Mail Packet Milepost at Cheekpoint

Anyone walking or driving in Cheekpoint village, or indeed anyone entering the village park via the main gates will pass a very plain and unassuming piece of limestone.  Plain as it is, it is a remarkable piece of Irish maritime history, for it is one of the last remaining milestones which marked the route to southern Irelands official Mail Packet Station that commenced in Cheekpoint in the spring of 1787.

Got the idea for this post as I was helping the local Development Group do a tidy up last night for Tidy Towns 2021 and as the sun set after 9.30pm the lettering really stood out.
The village of Cheekpoint was renamed Bolton after the local Landlord Cornelius Bolton. The main quay was/is 1/4 mile below in the village
A lump of Limestone to many who pass by. I took this at 6.30am this morning.
From Waterford 6 Miles…I think this used to read 6 1/2 Miles

The milestone at Cheekpoint is rather unique, as the lettering is still visible when the sun is low.  The side marking the village shows up better at sunset, the marking for Waterford city best at sunrise. 

At one time a series of milestones marked this route, a story I have told before and if you would like the story of the Mailpacket its in chapter 3 of my book.

The new book cover which includes the blending of two images, the building of Dunmore East pier and the city dredger, Portlairge from an original image by Jonathan Allen.

But if you want the sketchy outline – The Mail Packet opened at Cheekpoint on April 5th 1787 with one vessel making one trip a week.  However the success of the route was underscored by the fact that by August of the same year, five vessels were running and the service was provided six days a week.

The service carried mail, obvious from the name, but also freight and passengers.  As a consequence of the bustling trade the road was improved and realigned and road markings or milestones ran the length of it.  When the Packet station was moved to Passage East in 1813 I’m sure markers must have lined that route too…It moved to Dunmore in 1818 and there is at least one similar marker from that route extant – at the entrance to Fr Brian Powers residence in Killea. 

Anyway, it pays to be curious, as Moslih Eddin Saadi says “A traveller without observation, is a bird without wings”

Cheekpoint Mail Packet 1787-1813

Following the launch of my first book I received an invitation today to speak to the Waterford Archaeological & Historical Society annual lunch.  I decided to give a short presentation about one aspect of the local heritage which is featured in my book, that of the Cheekpoint Mail Packet Station.

In an era of rapid and perhaps instant communication, it might come as a surprise to younger readers to realise that in the past, communication was a slow and very often weather dependent activity, involving stage coach, ships and very hardy individuals. The Mail Packets of the 18th and 19th Century were the means by which such communication happened and had originated in Tudor times to essentially carry packages to and from British embassies, colonies and outposts. 
The mails to the Waterford area at that point were an ad hoc affair, and a great account can be gleamed from the visit of Arthur Young to the area in 1776, indeed it is arguable that we would not have had his visit but for the precarious nature of the packets at the time. We’ve met with Young before. He had traveled the country on an agricultural tour and was to embark a packet at Passage for a return to England. The captain made all manner of excuse not to sail though, and realising the delay was to build up a passenger manifest, the traveler decided to invite himself to Ballycanavan, then seat of the Bolton estate. 
Steam packets Meteor and Royal Sovereign which operated on the 
Milford Waterford route for a time circa 1824

 Maritime Museum Greenwich, via Roger Antell 
At the time the Packet boats had evolved to carry packages of business/government and domestic mail, passenger, and freight transportation between European countries and their colonies. However the service out of Waterford, and based at Passage East was a privately run operation, carrying post, but depending also on passengers and freight to generate income. The official postal route between London and Ireland was Holyhead to Dublin.

All this was to change however and it did so in conjunction with a move of the packet station to Cheekpoint. Pressure had been building on the postal service via business interests in the Bristol and the Waterford area for some time. Correspondence was highly irregular on the existing private service, as Arthur Young found to his cost, and the official channel via Dublin was slow, when road transport between the capital and the cities and towns of Munster was factored in. Further leverage in the campaign for a regular service appears to have been the need for up to date intelligence on the French fleet during the Napoleonic wars. This excerpt from a letter of the time appealing for the service “…a few Hours in the arrival of a dispatch might be the means of taking or destroying a fleet of the Enemy or saving our own…” (Antell: p19)

A packet mail bag accessed from
By 1786 the Post Office began working to make a second route to Ireland a reality and the Cheekpoint Packet officially commenced on 5th April 1787 with one ship and one sailing a week. The service would cater for 38 towns in the southern region, all of which was routed through Cheekpoint. It must have been an early success because by June of that year the packet had extended to five trips a week and by August five ships were running 6 days per week, every day but Saturday. (Antell: p19-20)
an example of a cutter, picture accessed from
In 1790 Thomas Owen was given a 7 year contract to the value of £1,200 PA to run the service. He lost this however to Samuel Newport in 1793, (Antell: p20) but we can only speculate that Owen continued to manage the service on Newports behalf. 
An amazing record was set during this time. The distance between Cheekpoint and Milford Haven was 85 miles. It was covered on one occasion in 8 hours, but the average seems to have been something between 9-15 hours. The ships being used were cutters of about 80-90 tons and known for their speed. Some of the ships running on the service in 1788 were; Carteret, Walsinghm, Ponsonby, Clifden and the Tyrone . (Antell: p20)
In 1810 plans were announced to develop a new harbour at Dunmore east and with the death of Thomas Owen in 1813 the packet moved, initially to Passage and eventually to Dunmore East in 1818. In 1834 the service relocated to the city of Waterford and continued to run to 1850. 
The criticism against using the harbour at Cheekpoint was its distance from the harbour mouth. Sailing ships had to depend on tides and wind to aid their journey up river. However, steam power was already on the way, and its interesting to note that as early as 1824, they were employed on the Milford – Dunmore route. (Antell: p37) One can only speculate that if steam had been introduced a decade earlier that Cheekpoint may have continued to hold it’s place, and the village as we now know it would have looked considerably different.


Antell. R. The mails between South West Wales and Southern Ireland: The Milford-Waterford packet 1600-1850. 2011. Welsh Philatelic Society.  Copies can be ordered directly by contacting the Welsh Philatelic Society, contact details on their website at
Bill Irish wrote a wonderful piece about the Waterford packet in Decies #60 link to online version here:

My new book is titled Before the Tide Went Out.  I have a dedicated page that you can visit for reviews, an outline and details of your nearest stockists etc.  Click here

Its also available to buy direct online for €15 plus €3.50 P&P anywhere in the world: