So this is Christmas…2020

Well, 2020 has been a strange one, to say the least. A year where we saw Irish politics altered in a government formed of consonants and contrarians that was just missing a Big Brother/Love Island narrator. A pandemic that saw us hit pause in our schedules but ‘Continue Watching’ on our streaming services. We fell in love with Connell & Marianne, out of love with Zoom Calls and quizzes; but knowing that we never needed to hear the words “fancy a cuppa & a chat” more than ever before. We found new addictions like The Last Dance or The Nobody Zone, became masters of banana bread baking while the election turmoil in the United States appeared to offer a reprieve (from general monotony) before the real fare of the All-Ireland championship gave us Liam Cahill dancing a jig on the Croke Park side-line that would have made Michael Flatley blush.

     This year ranged from Shakespearian tragedy to screwball farce (golfgate & Rudy Giuliani to name but two) while our frontline services and their heroic endeavours surpass Arthurian legend. It was the strangest and toughest of years, but we’ve been here before. Could the words of Charles Dickens (the man who invented Christmas) ever be more applicable than from A Tale of Two Cities – ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…’

     From the Pharisees to Faithlegg: St. Ita

     One could argue that Waterford has had a connection to Christmas from the start of the story itself. As Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem where Jesus was born in a stable, the tale has a Waterford connection. St. Ita of Killeedy born in Faithlegg, County Waterford around 480 and known as the foster mother of the saints of Erin, was devoted to the Christ child with the poem Ísucán (cited in The martyrology of Óengus) depicting her nursing the infant Jesus. The reason for which was a logical way to fill the void of replacing her pet beetle. Yes, you have read that correctly. An unusual connection between the Pharisees and Faithlegg! Though Jenny Bledsoe concludes that “St. Ita’s tradition manifests a variety of forms of spiritual motherhood”. It’s not what Ita may or may not have done but rather that what she represents that is important.

St Ita
Eleanor McEvoy on stage

     She was seen to embody the ‘Six Gifts of Irish womanhood’ in the Celtic tradition; wisdom, purity, beauty, music, sweet speech and embroidery. It seems that Eleanor McEvoy’s A Woman’s Heart was for her – “as only a woman’s heart can know”. And just in case you’d like to mark your 2021 calendar, don’t forget Ita’s feast day is the 15th January. Even if you’re not religious like myself it would be nice to note the strength of the women in our lives on a more regular basis. Maybe the whole Woman’s Heart album might be played that day. Mary O’Neill and Ollie Carroll get the vinyl ready!

      Caring is Sharing & the Gift is in the Giving: Waterford Toy Shops

     As families rush to gather gifts for Christmas this year, spare a thought for C.V. K. of the Munster Express when he noted (in 1948) the toy shops Waterford could boast back in the early 1920s:

In the district of Waterford in which I grew up, we had – as it were – our own parochial toy shop, where all the year round we bought, at appropriate seasons, our marbles, hoops, tops, fishing nets, squibs, etc. That shop was…in Patrick Street and was owned in those days by Mrs. Manahan…her stock was always well stocked with the right kind of seasonal fare, and we seldom took our custom elsewhere, except perhaps a little farther down Patrick Street to Misses Nolan’s shop…

As we got bigger and ventured further afield down to Broad Street, we found that J.G. McCaul’s…shop had many more pretentious offerings in the line of toys, and here it was that many of us saw, for the first time, such modern wonders as trains on tracks, air rifles, Meccano sets, chemistry sets for the manufacture amongst other things of “stink bombs”…

In these pre-Woolworth days, the cheaper and less elaborate type of toy could always be purchased at Messrs. Power’s bookshop in Michael Street, and if we left our purchasing until as late as possible on Christmas Eve, we were always sure of a bargain in the drive to sell out Christmas stock before it went out of season…

…The shop of the late Mrs. Katie Dawson on The Quay, was another Christmas rendezvous of Waterford boys of my time, and here one could purchase cowboy suits…

This year will see the new Play Station top the Christmas list of many, while the cowboys of yesteryear such as Roy Rogers and John Wayne have been replaced by the Mandalorian and Stranger Things (if you pardon the pun). Air rifles now seem quaint to the capabilities of the new smart phone where likes on Instagram are akin to the games of Christmases gone bye. Still, it’s hard to beat the refrain of Shakin’ Stevens: ‘children playing, having fun’.

     Driving Home for Christmas

     In keeping with a musical vein, many will be listening to Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas with some hope of the holiday ahead. But many will be filled with a bittersweetness such as for those who can’t make it home; from wherever green is worn like the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Though we will echo the thoughts of drive safely wherever you are.

Redmond Bridge – Waterford

     For instance on the 23rd December 1929, a motor lorry driven by T. Baldwin of Passage East, lost control of his vehicle and crashed into the iron railings of the Redmond Bridge. It was believed that the steering gear went and with carrying a large load, the lorry began to slip back on the slight incline and crashed. Luckily for Baldwin he was uninjured though the bridge had seen better days. Apparently, the city engineer wasn’t happy to inspect the damage on Christmas Eve, but he was just told to build a bridge and get over it. I should be writing the jokes for the crackers with that one.

     The festive season can be a very difficult time for many. We only need to look at the story of Larry Griffin, the Missing Postman of Stradbally, whose family never saw him again after Christmas Day 1929. Over 90 years later his descendants still look for answers of what occurred in a small rural community. Though in tough times, we as a people can display our greatest character. We see Christmas as a time of giving, such as to charity.

     Even with the pandemic of 2020 we still see the issue of homelessness still rife in a country that purports to be one of the most modern and diverse in the western world. Sadly homelessness is not a new tale around Christmas time. We have the story of the death of Patrick Kennedy of Lissellan, Tramore on the 26th December 1932. Kennedy aged 49 was stated to have died as the result of “heart failure” due to “starvation and want of proper care.” Ireland was a bleak place economically for large parts of the 20th century as the Great Depression worldwide and the economic war with Britain led to many being unemployed and destitute in the 1930s.

     Kennedy had no work and was living for a time with his mother. His wife Bridget and two children stayed with their aunt but as Kennedy was earning no wage there was no financial support. While he lived with his mother and brother Martin, they survived on her pension of 10 shillings a week. The labourers cabin had two bedrooms, a kitchen, an earthen floor which was moist and muddy, no beds while the roof was as porous as a cullender. Such cramped confines led Patrick to look and beg for other quarters to reside in. So stark were Kennedy’s circumstances he lived in a shed for three months where his only warmth came from wearing two overcoats. They never complained nor sought help. Was it pride of a family or neglect of a society? Nevertheless, it cost Martin Kennedy his life that Christmas 1932.

     Looking Back, Looking Forward

     Christmas gives us a chance to pause and look back at our year or even life. Nostalgia is a plenty and hope is ever eternal. As we enter the period of completing endeavours and creating resolutions, remember the story of the author Morley Roberts. Roberts spent Christmas 1937 awaiting the publication of his book Bio-Politics which had taken him 50 years to write. At 80 years of age, he had already published over 70 books; mostly novels but had an affection for Waterford. A friend of Edmund Downey (novelist and owner of the Waterford News), Roberts had written a short story and poem about Waterford published in the Green & Gold magazine. Such was his interest in Waterford (which he visited two or three times) it was noted by the editor of the Waterford News that Roberts had ‘once wrote a letter to us in which he proposed a novel remedy for partition – a remedy too drastic for publication.’ And we wonder where Boris Johnson got his theories from?

Turkeys loaded in carts on the quay of Waterford – early 1900’s

     The lesson would appear to be that no matter how far we come, be it from the beginning to end of a year, one Christmas to the next, completing education or starting a new job; there is always the hope and thirst for more. For many in the UK and Ireland, Christmas was made by Val Doonican whose rocking chair style and festive cardigan wear was compulsory viewing. His album Val Doonican Rocks, But Gently managed to knock The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper off the top of the charts in December 1967. In fact, it was harder to get the Waterford man’s LP in his hometown then it was in England, not because of it’s popularity but due to a distribution problem as a result of foot and mouth. I for one know my father will have Val on in the car this Christmas. Before I use to raise my eyes upon hearing the album playing but now I can’t imagine the festive season without it.

     As you can see Christmas has seen difficult times before. Though it may not mirror that of EastEnders I think many will be glad for 2020 to be ending. Though we’ve had wonderful moments too such as Adam King (whose dad Dave hails from Dungarvan) who captured the hearts of a nation and reminded us no matter what obstacles, hugs can be given and dreams are there for us all. Some will dream of a White Christmas a la Bing Crosby. Others will not stop believing like Journey in the quest for Liam McCarthy. But Adam reminded me of a song that always comes to mind with Val Doonican, I can sing a rainbow. May we see brighter days ahead and all the colours of the rainbow.

     So if you’re spending your Christmas in Ballyhack or Ballybeg, reading the excellent Waterford Harbour: Tides and Tales by Andrew Doherty or listening to Val, have a very happy Christmas.

Thanks to Cian Manning for this wonderful reflection on a year that we will all want to forget. If you want to experience more of Cians work you will find him on Twitter where he regularly promotes his blogs on his twin interests of Waterfords history and sport. He is also the author of the excellent Waterford City, A History. Currently available in the Book Centre Waterford

KEYSER’S STREET

Cian Manning

Edmund Spenser, the 16th century English poet penned the words ‘the gentle Shure that making way. By sweet Clonmel, adorns rich Waterford’. As we follow the river Suir we reach Ireland’s oldest city founded by the Vikings and are presented with a majestic Quayside. The British architectural historian Mark Girouard (grandson of Henry Beresford, 6th Marquess of Waterford) remarked that it was ‘the noblest quay in Europe.’ The Quay is a mile in length with the Dublin Penny Journal of December 1832 recording ‘and presents a continued line with scarcely any interruption throughout its entire extent’. Surrounded by natural beauty, the city which thrived along a river that afforded a depth of water from twenty to sixty-five feet at low water which could accommodate vessels of up to 800 tons mirroring mansion pieces on a Monopoly board.

the quays loooking from the Ardree Hotel. Courtesy of Brian Walsh

As one enters Waterford city by crossing Rice Bridge and turning left the half-way point of the Quay is marked by the Clock Tower. The renowned 19th century Gothic style landmark also illustrates the previous industriousness of the city’s docks with water troughs for horses. Continuing along the Quay you will pass four laneways on the right with the last of the quartet being Keyser’s Street. The city derives its name from the Norse Veðrafjǫrðr meaning ‘Winter Haven’.

The name originates from the Norse era in Waterford. Courtesy of Cian Manning.

However, it is not the only name that Waterford bares of it’s Viking past. The aforementioned Keyser’s Street is a name of Norse origin while the street dates to the medieval period. ‘Keyser’ meaning way of the ship wharf or path to pier head. The former Publicity Officer of South East Tourism, Patrick Mackey noted that this is where the ship wharves were situated. The street runs southwards of Custom House Quay and reaches the junction of High Street and Olaf Street. As part of the Viking fortifications, there stood a Keyser’s Castle and by 1707 these walls from John Aikenhead’s Coffee House (the first coffee house in Waterford city and listed in the corporation minutes of 1695) to William Jones’s new house by Goose Gate (named after the 17th century Searcher of Customs Thomas Goose) were pulled down. It was ordered that the stones from the battlements would be used in the construction of a Corn Market where the old Custom House stood.

The iconic Clyde Shipping Office building now stands at the entrance from the Quay to Keyser’s St

Down through the centuries this street has been referred to by a couple of different names. A deed of lease between William Bolton and a clothier, Samuel Pearn records the name Kimpsha Lane. In the Civil Survey map of 1764 the street is referred to as Kempson’s Lane.
Now the street captures the hustle and bustle of modern life from the trade union movement to the workings of the General Post Office. It’s best to finish with the words of a 19th century poem evoking Waterford’s Viking connections with the story of Keyser Street in mind:


Like golden-belted bees about a hive
Which come forever and forever go
Going and coming with the ebb and flow,
From year to year, the strenuous Ostman strive.

Close in their billow-battling galleys prest,
Backhands and forwards with the trusty tide
They sweep and wheel around the ocean wide,
Like eagles swooping from their cliff-built nests.

And great their joy, returning where they left
Their tricorned stronghold by the Suirshore
‘Mid song and feast, to tell their exploits o’er –
Of all the helm-like glibs their swords had cleft,
The black-haired damsels seized, the towers attacked.
The still monastic cities they had sucked.

Submitted by Cian for our Placenames of the Three Sisters project for Heritage Week 2020

Waterford and the River Suir: A Family bond

Since I went to the monthly format I have stopped the very popular guest blog segment. However, as Cian Manning publishes his new book on Waterford I asked if he would consider sharing some memories of why the river and our maritime past means so much to him. Much like myself, it’s becuase of a deep family tradition.

Front cover of Cian’s new book

Ireland’s third longest river, the River Suir is 184 kilometres long and for centuries was a major artery bringing the life blood of trade and visitors to the island’s oldest city – Waterford. It has seen Norsemen traverse its waves to settle on its banks, Anglo-Norman mercenaries have travelled along its estuary, English kings have followed it as their entry point to Ireland and in later centuries would see many Irish leave the port of Waterford to explore the globe in search of opportunities and a better life not afforded to them in their homeland.

     The ebbing and flowing of the rivers tide represents the story of the city of Waterford from its early development as a Viking settlement to becoming a medieval walled enclave. The city was a place of intense religious devotion in the 13th century and would transform into a modern European city over the course of the 18th and 19th century as a hub of industry and commerce. This is reflected in the numerous shipyards that sprang up over the period. This was accelerated by the development of steamships and in June 1817 the Princess Charlotte was the first such vessel recorded on the Suir.

     A noteworthy shipyard is that of Pope & Co which constructed the SS Kilkenny in 1837, it was purchased by the East India Company and later renamed the Zenobia. The noted maritime historian Bill Irish stated that this vessel ‘was one of the first steamships to make the passage around the Cape of Good Hope to India.’ By 1841, Waterford and Cork accounted for 41% of ships built on the island of Ireland. Such demand led to the development of the Neptune Shipyard in 1843. Their steamship the SS Neptune was one of 40 ships built at the yard till 1882. It was one of the first steamers to regularly service the London-St. Petersburg route. On her journey up the River Neva, she was boarded by Tsar Nicholas I who decreed that whenever the Neptune was docked at Petersburg it did not have to pay its port tariffs.


SS Neptune. Illustrated London News.
Andy Kelly collection

     Sadly, the Neptune Shipyards demise was precipitated by the decline in the fortunes of the Malcolmson family who declared themselves bankrupt in 1877. The interests of the Malcolmson’s shipping empire were assumed by the Clyde Shipping Company, the oldest steamship company in the world. Originally in partnership with the Malcolmsons they operated services from Belfast to Plymouth and Waterford to London. Another successful route of the Clyde was the Waterford to Liverpool route in transporting travellers and cattle. Though the events of the First World War would cause some troubled times for the Clyde and tragic events for the people of Waterford that are still hard to quantify to this day.

     Just ten days before Christmas 1917, the SS Formby and SS Coningbeg were torpedoed by German submarine, U-62. Altogether 83 people perished aboard the vessels, sixty-seven of whom were from Waterford. The master of the U-boat, Ernest Hashagen details in his memoirs the stalking of the Coningbeg:

It is rather dreadful to be steaming thus alongside one’s victim knowing that she has only ten or perhaps twenty minutes to live, till fiery death leaps from the sea and blow her to pieces. A solemn mood possesses the few upon the bridge. The horror of war silences us. Every one of our orders, every moment, every turn of a wheel is bringing death nearer our opponent. All is exactly settled in advance. We, too, have become part of fate.

Only one body was recovered from the sinking of the two Waterford ships, that of Annie O’Callaghan, a stewardess on the Formby. My great-grandfather James Manning was one of the victims (a cattleman aboard the Formby) of the tragedy. Living at Roanmore Terrace in the city, James was the father of nine children. His widow was Mary, a Tipperary woman, aged 40 in 1917.

     My grandfather Michael was the third youngest of their children. Waterford must have been a very bleak place that Christmas as the families waited by the quayside for news of their loved ones. The uncertainty must have been heart wrenching. Hope is eternal but can be a very bitter pill to swallow as time passes with little reward in such faith. In 1924 a message in a bottle washed ashore with a note from a soul clearly resigned to their fate. The morsel which survived the ravages of the seas read “We will never reach the Hook” and signed “Jack”. The family were issued with a Memorial Plaque known as “Dead Man’s Penny” which has sadly been lost.

Monument to those lost on the steamers Coningbeg & Formby

     James’s son Michael went on to serve in the army (reaching the rank of Sergeant) of the Irish Free State and was a successful participant in the All-Army Championships winning the ‘Hop, Step, and Jump’ now known as the ‘Triple Jump’ at Croke Park in 1924. Michael was adept at signalling and undertook courses in ‘Chemical Warfare’ from October 1937 to January 1938. In concluding his career with the army in order to support his young family of four children, he followed in his father’s footsteps and worked as a docker for Clyde Shipping. It must have been a very difficult decision with the memory of his father’s death in mind. However, it was necessitated by the need to provide for his family. The memory of my grandfather Michael lives on in his children Terry, Oliver, Elizabeth and Bennie while my great-grandfather’s name is enshrined in stone on the wonderful monument located at Adelphi Quay erected in 1997 in honour of those who perished in 1917.

Michael with his fellow Clyde dockworker colleagues

     My connections to the River Suir and the sea are not only exclusive to my paternal side but also my mother’s side of the family. My maternal grandfather was Thomas ‘Tunney’ Murphy of Ferrybank. He was a keen hurler playing with the local club and later Erin’s Own. His own father William ‘Feehan’ Murphy numbered the Shamrocks side which won back to back county titles in 1915 and 1916. My grandfather Thomas served as a ‘fireman and trimmer’ with Irish Shipping in the latter part of the Emergency. He carried out the duties of cook ‘unofficially’ with his speciality being bacon and eggs. To add some variety to the menu he would re-package the meal as ‘rashers’ and eggs. Some of his notable voyages were on the Irish Ash with destinations including Montreal in Canada and North Africa in 1945 while he was aboard the Irish Rose which reached New York in 1946.

   His love of the water came from his own father as the family punt was passed from generation to generation. Thomas’s father and grandfather were carpenters with Hamilton’s. The punt was docked near the mud boat Portlairge which served in dredging the river Suir for decades. My mother was the youngest of three children and was ten years younger than her nearest sibling, her brother Raymond. Thomas Murphy died in April 1973 aged 49, ten days short of reaching a half-century. My mother was just eleven years old when he passed away. The memories and moments spent between my grandfather and my mother Miriam on the punt (painted in Corporation colours) are some of her most cherished of a relationship that cruelly ended too soon.

Thomas with his son Liam on the streets of Waterford 1950’s

     My brother Olin and I are still regaled by stories of salmon magically jumping into the punt (left by those our grandfather had done favours for in his later career as a Corporation worker) or to the hair-raising incident of when a ship nearly hit the boat with my grandfather and his daughter in it. Apparently he had drifted off, but Olin and I like to think it’s the rogue-ish sensibilities of playfulness (that we aim to continue) than that of nodding off carelessly.

     Such bittersweet moments are evoked in my uncle Liam Murphy’s poem about the funeral of his father Thomas titled ‘Donal Foley Played Hurling With My Father’ (published in Issue 3 of the Poetry Ireland Review) and the lines:

my fathers funeral stops outside theatre royal

beside corporation yard where he worked and died

near where we lived and laughed in my childhood

closeby on the river his boat floats

on a flood of memories

No further words can adequately conclude the story of my family and our relationship to the River Suir and the sea. The lyrics of Bruce Springsteen, the words of WB Yeats or the images revealed in this piece can not elevate the stories of the Manning and Murphy families to a way of life that is more alien to my brother and I, our boat trips have been as tourists along the Amstel, Seine and Liffey. To us a novelty was a way of life for centuries which we can just about cling to. The River Suir is the impetus behind the narrative of Waterford. The story of my family is an intrinsic part of that history like the stories of many a family of this city. Memories do not flood back unless they are told, I’m glad my parents shared a reservoir of them to me.

Cian’s new book was published yesterday by the History Press. It’s called Waterford City, A History.  I want to wish Cian the very best of success with it and hope he gets the support he deserves. The launch of ‘Waterford City: a history’ will take place on Friday 15th November at 18:30pm in the Book Centre. Donnchadh O Ceallachain, curator of the Medieval Museum, will speak at the event and will be accompanied by music from Waterford duo Deep Foxy Glow. 

You can contact Cian by email if you would like to wish him well, get more information, or find out about stockists camanning93@gmail.com