Johnny’s Lane, Crooke, Co Waterford

Breda Murphy.

Due to Covid 19 I’ve had a couple of new experiences recently, firstly I haven’t used an alarm clock since the middle of March! I thought I would have to wait until I retired to enjoy that treat, but not so, due to working from home.  Secondly, for the first time ever I began to realise that I live a privileged life, appreciating, that few things really matter in life, one being where you live when confined to staying within two kilometres of your home, and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere better.  I live in the house where I was born, in Crooke, directly opposite Duncannon Church on the Wexford side.  My daily 40-50 minute walk takes me past Geneva Barrack to the Barrack Strand, down the lane at Newtown and back towards Passage up onto the road again by Johnny’s Lane, between Burke’s shop and Crooke Chapel.  While the Lane has had more footfall in recent months due to the lockdown, it is still rare to meet anyone especially in the early mornings apart from a few locals, who like myself, walk it daily. 

Johnny Hearn, Crooke, Passage East. Breda Murphy collection

I know it as Johnny’s Lane, called after an old man who lived where Burke’s shop is now, called Johnny Hearn.  I have only the vaguest memory of Johnny and am not even sure if it is my memory or someone else’s but I remembered my mother showing me a photo of my cousin Dermot Heffernan with Johnny as she told me where the lane got its name.  With time on my hands, I recently sorted through my mother’s photos and memories.  I was delighted to come across this photo of Johnny and Dermot taken at the top of the lane, both deceased now RIP.  The Lane may have a new name now, as lanes are often called after those who live there, but to me it will always be Johnny’s Lane.     


Looking up towards Crooke, the Church on the right

The Lane has an abundance of wild life, with several ancient crab apple trees, ready for making Jelly in the autumn, elders with flowers in the spring and berries in the autumn both good for making wine, meadowsweet with its pungent smell on a damp summer morning, sloes still green but ready soon for Christmas sloe gin, the nettles and docks grow in abundant companionship, one ready to undo the deeds of the other.  A large branch from one of the crab apple trees fell last winter and the path has had to re-route around it while the broken branch is still growing apples. Left there, it provides cover for birds, wild animals, insects and plants.  Us humans giving way to the natural world for a change.    Without human upkeep the lane grows in abundance and reproduces and self-fertilises as it has done for ever.  Its deadwood is providing cover for years before rotting back into the ground.   In the spring the top of the lane is full of wild garlic releasing its strong smell underfoot on a crisp morning.

Nearing the shoreline

The Lane holds an untold history and many secrets. It has been the site of children’s camps and games and other devilment and still is no doubt.  The strand still holds the memory of the cockle women, my grandmother Ellie Murphy and Aunt Molly among them, who picked on a low tide, bent over, heads low, among the rocks on the strand below. They carried and carted sacks of cockle and winkles up this lane. Its stone ditches at either side, still visible in parts, are wide enough for an ass and cart for those lucky enough to have one.  Paddy Ryan recently told me that his mother Statia, daughter of cockle women Janey Organ, as a young girl helping her mother collapsed walking up the lane under the weight of the bag of cockles that she was carrying, damaging her hip.  She spent nine months in bed but her hip never healed and was unable to pick cockles again.  The injury impacted on her for the rest of her life.  Statia was a kind and lovely woman and a regular visitor to our house when I was a child.  I remember her playing ‘this little piggy’ with my toes, I was probably around the age of two.   

The magic of the scene when the tide is in

Some mornings as I head up the lane from the strand, I stop and look back and on a full tide with the sun rising and dancing on the water I feel thankful to the cockle women and others who lived in Crooke and Passage before us who saved this lane for us by walking it.  And though we can travel more freely again I continue to feel privileged to live in such a stunning place with this wonderful river that has provided for many of us who live here, in more ways than one.    

Submitted by Breda for Heritage Week 2020

Memories of Passage East in the 1940s

Author: Fintan Walsh

Passage East in the era described

On the banks of the Suir that flows out to the sea
Lies a quaint little village that’s like heaven to me
Steeped in our history and also Ireland’s folklore
It is called Passage East and it’s a place I adore

In these few verses that follow a little story I’ll tell
Of the people and places I can remember so well
The great days we all had yet little money to spare
Everyone in the same boat yet all happy to share

The streets and the lane ways are a joy to behold
Beresford Row, White Wall,the Men’s Walk so old
Barrack Street ,Parade Street, Post Office Square
Dobbyn Street,The Brookside, they’re all still there

From the Gap of the Wall down to the Blynd Quay
Passing all the streets there’s loads you can see
A loose rock on one hill looking down from above
An old Church on the other the landmarks we love.

Passing by the Park, the Fish House, there no more
The memories flow back of these great days of yore
Arthur Miller he came there with the jobs to provide
Kippers from this old Fish House famed worldwide

Passage East Community hall – the old Fish House

Just behind was the Watch House for pilots to meet
To keep a check on the ships that they were to greet
Card games were played which at times raised hell
They played Thirty’s and Rummy and Pontoon quite well

Patsy Barron around that time was the lone ferryman
For pedestrians and cyclists a small ferryboat he ran
White flags on the quayside in Passage and Ballyhack
Were hoisted high by his clients to come over or back

The cockle women sisters with their donkey and cart
Nan Na, Maggie and Masher these were women apart
To the back strand in Tramore for cockles they went
Selling them inside in the city each Friday they spent

Nan Na, Mrs Robinson on the New Line out of Passage East

Four Gardai in the Barracks with Sgt Eustace the Gaff
Martin Darcy, Paddy Quigley, Tom London were his staff
Four pubs were in the village Lily White’s near the Pier
Kennedy’s, Brennan’s and Miller’s all sold plenty of beer

All the shopkeepers we recall as we roll back the stone
Mrs Carey, Mrs Angie Rogers, Cathy Colfer on her own
Mary Kate Connors, Mollie Cahill, Maggie Carey, Julie Ann
Willie Murray’s coal yard, Donnelly’s the Post Office ran

The Baldwin’s had the garage and a hackney car also
Rich Flynn owned the bus and he lived up in Knockroe
Jimmy Hanrahan was his driver a man never in a rush
Much better known by the nickname of “Jimmy the Bus”

Around Ireland the Emergency was in place at this time
We had the second World War now well in to its prime
Lots of men from the village then joined up the reserve
The LDF, The Maritime Inscription their country to serve

To the old School up in Crooke we all went to school
Frank and Clare Ahearne and Mary Kennedy did rule
They taught us our lessons never spared us the cane
Some loved these schooldays, they put others insane

Crooke Church on Sunday’s serving mass we would go
All the masses were in Latin which we all had to know
Many farmers would come there in their pony and trap
Some more walked miles with their cares to unwrap

A great part of our history the herd of goats on the Hill
For generations we’ve had them and hope always will
Fishermen loved them, weather change they could tell
As they moved into the valley from the front of the hill

Those great days of our youth we remember with pride
The many games that we played down by the seaside
All the fish that we caught with hooks, sinker and line
From the Quays,the Breakwater the memories entwine

Near every street corner we all played pitch and toss
Sometimes it twould be a win more times ’twas a loss
We all went hunting for rabbits with ferrets and dogs
In stubble’s,knocks and meadows,and very wet bogs

We played hurling on the streets and up against walls
The hurley’s we made,we hurled with old raggy balls
On the very top of the hill stood the old Bowling Green
Lots of matches were played many times with a scene

On fine summers days we loved to swim on the strand
For those who were learning we would all give a hand
There were very strict rules applied to both sexes then
The lady’s rock for women,the boy’s rock for the men

When the frost came in the winter we’d all have a ball
Sprinkling water on the streets how we can still recall
We skated and fell then someone would send a report
Then a lady with hot ashes would become a spoilsport

We caught finches and linnets with nets and birdlime
Every house around the village had a bird at the time
We worked with the farmers, picking spuds, saving hay
Thinning turnips, mangolds and also on Threshing Day

For the fishermen of the village we also did many a job
In the salmon and herrings season’s all got a few bob
The blackberries we picked and sold them by the stone
Many orchards we would rob in little groups or all alone

Travelling shows every summer always gave us a call
The shows they presented inside Tom Murphy’s Hall
Amusements by Hudson’s, swinging boats the big draw
An odd circus and pictures were other things we saw

So these are just a few memories of my days long ago
Growing up in Passage,there are many more I know
Some time in the future I’ll get out the paper and pen
With more memories to share of Passage East again

Submitted by Fintan Walsh as part of our Three Sisters Placenames project for Heritage Week 2020

A Crooke childhood

Today is the last Friday of the month and so it’s guest blog day.  I always love to share others thoughts and as the summer holidays officially start in our local national school, this reflection on school holidays from the 1960’s is a real counterpoint to the activities of children today.  I’d like to thank Breda Murphy of Crooke for sharing it with us, and hope you enjoy it as much as I.

Recently I met a local woman on one of my regular walks on the strand below Crooke and we exchanged the usual, ‘isn’t it a lovely day, great spell of weather, it’s lovely down here’. She said ‘it’s a little bit of heaven’ and that’s exactly what it is ‘a little bit of heaven’. I am so grateful for living so close to it all my life. 

I was born and grew up in Crooke Co Waterford, opposite Duncannon Church on the Wexford side of the harbour. Every morning when I opened the curtains there is was, the river. My mother could predict the weather by looking at the river; what colour it was, its texture and how close Duncannon looked, don’t ask me how that worked but I wish I had listened to her more instead of dismissing it as ‘mad stuff’!! 
The rhythm of the river with its constant in and out led to my first realisation of my own insignificance; it went in and out whether or not I showed up. My father made his living from the river as a fisherman and later as a seaman. We waved him good bye as he sailed past the house heading to Liverpool on the mail boat the Great Western. The river and the strand played and still plays a significant role in my life. 
The Great Western in war time colour

Primary school summer holidays were spent on the Barrack Strand between the Carrig Rock, dividing Woodstown and Passage and ‘Johnnies Lane’ or the ‘Chapel Lane’ under Crooke Church. We picked cockles when the tide was out and ate them raw by twisting the back of two cockles together to open them, swallowing from the shells like oysters, although in my mind a sweeter tastier option. Or we lit a fire and cooked them in a discarded bean tin in water from the stream. 

Chapel or Johnnies lane

We had unlimited lands and seascape as our playground to facilitate the unbounded fantasy of a herd of children let lose for the summer. We swam, walked and rolled in the mud, we picked shells to use as money, we spent days picking the best shaped stones for ‘nucks’ or flat stones, a ‘bed bone’, for beds, like hopscotch or the best stones for skimming. I still come home from a walk with a pocket full of ‘best’ stones. We climbed the cliff, made ranches, saloons, houses, castles, forts, villages, cars and buses in the sand. We dammed and redirected streams, made pools and lakes. 

A modern scene from the barrack Strand, still a playful place!

We learned what we didn’t learn in school; how to light fires, how to occupy ourselves, use everything available; nothing was rubbish, tins, glass, old rope, even plastic took on a new dimension after being washed up in the tide and became a blank canvas. We learned to cooperate, be in teams, compete, lose, take care of others, back each other, be taken care of, learned to drink water from a steam by cupping our hands, learned to take risks and be brave, to ‘get in’ and swim in cold water, to undress and dress under a towel and dry ourselves without our mammy’s, with teeth chattering. We learned all this unsupervised by adults. We made mistakes and recovered and mostly adults didn’t know anything about them. 

When we came up off the strand, Mrs Hegarty and Mrs Barry, who lived near the lane down to the Barrack Strand, often had a plate of bread and butter waiting for us hungry children, glorious. We learned gratitude, bravery, the comfort of clothes on your body after being cold and wet. We laughed, at things only children find funny, we cried, we fought, we made up, we got hurt (physically and emotionally) we recovered, we learned resilience and compassion. 
Another familiar sight from Passage Hill, Duncannon on the opposite shore

The older children (12 or 13) learned leadership, being responsible for minding the younger ones. We learned the pecking order, obedience and disobedience, loyalty and friendship, possibility, hunger as a sweet sauce (our tea never tasted so good) generosity, kindness, what peace felt like. 

Later in my teenage years and beyond I spent time alone by the river, time to think and dream and unfortunately it’s where I learned to smoke. I walk by the river now whenever I can. It brings me back to when; my time was unlimited, I was never in a hurry, I lived in the now and laughed a lot. I need a summer on the strand!!

And don’t we all. What lovely memories this brought up for me.  The only addition I could think of was our love of crab fishing here in the village of Cheekpoint, otherwise this account was so familiar and so affirming. Any wonder I love being beside, on and taking photos of the river and all its comings and goings.  Thank you Breda.  

Our next guest blog will be Friday 28th July, and I’m hopeful it will be another memory, this time of a summer holiday in Duncannon from a fellow blogger from Carlow. If you would be interested in submitting a piece I’d be delighted to hear from you at  The only criteria is that the piece needs to be about our maritime heritage, about 1200 words and I can help in editing if required, source photos and add in links etc.  I’d also welcome any contributions from younger readers including students

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Henry II lands at Crooke

This coming week will see another significant historic anniversary.  For on the 16th October 1171 Henry II launched his fleet which beached on the 17th at Crooke in Waterford Haven as the harbour was then known. As he stepped ashore he became the first foreign king to do so and it represented the loss of our country’s sovereignty which would endure for 750 years.

There are many intriguing political, religious and entrepreneurial reasons for the Norman invasion of Ireland that began in 1169 on the invitation of an Irish chieftain; Dermot McMurrough.  The upshot of it all was the arrival of Henry II, then king of England, Wales and northern France as a means of cementing his authority and control over his new dominion.  We would do well to also remember he had papal authority for his conquest in his back pocket!

Arrival of King Henry II in Waterford James William Edmund Doyle (1864)

It is speculated that 400 ships* were required to carry the kings invaders, estimated at 4000**. Apart from the vista this number of ships must have created in the harbour, it is fascinating to consider the logistics.  500 knights were said to be among them.  That would mean at least 500 horses (although it seems knights took at least two horses along, and then more for carrying, drawing carts etc).  The horses were transported which would have been beached and unloaded via the stern.  Its likely that the capacity of the time was between 12-30 horses per ships called Taride.  There were the much feared archers and foot soldiers also. Along with attendants, cooks, religious, servants and hangers-on.  I found this account to the invasion plan for the battle of Agincourt, which although two centuries later gives some sense of the headaches of organising such a campaign.

Horses and men being transported on the Bayeux Tapestry

The Pipe Rolls help provide an insight into the scale and costs associated with it.  This included the hire of ships; pay of masters, seamen, and artificers; payments for horses and their passage; and other provisions and implements such as; hogs, wheat, oats, beans, cheese, supplies of axes, hand-mills (presumably for milling the wheat) and ovens for baking their bread.  Implements included pre-fabricated wooden towers for assembling atop mottes, bridges for fording streams and spades, pick-axes, nails to do the building work.

A rainy Passage East strand at high tide yesterday

Although the landscape at Passage East / Crooke has changed over the centuries, it’s most likely that a beach similar to what now exists, if less vast, was on hand.  It’s said that the whole landing took the day, and that they camped overnight before departing for the city the following day.  In my own opinion the route they took must have been through Faithlegg, based on the local placename, Strongbows Bridge, which is on the main Cheekpoint Waterford road, just before Jack Meades, at the junction with Carraiglea.  Based on this I’d speculate (see map) Henry and his entourage came via Knockroe (A) or Kill St Nicholas(B) (and possibly both) and via Strongbows Bridge (C) in Carraiglea and on past Jack Meades and into Waterford. The present main road from Passage is marked in red and was a later construction

The possible routes marked in blue.

Henry arrived at the gates of Waterford on the Feast of St Luke, 18th October.  From there he took the subjugation of the Norman mercanaries, who had managed to sweep the Irish from power in the SE, and Irish chiefs led by Dermot McCarthy, prince of Desmond. Before leaving Waterford he dedicated a new church on the western side of the city to Thomas a Becket (on Thomas’ Hill) which will be subject to an article in the forthcoming History Ireland magazine by my good friend Damien McLellan.  Henry left from Wexford on Easter Monday 1172, never to return.  But many followed in his wake.  A topic I’ve covered previously in my piece A harbour fit for a King

* I’ve also seen a smaller figure of 240 mentioned but most sources quote 400.  I’ve read no analysis of the figures.
** Again 4,000 troops is mentioned as a minimum in almost every account. Some add 500 knights to it, others add attendants, squires etc.  It’s possible the 4,000 actually covers the entire entourage including ships captains and crews, which would diminish the actual invasion force considerably.

Byrne. N. The Irish Crusade.  2007.  Linden. Dublin
Power. P.C> History of Waterford. City & County.  1990. Mercier Press. Dublin

By Hook or by Crooke

Any walk we ever do that includes the Minaun and its stunning views, invariable leads to a mention of Oliver Cromwell and his vow to take Ireland by Hook or by Crooke.  Looking out the harbour we have the Hook peninsula in Co Wexford on the left and Crooke below Passage East Co Waterford on our right.  I’m regularly challenged by well informed walkers who opine that of course Cromwell was not the originator of the phrase at all. The fact is there are many different origin accounts, but not much agreement.

The popular view from the Minaun, from a point that some call Cromwells Rock

For example during the week I had a half hour to kill in Dungarvan and whilst in the local studies section read(1) that it was the invasion of Stronbow that created it.  The story, which is accurate in geographical terms, states that when he came to invade in August of 1170 he had to choose from meeting his pals already encamped at Baginbun, on the Hook Peninsula, or to actually land (which he did of course) at Crooke.  Yet another say it was a phrase coined by the Normans to illustrate that the two most acceptable landing points were via the land mark of the Hook or Crookhaven in Cork harbour.

Prior to Cromwell leaving England, the actual invasion plan for Ireland (his “Southern Design”) was to emulate the Normans. However before he departed Milford, intelligence reached him that the Dublin garrison, which was loyal to the parliamentarians, had secured a major victory.  Plans were hastily changed, a compliant and secure beachhead was always going to be more welcome than the risk of attack.(2)

accessed from

The Wexford Waterford campaign was a mixed bag for Cromwell.  In late November 1649 Lieutenant General Jones first took Passage East Fort and then turned towards Faithlegg, where after a brief siege the castle fell and the Aylwards were hung from the trees in their own garden.  Cromwell was already at Waterford, but there is only the local lore that he came to Faithlegg, to offer terms to Aylward at Faithlegg Castle, and climbed on to the Minaun to view the harbour.

Most online (and written sources) claim that the phrase originated in the feudal times of Norman rule. The vast majority I have read claim that it was a right (Fire Bote) that allowed peasants take firewood from the kings forests. Effectively by using a bill hook, which would only cut small pieces of timber, or by a shepherds crook, ie that they could pull down and take what could be reached with the assistance of this stick.

A less popular account considers it the means of paying taxes, or tithes to the Manor.  You could pay through the growing and harvesting of crops or by raising and keeping animals.  In either case part of what you reaped with a hook, or made from the animals was forfeit to the manor.  As the essence of the phrase is that something will be done by any means necessary I personally lean towards this account.  But I don’t have much support in that.

The “scholars” on internet tend to agree that the phrase is an ancient one, and was used commonly by the 14th century as a expression with the same meaning as in modern usage.  As a consequence even if Cromwell didn’t coin it to describe his invasion plan it would be a difficult point for anyone to argue that he didn’t employ such a common phrase as an expression of intent.  And perhaps, or maybe even, surely, he reflected on the curious geographical similarity once he arrived.  I have a great meas on local lore!

(1) Mackey P By Hook or by Crooke; Six touring Routes, Fifty places to see. 1983 Bord Failte
(2) Walton J.  On this Day Vol 1.  pp100-101.  2013

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