such bird that Muck fashioned a helmet for from a golf ball, which travelled everywhere with him on the handlebars of his Honda 50.
Deena getting some fascinating info from Bob Doyle on other off the beaten track sites to visit.
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Arriving home that evening in the 1970’s I must have presented a tired, bedraggled and hungry sight in the Mount Avenue. Coming in the gate my father, who was in the front garden, asked where I had been and laughed to himself when I answered.  My mother hearing us came out, I suppose she had been worried, but it of course never entered me head.  “Where we ya” she asked.  “The buckos went gallivanting to Ballyhack” was all me father had to say before he cleared off to let me mother do the chastisement.  He was probably making a mental note of the large bottle he would owe Jim Roche the next time they met on the high stool.

Last week Deena and I needed to raise no flag as the present Passage East Ferry sails like clockwork between the two villages, in everything except the most exceptional of weathers. For €2 pp we walked on and off and this time Ballyhack Castle was open to the public, fully restored and really a gem of tower house to visit.  It’s free and is open Saturday-Wednesday all summer from 9.30-5pm. Bob Doyle, Maria’s brother in law, is one of the guides, and if you like talking history, you’ll enjoy a chat with Bob.

Thanks to Maria Doyle, who grew up with Ballyhack castle in her garden, for helping me with the details of this piece.  Maria’s mam, Anne White nee Fortune (RIP) was Jimmy’s aunt and, coincidentally, a great friend of my grandmothers.

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Chasing the Smugglers – Waterford harbour Coastguards 1822

The HM Coastguard service was created in 1822 when the Revenue Cruisers, Riding officers, and the Preventative Waterguard were amalgamated into a single force to try tackle incidents of smuggling and to enforce the collection of taxes. Waterford was in the top three ports of the country and required a significant force to patrol the coast and the harbour entrance. The administrative base for the port of Waterford and New Ross was the city, but the operations were at their busiest at Passage East and Ballyhack.
Passage East and Ballyhack on the opposite bank
via Paul O’Farrell

We saw in my cousin James Doherty’s guest blog a few weeks back, that smuggling was a constant issue for the crown in the waters around Waterford, and indeed Ireland. It was seen as a legitimate way to do business and it could be argued by local merchants as a legitimate way of engaging in trade when seen against the harsh taxes and controls placed on irish merchants by the crown. The smugglers used a variety of methods; hiding contraband in legitimate cargo, running ship loads of illicit cargo, transferring cargo to others such as fishing boats or calling to out of the way drop off points along the coast and harbour to off load part of their cargo. The enforcement of tax collection and the prevention of smuggling then, required a vast force.

A government paper1 of the time gives a list of the roles, the numbers employed and the costs associated with maintaining the Coastguard service at Waterford and New Ross.  In total, 92 men were employed.
A well armed preventative man!  Accessed from

The top was shared by two positions the Collector and the Comptroller, their chief duty seems to have more to do with keeping each other in check, than overseeing the collection of tax (a seemingly regular enough practice within the structure of the organisation). Under them were several clerks, storekeepers and surveyors to ensure the smooth administration of a vast network of river related roles.  The Office of Waterford was housed in the customs house, based on the quays but we can see from the document a sub office in New Ross, and a presence at Dunmore, Cheekpoint but principally at Passage East, and I presume Ballyhack.

Passage and Ballyhack are an obvious site, due to their strategic location. Ships could reach the villages under sail without too much difficulty and there anchor to await unloading by the lighter boats, sailing when tide and wind allowed and/or towing to ports by the hobblers.  First aboard was the Tide Surveyor (earlier called tyde) to check the manifest and cargo and ensure all was in order. The particulars of the ships cargo and journey was taken for record. A Tide Waiter (wayter) was left aboard the ship to ensure that nothing was removed from the vessel and he would stay with the ship day and night. The Waiters would leave if the cargo was moved to a lighter, or remain aboard and travel upriver if the ship headed to Waterford or Ross. Once arriving in port, the waiter presented himself to the custom house to account for the cargo, the unloading being carried out by porters, supervised by landing waiters, and these under the supervision of Land Surveyors.
A fleet of boatmen and craft serviced the coastguard, ensuring ease of transport to and from vessels and between the lower harbour and the ports.  Meanwhile along the coastline further watchers were stationed.  These included coast officers and walking officers and also men on horseback known as riding officers. Between them they would keep a watch on approaching ships and would effectively follow them along the coast to Passage or Ballyhack, handing over responsibility and providing any observations to the Surveyor on duty.

The total cost of the operation at the time was £8,005 which I presume was for the year. The most numerous employees were working as tide waiters and supernumerary tide waiters which numbered 42 men alone.

An advert to twart the smugglers
Accessed from:

I was interested to note that there was a also a Tidy Surveyor in position at Dunmore East.  It must be presumed this role was the oversee the Mail packet station as it operated from here at the time. Contemporary and historical works suggest the Packet service in general was a regular method of smuggling, either in the ships manifest or by individual crew.

Try as the coastguard might, the numbers of vessels and the ingenuity of sailors and merchants, created a constant supply of smuggled goods. It would take a fundamental shift in government policy towards free trade and fairer taxes later in the century before the problem started to be effectively addressed.2


For more on this subject The Waterford Archaeological & Historical Society’s next lecture is on 28th April at 8 p.m. in St Patricks Gateway, Patrick St, Waterford,  The lecture is “The Forgotten Force.” by Mr James Doherty and will look at H.M. Coastguard in pre-independence Ireland. Regulations, Roles and Responsibilities.  €5 for non-members, free for members

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1. Detailed Account of Establishment for Collection of Customs and Ports of Ireland 1821-22.  Enhanced British Parliamentary Papers on Ireland

2. King’s Cutters and Smugglers 1700-1855, by E. Keble Chatterton

Here’s some very interesting information on smuggling and the Coast Guard service from West Waterford via the county museum:

For more on the operations at Waterford and specifically Passage, see Decies #31 by Francis Murphy

Wreck of the Hansa; Waterford harbour, 1899

On the evening of Thursday 2nd November 1899, the barque Hansa entered Waterford harbour in gale force winds.  Having endured the early winter storms crossing the Atlantic, and finally arriving at her port of destination, the crew were probably beginning to relax.  The journey was yet to take a final turn however and within hours they would be fighting for their lives.
The Hansa in the harbour (Drumroe or Seedes bank?), note her main mast is gone
photo via Andy Kelly Waterford History Group
The SS Hansa was a three masted barque of 1198 tons.  She was an Italian ship from the port of Genoa.  She had loaded Deals (timber) in St John, New Brunswick and set sail across the Atlantic to discharge at Graves & Co of Waterford.  We know little of her trip, except that the papers spoke of very bad storms all through the previous week across Ireland. In the gathering gloom of a winter evening the Captain was no doubt delighted to round the Hook and head into the harbour.  Alas, as the sailing vessel made her way past Creaden Head a sudden squall blew her off course and onto a sandbank.
The ship stuck fast and began to heal over. Any effort to shift the ship failed and the crew took to the rigging. Distress flares were launched and the pilot cutter based at Passage East came to the rescue, and in darkness successfully rescued all the crew*. The next day three river steamers of the Waterford Steamship Company were dispatched to try refloat the ship.  The Ida, Vandeleur and Mermaid were apparently unsuccessful. The ship remained above water however, the floating nature of the cargo apparently had helped to keep the ship righted.
For the next part of the tale we come to an interesting minute of a Harbour Board meeting titled “Pilotage dues on a salvage boat” in the Waterford Standard of Wednesday 15th Nov
Damage to the side of the ship possibly caused in getting the ship
refloated, or perhaps by salvors in getting at her cargo. NLI
In the piece a Mr Farrell argues that the steamer employed to salvage the cargo** of the Hansa, which is little more that an lighter herself (25 ton) should be exempted from pilotage fees, as she had paid them already to enter port, and were she to pay them each time she came or went to the Hansa, it would be prohibitive.  The plan it seems was that the steamer would tow lighters to and from the wreck, bringing the original cargo to Graves of Waterford. The discussion seems to have been a heated one, with other members of the board being concerned for the loss of revenue. Farrell however won the day, arguing that for the good of the port it was best that the dues be waived.*** Interestingly, although nearly a fortnight after the initial grounding, it suggests that the ship has yet to be got off. The plan was that once relieved of her cargo she would be towed to Cheekpoint.

This subsequently happened and it appears she was initially towed to Drumroe bank at Duncannon and hence to Seedes Bank at Ballyhack.  A Lloyds telegram covered in the Cork Examiner of 5/12/99 confirms as such.

The Munster Express newspaper of 23/6/1900 continues our story where we are told that in the month previous, the wreck was auctioned and sold to a Liverpool merchant for £40. The crew we are informed had been kept on with the vessel and had taken up residence in the village, where we hear “…they became quite favourites, especially with the gentler sex.”  Their conduct however “...during their stay of the past three months was most exemplary…” perhaps in light of their “...warm Catholicity...”
The captain and mate supervising on deck NLI
Their ship being sold the paper continues the Italian Consul Mr Vi O’Carvi facilitated the crews return to their home port of Genoa, causing we are told “...much regret of their newly found friends who had began to admire and respect the dark eyed, olive tinted children of the land of fig tree and vine.”
The final piece to the story of the Hansa comes via Frank Murphy an every dependable support to me. The North Devon Gazzette of 21st August 1900 tells us that the Hansa once refloated was bought by Messrs Cook and Galsworthy of Appledore in North Devon.  The refloating was a difficult process and that following the removal of the cargo the ship was got off the sandbank but subsequently sank. The ship was lightened, no doubt explaining the loss of her mainmast and 1300 paraffin casks were tied around the hull which successfully raised her.  She was made seaworthy again at Ballyhack and was eventually towed by tugboat across the Irish sea arriving at Appledore 15 August 1900. She was then employed as a floating hulk at Badstep.
Please note, ever effort has been taken to keep this account accurate.  There were many newspaper reports which were contradictory and online threads/sites(for example this fascinating exchange via the NLI) that suggested she was a German vessel or other nationalities ( I found reference to at least two German, a Dutch, Norwegian and Swedish Hansa and have no doubt there were more),  This account is based on my own judgement and close reading of the reports and the dates that we have.
* I would imagine the pilot boat was already on her way to put on a pilot.  No mention was made of a pilot being aboard at the time of the grounding.
** The Munster Express names the salvage company as Alnsick of Queenstown
*** An interesting aspect of the discussion was that the river steamers and the lighters that operated, did so without any need for a pilot, crewed by men, no doubt, that would know the harbour as well as the pilots. (perhaps that swayed the argument, as local lighter men were no doubt aboard the salvage steamer.
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My first season of herring fishing 1983

I’d imagine that for as long as humans have lived in the harbour of
Waterford, men and women have gone to fish. 
Perhaps one of the most common and dependable species was the Herring.  My first experience of the fishery was as a
boy washing fish boxes and running errands for the men who salted and barreled
at Cheekpoint quay.  But catching them
was an altogether harder job, especially when using a driftnet, something I was first introduced to in the winter
of 1983.
I set out on the Reaper that winter, with Jim and Denis Doherty.  The other boats in Cheekpoint village was Robert
Fergusons Boy Alan, Dick Mason skippered the St Agnes, Ned Power had the
Colleen II and Mickey Duffin skippered the Maid of the West
As the Reaper and the other Cheekpoint boats proceeded downriver, we
were joined by the Passage and Ballyhack men. 
I heard family names associated with the boats such as Whitty, Connors,
Pepper and Bolger from Passage and from Ballyhack Foley, Roche and Myler.  Together we formed a convoy of decked and
half decked motor boats of varying size and power and a multitude of
the Cheekpoint fleet from around this time
Photo courtesy of Anthony Rogers
Arriving in the lower harbour, the boats fanned out, hungrily
searching the deep waters for signs of herring shoals.  Some boats were
close in to the shore, beneath Loftus Hall and further down towards the Hook. Others
stretched as far as Creaden Head.  Boats took various courses,
and many zig zagged amongst each other, keen to “mark” a herring shoal on the
fish finder and establish a pattern of where to “shoot” the nets.  Dunmore
boats skippered by Paul Power, Napper Kelly and Mick Sheen would be sounding as
they came across to meet us.
Herring barrels at Cheekpoint in the 1970s
Photo via Tomás Sullivan

As the gloom of the evening gathered and the sun set over the Commeraghs
away to the west, the frenzy grew.  Boats were eager to set the nets in
daylight, to better see where others were setting nets, and also because the
herring tended to rise with the dusk and skippers felt they would miss their
chance of a decent haul if they left it too late.

Many a night the shoals could not be found.  It was generally
obvious from a lack of bird activity, the tell-tale signs of gulls wheeling
overhead, or divers such as the majestic and gigantic gannets plunging from a hundred feet or more
into the freezing seas and emerging with a beak full of silver meat.  On
these nights the boats tended to be well spread out and the VHF radio was
Other nights were different, thankfully.  The seas were alive with
birds and seals.  A slick of oil, released from the herring on the sea
bed, which Denis said you could smell and taste in your mouth, something I
never manged to do.  The radio was buzzing with sightings and at times Jim
would call us in to look at the fish finder marking a herring shoal, the extent
of it mapped out on the grey blue paper as a stylus etched the fish below.
Once satisfied that the herring were abundant enough the winkie[1] was turned on and cast
over, followed by the nets.  I looked after the lead rope initially, not
trusted as yet with the head rope and ensuring that the cans were paid out
clear of the nets and set to the correct depth[2].  Generally all the
nets were set, but occasionally, Jim might heave too, concerned by the markings
on the fish finder and the extent of the shoal.  When you hit the herring
in large quantities a couple of nets could fill the boat, and the last thing
you needed was extra work.  Once set, the nets were tied via a hauling
rope to the bow of the boat we hung from them.  
This was a signal to get the tea on, and the grub bag out. The kettle was boiled on a gas stove and the tea
bags were added as the kettle started to sing.  Hot and sweet, tea with a sandwich never tasted any better.  
Hauling was a tough affair when the nets were full.  Here’s an interesting
 from Northern Ireland.  But at least a net hauler
made the work easier.  Generations of fishermen had used their bare
hands.  Once ready to commence, the rope
was hauled in to the gunwale and opened from the net.  Then the head and
lead ropes were gathered up and placed over the hauler drum.  The
hydraulics engaged and the nets were then pulled on and helped in over the
Anthony Rogers photo of the Cheekpoint boats early 1980s

While Jim kept the boat up to the nets, Denis hauled the ropes and I
gathered up the nets as they fell to the deck and dragged them to the stowing
area.  When the catch was light this was easy enough, but on nights with a
big catch, this was hard arduous work.  The netting coming in over the
drum could be three feet wide and it was all I could do to help Denis and Jim
at the hauler and then stagger away under the weight of the nets to stow them
on the boats deck. 

Having hauled a big catch, there was always a sense of euphoria
aboard. Once you had a market, it meant a decent wage that
week, and in the weeks coming up to Christmas, or indeed after it, such a catch
was always welcome.  As we headed home, you took a break for a time, but
in truth the nights work was just beginning, the fish had to be cleared, and thereafter
boxed and sold.  None of which was
I wrote a series of accounts of the Herring fishing previously. These include

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[1] A
flashing light that was used to mark the nets. 
Battery operated it only worked in the dark, and when not in use it was
unscrewed to break the connection and so keep the batteries.
[2] I
was raised with drift nets, but although we used the same method for herring
fishing, the nets were deeper, longer, with smaller mashes.  The other difference was that plastic cans
with a fathom or two of rope was used to allow the nets sink to reach the
herring.  The length required was altered
as required.

Menacing mines in Waterford Harbour

Floating mines were a feature of both World Wars.  Deployed at sea or around the coast, the target was primarily the shipping that sustained the allied side or to thwart naval incursions.  Although the sailors that suffered on merchant ships were non combatants, the mines also threatened those who fished and even those who lived beside the sea, and Waterford and Wexford endured its fair share.  


recently recalled the tragic loss of life at Dunmore East in 1917, when a
German U Boat was destroyed.  The U Boat, UC-44 was deploying mines at the mouth of the harbour between Dunmore East and
Hook Head in Co. Wexford.  At the time, it
was a regular occurrence, as was the efforts of the Admiralty to clear
them.    However the allies were
also deploying mines, most of the access points to the Northern and Southern routes
to the English coast were blanketed by minefields in a futile attempt to thwart
the U Boat menace. The first Irish casualty of the mines in WW I was the SSManchester Commerce which was sunk off Donegal 26th Oct 1914.  It would be the following July before the admiralty were satisfied that the estimated 200+ mines had been cleared from the area. Maintaining access to Waterford became a job of constant vigilance against the
mine laying subs, which included patrols by Sub Chasers, overhead surveillance
and constant clearing of the harbour by Mine Sweepers.

An American Sub Chaser anchored above Passage East.
The Americans entered the war in April 1917
Passed on to me by Paul O’Farrell
An interesting ancedote from the times


were also a feature of WWII but this time Ireland was neutral and the country was not directly targeted.  However, it was the Irish who mined Waterford
harbour at this stage, which operated between Passage East and Ballyhack from
1941. The mines were deployed in the channel,
and were operated by control from Ballyhack, known as command detonated mines.  If any threat was seen, the mines were to be detonated
by the shore watch. (1)  I’d
imagine the minefield was directed more towards protecting Ireland from a
German sea borne attack, which also led to something I’ve written about previously, the removal of all road signs
During WWII
mines became more sophisticated.  The German side were the first to
develop magnetic mines that detonated as a ship passed close to them. Mines
were also deployed from airplanes, which meant the seas around Ireland became a
target after the fall of France.  Mines were reported regularly from
ships, shoreline walkers and the lookout posts, operated by the Marine and Coast Watching Service from Sept 1939, that lined the coastline. (2)
injuries and fatalities were associated with them.  When a mine beached on the other side of the
Hook at Cullenstown in 1941, four members of the LDF died and another was
injured.  While a lighthouse keeper on
Tuskar Rock died after a mine washed up and another man was injured.  19 men died (largest loss of life nationally)
when a mine was spotted on a Donegal beach in 1943.  While waiting for a bomb disposal team an onlooking crowd refused to move back to a safe distance. (3)
The Great Western in camouflage during WWII
Posted by Tommy Deegan on the Waterford History Group Facebook page

The above loss of life gives some context to the following story shared by Noreen
Kane on the Waterford History Group on 24th June 2016.  Its based on recollections of her dads (Liam
Lundon 1934 – 2009) childhood in Passage East

“Even though there was a war on school was fairly uneventful. There was one
particular incident when one morning my father who was the local Garda came in
to the school and informed the teacher that the school had to be evacuated as
a mine had been spotted on the strand directly underneath the school.
It was a glorious spring day we were all marched up the back road to Garret
Meades house. We spent the rest of the day there until the “all
clear” was given. To this day I don’t know how the mine was disposed
The school at that time was further out the Crooke road, where the building still stands over looking the harbour. (It closed when the new school opened in 1969) But was the mine disposed of, or just made safe?  Graninne
Flanagan commented on our own Facebook page recently about an old mine that was
on the beach between Crooke and New Geneva, where apparently her mother used to picnic. My Brother in Law, Bernard Cunningham recalled the mine and said it was the same, his mother Eileen (RIP) often recalled the incident. That having been made safe it was left on the beach. However, it was removed in recent years by a scrap merchant.  I’ve also heard of another mine that beached at Passage and that was taken away which made the Munster Express in late 1941, and a virtual raft of other incidents down the harbour and all along the coast and along the Wexford shoreline.  They even travelled as far upriver as Mooncoin! There were questions asked in the Dail about a delay in clearing a mine from a packed Tramore Beach in the summer of 1941 and the naval vessel Muirchu was a frequent visitor, called to dispatch mines using gunfire to detonate the threat.
A major incident concerned the Barrow Bridge which had to be closed in March 1946 after a mine drifted too close to
the structure.  It was spotted by two
Cheekpoint men Heffernan and O’Connor. They reported the sighting to the Garda station in Passage East
and a unit from the Curragh was dispatched under Comdt. Fynes to deal with the
threat.  Locally it was always said that the boys had thrown a lasso
around the mine and towed it away from the bridge as a train approached, saving
countless lives as a result.
more sober account can be found in that weeks Kilkenny People.  The mine
grounded between Snow Hill Quay and Drumdowney Point as the tide went out and once settled on the mud, a rope was
tied around it, to prevent it floating away. (and no less heroic to my mind, if
a little less dramatic) Although the Boat train departed from Waterford that
evening, it was decided to close off the line to rail and shipping on the
Saturday. The
bomb disposal unit had to wait for the tide to go out before they approached
the mine. The unit managed to make safe the mine by 4pm that evening,
meaning the 5pm train could depart with safety.
My own
brush with a mine came while I was herring fishing in Dunmore East.  The details are sketchy I’m afraid, as I
could find no record in the newspapers.  However I remember a particularly
nasty SE wind and a trawler coming in off Dunmore, but refused entry.  The
trawler was being towed if I recall correctly.  The mine was trapped in
the nets and part of the nets had fouled the screw. Holding off Dunmore,
a team of army bomb disposal experts arrived in Dunmore that day.  I
vividly recall their energy and enthusiasm as they jumped out of a dark green
jeep with large kit bags and boarded the pilot boat Betty
to go out to the trawler.  However, they were back after an
hour, green in the face and much less energetic.  The trawler was sent
over under the Hook and the decision was taken to await a team from the Navy to
deal with the issue.
You might
think that such problems no longer exist.  However the most recent article
I could find for Dunmore was the Irish Independent of March 2005 and the most
recent nationally was August 2007 in the same paper, this time a mine trapped
in nets off Co Cork.  Be careful out there, you never know what secrets
the sea might give up, particularly on a stormy day.
 (1) & (2)   MacGinty.
T.  The Irish Navy.  1995.  The Kerryman. Tralee
 (3)        Kennedy. M. Guarding Neutral Ireland.  2008. Four Courts Press. Dublin


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An example of an English mine, as seen in Duncannon Fort