Blaa-therings

The long-awaited and much-anticipated new book from Cian Manning has hit the shelves for Christmas and it’s a cracker.

Cian is renowned for his fresh look at Waterford history, his unique style of writing, and his ability to extract the nuggets from the mire of times past. But Blaatherings is very different.

Waterford City – A History, gave a sense of his approach. Very much in the style of a traditional history book, Cian still dragged us off on tangents to the story, teasing out related narratives and adding context to what some might have considered a well-worn path of history.

Blaatherings goes much further, he’s thrown off the history book mantle entirely. 16 short historical biographical essays, the majority of which I had never even heard of, revealing the wonderous, awe-inspiring, and downright scandalous of the County’s past residents. And as befits a writer, trying to break new ground, this His-Story tries to bring Her-Story to the reader too – with at least five of his biographies, from the amazing, the bizarre to the profound. One of Cian’s attributes of course is the gentleness with which he reveals his characters and the attempts he makes to place them in their historical context.

I think this book will be well received in Waterford this Christmas 2023. I’m also relieved to see that it is Vol 1! Suggesting he has more to come…I certainly hope so. Our history belongs to us all, and we need new writers, young writers, and writers from various and diverse backgrounds to add to the story. Cian Manning is one of our finest.

His work can also be enjoyed in a variety of outlets including the Irelands Own – where a recent story of his on Mount Congreve made the front cover.

Blaatherings is currently on sale in the Book Centre Waterford and retails at €10 its also available online

Oxford rowers at the 1890 Waterford Regatta

I am delighted to have this guest blog entry from Cian Manning of a vivid account of just one of the many historic races that took place in the regattas of the past in Waterford City. In this case, it reveals the visit of the Oxford rowers in 1890 who came to compete against some of the best Irish rowers of the era. Over to Cian to set the scene, and let us know how Waterford got on.

 On Tuesday 15th July 1890 the renowned Oxford and Liverpool (Mersey Club) crews were scheduled to compete against All-Ireland with notice of numerous entries promised from Clonmel, Dublin, Limerick, and New Ross in a regatta on the River Suir. The events were going to be accompanied by music from the Band of the Manchester Regiment playing from the Grandstand of the Waterford Boat Club. All the action was to be followed by a dinner at City Hall on the Mall, with tickets costing 10s each. It was the most eagerly anticipated event in the history of Irish rowing, as the Waterford City Regatta was about to play host to several high calibre teams that would compete against one another in exciting races. Previewing the excitement, the Waterford Mirror & Tramore Visitor noted:

…some of the crews are famous. An unprecedent fact is that of two English crews having entered, viz: Oxford and Mersey (Liverpool). The former is, of course, world-famed as the cradle of rowing, and the crew which will compete at Waterford, will probably, be a carefully selected one.

Waterford Mirror & Tramore Visitor

It was considered the first occasion on which a crew from Oxford competed in Ireland. The best teams on the island of Ireland were to be equally well represented with Dublin University sending several crews. The eagerly anticipated race for the senior fours was described as ‘a ding-dong one’ on a day filled with many attractions. Nevertheless, there was pragmatism about how Waterford representatives would get on against high calibre opponents. This, however, didn’t rule out hope, the Waterford Chronicle concluding “However, on their own [Waterford rowers] water the blue with white hoop will make a great race, and it will take a ‘nailing’ crew to beat them.”

A later era (1930s) but highlights the interest from spectators of regatta day. Image courtesy of Brendan Grogan. The ship in the mid river is the Clyde boat SS Rockabil.

 “…an occurrence of peculiar moment…’: OXFORD UNIVERSITY BOAT CLUB IN WATERFORD CITY

The appearance of the Oxford crew led the Standard to pronounce of the Waterford Regatta:

Within modern times it was always an event of importance in the rounds of amusements of the season, but this year it was regarded as an occurrence of peculiar moment, in which the reputation of the oarsmen of Urbs Intacta was supposed to be at stake.

Waterford Standard

Hospitality was provided for the Oxford crew and several of the Boat Club men, who were entertained and housed at the residence of Mr. Richard Hassard at Rockenham. He was the son of Michael Dobbyn Hassard of Glenville, who had represented Waterford City in the Imperial Parliament at Westminster. Richard had previously crewed with several of the Dublin University clubs and lived just outside the city centre in Ferrybank. Richard practiced as a solicitor in Waterford but died at the young age of 33 in late 1892 as a result of contracting typhoid fever. The Waterford Standard reports that the Oxford men were the guests of Charles E. Denny at his residence in May Park. The rest of the crews stayed at the Adelphi Hotel, which overlooked the course on the Suir for the day’s races.

Regatta day at Waterford c. 1900. Note original Boat Club building and terraced seating for public which was similar to the setting in July 1890. Photo courtesy of Brendan Grogan. A new boathouse was constructed in 1902.

Such was the anticipation, that many watched the crews’ final exercises that Monday evening before the day’s competitive rowing when the number of spectators was surpassed due to trains (which the Standard evocatively described as ‘iron horses’) bringing many visitors to the city to witness the day’s events. Many businesses in the city decided to give employees an afternoon off, with the Standard reporting ‘from one to two o’clock there was a partial suspension of commercial transactions, thus letting free a considerable number whose energies for the rest of the day were directed to securing the best view of the races.’ Crowds lined the Quayside from the Milford hulks as far as past the Market House. For those few hours on that July day, the atmosphere would rival the crackling anticipation of the world’s great sporting arenas, from the Circus Maximus in Ancient Rome to the banks of the River Thames on boat race day.

    ‘…a rare combination…’: the River Suir, sunrays & soaking rain

And Waterford, as it appeared to me from the boat, which was floating me across from the ferry steps, under the welcome effulgence of that returned prodigal, the Sun, and on a magnificent tide which exhibited to striking advantage the splendid stretch of the Waterford Course, and as if inviting people to come forth and make the most of such a rare combination of the elements.

Waterford Chronicle

Though with such idyllic conditions it wasn’t long before the rain would arrive in flourishes and eventually a torrential downpour for the rest of the regatta which saw many of the women in attendance depart as they were dressed in ‘summer costumes’ which were not practical for the lashing precipitation that had engulfed that summer’s day. The Manchester Regiment’s band played at the Boat House as a precursor to a local Amateur Band playing at the Mall later that evening. The Waterford Boat Club’s Grandstand was decorated with many flags, which were matched by bunting on many vessels anchored at the port.

However, not everything was as serene as there was no rest for the ferry which was nearly brought to a point of complete exhaustion. This was partially due to the ferry boat not being fit to cater for such huge volumes, with one local paper suggesting it was of antediluvian origin. Thus, in evoking Genesis (from the Bible, not Phil Collins) it seemed appropriate that the day’s racing was drenched by such torrid rain and a West to South-Westerly wind blowing.

The Peoples Regatta of 1925 programme. Images courtesy of Brian Forristal. I think it gives a good sense of the popularity, the planning and the prestige associated with the river regattas

The evening banquet held in City Hall to honour the visit of the Oxford crew (you’ll note the lack of Mersey representation in the day’s events which would point to a change of plans) to Waterford saw many well-known local figures and competing oarsmen hosted by Alderman Mahony, High Sheriff of Waterford in the absence of the Mayor. Sadly, we lack descriptions of the day’s racing, as the local Regatta Committee did not provide the press with the adequate facilities to witness the action and provide suitable reportage in their subsequent publications. The big race of the day was the Waterford Challenge Cup, valued at £50, with presentation prizes valued at £20; for any class of four-oared boat with the course stretching to around 1 ½ mile. Nevertheless, with an absence of colour to the rowing proceedings (other than the Munster Express recording that the races were ‘fairly well contested’) we know the result was:

First place – Dublin University Boat Club (black and white)

N ‘Kaye’ (bow), A ‘Catesby’, R Bleasby, H.A. Elgee (stk), H.A. Cowper (cox)

Second – Waterford Boat Club (navy blue and white)

T.F. Sheedy (bow), C.W. Mosley, B.C. Manning, W.J. Manning (stk), A. Farrell (cox)

Third – Oxford University Boast Club (dark blue)

A.W. Mahaffy (bow), C. Parker, R.P.P. Rowe, J. MacLachlan (stk), A. Cowper (cox)

The Waterford Boat Club crew didn’t disgrace themselves in obtaining a runner-up position that was made even more illustrious by beating an in the form Oxford. The most notable member of the Oxford crew at that Waterford meet was R.P.P. Rowe, who competed in the famous Boat Race from 1889 to 1892, winning three of the four races over Cambridge. Rowe attended Clifton College in Bristol (where he would form connections with the Old Vic) and Magdalen College at Oxford University. He later became President of the Oxford University Boat Club in 1892. However, this fails to adequately convey what a generous and remarkable figure the Waterford Boat Club hosted that summer.

A Poole photo of the 1901 regatta, the originals are held by the NLI and this image was shared by Paul O’Farrell on Facebook previously, with a link to the photo on the NLI site where the image can be viewed including the boat house and crowd in higher definition.

SIR REGINALD PERCY PFEIFFER ROWE (1868-1945): OXFORD OARSMAN & PUBLISHED PHILANTHROPIST

His full name was Reginald Percy Pfeiffer Rowe and was born on 11th  April 1868 in West Derby, Liverpool. The Rowe family later moved to Paddington and after attending Clifton, Reginald obtained a Bachelor of Arts in 1891 having read history. Three years later, he completed a Master of Arts degree. In 1896, he applied for membership as a ‘Jobber’ in the London Stock Exchange and came to reside at Kensington in London. We know from the 1911 census that he then worked as Secretary of the New University Club at 57 St. James Street in Westminster. Upon the outbreak of the First World War, R.P.P. Rowe, at 46 years of age, joined the committee of the United Arts Volunteer Force and after two months of drilling he was gazetted as a Captain in the 6th Battalion, the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment in December 1914. After finishing serving with the Military Intelligence Directorate, Rowe published a book titled the Concise Chronicle of Events of the Great War. For his military service, Reginald Rowe was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal 1914-1918, and the Victory Medal.

Reginald Percy Pfeiffer Rowe (1882)

An eternal student, Rowe later qualified as a barrister and resided at 16 Old Square, Lincoln’s Inn, and served as Under Treasurer of Lincoln’s Inn at the New Hall. From 1900, Rowe served as Chairman of the Improved Tenements Association and was the Founder and Honorary Treasurer of the Sadler’s Wells Fund. A man of many talents, Rowe wrote two novels, a play titled ‘The Worst of Being William’ and many poems. Other publications included The Root of All Evil (printed by the Economic Reform Club, of which he served as President for a time) and a popular book on rowing produced by the Badminton Library. In the 1934 New Year’s Honours List, he was made a Knight Bachelor for his services in combating slum conditions in London and across England. Rowe died aged 76 on 21st January 1945 at Charing Cross Hospital in Westminster.

 EPILOGUE

One ponders what a loss to the city that the razzamatazz of the regatta at the Old Boat Club clubhouse to the prominence of the course on the River Suir that allowed spectators to form along the city’s Quayside which created a spectacle and an occasion that even saw businesses shuttering their shops to witness the day’s rowing and racing. We see how sport had increasingly become a huge part of the public and social life of Ireland’s oldest city, and is reflected in the important civic figures that supported and organised such events. Furthermore, in the figure of R.P.P. Rowe, we have one of the great figures of British sport who went on to become a hugely influential personality in a crusade to improve the living conditions of the poor. It seems more than appropriate that Sir Reginald competed in one race for Oxford in the shadow of the iconic Reginald’s Tower, you could say it illustrates the modern concept of ‘game recognises game’. If that fortified tower was built as a statement of power and defence then Reginald Rowe was certainly a worthy namesake in his crusade in housing and sporting endeavours.

Helen Keller visits Waterford

Recently Cian Manning featured a story in Irelands Own about the visit of disability rights campaigner Helen Keller to Ireland. Her entry point to the country was via Waterford City by ship and here Cian reprises the article with a specific focus on the local element. Helen’s visit occurred this week in 1930. Take it away Cian.

American author and disability rights advocate Helen Keller toured Britain and Ireland for 6 months during the year 1930. The Alabama-native made the trip with her mentor Anne Sullivan (whose parents were from Limerick) and Polly Thompson. After staying in a bungalow in the coastal town of Looe in Cornwall, they decided that their next port of call was to Ireland with their destination being the city of Waterford.

Photograph of Helen Keller at age 8 with her tutor Anne Sullivan on vacation in Brewster, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  New England Historic Genealogical Society. Public Domain

     On 13th June 1930, they left Plymouth aboard the SS Ballycotton making their way along the coast of Cornwall, with Keller writing that passengers got ‘a good view of its rugged cliffs and bold headlands’, the vessel traversed the Celtic Sea making its way towards the mouth of Waterford Harbour. The ancient name of the natural harbour at the mouth of the Three Sisters (the River Nore, the River Suir and the River Barrow) was known as Loch Dá Chaoch meaning ‘the lake of the two blind people’. As you can imagine it is one of several interpretations of the name with many utilizing folklore and mythology.

     DA CAOCH?: THE LEGEND BEHIND WATERFORD HARBOUR

     Often places are named with allusions to geographical traits or after deities or heroic warriors but one interpretation of Loch Dá Chaoch is derived from the name of a woman who endured among much suffering. She’s a heroic figure but not in the traditional masculine portrayal of violence and virtue in Celtic or Norse mythology. From Prof. Gwynn’s translation of the Metrical Dinniseanchus we know from a poem about the place name as:

Loch Da Caoch – Hither came strangers from afar with a mighty warrior band. With the king went his gentle mother…Loth Luaimneach, swift as a lion. He brought with him his wife to the feast, on the night of the host, Fuata Ba Fail. She advanced into the conflict, into the encounter of vengeance. Thus went she over the sea – (pregnant) – to the noble harbour of famous Da Chaoch. One daughter she bore. Blemished her offspring, the blind, misshapen daughter, feeble of health Da Caoch was her name at all times and places, designation of suffering. [Caoch is the Irish for blind.] Hence is given from the woman’s name this title unto Loch Da Caoch; an ill occasion had this noble nomenclature.

There’s a poignancy to the harbour being named after a woman with a disability and the area being the location of where Keller first set foot in Ireland. One imagines that Keller and her companions could relate to the legend and strength of Da Caoch to overcome adversity. Keller was just 19 months old when she contracted what doctors described as ‘an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain’. Today we believe that the illness might have been meningitis or Haemophilus influenzae. The effects of which left Keller both blind and deaf which she described as living ‘at sea in a dense fog’.

     Whereas Da Caoch suffered, Keller with the help and guidance of Anne Sullivan would thrive by using finger spelling. Those who have read Keller’s autobiography or remember the film The Miracle Worker starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke will recall the remarkable sequence when Keller realizes the motions that Sullivan is making on her hand symbolizes water. Keller described this moment as ‘The living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, set it free!’ It illustrates the famous refrain of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s ‘The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.’ It gave her a code from which she could explore and express beliefs from her innermost thoughts to the world around her.

SS Ballycotton, departing Waterford from a postcard image. Courtesy of Michael O’Sullivan Waterford Maritime History Facebook page.

SS BALLYCOTTON (later SS City of LIMERICK): FROM DUNDEE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, 1911-1940

     From their journey aboard the freight boat, Keller ‘pleasantly’ recalled her talks with the crew and ‘especially one who bestowed such tender care on the animals aboard.’ The Ballycotton was built in Dundee at the Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. Ltd and was operated by the Clyde Shipping Company from 1911 till 1936. It then came into the ownership of the Saorstát & Continental Co. in Dublin and later renamed the SS City of Limerick. The vessel carried general cargo from London, Plymouth, Southampton and Waterford. We know that she also serviced the Glasgow to Waterford line in the early ‘20s. From the Munster Express (dated 15th November) in 1924 we learn that the SS Ballycotton towed the Ulster Steamship Company’s Orlock Head to Passage East after the vessel ‘had her rudder carried away at sea’. From Passage, she was brought to Waterford by the dredger and discharged her general cargo. The Waterford Harbour Board decided to charge the Orlock Head £60 for the tow and for attendance at Waterford.

     Over Christmas 1925, the Ballycotton which was serving Glasgow to Waterford via Belfast, was caught in a storm, though no damage was reported, it did arrive to anchor at the city by the River Suir four hours later than scheduled. We know that on the vessel’s voyage from Plymouth to Waterford on Friday 13th June 1930 that she carried 34 tourists as it stopped in Waterford before voyaging to Glasgow. Hardly a figure that would get the Tourism Board’s heart a flutter in the 21st century.  Bearing her new name, the City of Limerick first reached Waterford the weekend of 20-22 November 1936 carrying general cargo from Antwerp in Belgium. She was bombed and sunk in the Bay of Biscay just a few years later on 15th July 1940 with the loss of two crew members.

     …the Cavaliers called it “Urbs Intacta”: KELLER ON WATERFORD’S QUAY

     Landing in Waterford that early morning in June 1930, Keller with her companions had to wait for their car to arrive meaning they stayed on the ship till late in the afternoon. Keller recorded in her letter to Nella Braddy Henney that:

…I sat on deck “listening” to the great derricks as they lifted barrels of Devonshire cider on to the pier and replaced them with barrels of Guinness’s stout and Irish bacon. O, how good they both smelt.

Waterford city and quays some years before Helen’s visit. AH Poole

Anchored in the River Suir, adjacent to Waterford’s main thoroughfare the Quay, the group noted that the traffic was primarily made up of ‘jaunting-cars and little donkey-carts. The donkeys brought the bacon to the ship, and the stout came in great trucks.’

     Of Waterford city, Keller noted that:

It was the only place in all Ireland which successfully resisted Oliver Cromwell’s victorious forces, and for that reason the Cavaliers called it “Urbs Intacta.”

Now many local history connoisseurs will be raging and deploring the mix up in facts here surrounding the city’s Latin motto. However, this fails to recognise that Keller, a woman who was both deaf and blind was able to obtain such information in the first place. Even today on trips abroad our minds can get information jumbled and this is with the benefit of having all information available to us at the touch of a button. All the information of Ireland held be Keller was conveyed to her by Anne Sullivan and Polly Thompson through finger spelling. The city clearly made enough of an impression to warrant such notable mentions in her letters.

     ‘That is the King’s car…’: TRAVELLING FROM WATERFORD TO LISMORE

     Eventually, their rented chauffeur-driven Daimler did arrive, with Keller writing to Lenore Smith of the luxury, ‘That is the King’s car, I would have you know.’ Though not all among the travelling party were as comfortable such as Anne Sullivan who was not as at ease with travelling in such extravagance. From Waterford, they made their way towards Killarney, a journey that was described by Keller as ‘for the most part depressing, in spite of the fact that it was a glorious day.’ They were horrified by donkeys who were ‘nothing but skin, bones and misery’ as they passed drab and silent towns populated by women in black shawls which ‘made the scene still more gloomy.’ Though the poverty witnessed along the countryside in County Waterford was broken by the impressive structure of Lismore Castle. Keller recorded that:

The estate of the Duke of Devonshire was in vivid contrast with the poverty stricken country surrounding it. For miles we followed his high walls. The rhododendrons and the hawthorn were in full bloom. They are wonderful from bud to flower. Every hawthorn-tree is as white as snow, or as pink as a blushing bride. It is not only hedges, but whole groves and hill-sides of hawthorn. The Irish will not cut down a hawthorn-tree, lest they disturb the fairy folk who inhabit its covert. Beside the hawthorn and the rhododendrons there were stretches where the horsechestnut-tree, pink and white, dominated. Over the walls tumbled golden laburnums and ivy and cascades of a blue flower resembling the forget-me-not. Then again there were fuchsia hedges higher than my head, their pendant blossoms twinkling in the breeze. We got out of the car to have a better view of the castle, an immense castle, beautifully situated above the Blackwater which rushes and tumbles in flashing leaps and bounds.

The architecture and surrounds of Lismore Castle were a fairy tale compared to the reality that engulfed a huge part of rural Ireland in the 1930s. After reaching Killarney, they travelled to Limerick to learn more about the ancestors of Anne Sullivan but sadly little further information was shed on the life of her parents before they travelled to the United States. Sullivan commented of her time in Ireland that she felt as if she was ‘held fast as if in a nightmare’. They crossed the border to County Clare and visited Cratloemoyle Castle before making their way to Dublin and later spending a week in the seaside town of Bray, Co. Wicklow. It was there that Keller would mark her 50th birthday which she said was ‘solemnized in Ireland by drinking a bottle of liquid sunshine.’

Helen Keller sitting, holding a magnolia flower, circa 1920. Image from the Los Angeles Times. Public Domain

     An interesting story of a remarkable individual celebrating their 50th birthday in Ireland that displayed wonderful ruins and beautiful landscapes but was tainted by the poverty and gloom that was widespread at the time. Only if that ‘bottle of liquid sunshine’ was felt by everyone in that summer in 1930. Nevertheless, the story of Helen Keller’s tour of Ireland starts in Waterford and her story and visit to Ireland’s oldest city deserves further recognition in Urbs Intacta.

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