Visiting Minaun Hill

One of the most beautiful views, and quieter walks that you will find in in East Waterford is the Minaun, overlooking the Meeting of the Three Sisters and with panoramas over the counties of the SE, down the harbour and out to the Saltee Islands.  My mother told me that as a child she remembered “townies” walking out to take the view on Sunday afternoons.  And indeed visitors have a long history. The earliest I know of is Arthur Young, who stayed with local landlord, Cornelius Bolton, in the 18th Century.
Young wrote; “…rode with Mr Bolton (jnr) to Faithlegg hill, which commands one of the best views I have seen in Ireland” he then goes on to give a detailed geographical description which you can read online if you wish (page 409 to be specific).  Returning after two years he again “…visited this enchanting hill, and walked to it, day after day, from Ballycanvan, and with increasing pleasure.”(1)
In a previous blog I carried an account of victorian era day trippers coming to the village and climbing to the Minaun to take the views. Interesting to note, because it was then used as a fox covert by the Power’s of Faithlegg House. A covert was an area of ground set aside that foxes could find shelter and thrive…all the more for the Faithlegg Harriers to chase on their hunts.
As children the Minaun was a regular play space, particularly on Sunday afternoon walks with our mother. There were several spots that we visited and my own favourite was the round piece of stone, where local tradition had it the Knights of the round table met.  We would play at King Arthur, with swords and shields and talk like the actors such as Robert Taylor, familiar to us from the black and white movies on RTE on Sunday afternoons .
Photo via Sean Doherty from the Cheekoint Cooolbunia Facebook page
Another rock feature was shaped like a loaf of bread or other times we called it a grave, holding one of the knights that had fallen in battle. The memory was brought back to me as an adult when I read T.F. O’Sullivans book Goodly Barrow.(2)  In it he relates how according to legend the Fianna used the Minaun in their defence of Leinster and so important was it to their leader Fionn Mac Cumhaill that he deputised a son, Cainche Corcardhearg, to wait in watch as protector of his realm.  Apparently he lives below the ground…lying in wait! He must be sleeping soundly…any number of invaders have swept past him in the intervening years! 
As we headed down from the Minaun we came to the old stump which was all that remained of a cross. My mother knew the story well. Her uncle Christy Moran and his wife (the driving force) Katie Doherty had asked Chris Sullivan to make the cross. I was always told it was done to mark the Marian Year, 1954.  However the cross was erected in 1950 which was a holy year announced by Pope Pius XII (which I know courtesy of Blob the Scientist).  Katie went door to door to pay for the timber and although people had little enough they paid what they could, perhaps because they were a little afraid of her.  Katie had a reputation for religious fervour.
My father told me about the day it was brought up.  The boys of the area had been rounded up by Katie and no excuses would be heard.  She had them hoist the cross onto their backs and then encouraged and cajoled them up the road from Coolbunnia to where the school now is, then up onto the Minaun to the summit.  As they went Katie played her malodian box and sang religious hymns. My father often joked that the only difference between themselves and Jesus was that Katie spared them the crown of thorns. 
Moran family early 1950’s with Tramore in the distance (honest!)
From Ann Moran via her son Brian (USA)
One of the big differences now, to when I was a child, is the lack of the clear views. Then you could have a full 360 view from the summit including Waterford, South Tipp, Kilkenny, Wexford and Carlow.  But alas the trees that were planted have now obscured much of the view. According to my godmother, Elsie Murphy, the Minaun was sold by the Land Commission to the Forestry Commission as 1958.  The trees were subsequently planted in 1968/9 we think.

The one mystery is where the name Minaun came from.  As you can see Young referred to it as Faithlegg Hill, and the article from 1850 calls it simply the Hill of Cheekpoint or again Faithlegg Hill. However when Canon Power visited we know the name was in use. And locally I’ve never heard it referred to anything but the Minaun. Sourcing the origins of placenames in the area has long been a source of difficulties however.   I’ve certainly struggled with the Minaun placename before.

Whatever the name, or the purpose, i think its likely the Minaun will continue to see use by visitors for many years to come. And even if not, I will certainly get enjoy its history and its views. And if you want more encouragement, here’s a short video from Mark at Waterford Epic Locations to whet the appetite https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frI0FR19qVU

(1) Arthur Young.  “A Tour in Ireland 1776-1779”  reprinted 1970.  Irish University Press Shannon

(2) TF O’Sullivan.  “Goodly Barrow, A Voyage on an Irish River” 2001 Lilliput Press Dublin

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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 http://www.nmmc.co.uk/index.php?/
collections/featured_objects/mailbag_from_packet_ship_crane
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
https://southayrshirehistory.wordpress.com/tag/smuggling/
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.

Bibliography:

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 http://www.wps.wales.org/
Bill Irish wrote a wonderful piece about the Waterford packet in Decies #60 link to online version here: http://snap.waterfordcoco.ie/collections/ejournals/100704/100704.pdf

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Faithlegg House – a brief history

Faithlegg House was built in 1783 by Cornelius Bolton, then landlord of the Faithlegg/Cheekpoint area of east Waterford. Known as a progressive businessman and politician one can presume he intended Faithlegg as not just his home but a statement of his stature in the community and in Waterford society as a whole.  
Well he might have been in his assumptions of power. The family had been involved in many different enterprises down the years, and the estate at Faithlegg which he inherited was several thousand acres. Enterprises included; Mail packet station at Cheekpoint, Cottage textile industry, Brick making factory, Rope walk, Draining of and reclaiming of Marshes including containing walls, Daisybank house as a hotel for the mail packet, construction of a new quay at Cheekpoint, Realignment and improvement to main road to Waterford, Slate quarrying, Cobalt mining and he was one of the investors in the New Geneva enterprise at Crooke.
The house in 1969/70 via Brendan Grogan, the open parkland,
mature trees and imposing driveway in evidence

The architect was believed to be John Roberts. Roberts was responsible for some of the finest buildings in Waterford at the time including the two Cathedrals, City Hall, Theatre Royal and my own favourite the Chamber of Commerce Building at the top of Gladstone Street. As Roberts had a country home in the Glen in Faithlegg at the time, it would have been relatively easy for him to oversee the work. Although Faithlegg House was more extensive than the building is now, it was described in Burkes Peerage as “a 3 storey, 7 bay block with a three bay pediment break-front”…Bolton’s arms are “…elaborately displayed…in the pediment”

There must have been many fine balls and worthy visitors to the house at that time, and the old Ice House gives a hint to the entertainments used to impress. However, pride comes before a fall they say and unfortunately for Bolton all his investments failed and he finally had to sell off his home at Faithlegg.  He retired to a residence in the city where he died in 1829 and is buried in old Faithlegg Church.
Nicholas Power was the next owner of the house and lands of Faithlegg and Cheekpoint. At the time he was reputed to be the richest commoner in the land. Nicholas Power came from a wealthy merchant family from Ballinakill in the city and had married Margaret Mahon of Dublin, herself from a wealthy family.
Nicholas was a staunch Catholic and on moving into the Faithlegg Estate one of the first actions was to build a church for the catholic community beside the old Norman churche in 1824. He was a benefactor of Edmund Rice and apparently bore the major cost of establishing the first of his schools in Mount Sion in Waterford. He was also a supporter of Catholic emancipation and Daniel O Connell who referred to to him as “…the right kind of agitator” Both men were reputed to have been regular visitors. Nicholas was elected to parliament in 1847 and topped the poll in subsequent elections until retirement in 1859.  Before his death he paid for the construction of the Spire, Belfry and Organ loft. This was completed in 1873, the year he died.
His son Patrick Joseph Power 1826- 1913 inherited the property on his fathers death. His wife was an heiress, Olivia Jane Nugent, daughter of the Earl of Westmeath. The couple were responsible for the later additions to Faithlegg House. These included 2 storey, 2 bay wings on either side of the existing building, to which single storey extensions were added. The single storey on the left was an oratory whilst the right was a school room. The front of the building was refaced, with segmented hoods over the ground floor windows. A portico with square piers was also added and St Huberts Deer was added to the front of the house. Internally the plastered ceilings were the work of Italian craftsmen. Externally there were modifications too; including planting, laying out of terraces at the rear and the building of pleasure grounds including a shell house.
Faithlegg Harriers assembling outside the house in the late 19th C
Patrick Power is assumed to be the man in the centre.  A.H.Poole NLI

The Power family sold on Faithlegg House to the De La Salle Brothers in 1936 and they used it as a junior seminary. Young lads of secondary school age who thought they might join the order came to live in the house with the brothers. They lived the life of a Christian brother, took a mini bus in to school in the De La Salle and although they went to classes with the other boys, they took their meals with the brothers and went back to the house in the evenings to study and sleep. The order in turn sold it on to developers in 1985. Eventually the house was refurbished and now operates as a four star hotel, known far and wide as Faithlegg House Hotel whilst its parkland has been converted into a golf course.

An advert for a public auction to sell off the contents of the house

To find out more about the house and the surrounding area join us on a free walk this coming Monday 5th June, departing from Faithlegg House at 11am.  More details on our Facebook event page here

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The magical Faithlegg Salt marsh walk

When Arthur Young, the noted agriculturalist and travel writer visited the Faithlegg area in 1776 and again in 1778 he was an enthusiastic supporter of the works of Cornelius Bolton, the elder and his younger son of the same name. One of his observations was that he had planted over 300 acres of forest and was starting to reclaim lands from the river. We know this as he put it all down in a book.
On a recent heritage ramble we walked from Cornelius the younger’s home, the present Faithlegg House Hotel. Walking through the old farmyard, we strolled down what was once a wrought iron fenced walkway lined with lime trees and then via the glen road into the woods where swathes of emerging bluebells dipped their heads in welcome.

The woods of course are now a Coillte forest, the stumps of  Bolton’s forest of oaks can still be discerned in places, and the old place name, the Glazing woods, connects us back in time when the Penrose family made a product synonymous with the family in Glasshouse, Co Kilkenny, a stones throw across the River Suir.  Locally it’s said the timber that fired the kiln came from Boltons woods.
Our walk took us to the outskirts of Cheekpoint and then we looped back to the Hotel via the magical salt marsh, where the Boltons once reclaimed land from the mighty Suir, but which eventually demanded it’s return.  The landscape tells the story, stone quarried from the towering cliffs, carried by cart and laid out into the river, built up in time to shut out the raging tides and crashing waves. Inside the protective embankment filling of hardcore, subsoil and topsoil built up to create a verdant layer which gave more than a hundred years of productive agriculture.  

It’s arrogance to assume that we can ever do anything, but borrow from nature, and sometime in the 1930’s the river came to reclaim its property. Crashing through it laid waste to the toil of humans and spread its salty liquid into the soil.  Now it’s home to otters, red squirrel, pine marten and foxes, egrets, swans and ducks, winter visitors such as red shank or godwit and a foraging ground for kestrel and buzzard. Its a magical place because it is always changing, always exciting to the curious, always begging questions. It excels in autumn but throughout the year it provides a home, a meal and an escape. But it belongs to the river, and to nature, and we need to respect that.

On the day 50 visitors came, and Deena and I had to call on the services of our ever supportive friend John O’Sullivan and his faithful companion Ozzi to act as sweep. Although we prefer a smaller group where you can chat and get to know people the feedback was very positive and our friends Jean and Paul of Waterford in your Pocket  made a beautiful piece of video for facebook to capture the spirit of the day. And Mark of Waterford Epic Locations was also along so that everyone can appreciate the magic of the Salt marsh  via this piece of drone footage he uploaded to you tube.

The next walk will be on the May Bank Holiday Monday.  Details are on the event page on Facebook and we will post updates and other snippets of information there.  The walk will look at the built heritage of the area, is 2km approx and should take 1.5 hours.  Appropriate foot ware for walking on farmland advised. 


I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can connect with me to receive the blog every week.  Simply email me to request to be added to my email list at russianside@gmail.com.

Waterford- November 1784; a Frenchmans view

The Marquis de Bombells visited Waterford in November 1784, and over a week, made some observations on the area which he probably would not have had the time for, except that he was waiting on a ship to take him away.  Similar indeed, to another foreign visitor we have met previously, Arthur Young. Marc de Bombells was a young French aristocrat who entered the diplomatic corp and would later become an emissary on behalf of his country’s king, Louis XVI

accessed 24.11.16 via
http://clif.over-blog.com/article-marquis-de-bombelles-65267768.html

He arrived to Waterford on the 14th November taking, it is believed, the ferry at Grannagh.  Here he tells us it was his good fortune to take a small row boat across, the main ferry being full of pigs. The weather was atrocious and they had to nearly use violence, to prevent others boarding the ferry and I presume risk it being overloaded.

Due to the weather, no ships can sail and he becomes the guest of Lord Waterford for the next week, visiting the city and environs.  On the 19th November he received news of a potential sailing via Passage East to Swansea in the Bristol channel.  He immediately set out for the village to look over the ship.

Passage we are told is a little town covering a small beach between the river and the steep rocks which threaten the roofs of many of the houses.  It affords an excellent anchorage, and the place is populated almost entirely with customs officers.  At anchor is a kings man-o-war, and two naval cutters who he is told are constantly on station to combat smugglers.  de Bombells is less than impressed with the character of the ships captain offering him a berth to England however, and the ridiculous high price sealed the decision to remain.

On the 20th of November he drove to Ballycanvan to visit with a man we have often referred to here, Cornelius Bolton.  At the time, Bolton is laying the foundations to a fine mansion, (the now Faithlegg House Hotel) which we are told will be a good location to all the enterprises currently taking place at Cheekpoint.  During the day he calls to the village where the harbour is under construction, in anticipation of the basing of the official second mail route between Ireland and England.

The Inn which Bolton has established we are told is already profitable with an abundance of passengers in what he describes as excellent lodgings. Very much at variance to the many reviews that would be published in later years!  Mind you the Marquis didn’t sleep overnight.

Later in the afternoon he visits New Geneva, for which he has as a venture, very little positive to say. I wonder did he share his opinion with Bolton, who was one of the sponsors of the scheme.  From his vantage point overlooking the harbour he espies the incoming Mail Packet, and when he later speaks to the Captain, he’s assured of a next day sailing.

Accessed 25.11.16 via http://500years.royalmailgroup.com/features/
royal-mail-500-special-stamps-to-mark-500-years-of-postal-history/

At Midday on November 21st Mr Bolton drove his guest to Cheekpoint where he boarded the Mail Packet which departed in beautiful weather at 2.30pm.  There’s an interesting aside in that as they approach Passage, another passenger joins the ship. Although he does not say whether the packet calls to the quay or that the lady is rowed out to the ship, I’m assuming the latter.

Further downriver he passeses under the cannon of Duncannon Fort, an old castle which, we are told, is kept by invalids.  Then the Duncannon bar, the only obstacle to the harbour; “at low tide there is only 13ft of water, but at high water any ship can pass with safety”.  Whilst here another three ships of the king of England pass.

His companions are two ladies and four gentlemen, none of which it appears have good sea legs and when the ship gets becalmed in the night in the Irish sea, he is surrounded by groans and vomiting. At 6am on the 22nd, the wind gets up and later that morning they put into Milford Haven.

His writing was done as a journal of his travels and was never, apparently intended as a book at all. As such he is less guarded in what he writes and perhaps a little non PC.  If you can read French it’s free via google books, and if you prefer the print version it’s at amazon starting at £38.

Reflecting on de Bombelles work, it’s clear that although he’s opinionated, pompous and judgemental in parts the writing is very informative and instructive of Waterford at the time.  Another thought is that he has seems to have a very specific interest in recording military strengths or points of strategic importance.  I wonder if given the role of emissary included being something of a spy, was his journal as much an aid to memory in reporting the strengths or deficiencies of the English crowns forces.

This piece this morning is based on an article written in the Journal of the Waterford Archaeolgical and Historical Society, Decies #55 entitled “As others saw us: A French visitor’s impression of Waterford 1784 pp17-26.  By Béatrice Payat and Donnachadh Ó Ceallacháin

Back issues of Decies is available on PDF via the Waterford City and County Libraries and also in the Waterford Room of Central Library

Here’s a short you tube video of his life.  Funnily enough it’s the same information repeated on several sites including the wiki link above, but at least it shows a few portraits.

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