Maurice Davin – A man of the River Suir

This coming weekend my brother Robert and I will participate again in the RNLI fundraiser the Mayday Mile. This year, we are rowing the River Suir from Carrick to Cheekpoint. And to whet the appetite David Carroll has contributed a guest blog. David explores the life and work of another man of the river Maurice Davin, who like ourselves found such joy and excitement from being out on its waters. If you would like to support the RNLI, you can make a donation to our page as part of team Dunmore East, or indeed seek out you own local lifeboat which is participating also. Take us away David.

Carrick-on-Suir was the birthplace of Maurice Davin. He was born on June 29th, 1842, the eldest son of a prosperous farming family at Deerpark, who also owned a successful river trading business. With the security that a comfortable upbringing provided, Maurice could afford to indulge in a wide variety of sporting interests.

Regarded as one of the world’s finest all-around athletes – he was also a rower, rugby player, boxer, and cricketer – he was a respected household name across Ireland. Like his brothers Tom and Pat, he was a wonderfully talented competitor and achieved international fame in the 1870s when he broke several world records. However, he is best remembered for being one of the founders of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in Thurles on November 1st, 1884. He chaired the meeting and became the first president of the GAA.

Maurice Davin  1842 – 1927. Courtesy of Tipperary Museum of Hidden History

On the death of his father in 1859, he joined with his mother, a woman described as being of great acumen, to run the family’s river haulage business and the large farm at Deerpark, rented from the Marquess of Ormond.

In 1994, Séamus Ó Riain, a former President of the GAA wrote a biography, entitled:  ‘Maurice Davin (1842-1927): First president of the Gaelic Athletic Association’.   In the book, he gives us a wonderful description and account of the river trade, in which the Davin family were most prominent:

“The other arm of the Davin economy was the river trade, which was of long standing, having been initiated by Denis senior in the previous century. Succeeding generations maintained and developed the enterprise…

The first team pulled the noddy as far as Ballydine, the second took it forward to Kilsheelan and the third completed the journey to Clonmel. A towing path was constructed on the northern bank which made it possible for teams  of horses to do the hauling. Goods were conveyed from Waterford in ‘lighters,’ boats capable of carrying up to sixty tons. The usual cargo was coal, iron, timber and feeding stuffs. Sweeps of oars propelled the lighter with the tide to Carrick where the cargo was transferred to smaller craft called ‘yawls.’ These boats were constructed by Kehoes of Carrickbeg who had earned a high reputation as boat builders. They used Oregon pine which was robust and durable enough to withstand the pressures of the strong river currents and heavy merchandise they had to carry.

Four and sometimes six horses formed a team to pull the yawl. At least two teams were needed and took alternate trips, so each team got a rest period. Big bony horses were chosen and specially schooled for the work. The strongest and most reliable animal was given the lead position and the other horses were positioned in line behind him. They were hitched with strong ropes to a forked post of oak set in the deck on the yawl. While all the horses had halters, only the lead one had a bit in his mouth. A fold of hay was fixed to the halter on the river side to act as a blinker so that the horse would not shy from the water.

Two men took charge of the yawl and four others attended to the horses, guiding them along the tow path as they hauled the boat against the current. Haul marks were cut in places along the way and if the water rose above this height, as it would whenever the river was in flood after heavy rain, the horses had to be stopped because they could not contend with such a force of water. The skipper worked the tiller which had a yarn arm attached to it to provide greater leverage in guiding the yawl.

Carrick-on-Suir from an old postcard collection.   Courtesy of Tipperary Studies, Tipperary County Council Library Service.

Work started at six in the morning when the cargo was transferred  from the lighter to the yawl, which could hold from twenty to thirty tons. The hauling commenced at nine o’clock and it took five and a half hours to make the twelve miles to Clonmel. The horses were stabled and fed, and the cargo unloaded on to the dock.  The yawl was poled (propelled) back with current (without the use of horses), taking two and a half hours to reach Carrick in the evening  before seven, with a cargo of pigs, dairy produce, poultry, and grain.

When the horses were rested, they were trotted back by road to Carrick. It was a long day and strenuous work for men and beasts.  The horses were treated well, fed on gruel, oats, and yellow meal (i.e., maize) and stabled comfortably. The haulers were specialists who were devoted to their work and the Davin family, to whom they gave a lifetime of service.

They were emotionally attached to the river and the life thereon. The depth of this feeling is illustrated in the last wish of a hauler: ‘Bury me in Churchtown where I can hear the creak of the yawlman’s tiller and the crack of the hauler’s whip.’ Churchtown cemetery, situated beside the river on the Waterford side, is the family burial ground of the Davins.  The arrival of steam tugs on the river and the increase in the transport of goods by rail brought a decline in the hauling trade which the Davins abandoned in the early years of the 19th century.

Clonmel c.1900. Courtesy of Tipperary Museum of Hidden History.

Boxing was one of Maurice Davin’s early athletic pursuits, but he then changed direction, being drawn to what was his first love, the river, and its boats. In the early part of the nineteenth century, there was a great tradition of boat racing in Carrick. The annual regatta would have been a popular event, enjoying the sponsorship of the gentry. The regatta had become a casualty of the general depression that followed the great famine, with the last successful regatta being held in 1848.  However, in 1863, Waterford revived its regatta and in subsequent years it became successful with a greater number of entries, including some from Carrick. This prompted Carrick to revive their own traditional regatta in 1865. 

Maurice Davin developed a passion for rowing and was phenomenally successful and fully committed to the sport. He decided to build his own four-oared racing gig. It was named Cruiskeen Lawn, a name chosen by his mother.  At the Waterford regatta in August 1871, the silver cup event was won by Cruiskeen, with Maurice as stroke, his brother Tom also in the crew and the cox was his other brother Pat.  On the same day, the race for two-oared boats, known as wherries, was won by Maurice Davin’s Gypsy. Cruiskeen scored a lengthy list of successes at subsequent regattas at Clonmel, Carrick and Waterford.  Even when he retired, his boat continued to have success with a new crew.

Maurice Davin’s first appearance at an athletic meeting as a competitor was in 1869 at Gurteen, near Kilsheelan, which came by chance.  But within a brief period of time, Maurice and his two brothers, Tom, and Pat, were dominating Irish athletics and would do so for over a decade. In the 1870s, it was said that they had half the world’s records for running, jumping, hurdling, and weight-throwing. Maurice excelled in weight-throwing and through a series of major victories over leading British athletes, he achieved international fame.

But his love for rowing and his beloved Cruiskeen Lawn never diminished. In an interview with a New York newspaper, given in 1907, Maurice Davin said:

“I built the boat over 40 years ago. Somehow or other she was not a success… it was not my fault that she did not win at a regatta in Waterford in the sixties. I held onto her, I had faith in her, for she was a sweet boat. Last year I lengthened her bow a bit and the boys took her to this year’s regatta in Waterford and won. Now what do you think of that for a boat?”

When he gave this interview in 1907, Maurice Davin was sixty-five years old. The  Tipperary Museum of Hidden History, in Clonmel, has noted that the interviewer remarked that he could have passed for a man twenty years younger.

Part of the Maurice Davin Exhibition on display at the Tipperary Museum of Hidden History, Clonmel.   Courtesy of Tipperary Museum of Hidden History

Maurice Davin had great veneration for his boat, which is also referred to by its Irish name Crúiscín. It had given him immense pleasure over the years, and he could not see his way to having it broken up – hence his determination to keep it, in the hope that it would be appreciated at some time.  It was hidden away in a cowshed on the farm at Deerpark for over one hundred years.

In 2005, Pat Walsh, a grandnephew of Maurice Davin was living at Deerpark and farming the land. He knew of the existence of the boat on the farm and made up his mind to donate it to the County Museum if they agreed to take it.  Pat brought the existence of the boat to the attention of Shay Hurley of the Workman’s Boat Club in Irishtown, Clonmel. Shay was astonished at the beauty of the boat. He and his committee members very quickly came on board (no pun intended)realising the potential that it had to be conserved as a national treasure. They became leading figures in a project that received grant aid and sponsorship. The project saw the boat’s removal from the cowshed and arrived on May 17th, 2006, at the Conservation Centre in Letterfrack, Co Galway, under the direction of Sven Habermann, a historical object conservator. The boat came back to Clonmel on November 24th, 2006, for permanent display in the museum.  Michael Kennedy, a shipwright from Dunmore East was also heavily involved in the conservation work.

Maurice Davin’s  Cruiskeen  on display at the Tipperary Museum of Hidden History, Clonmel.  Courtesy of Tipperary Museum of Hidden History

Around the same time in 2006 that the Cruiskeen was being conserved in Letterfrack, the Gaelic Athletic Association honoured Maurice Davin by renaming Croke Park’s Canal End, originally built in 1949, after the Association’s first-ever president. The stadium’s southern stand was re-constructed and re-opened in its current state in 2003.

Maurice Davin was unique amongst presidents of the GAA as he is the only man to have held two terms in office. He played a crucial role in steering the GAA through its turbulent initial period when its very survival was in doubt. For many years this was scarcely recognised. 

He was a man of considerable moderation, and he believed in sport without boundaries and was opposed to banning GAA members from playing foreign games. This led to his resignation in February 1887 but an intervention from Archbishop Croke and a sustained clergy-led campaign brought him back to the presidency in January 1888. Following a second resignation in January 1889, he never again played a significant role in the GAA. Instead, his love of sport remained undimmed, and he took an active part in community affairs while continuing to promote Gaelic games at a local level. Seeing the need for a sports field in Carrick-on-Suir he developed an enclosed GAA pitch on the family farm where the 1904 All-Ireland Hurling Final was played.

Maurice Davin never married, and he died on January 27th, 1927.  Poignantly, he is buried close to his beloved river Suir at Churchtown graveyard on the Waterford bank of the river Suir, midway between Carrick-on-Suir and Kilsheelan in the parish of Dysart.

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Sources:

Séamus Ó Riain  ‘Maurice Davin (1842 -1927): First president of the Gaelic Athletic Association’ , Geography Publications, 1994.

‘A Man and His Boat – MAURICE DAVIN’  by Marie McMahon, Curator, South Tipperary County Museum. This is an online document that may be accessed from a link on : https://www.hiddenhistory.ie/conservation-items/the-cruiskeen-project

‘Hear the Boat Sing’ website  https://heartheboatsing.com/

Dictionary of Irish Biography: ( Contributor: Prof. Paul Rouse)

https://www.dib.ie/biography/davin-maurice-a2428

Video Links:

The remarkable life and times of Maurice Davin.’ This is a 24-minute interview by Joe Molloy of ‘Off the Ball’ with Professor Paul Rouse of UCD.

‘The Davin Boat.’  A 5-minute video with Damien Tiernan ( Now of WLRFM)  visiting the cowshed at Deerpark.

‘The Cruiskeen – a river racer.’  A 36-minute video that documents the entire conservation project of restoring the Cruiskeen from Deerpark to Letterfrack where the conservation processes are explained. In addition, technical information on the boat is given and finally the journey back to Clonmel for permanent display is recorded.

Acknowledgements:

I would like to thank Dr Pat Bracken of Tipperary Libraries for his helpful advice when I began to research this story. Dr Bracken has written two books on the history of sport in Co Tipperary:‘The Growth and Development of Sport in County Tipperary, 1840-1880’ (2004) and ‘Foreign and Fantastic Field Sports: Cricket in County Tipperary’ (2018).

Many thanks to Dr Pat McCarthy for giving me access to his copy of ‘Maurice Davin (1842 -1927): First president of the Gaelic Athletic Association.,’  and to Mr Willie Nolan of Geography Publications for giving permission to transcribe the chapter entitled ‘River traders’, from the book.

Thank you also to Ms Jayne Sutcliffe, Documentation  and Collections Officer, Tipperary Museum of Hidden History, Cultural Services, for all her assistance and to Dr Naomi Feely of Clonmel.

Historical Footnote:

Sven Habberman, the historical object conservator based in Connemara, was recently involved with another project with a nautical theme. This was the conservation of  the ship’s cabin in which Sir Ernest Shackleton died. It was found as  being used as a makeshift garden shed in Norway. The cabin was originally part of the Quest, the ship that Shackleton used on his final voyage. The Co Kildare explorer died of a heart attack on the island of South Georgia in the Southern Atlantic Ocean on January 5th, 1922.  Following conservation work by Sven Habberman and his team at Letterfrack, the cabin is on display in the Shackelton Museum, Athy, Co. Kildare.

Lighters and Lightermen

On a recent boating trip in the Suir, I spotted the rotting timbers of what appeared to be an old boat jutting out from under the low hanging branches of a sycamore tree. Further investigation revealed, what for me at least was, an amazing discovery. A once common workboat on the river, which numbered in the hundreds, but now totally extinct.

Definition of a lighter

A lighter was a workboat employed in Waterford harbour and up the rivers Barrow and Suir. The function of this craft was as the name suggests, to lighten the load of incoming vessels, thereby allowing them to float over the sand and mud bars as they journeyed to New Ross or Waterford city. They functioned in much the same way the modern truck does.

A lighter underway at New Ross

According to the Dictionary of the World’s Watercraft the lighter can be described as “any small vessel employed in lightening goods. Describing it as a “…strongly built rectangular craft, open and flat-bottomed; used for short-haul work, especially for transferring cargo to and from a ship lying at anchor.” As to the origins it “…dates at least from the late 15th Century” In an Irish context it only names them in the SW of the country….”The River Shannon in the late 17th and early 18th Century was propelled by 4 men with 2 oars. Steered by a sweep. 12-16 ft long”

Design and build

The local design seems to have been very uniform in general, but size-wise there seems to have been local distinctions. 40-ton loads are regularly referred to in newspaper accounts and elsewhere, but 20, 25, and 30 were also mentioned. I imagine local conditions and purposes may have had an important role.

Patrick C Power in an article titled “The Lower Suir – boats and boatmen long ago” for the Tipperary Historical Journal (1991) gives this description from Carrick On Suir. “The lighters were built of pitch pine with a frame of oak. They were constructed on oaken frames each set about 3ft in the boat…The lighter was 70ft long and 16ft in the beam, but with a square stern and pointed prow. The sides could be as much as 4ft high…flat bottomed…without a keel. The rudder was 16ft long. Forward there was a well-room for bailing and on deck a caboose…where a fire was kept lighting in a cast iron box-stove supplied by Graham’s of Waterford…[there was] 36ft of useful cargo room…known to carry as much as 40 tons…distributed in two parts of the hold. There was no cargo in the centre of the lighter”

I would imagine that given the design was so basic these boats were built widely and locally in much the same way that punts and prongs were built at home in Cheekpoint. A local handyman or craftsman with a good eye would be supplied with the materials and the boat would emerge. Bill Irish lists five lighters coming out of Whites shipyard in Ferrybank but only one is given her size at 35-40 tons. No name was given for the boat. According to Pat Power, the Carrick lighters were made in Carrick Beg at the graving dock of the Kehoes. There was also a man named O’Brien who despite being illiterate could gauge the materials required for a build without ever having to measure, draw, or write.

Lighters above Redmond Bridge in Waterford

As regards the cost of building a lighter, there was a discussion at the Harbour Commissioners in March 1874 of the need for four new lighters to assist with port duties. These were estimated to cost £100. The article does not make clear, but I expect that is each. The cheapest of the five built at Whites shipyard cost £126-6-5

Propulsion

The lighters were sometimes referred to as dumb boats. They had no propulsion and depended on the tides and currents to get from A-B. I’m not sure dumb gives an accurate sense of their navigation, however. Anyone who has ever had to navigate the rivers knows that the vagaries of the tide, current, wind, rain, and moon play a huge role in the task. No day, indeed no hour is often the same and to simply push away from a riverbank and presume your destination would be both foolish and dumb.

The lighters had a rudder to help keep on course. According to Power it was operated by the skipper from his space in the well, it was used sparingly. The photograph above shows the rudder being operated from the stern. There was also an anchor that could be deployed in emergencies or when awaiting a favorable tide or weather. Two deckhands were also employed(I have read accounts with three men also in newspapers). Each operated a long oar (a sweep) which could be used to row the boat at specific times. They also used a pole to push along the river bed or bank. This was driven into the riverbed from the stern and then the crewman would have to clamber forward as he pushed the boat ahead. Some sources say a sail was used, but I have no description of this. I have recently seen a photo with a sail, but it seems to be jury rigged, more like a piece of canvas hung to catch a bit of wind, rather than a regular feature. Principally the crew worked with the tides, with a lifetime of river knowledge, drawing the most from each knot of an ebbing or flooding current to make their way.

Cargo

The lighters carried anything and everything that came into port. Unshipping, transhipping, and loading ships at anchor in the harbour up as far as Cheekpoint I’m sure. They delivered as far as New Ross or Clonmel and delivered into the villages, between the villages and from the villages to flour mills, coal stores, and lime kilns. The lighters seem to have been loaded and unloaded by their crew which must have been a back-breaking operation, but it also ensured that tight margins and any profit were kept onboard. An interesting example of the operation is a name associated with a quay on the Wexford side above Ballyhack. Tom Poor’s (Power?) quay is the local name, but another associated with it according to Tomás Sullivan is Lighterman’s Quay. The quay has an old roadway leading away from it back towards Ballyhack. A similar track can be found almost directly opposite at Lambert’s cove on the Waterford side.

An interesting anecdote from the newspapers of 1908 tells of “…two little boys named Patrick Kirby and James Grant who was charged with the larceny of a quantity of coal, the property of Messrs Wallace and McCullagh…Constable Thomas Ryan deposed that on the evening of the 21st November he found the defendants taking a quantity of coal from the lighter…” Having admitted to the constable that they were going to sell it, they were discharged under the First Offender’s Act.

They were also employed in providing ballast to sailing vessels. In 1842 I came across a tender presented to the Harbour Commissioners from R and W. Hayes for shipping ballast for five years. They agreed to deliver the ballast via their lighters to vessels in port at 8s per ton, and discharge ballast from vessels at 6s per ton.

Advert from Waterford Chronicle – Saturday 27th December 1831; page3

Lighters were also employed in river works such as dredging and I will share most of this interesting report from 1869 as there are some very telling details in it.

“ A report was read from Mr. Stephens, stating that little progress had been made at the ford works during the past month and that only 11 tons of rock had been raised since the last report. He further reported that he had taken up the four lighters belonging to the board from the contractors; that they were damaged state, and he repaired them. The board now had five lighters and eight punts capable of taking daily 350 tons of mud from the dredge…He further reported, in reference to the application from the sanitary committee of the corporation to clear John’s Pill…The nuisance arose from loading lighters of manure from dung yards adjacent to the pill, and the obstruction was caused stones and shingle…being dropped by these lighters in the vicinity…” Waterford Chronicle – Friday 15 October 1869; page 3

The Lightermen

But who were these Lightermen and how did they operate. Well, it appears that many companies and businesses had their own lighters and crews employed to act on their behalf. We have also seen that they were employed by the Harbour Commissioners on various duties though dredging seems to have been a major task. An interesting court case suggests however that even these men employed by the harbour board had certain freedom.

The case arose at a special jury hearing in the County Court by James O’Neill, of Arthurstown, against the Waterford Harbour Commissioners to recover £99, the value of a quantity of 105 barrels of oats and I07 sacks of barley containing 20 stone each lost by the stranding of a lighter on the Kilmanock Embankment in October the previous year, 1898.
The lighter, skippered by a man named Connolly, had arrived at Arthurstown on Monday evening 17th October 1898. They were obviously on the lookout for work and Connolly approached O’Neill and e asked him for the cargo at a price for transport at 2d. per barrel. This was stated to be the ordinary freight for corn. The deal was struck and the lighter was loaded on Friday 21st departing that evening as darkness settled. Later she was caught in a gale and grounded, causing the cargo to be damaged by water.

In evidence, Mr. John Ailingham, Secretary of the Harbour Board, explained that the Commissioners crew could take on other work when available to do so. This dated to a resolution passed in March. 1894. Two-fifths of the profits were generally paid into the Harbour Commissioners office. Since the accident happened a new rule was passed restraining their movements to not go below Cromwell’s Rock, or further up the river than Kilmacow Pill.

As regards the wages, one mention from a newspaper report in 1891 gave this insight: “THE LIGHTER SKIPPERS. The Quay Committee a recommendation to allow the lighter skippers 2s 6d a week, provided there were no complaints.” Whether there were complaints or not, I don’t know, but it gave no information as to the crew.

Many merchants probably had their own vessels employing their own crew as suggested by this advert in the Waterford Chronicle – Saturday 01 May 1841; page 3

It’s also likely that individuals or indeed families or crew invested in the trade. For example, there was a report in the Munster Express from December 1863 about a Carrick lighter which was lost in a gale in Waterford carrying freight for a man named Walsh. The crew survived but the paper concluded: “…It is hoped a subscription will be opened for the relief of the unfortunate men whose all may be said to have been invested in the lighter.”

Some of the characters of these men will be evident from what we have already learned, hard-working, resilient, impervious to the weather, and determined. Some other pieces from the newspapers of the time might put more meat on the bones.

In 1838 Morgan Doyle and William Nash were in court after a bare-knuckle fight aboard a lighter on Waterford Quays. A large crowd had gathered to watch the match and when the constabulary arrived, the men forgot their quarrel and working together let go the lighter, and shoved away from the quay to avoid the lawmen. They were subsequently apprehended, however, and found guilty of a breach of the peace.

In another situation, they were law-abiding. In February 1829 the crew of a Clonmel lighter observed bags being removed from a newly arrived schooner from St John’s, Newfoundland in suspicious circumstances. They raised the alarm with a Quay watchman, who instantly aroused the Tidewaiter (a member of the customs) from his bed. The bags were discovered to contain tobacco. A follow-up search discovered that the contraband had been hidden among a cargo of oil, and was that morning taken and put into bags, for transport. The mate and three of the crew were committed to gaol, but the Master was not with the ship at the time of the arrest.

Others were unfortunate, and there are many accounts of the crew falling over the side of their vessels and being drowned. For example on a cold wet Saturday night in November of 1864 a lighterman named Michael Meyler, was lost at Strangman’s Wharf. He was about 70 years of age and was in the habit of sleeping onboard lighter belonging to his brother. He slipped when boarding via the gangplank and despite efforts to save him, he was lost.

And then again others were just tough out. In May 1875 a case that was taken against James Doherty, a lighterman who cut a tow rope of the barque Constant that was being winched off the graving bank in Ferrybank. In court, the Captain of the barque was claiming damages of £20 against Doherty. It transpired that Doherty was coming up the quays just as the tide was starting to turn. In a hurry to make his berth he found the way blocked by the tow rope. Words were exchanged and tempers flared. As the barque would not release the tow rope, Doherty grabbed an axe and cut the hawser that blocked his path, before proceeding upriver. In a lengthy proceeding, it was found that the lighter had reacted hastily and the court found against Doherty for a much-reduced sum of £1. Doherty let it be known that he disagreed and would appeal.

End of the era

When the lighter’s reign in the harbour ended is not very clear. But the improvements in navigation including the opening of the Ford and the deepening of the river after the Harbour Commissioners came into existence must have been a crucial factor. The arrival of steam-driven vessels must have also played a part. Further upriver, the coming of the railways and improvements in road transport would have contributed to the undermining of transport by water.

Triton, the marine correspondant with the Munster Express had a lovely article in 1973 which drew on the memories of a previous marine correspondant Jimmy Hartery. It highlights that lighters were still in use in the first world war.

Munster Express. Friday 28th December 1973; Page 12
a lone lighter above Redmond Bridge circa 1950s via Brendan Grogan. Might this be the last of a proud tradition? It would appear that it is being used by workmen, perhaps on some maintenance duties with the harbour commissioners.

The wreck that I found that afternoon on the river, is to the best of my knowledge the only remains of a lighter that worked the river for centuries. In a way, it’s a shame that such a vessel would be left to rot away into the mud. And yet ironically, if it had not been abandoned where it was, it must certainly have rotted completely away. If anyone knows anyone in maritime archaeological circles that might have an interest in taking measurements and recording the vessel, tell them to get in touch. As such it might be the only such measurements to exist? I would also appreciate any further written details on the Lighter, particularly on the build or the propulsion.

For more detail on the trade of the lighters between Waterford, Carrick On Suir and Clonmel, here’s a previous guest blog Leslie Dowley
For more on the New Ross and River Barrow trade, a story of mine from 2018

Carrick Beg, Carrick On Suir

Jerry McCarthy

I got my first glimpse of Carrick Beg in Nov 1974 when my then girlfriend invited me up for the weekend. It didn’t take me long to get to know the neighbours as I began to spend more and more time up here after that.

Straight away it became very apparent how important the river was to so many locals with salmon fishing being a great provider of a few bob when the season was in. Families by the names of Norris, Power, Doherty, Fitzgerald, Brett, Tobin and many more fished the Suir in what became known to me as their Cots.

Each family would have their own distinctive way of making their own boat as I found out when I was told who owned such a cot by a man named Tom Brett. His fishing days were all but a memory as he was a retired man when I got to know him. In his day the cots he built were sought by many as they were so well made. What a storyteller he was too. You’d always meet him on one of the bridges with all his butties reminiscing of the days and nights they fished and with every story those salmon grew bigger.

The three rogues on the Old Bridge at Carrick On Suir; Jeff Wells, Tom Brett and Mansell Ryan

Sadly all of these men are gone now and the fishing traditions that have lasted centuries are but a shadow of the past with very few from these families using the river now except to walk what is called The Blueway. Those that still fish the river are mainly confined to Treacy Park with the Power family continuing the tradition of casting their rods from their Carrick Cots.

The Power family with their late dad Bob, before the River Rescue this family retrieved many lost souls from the river from Clonmel to Waterford
A man and his cot. Paddy Doherty RIP, who only passed away recently

Submitted by Jerry for ourThree Sisters Placenames project – Heritage Week 2020

Ormonde Castle, Carrick-on-Suir.

Patsy Travers Mullins.

The year is 1566 and a man named Tom Butler is standing in the courtyard of Ormonde Castle in Carrick-on-Suir. He is waiting for a ship coming upriver from Waterford. His focus is on a large semi-circular docking area for ships and barges built in 1447, (the same year as the Old Bridge), where the river Suir lapped the Castle walls. This dock was surrounded by a fine wall with entry to the courtyard through a Watergate, the remains of which are still visible today. It was here that Tom’s interest lay that day, awaiting his anticipated delivery.

The arched Water Gate beside the River Suir. The sketch I have here was done by Robert O’Callaghan Newenham, who was born in Dublin in 1770. He trained as an architect in Limerick and later held the post of Superintendent General of Barracks in Ireland for 25 years. On his tours of inspection throughout the country, he made drawings of scenery and buildings many of which he had lithographed and published and some were reproduced on slate by James Harding which is the case here.To me it would seem that he would have done these sketches in situ which would make this drawing very accurate

Thomas Butler, Tomás Dubh, or Black Tom the 10th Earl of Ormond had grown up at the English Court of Henry VIII after the death of his father. James 9th Earl of Ormond who died from food poisoning at a banquet in London. There young Thomas shared a tutor with an elite group of children of noble families including the heir to the throne Prince Edward, and Elizabeth, daughter of Henry and the ill-fated Anne Boleyn whose paternal Grandmother was Margaret Butler of Kilkenny Castle which made Tom and Elizabeth cousins. Both Tom and Elizabeth had a close bond as they were not treated as well as the other children. She, because Henry had her declared illegitimate when he remarried and Tom because he was the son of an Irish Earl.

Tom succeeded to his lands and titles in Ireland in 1546 when he was just fifteen years old and when Elizabeth became Queen, after the death of Edward she named him Lord Treasurer of Ireland, made him Privy Councillor, presented him with the Order of the Garter and excused him of all debts. Tom was by now a wealthy man. He divided his time between London and Ormonde Castle in Carrick which had been occupied of his branch of the Butler family since the 1300s and was his favourite residence.

Ormond Castle

Tom made many powerful friends in both Ireland and England one of them being Thomas Gresham an English merchant and financier.who who had built himself a fine courtyard house at Bishopsgate Street London and now together with his agent Richard Clough was building the Royal Exchange in Threadneedle Street in the City as a meeting place for merchants throughout Europe. It was intended as a rival to an equivalent meeting place in Antwerp called The Bourse. This was officially opened in 1571 The building was designed by an architect from Antwerp named Henryk, with materials and workmen brought from Flanders. This building was later destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

It was during this time that Tom got the inspiration to build the beautiful Elizabethan style Manor House on to Carrick Castle much the same as people now build a conservatory on their house only on a much much larger scale. This was in anticipation of a visit of Queen Elizabeth which is evident in the beautiful stuccowork which shows references to both Elizabeth and Thomas. Unfortunately, Elizabeth died the year before her planned visit.
To achieve this ambitious project Tom sought the help of Gresham and together with Richard Clough guided him in the direction of purchasing the beautiful windows and wainscot, or oak panelling for the interior walls. Richard kept a record of every transaction in all of Gresham’s business dealings and it’s through this that we have the information on the Castle windows in the following entry.

‘I have also received with that your letter, a letter that the Erle of Ormonde sent you; theorder whereof I will follow, and wyll not fayle but to sende both the wainscot and the glass by the fyrst ship that shall depart for those parts. And for that he shall be well servud of his wainscot, I do now send one to Amsterdam to provyde wainscot for the Bourse who shall buy so much more: and that beying done, I wyll choose out his 200 out of 1200, whereof he shall have the best. And for the glass, it shall be bought out of hande. Notwithstanding, I doubt there wyll no ship depart for those parts before March, but if there do, and that I can by any means gett so much fraight in them, they shall be sent with the first.’

Tom had such wealth that he not only built the Manor House but also refurbished the Castle with matching mullioned windows which are still there today. I have no doubt that the people of Carrick looked on in wonder when the building was complete. Picture the townspeople going to look in awe at the light from the sconses and candles shining through the windows. It must have been magic.

This article was contributed by Patsy for Heritage Week 2020

Williamo’s barge, 29B

This mornings guest blog comes from Carrick On Suir but as with all things connected to the water, it travels fairly widely. Maurice Power, another of those supporters of my blog that I have come to rely on, introduces us to an institution on the River Suir in Carrick On Suir. An institution embodied in a man and a boat; Williamo’s barge – 29B. Over to Maurice…

Recently a photo of William O’Callaghan’s barge was shown on our local facebook site Things I Miss About Carrick and somebody wondered where it is now. His barge was the last working sand dredger in Carrick and possibly the only one which used a mechanical digger to extract sand and gravel from the river bed.

Williamo’s barge taken from North Quay in Carrick looking across to Carrickbeg. Williamo normally moored the barge tied up to the buttments of the New Bridge (Dillon Bridge) In Carrick. It kept the kids from playing on it.

Williamo, as he was known, grew up on the river coming from a family with deep roots in the navigation of lighters and yawls which transported goods from ships lightened in Waterford. Lighters would typically transport goods with a burden of 40/60 tons they had a draft of 2′ 9″. Prior to the introduction of the tug the Fr Matthew by Earnest Grubb which was the first steam tug to operate on the river between Waterford and Carrick lighters were navigated by the use of poles, sweeps (oars 30 feet long which took 6 steps forward and 6 steps backward to operate) and sails. To continue to Clonmel the goods would be transferred to Yawls which had a burden of 20 tons and a draft of 16″. These were towed in pairs with a team of 12 horses to Clonmel. Williamo’s father, Daniel, was part of the last crew to tow yawls to Clonmel in 1922. When the railway was introduced in the early 1800s river trade dwindled until it finally ceased the 1960’s. However the long tradition of excavating sand from the riverbed continued up to Williamo’s retirement when it finally ceased.

Williamo was noted for his knowledge of the river and was often called upon to help others who were unfamiliar with the river for assistance or advice on navigation issues. He was a very genial and approachable individual who loved to tell stories and relate experiences. Williamo was also known in times of need, and noted in times of tragedy, recovering several bodies from the river.

 So what was the History of Williamo’s barge? Firstly using photographs and the help of guys from Inland Waterways and the Heritage Boat Association I was able to establish from unique profiles on her hull such as a sharp bow, lower rubbing streak, upper rubbing streak which stops short, tiny washboard that Williamo’s barge was registered under the title number 29B.

The first record I could find of 29B was an advertisement in the Freemans Journal dated the   27th September 1873 offering for sale 13 canal boats the property of a Patrick Coyne deceased which included a barge 29B.

Again in the Leinster Leader dated the 29th of March the property of a Mr M Mitchell deceased from Enfield were up for Auction. The sale included a canal boat 29B in working condition.

 Barge 29B was first weighed in Killaloe on the 24th of October 1912 under the ownership of Murphy Brothers of Rathangan, Co Kildare.

On the Grand Canal via the Irish Press April 21st 1934

Dimensions recorded were Length 60 feet, Breadth 12 ft. 9ins. Stem height 7ft. 2ins. Stern height 7ft.2ins. and laden with 50 tons in weight she drew 4ft.2ins. She also had 50 gallons of fuel in her tanks. The weigh master was a Denis Crowe from Killaloe. She would have been fitted with a standard Bollinger engine. A  Mr D.E. Williams, General Merchant from Tullamore, bought her in 1947. He was the founder of the world famous Tullamore Dew Whiskey Company.

29B was then passed on to a Denis Ronan of Athy. A photo from the Kildare Nationalist shows her giving tours during a carnival in the early 1950s. It’s interesting to note the lack of health and safety regulations in this era.

In 1956 she was sold onto Messrs Deegan of Waterford who subsequently sold it to Williamo. He used her on the river until his retirement in 1983 when she was bought by a Mr Gerry Oakman from Athlone. Gerry brought her back up to the Shannon by way of the Barrow Navigation system and the Grand Canal where she worked as a work boat on various  projects on the Shannon before being retired and converted into a live-aboard barge in Shannon Harbour Co. Offaly.

Last year she was again sold on and moved to Lough Derg where she is on a hard stand and is undergoing a major refit. The photo above was taken about a month ago.

Probably the last photo of barge 29B in operation in Carrick on Suir. Williamo at the helm and his son at the bow. Photo by John Denby. Carrick on Suir

I was fortunate to be party to the facebook discussion and follow up research of Williamos barge on the Things I Miss About Carrick on Suir Facebook page. Social media has many negatives associated with it, but virtual journeys such as these that reach deep into a locality’s past and weave a path to the present are surely one of the platforms positive achievements. Just like the Carrick natives, the photo above reminded me of so many boats that signified my own childhood and to this day, such as the Portlairge, my uncle Sonny’s pilot boat Morning Star or the harbour launch as she crewed the buoy gangs to work.

I can only thank Maurice for sharing it with me and everyone else who is part of our online community. In preparing for this piece I recalled an iconic image and a wonderful poem by Carrick poet Michael Coady. On checking with Maurice he confirmed that they were about the same man. Michael’s poem which features in his book of the same name (Going by Water) celebrates Williamo’s life and his connection with the river, and features an image of his coffin borne by river to burial. As I haven’t asked permission to use any of it, can I just recommend that you keep an eye out for it. In a few lines he really captures the essence of the river and how it embodies us.

This will be my final guest blog in the current format, but it certainly will not be the end of sharing the best of our maritime heritage. On a personal level the series has proven to be the most emotionally draining. In some cases editing other peoples work, or offering suggestions that might risk offence. There is also the extra pressure of making sure that I make no mistakes in the formatting or that it reaches a wide audience. I have been fortunate over the years that I have had copy for each month, and that through this I have been able to extend the reach of what I personally can do, by sharing the passion, intelligence and personal insights of others who share my appreciation of our maritime heritage. We might be few in general terms, but I think the blog has proven a genuine interest and appetite for recognising and celebrating the boats, people and industries that thrived in our three sister rivers and her harbour.

I’m celebrating the four years of the blog at an event in the Reading Room, Cheekpoint on Saturday 8th June at 7.30pm. All welcome.