Buttermilk Castle, Co Wexford

While out walking in the early morning sunlight last week, I spotted something that I haven’t seen as clear and obvious ever before. The remains of what was once the Norman era tower house that is Buttermilk Castle. I’ve written about it before

But here’s the photo I’m referring to from last Friday morning as seen from the Russianside, Cheekpoint. Taken at about 5.45am. I’ve added the arrow as it might not be so obvious to everyone.

And here’s some other photos taken from the site itself when rowing around the river which is about all an ex fisherman can do anymore around here!

looking at it from the river, facing west
looking at it towards the east
An AH Poole postcard of the towerhouse

Hope you enjoyed this little visual tour. Next time I might try shoot some video.

Only four years later 🙂

SS Valdura – a lucky escape

SS Valdura

On Tuesday 12th January 1926 the SS Valdura ran headlong onto the rocks west of Kilmore Quay at a spot appropriately known as The Forlorn (Crossfarnoge Point)  She had sailed from Baltimore on December 29th and was bound for Liverpool. [1] Her holds were filled with maize (Indian Corn).  The Valdura (1910) was a steel screw steamer of 5,507 registered tonnage and owned by the Valdura Steamship Co. Ltd., of Glasgow.

SS Valdura aground at the Forlorn, Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford.
Photo via Brian Cleare

She grounded under the rocket station and the coast guard and lifeboat were quickly on the scene.  However, the ship was wedged on the rocks, with a falling tide, in a light enough breeze and the crew were considered to be at no immediate risk.  The lifeboat stood down.[2]

On Wednesday 13th the powerful tug Morsecock left Cobh in response to the distress signals sent by the ship.  The plan was that a refloating attempt would be made. [3]  However this was a failure and was reported on later in the week “Plans to refloat  her on high tide yesterday proved futile. Mr. T. Casement, inspector of the Life saving service, has superintended the putting of life saving lines on the vessel with a view to rescuing the crew should it become necessary. The crew of the Kilmore Quay station are standing by for this purpose” [4]

A sense of the location of both the wreck and her position ref the Saltee Islands.
Buttermilk is close by the home tab. via Google Maps
Another treacherous spot to the east of Kilmore is St Patricks Bridge. At high water the glacial deposit that once stretched to the Saltee Islands is below water. The breaking seas are an ominous sight.

Professional assistance was called in and the Liverpool and Glasgow Salvage Association were engaged and attempted a refloat on the next Spring Tides.  However this was not a success, and with strengthening winds some of her tanks were flooded with seawater to hold her down and a decision was taken to await the next spring tides. At least no damage was reported beyond the initial grounding. [5]

In an effort to lighten the vessel it was decided to remove part of her cargo and to sell this to try recouping some of the loss.  It would appear the locals were employed to effectively dump the cargo over the side and onto the beach which was then bought by locals, and perhaps not only locals at auction.  For example here’s an advertisement from the Wicklow People[6]:

Maize as it lies on beach is now for Sale at 5s per 16 size corn sack, buyers to bring own sacks and to fill same. Persons buying quickly can get corn clean and free from sand. Terms—Cash. Mr. Thomas Sutton, The Hotel, Kilmore Quay, will give purchasers an order for corn on above terms, or same can he had from WALSH AND Corish MMIA, Auctioneers, Wexford and Taghmon.

With the ship now lighter and tides being right another attempt was made on removing the ship off the rocks in early March and she was reported as having entered Waterford harbour on Saturday March 13th 1926 under tow of tug Ranger.[7] 

A similar fate befell The Earl of Beaconsfield in 1884. She grounded close to Kilmore, was salvaged and towed to Buttermilk for emergency repairs. Seen here at Buttermilk, across from Cheekpoint.
Photo courtesy of Tomás Sullivan

I’m not sure about the next part of the process, but we do know that she was grounded at Passage East on purpose so that her hull could be checked and temporary repairs made.  I presume this happened before she was put to anchor at Buttermilk Castle where the remainder of her cargo was removed.  This appears to have taken some time, and again I’m presuming it was either trans-shipped to other vessels or to lighters, and perhaps both.  The next mention of the ship was in late April when she was spotted passing east of the Lizard being towed by the tugs Poolza and Hudson presumably to a shipyard for repairs[8].

Interestingly the last advertisement I could find for the sale of her cargo dates to April:  Seventh Sale. To Be Sold by Auction.  On 12th April, at 11 o’clock, at Kilmore Quay, Co. Wexford, 350 lots of Damaged Maize, in lots, as usual.   Terms–Strict Cash at Sale. WALSH AND CORISH, Auctioneers. It would appear the auctions were so regular at that point that there was no need for extra details to be supplied.  Of course this may have been a double edged sword.  Much of the maize was carted to Wexford town where the kilns of Staffords on the Customs House Quay was used to dry the grain.  However the smell was atrocious and local residents made complaints, but the County Medical Officer passed the grain as fit to use![9]

Found the following link to a modern day salvage which might suggest the techniques used to re-float the Valdura haven’t changed much

What I found most astonishing about the fate of the Valdura however, is that the weather stayed settled for as long as it did, 60 days. Another interesting mystery was a very obvious question of what the ship was doing inside the Coningbeg lightship and the Saltee Islands, considerably off her route. The answer to that seems to have been kept by the master.

No doubt her owners were relieved to have the ship back in action and the first mention I could find of her in operation again was October when she was discharging ten thousand tons of American coal at the Cattedown Wharves, in Plymouth.[10]

The owners sold her the following year and she survived until October 1942, when on route from Newfoundland in ballast to Australia she was wrecked in St. Mary’s Bay near Cape English, Nova Scotia.

Since publication Sean Moroney has put together this fab video of the story based on the details in the blog. Its a wonderful production

As regular readers know, the blog is supported by a wide range of people who help me with various queries. This mornings would not have been possible without the help of Brian Boyce and his crew mates at the Rosslare Harbour Maritime Heritage Centre and particularly Brian Cleare for the image used of the grounded Valdura. For another account on the incident see John Powers Maritime History of County Wexford Vol II 1911-1969. Johns book and a wealth of other maritime titles are available to buy at the Heritage Centre. Open every Saturday afternoon, or other times by appointment

[1] Western Morning News – Wednesday 27 January 1926 p2

[2] Evening Herald (Dublin) – Wednesday 13 January 1926 p 1

[3] Ibid

[4] Evening Herald (Dublin) – Friday 15 January 1926 p 1

[5] New Ross Standard – Friday 19 February 1926 p 10

[6] Wicklow People – Saturday 27 March 1926 p 1

[7] The Scotsman – Monday 15 March 1926 p 4

[8] Western Daily Press – Saturday 24 April 1926 p4

[9]Roche. R. Tales of the Wexford Coast.  1993. Duffry Press.  Enniscorthy.

[10] Western Morning News – Friday 15 October 1926 p 8