Saving the stricken St Declan December 1950

On the week that Dauntless Courage arrives from the publishers to local shops, I asked author David Carroll to whet the appetite with a short guest blog, and he has chosen an On This Day post about a rescue that is legendary in Dunmore East due to the skill and bravery shown by the lifeboat crew in rescuing local fishermen.

On Thursday, December 14, 1950, the Dunmore East lifeboat Annie Blanche Smith was called out and the Munster Express of the following day, reported as follows:

IN THE NICK OF TIME
Dunmore Fishing Crew Saved from Certain Death
LIFEBOAT BRAVES SNOW, BLIZZARD AND HIGH SEAS

Last night (Thursday) at 8 o’clock, the fishing boats were coming into Dunmore, having been out since 10a.m. that day when it was reported to Mr. Arthur Westcott-Pitt, that flares were seen three miles west of Dunmore, off the dangerous Falskirt Rocks, near Rathmoylan Cove. Immediately Mr. Pitt ordered the lifeboat to go to sea to their assistance. At the time there was a terrific snow blizzard, with visibility practically nil, and it was doubtful if the lifeboat would be able to see the boat in distress.

…a very high south-easterly wind prevailed. The lifeboat left Dunmore at 8pm and nothing more was seen or heard of her for over two hours by watchers on the cliffs. Then the lifeboat appeared towing back McGrath’s fishing boat. What happened in the meantime can only be described as one of the most gallant feats of the Lifeboat Institution, thanks to the bravery of the Dunmore crew, which was as follows: Patrick Power (coxswain), Rd Power (second coxswain), Richard Murphy (chief mechanic) Michael Whittle (second mechanic), Maurice Power (deck hand).

Annie Blanch Smith and her crew at Dunmore East 1958. A John Aylward photo.

The lifeboat crew searched the sea for the boat, and at first were unable to locate it and then to their amazement, found her a ship’s length of going on the Falskirt Rocks. To the utmost risk of the lifeboat and crew, the members went in amongst the rocks.

The distressed boat had previously dropped an anchor and sent out flares, but owing to the big seas, the anchor chain was smashed. To slow up the boat from making towards the cliffs-and their doom-the fishing crew threw out the herring nets, and this formed a brake slowing their relentless momentum towards the rocks and subsequent drowning.

Falskirt on a calm day. Photo Neville Murphy

Just in the nick of time, the lifeboat crew threw them a line and saved them. In only a matter of moments, the fishing boat would have been smashed to atoms, with the loss of five men.
It appears that the engine of the fishing boat had failed a few hours previously when they sent up flares and threw out the anchor. But for great fortune and the bravery of the lifeboatmen, the fishermen would likely to have been lost in a night of terrible conditions.
Mr Westcott-Pitt wrote the following at the end of the Service Report:

I would particularly like to bring to your notice the bravery of the Coxswain and 2nd Coxswain who successfully carried out a wonderful rescue. The 2nd Coxswain at the wheel took the lifeboat into the half submerged Falskirt Rocks in a snow blizzard during a full SE gale with the full knowledge that herring nets were drifting all around so as to enable the Coxswain to get a line on board the St Declan thus to rescue the five men- who were certainly doomed but for the brave and cool courage of the Cox, 2nd Cox and crew.

*John (Rocky) Power was listed in the official Service Report as a member of the crew. His name was omitted from the newspaper account. Skipper of the Saint Declan was Paddy Matty Power. Also, aboard was John Dunne of Coxtown, a stalwart of the lifeboat crew for many years, Jack Whittle, Dick Bulligan Power and Davy O’Rourke.

The Munster Express dated February 16, 1951 carried the following report:

GALLANTRY OF DUNMORE EAST LIFEBOAT MEN
R.N.L.I. Awards for Rescue in Gale

The R.N.L.I. has awarded to Coxswain Patrick Power of its lifeboat at Dunmore East, Co. Waterford, a clasp to the bronze medal for gallantry which he won in 1941; the bronze medal to Second-Coxswain Richard Power and £3 10s. to them and each other member of the crew, for the rescue on the night of December 14 of the fishing boat, “St. Declan” and her crew in a gale with blizzards of snow.
The lifeboat found the fishing boat close to the dangerous Falskirt Rocks. She was riding to her nets. In a few minutes she would have struck the rocks, the nets would have closed round her, and a rescue been impossible.
The lifeboat went close to her, a line was thrown, and using 80 fathoms anchor cable, the lifeboat towed the fishing boat clear. This was done in extreme darkness in the teeth of the gale, with the tide running against the wind and a high sea breaking fiercely on the rocks. The lifeboat was handled with great courage and superb seamanship.

The awards took place in London on March 13, 1951 at a RNLI ceremony, where presentation was made by the Duchess of Kent. Coxswain Paddy Billy Power was awarded a bar to the bronze medal which he won in 1941 and Second Coxswain Richard Power a bronze medal. Coxswain Edward Kavanagh of Wicklow was also a recipient at the same ceremony.

Paddy Billy Power with The Duchess of Kent , London, March 13, 1951.
Photo: John Aylward

After the presentation, a spray of shamrock was given to the Duchess of Kent by the three men from Ireland. In her speech, the Duchess said “it was with great pleasure that she had an opportunity of acknowledging the bravery and courage of men from lifeboat stations in Ireland”. She said: “No praise is too high for the 2,000 men who, year after year, carry out their work of rescue with a cheerful disregard of the dangers of every kind which attend this work.”

Get David Carrolls new book on the
history of the Dunmore East RNLI, Dauntless Courage now!

Thank you, David, what a stirring account of a dramatic rescue. I first heard of it while drifting for herring as a boy myself and the description of the lifeboat managing to get alongside a fishing boat in such conditions and with the driftnets all around, filled me with awe. Expect many such accounts in Dauntless Courage which will be in the local shops in Dunmore East, the Creamery, Burkes of Crooke, and Powers of Cheekpoint from this Wednesday afternoon. It will be in the Book Centre also and the committee that has worked so hard behind the scenes to support David will be at the Lifeboat Station in Dunmore East this Saturday 19th December between 11AM and 3.30PM and Sunday 20th December between 12PM and 3.00PM where pre-orders can be collected.

The Dunmore East area and the lifeboat fraternity, in particular, received some sad news at the weekend with the death of Agnes Abrahamsson. Agnes had a long family association with Dunmore East RNLI as a member of the Fundraising Branch, she was predeceased by her husband Walter who was a Coxswain/Mechanic for many years. Agnes was the mother of the current Coxswain/Mechanic Roy Abrahamsson. A sad loss, deepest sympathies to her family and friends. May she Rest In Peace. More information on her funeral arrangements here.

Shanoon, Dunmore East

David Carroll

Shanoon, Sean Uaimh – “Old Cave” Canon Patrick Power, Place names of the Decies

Pedantic people might tell you that Shanoon, the rugged stretch of high cliff that overlooks the harbour at Dunmore East is strictly not within the ‘Three Sisters Family’ of Rivers, Suir, Barrow, and Nore. I would beg to differ. One Royal Charter afforded to the merchants of Waterford enhanced the role of the Mayor, by adding the title Admiral of the Port of Waterford, whose outer limits were specified as a line linking Hook Head in County Wexford with Red Head, just west of what is now Dunmore East. So ‘Shanoon’ gets in by the skin of its teeth as it is close to Red Head[1]

A chart from 1787 (Before the harbour at Dunmore East was built) showing Shanoon Point in relation to Red Point (Red Head) and Hook Point..[2]

But Shanoon was famous an exceptionally long time before 1356. Long before recorded history, people lived close to the area. Prehistoric artefacts collected over a forty-year period by the late Noel McDonagh, a former Dunmore East fisherman in the area close to Creadan Head, having been examined by eminent archaeologists, concluded that some of these finds were over 10,000 years old. This indicates that the area would have been one of the oldest settlements in Ireland.[3]

For protection from enemies or wild animals, small communities would erect their huts on narrow strips of cliff-top which projected out into the sea. On the inland side of this projection an embankment would be erected as a defensive measure. These habitations were known as promontory forts and Iron Age people established a promontory fort overlooking the sea at Shanoon. [4]

The name Dunmore derives from Dún Mór – the Great Fort [5], which was a promontory fort built close to Black Knob on Shanoon near the old Pilot Station. This should not be confused with a large castle, believed by Julian Walton to have been built by Lord Power of Curraghmore around the late 15th century, probably in the 1470s, of which only one tower remains today, close to Ladies’ Cove.[6]

Nowadays, a well-appointed car park has been constructed on Shanoon, which gives motorists a splendid view of the entrance to Waterford Harbour, and the Hook Peninsula. It also the starting point for a delightful walk along the cliffs-tops out and back to Portally of four kilometers. Learn more about this walk from Ray McGrath’s Gaultier Heritage Rambles:

When I was growing up in the 1950’s, the Shanoon played a big part in my life. It was a larger area then, before the 1960’s when part of it was blasted away to provide the material to construct the new fishing harbour.

This aerial photograph taken before WW2 shows Shanoon very much like it was during the 1950s. Anecdotally, the photo was taken by the RAF who were carrying out reconnaissance of the Irish coastline.

The three abiding memories that I had of Shanoon, growing up were: Pilots, cows, and ‘Black Knob’.

When I was a boy, the Waterford Harbour Pilots were based in the look-out station perched strategically on top of Shanoon. From here, in a time before modern navigational aids, they were able to observe all shipping arriving at the entrance to Waterford Harbour bound for the ports of Waterford and New Ross. As Ray McGrath has written “Waterford Harbour Pilots have come from a small number of Dunmore and Passage families, including the Glodys, the Fitzgeralds, the Walshs, the Bastons, Whittys, and Dohertys. Mariners owe much to their knowledge, skill and dedication”. [7]

At the time, a myth abounded that the pilots had been based on Shanoon for more than a century but in recent years, I have learned that this was not true. What happened was that when a new pilot cutter Betty Breen arrived in 1954 to replace the Lily Doreen, the pilots found the accommodation onboard to be very cramped and decided to move to the station on Shanoon, which was lying vacant at the time.[8] Originally, the building had been the signalling station for HM Coastguards, who departed from Dunmore East in 1922.

To get from the station to the pilot boat, the pilots took a short cut down a steep path in the cliff closest to the harbour. This was not a path for the faint-hearted as a slip could end in tragedy. Needless, to say, I was under strict instructions from my parents never to attempt to take that path to gain access to Shanoon.

Also, during the 1950s, William Power of Powers Bar, who has had a butcher’s shop beside the pub, rented the Shanoon from the Office of Public Works (OPW) for the purpose of grazing some of his cattle. The nuns teaching in the nearby Convent School often became alarmed when they looked out and saw cows dangerously grazing right at the very edge of the cliff on the harbour side of Shanoon. As a pupil in school, until I was aged eight years old, I can still recall the nuns despatching a senior girl up the village to raise the alarm and witness Andy Taylor, the butcher, still in his butchers apron, and a young Billy Power running down the road with sticks to hunt the cows back from the edge of the cliff.

A more recent aerial photo of Shanoon, reduced in size. The arch that joined Black Knob with Shanoon is now missing. It was a victim of a severe 1960s gale. The remains of a gun-post used during the ‘Emergency’ are still visible. Photo: Neville Murphy

‘Black Knob’ was the rock at the end of Shanoon, where the cliff took a 90˚ turn towards the start of the pier at Dunmore East. It was probably during a severe gale in the 1960s that the arch that joined it to Shanoon collapsed into the sea. The landmark had great significance for me as I was strictly forbidden from going past it alone in a boat as at that point you would be away from sight in the harbour, where my father kept a vigilant watch.
For a brief period, I used to set a lobster pot close to Black Knob behind the pier but fishing for shellfish was not my strongest forte.

One thing that I still regret is that I never had to explore or even view from close-up the cave that runs under Shanoon. It is called ‘Merlin’s Cave or Cove’ on charts. Access from the cliff is impossible and even trying to get close in a small rowing boat would be dangerous and probably not recommended.

Shanoon has witnessed and withstood a lot of bad weather over the years. It is particularly vulnerable to severe weather coming from a south-easterly direction. A poet, who only described him or herself as ‘MH’ submitted a seventeen-verse poem to the Munster Express in 1895. It tells of the dreadful storm took place in 1888 when the Alfred D Snow was lost on the County Wexford side of Waterford Harbour. The ‘cone’ raised on Shanoon would have been a signal hoisted by the Coastguards to warn of an impending storm. Here are the first three verses:

A GALE AS ONCE WITNESSNED IN DUNMORE EAST
All early in the bleak forenoon
The cone is raised on the Shanoon;
And every sign on sea and land
Denotes a gale is at hand.

The sky is of a sable hue,
Which almost hides the Hook from view,
And from the strands and coves below
White bubbles around the village blow.

As if disporting in the sky,
In all directions, seagulls fly.
While by the cliffs and darksome caves,
Black divers stem the curling waves.

Submitted as a contribution to Heritage Week 2020

  • [1] Brophy, Anthony Port of Waterford: Extracts from the Records of the Waterford Harbour Commissioners from their Establishment in 1816 to the Report of the Ports and Harbours Tribunal, 1930. Decies No 60, 2004.
  • [2] https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b53011020p/f1.item.r=tramore
  • [3] Carroll, David Dauntless Courage, Celebrating the history of the RNLI Lifeboats, their crews, and the Maritime Heritage of Dunmore East, 2020
  • [4] Fewer, TN, A Brief History of Dunmore East, discoverdunmore.com
  • [5] Power, Canon Patrick, Place names of the Decies, (Cork, 1952).
  • [6]Carroll
  • [7]Gaultier Heritage Rambles: The Dunmore to Portally Cliff Walk, Waterford News and Star, Sept. 03, 2019
  • [8] 2020 Interview with former Harbour Pilot and Lifeboat Coxswain, John Walsh

Recalling the loss of UC 44

It was just about midnight on a calm moonlit night in Waterford Harbour. Aboard the WWI mine laying submarine UC-44, her skipper, Kurt Tebbenjoahnnes, satisfied himself as to their position and gave the orders to start deploying her load.  The UC class of sub were a relatively new design and although they could deploy mines from the surface, secrecy was paramount.  As the night was so clear and they were initially so close to land (at Creaden Head, Co Waterford) Tebbenjoahnnes gave the command to submerge. These mines were stored in chutes in the forward section of the submarine. Each mine was dropped individually and the position carefully recorded.  As the mine dropped out, the sub floated astern on the tide.  As it hit the bottom, a soluble plug held the mine in position, allowing plenty of time for the sub to clear.  Saltwater reacted to the plug, which eventually dissolved and released the mine which floated up to a predetermined height on a wire.

A sketch sketch of the mines deployed

Beneath the mine was a hydrostatic valve that was set to a specific depth which controlled the position of the mine.  Whatever way the tide was running, it maintained the mine beneath the surface making detection much more difficult.  There the mines waited for an unsuspecting ship to pass over and strike the protruding horns which triggered an explosion.

While this operation was ongoing Tebbenjoahnnes remained in the conning tower, checking the boats position and plotting his course for Queenstown (Cobh) in Cork harbour.  Suddenly he heard and felt a loud explosion and his boat lurched downwards and struck the seabed.

Tebbenjoahnnes found himself on the bottom of Waterford harbour in the conning tower and was speedily joined by two other submariners; chief engine room officer Fahnster and a young apprentice named Richter.  Any attempts to raise the submarine were in vain and with no communication with the rest of the crew and waters rising around them they were faced with only one choice, to try for the surface which was 90 feet above. All three emerged from below almost as one, but eventually they drifted apart. Miraculously Tebbenjoahnnes was pulled aboard a local fishing boat later that morning by Dunmore East fishermen. Tebbenjoahnnes was cared for in the home of Mrs Chester and was seen to by Mr Austin Farrell. Later that morning he was turned over to the authorities and began his journey to London and life as a POW.

Removing the remaining mines following salvage. Courtesy of Paul O’Farrell

The rescue of Tebbenjoahnnes would trigger a series of events over the next few days and weeks that would see the death of a crew man aboard the minesweeper Haldon and the dramatic salvage of the submarine that would have a major part to play in the allies winning WWI.

All that was to come however. On that morning of the 5th August, Tebbenjohannes had breakfast before commencing his new life as a POW under escort to London for interrogation.

A story of the salvage and the implications of WWI is subject of a new book by Tony Babb. It makes for an interesting read


Please join me for Heritage week at Cheekpoint from Saturday 24th to Sunday 25th where the focus will be on the three sister rivers and Water Heritage Day

HMS Juno and Stormcock at Waterford 1902

A recent maritime related photo from my cousin James Doherty led me on a rambling search for the ship and her purpose.  We identified her early on as the Stormcock, we knew it was in Waterford , but with precious little other detail as to the purpose of the visit or a date.

tug Stormcock at Waterford 1902 (I think!)

Normally I start searches such as these with a shout out to an intrepid band of online maritime enthusiasts or local history nuts who I can’t even begin to name now that the list is getting so long. But I’m so often embarrassed by the lengths such online friends go to, when I consider the time they put into such queries. So I decided to try go it alone this time with an odd interaction with James.

Google presented a myriad of entries for a Stormcock including several Liverpool based tugs, but nothing presented as clarifying what we had, except a few photos of a similar profiled ship.  The photo we had however, didn’t suggest tug.  The vessel looks too clean and the officers on deck suggested Royal Navy.  There are also a lot of very well dressed men hovering nearby, and aboard, including one lady.  It seems to be a social occasion, an important event rather than a visit by a workboat. 

a close up of a life buoy that yielded a name

The papers were a bit more helpful and the first mention of a tug of this name in Waterford went back to March 1889. What was described as one of the largest and finest sailing vessels that ever entered the port of Waterford had stranded on the Ford (the river where it separates Little Island from Kilkenny).  The ship was the St Charles, of Maine, United States of America. From the description she sounds like she may have been one of the famous Down Easter types, of which the Alfred D Snow would be most familiar to us here in Waterford. Her master was Captain Purington, and she carried a crew of 21.  When she grounded she was being towed by the tug Stormcock of Queenstown, Cork.

The St Charles had left San Francisco on the 16th October 1888 with a cargo of 11,600 quarters of wheat.  Having arrived to Queenstown her cargo was purchased by Messrs White Brothers and Co of Waterford, the brokers being Messrs Matthew Farrell and Son, the Quay, and the United States Consul, Mr William Farrell (a member that firm).  Brendan Grogan has guest blogged on two of the family that would later go on to be highly regarded Harbour Masters. The ship was quickly got off but found to be taking water.[1]  Her cargo was discharged and she later left, towed by the Stormcock for Liverpool.

The chances that this is the occasion which led to the photo being taken is not very plausible however, its doubtful the quality of Waterford would have been aboard for such a working trip.  

A later report however seems much more plausible and I now think this is most likey. The occasion was a Vice regal tour of the coast by the then Lord Lieutenant and the Countess of Dudley.  Along with other dignitaries they had toured the south coast aboard HMS Juno (1895) examining coastal defences, sights of interest and visiting and/or attending social engagements at Glengarriff, Cork City and finally dropping anchor at Dunmore East on Wednesday 29th October 1902.

HMS Juno, Wikipedia public domain

The plan for the day was that what was described as a Royal Navy Tender Stormcock would convey the party up the harbour to the city.   In the city they were to meet the town dignitaries.  The report goes on to say that “…Alderman W G Goff, Jr, Glenville… will place his two motor cars at the disposal of their Excellencies. After lunch with Alderman Goff they will take a drive in the neighbourhood. They will then return the Juno and sleep on board, the Juno meanwhile proceeding Kingstown, which will be reached on Thursday morning. Their Excellencies will then return by special train from Kingstown to Dublin.”[2]

I have to admit that this event tallies very nicely with the image I am looking at. 

The Stormcock as I said is a difficult enough ship to place as there are so many of that name.  The tugs named with cock in the title seem to all relate to the Liverpool Screw Towing and Lighterage Co and associated firms, and appear to have a strong link with the local shipyard of Cammell Laird. (I read online that the company gave a three for the price of two deal on their tug boats at some stage!)

Some of the dignitaries waiting on the quay or aboard. Presumably Mr Davis Goff is the man with the hat, scarf and gloves in the centre.

The most likely vessel I have found is the Stormcock (1877) which was launched by Lairds on 5th December 1877.  In 1882 she was chartered by the Admiralty for naval operations in Egypt, who later purchased the vessel outright.  I presume she was moved around as required and if my guess is right she became a feature in Cork harbour at some point after this. 

Stormcock circa 1885 via Clyde Maritime

The Stormcock played a significant part in the rescue of survivors from the Lusitania, although controversially in one account.  She was one of the first ships to arrive in Queenstown with survivors either onboard or being towed in a line of life boats with another tug Warrior.  However earlier she had intercepted two trawlers who had collected survivors and were on their way into nearby Kinsale.  Commander Shee of the Stormcock ordered the trawlers to stop and transfer the survivors aboard.  This irked the trawlermen no end as they were only a short trip away from Kinsale and the journey upriver to Queenstown would take much longer.  It also annoyed many of the survivors, possibly fearful of further U Boat attacks on a naval vessel.[3]

For anyone local, the annual Daffodil Day Coffee morning takes place this coming Sunday

Funnily enough we have met the ship only recently.  In 1922 she was sold to Samuel Palmer of Cork and was renamed the Morsecock, a ship which featured in the salvage of the SS Valdura off the rocks on Crossfarnoge Point aka the Forlorn at Kilmore Quay.

My thanks to my cousin James Doherty for his assistance with this piece. All errors and conclusions are my own however. James runs the very popular twitter page called Irish Smuggling.


[1] Waterford Standard – Saturday 02 March 1889; page 3

[2] Waterford Standard – Wednesday 29 October 1902; page 3

[3] Nolan.L & Nolan. J.E. Secret Victory. Ireland and the War at Sea 1914-1918.  2009. Mercier Press. Cork

A Lifetime Fishing, Billy Power Recalls

This months guest blog is brought to us by Pat Nolan. Pat recently republished a piece in the monthly Marine Times magazine with the headline “A Lifetime Fishing, Billy Power Recalls. It was to coincide with Billy’s recent retirement. Needless to say I’ve met Billy countless times in the last few years, and he is never without a fascinating snippet of information about our maritime past. I was so taken with Pat’s piece I asked him via Marine Times Editor Mark McCarthy to consider allowing me to republish. Pat graciously agreed.
Dunmore East man, Billy Power, has experienced the roller-coaster fishing scenario over several decades at the Co Waterford port.  He has witnessed the transition from the slack times of the 1930s and ‘40s gradually rise to the heady days of 1970s and ‘80s. Sadly, he has also subsequently witnessed the downward trend that is so evident today. It was not on the deck or in the wheelhouse of a fishing boat that this insight was accrued, but behind the counter of a business that during the 20th century became synonymous with Dunmore East fishing.   Yes, it was a business that supplied food, drink and a variety of provisions to crews of fishing vessels from far and wide. The regular contact with boat owners, skippers, fishermen, fish merchants, agents, etc. provided Billy with a noteworthy overview of fishing activity at the port. In the early days Power’s business was centred on one location. Today Power’s Bar and Power’s Centra Convenience Store & Bureau de Change are separately located on the Dock Road. Many years ago the combined business was widely referred to as, ‘The Butchers’, or ‘Bill’s’. That was a throw back from the days when Bill Power senior, the butcher, also sold groceries and alcohol to locals and fishermen. Today Billy’s interests are centred on the convenience store.

Dunmore circa 1950’s with a busy quay.  Photo sourced from William Power

As he recalls it, the upturn in Dunmore East herring fishing in the early 1950s was given great impetus by the arrival of Nolan’s driftnet boats from Union Hall, Co Cork, in the winter of 1950’/51. They came at the prompting of local fish merchant, Paddy O’Toole, who believed that herring shoals were plentiful in the nearby bay and river estuary. With my family being involved I can recall the circumstances very well. Following Paddy O’Toole’s phone calls there was deliberation as to whether the boats should go or not. In a matter of days it was decided that one would go. Around the end of October 1950 the 35ft fishing vessel, Florence, set out on the then formidable 100-mile trip to Dunmore East. She was skippered by Willie O’Neill and crewed by Thomas O’Sullivan, Pat O’Donovan, Paddy Minihane and Johnny Leahy, all local men who  have long since passed on to their maker. Perhaps though, Nolan owned boats and Union Hall crews were no strangers to Dunmore East. An extract from the Southern Star Newspaper of the early 1900s leads us to believe as much; the extract, which refers to my grandfather, reads as follows, “Mr Joe Nolan’s motor boat, Ocean Star, had a large take of herrings last week at Dunmore. They fetched a record sum of £300.”

Did the deliberation, planning and preparation of the 1950s venture prove worthwhile? As it turned out, yes! Paddy O’Toole’s hunch had been correct; herring shoals were indeed plentiful, with good landings and reasonable prices. To celebrate Christmas, Willie and his crew made the long trip back to Union Hall in the Florence.  They returned to Dunmore East a week or so later. It was their first trip home since departing in late October. A long time for five men to live on a small boat with none of today’s luxuries!  The vulnerability of those same small boats fishing at night in adverse weather conditions was also brought home when some time later the Florence made news headlines.  It arose when she lost her rudder while herring drifting. Fortunately the Schull boat, Ros Guill, was fishing nearby. Her skipper, Dan Griffin, realising that the Florence was in difficulty came to her assistance and towed her to the safety of Ballycotton harbour.

Dunmore fishermen via Barony of Gaultier Historical Society

The months that followed the initial departure of the Florence to Dunmore East saw three further Nolan owned boats do likewise; the Happy Home skippered by Jack Burns, the Dun Aine skippered by John Burns, and the Hopeful, skippered by Mickey Deasy. Each of those boats was a mere 38ft in length. Winter fishing in the vicinity of Hook Head and even up the Waterford estuary was a tough business in small boats. It was not for novices or the faint hearted. Strong winds occasionally accompanied by hail, sleet and even snow, blew towards the nearby rocky shores. Foul weather clothing used at the time was fearfully inadequate. Life was not easy for men working with nets and ropes coming out of icy-cold water. I have no memory of gloves being worn at that time!  Men were pushed to the limit, often working in pitch dark nights at a time when lighting in and around boats was insufficient by any standards. That’s the way it was in those days.

Within two years or perhaps far less, of the Florence’s arrival at Dunmore East, the number of boats fishing from the port greatly increased. The pier that had been virtually deserted a short time previously suddenly became a hive of activity. Herrings were being landed by the boatload! Yet, the activity of those early years was minuscule in relation to what was to follow. Soon the Florence and her likes were replaced by much larger boats.  As more sophisticated fishing techniques replaced drift netting, the volume of herring caught was so great that queuing of boats waiting to berth or to deposit their catches at offshore factory ships was a common sight.
Ballyteige Bay to the east of Baginbun Head, Co Wexford was the location where most herring were caught. Baginbun became a bye-word for that particular sea area.
As the 1950s progressed there was a fairly swift move away from drift netting when purse seining and other different versions of seining, including the famous coil-a-side or indeed half-coil-aside, began to establish themselves as more efficient ways of catching herring. To coin a phrase, the show was on the road, and Power’s business along with most aspects of life in Dunmore East was on the way up.
As we sat in his home in August 2010, Billy pointed towards what can only be described as stacks of ledgers, all of which he said, “Held records of fishing boat provision-accounts from the distant past.” When I asked him if I could see the records from the late 1950s for the Larus, a boat owned by my own family, he extracted the appropriate ledger from the pile in a matter of minutes.  He went on to say, “By the end of the 1950s we had on our books, boats not only from all round the Irish coast but also English, Scottish, German and Dutch vessels.  Throughout the 1960’s and ’70 we also supplied provisions to a large Belgian fleet, as well as some French and a few Norwegian vessels. While the Norwegians engaged in whaling and shark fishing, the Belgians mainly caught white fish. We had one hundred and thirty Dutch boats alone on our books. Drift netters from the Cornish ports of Penzance and Mousehole arrived on the scene early on. Within a season or two the St Ives purse seiners, Girl Renee and Sweet Promise also arrived. Word had spread around the Cornish coast that money was to be made at Dunmore East. The message was, there are loads of herring there, get in touch with Paddy O’Toole regarding fish sales, and call on Mrs Power for virtually all other needs – she’ll look after you’.”
Billy added, “The Dunmore herring fishing of the early to mid-1950s was a tremendous boost for those Cornish fishermen. Many of them were post-war British Navy retirees trying their hand at long-lining. Previous to their coming to Dunmore, meagre earnings of around £2 per week were par for the course. I remember that a crew on one of those St Ives boats made £5 a-man the first week here and £10 the next week. That was followed by a run of £30 for five weeks in succession; more money than they would otherwise have made annually. Thanks to the Dunmore ‘silver darlings’, Christmas at St Ives was made all the more enjoyable that year. It was the cue for many more Cornish boats to head in this direction.”
What did Billy remember of the Irish and Scotch boats that fished out of Dunmore East?  On the whole they seemed to do well, and as years went on into the 1970s some of them made absolute fortunes. The North of Ireland and Scotchmen initially had boats and gear that were superior to their South of Ireland counterparts. Out of that grew a situation that at one point caused great unpleasantness between Irish skippers, or at least some Irish skippers, and their Northern counterparts. By the late 1960s boats and gear of both factions were on a par. Throughout what I will call, ‘the Dunmore East herring campaign’, the McGrath brothers, Jack and Tommy, are reputed to have been great stalwarts of Irish fishermen. In the difficult times, when other agents and buyers choose to deal with ‘outsiders’ the McGrath brothers were instrumental in keeping the Irish fleet at sea.
It would appear, according to Billy, that those who came worst out of the Dunmore East herring fishing of the 1950s and ‘60s were owners who acquired boats though the BIM hire purchase scheme. They were obliged to sell their fish via BIM, a body that failed to find market outlets matching the large Dutch, German or French merchants, many of whom who had luggers on standby to ship fish to the continent as and when required. Accordingly, the owners of BIM boats were consistently paid considerably lower prices than those boat owners who sold on the open market. The BIM restriction Billy says “Was like something out of communism.”

Barreling “Silver Darlings” in Dunmore
Photo sourced from William Power

In the course of general chat Billy recalled periods during the 1970s when problems in other countries proved advantageous for the herring fishing industry at Dunmore.  Inflated prices became the order of the day. He recalled that respectively, a desert war and a fishermen’s strike were responsible for two such periods. In the first instance a Dutch company operating in Dunmore was contracted to supply herring to the Israeli Army. That he recalls, “Put a lot of money into fishing here in the early 1970s.” The fishermen’s strike referred to took place in France. All the big pelagic boats there became involved and did not go to sea. With a keen eye for business, some of the continental merchants operating at Dunmore channelled vast quantities of herring into France via back door routes. It was an extremely lucrative venture for all concerned!

Going back to the unprecedented volume of business that came the way of the Power family, I asked Billy how they coped with it. In reply he made light of it, simply remarking on what a great woman his mother, affectionately known as Katie to all and sundry, had been. He commented on how admirably she managed following the death of his father in 1960. He also spoke of the part played by family members including his brother Peter and sister Helen. Bookkeeping and accounting in general were carried out in the form of traditional ledger recording etc. Importantly the accounts of most boats were paid through agents or fish buyers representing fleets and individual boats.
Sadly, it has to be said that in the midst of the good times at Dunmore East there were boats that for one reason or another didn’t do so well. Billy points to the absurd sales restriction placed on BIM boats as part of that problem. Yes, there was the occasional boat that didn’t manage to pay its way, but Mrs Power knew the score and gave leeway in the matter of overdue accounts to those she knew to be genuine people down on their luck. Years later many of those fishermen returned to repay and thank her! Indeed money resulting from unpaid bills was forwarded to her to from distant parts of the world. It came from those genuine men who many years previously failed to make their fortunes at Dunmore East!
As a footnote to our chat Billy smiled as he recalled that in the days of the Dunmore East boom-times, more than fish left on continental bound ships and luggers. It was not unknown for consignments of beef and lamb to make their way into holds. The question is who supplied the expertly butchered sides and cuts of meat? All those years later, I feel that we will not be in breach of any official secrets act, or the likes, to disclose that the prepared consignments referred to travelled but a short distance from shop to ship. Sufficient to say, a young chap named Billy Power was known to be very handy with cleavers, bone saws, trimming knives and other implements likely to be found in a butcher’s shop!
I’d like to thank Pat for agreeing to allow me post this excerpt from his article.  I gives a tremendous overview of the fishing at Dunmore, particularly in the 20thC. Pat’s description of the life and conditions endured aboard vessels such as the  Florence was part and parcel of my childhood hearing of fishing, indeed it was not far from my own experience when I first started out, particularly in the wintertime. The piece was republished recently as a tribute to Billy on his retirement. I certainly wish him well, and look forward to many more years of stories and yarns from the man.


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