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.


Finally from me just to say that I’m delighted to get contributions for the guest blog.  If any others out there would like to contribute, I would love to hear from you.  The brief is 1200 word count, on a theme of  the three sister rivers and harbour maritime history.  If interested to know more or discuss an idea please drop me an email. 
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Rescuing the Helemar H. Dunmore East 1959

At 3am on a damp, misty February morning in 1959, Waterford harbour pilot, Pat Rogers was arriving into Dunmore for work when he spotted a ship close to the shore up the harbour. In a fresh SE wind a small ship had run onto the rocks at Ardnamult Head, or the Middle Head as many locals call it. All her lights were on, and she was flashing an SOS.  Pat immediately alerted the lifeboat(1).
The ship was the Helemar-H, an 800 ton Dutch cargo ship operating out of Rotterdam by the Carbeka NV Co. She was en route from Amsterdam to Waterford when the incident occured, carrying 500 tons of fertiliser. Only moments before Pat spotted the vessel most of the crew including the Captain had been asleep in their bunks. While at the wheel a young mate, apparently on his first run to the port, had ignored his captains instruction to wake him once they came in clear sight of the Hook light.  
The Helemar-H on the rocks from the front page of the Irish Times
Accessed from  http://www.shipspotters.nl/viewtopic.php?t=1347
The lifeboat Annie Blanche Smith* put to sea at 3.35am and was alongside the ship by 3.50. The Captain requested that she stand by, while his crew attempted to assess the situation.  The conditions at the time were described as choppy seas with a strong south easterly wind blowing.  After an hour all the lights went out, the engine room having flooded. The lifeboat again went alongside and it was agreed that seven crew would be removed, the Captain and two others remaining aboard. The crew were dropped to Dunmore East, and the lifeboat immediately returned. At 8.25 the remaining three crew abandoned ship, were taken aboard the lifeboat and were dropped to Dunmore East at 9.05. (2)
Of course as often with shipping disasters, the accident is only the beginning of the story and it was so in this case too. A salvage operation swung into action, with two dutch tugs dispatched to the scene, the Simson and the Noord-Holland. The operation was a prolonged one, and initial assessments suggested that the ship would be a total wreck and that just some equipment and fittings might be all that was recoverable. The cargo was considered a total loss and was pumped out into the sea along with thousands of gallons of water. (3)

At Passage East 3/3/1959.  DA.68. Andy Kelly collection
The salvage operation discovered serious damage to the bow of the ship where she had initially struck the cliffs.  However, the hull of the ship was also damaged as was the stern.  Eventually lightened and the holes temporarily packed she was got off the rocks and towed upriver to Passage East where she was grounded. This allowed for a better assessment and more temporary repairs.  It was later decided to tow her to Verolme dockyards in Cobh, Cork.  She later crossed to her home port of Rotterdam under tow from the tug Nestor, arriving April 6th. (4)
Community Notice Board
Marine Planning Ireland have announced  dates/venues for our marine planning Baseline Report roadshow. 
2nd Oct: Waterford Institute of Technology
5th Oct: Town Hall Theatre, Galway
12th Oct: Sligo Institute of Technology
19th Oct: Cork University Hospital
23rd Oct: DIT
The ship would later be refurbished and would go on to provide a steady service until she was broken up in 1985.  The matter also ended up in court however, where the blame for the event was laid squarely on the shoulders of the young mate, who had displayed a “youthful overconfidence”.  In failing to rouse the Captain, R. Landstra as per his instructions the unidentified man had flaunted his duty and put his ship and her crew in peril. (5)
Interestingly no one mentioned that it was Friday 13th. I guess the same oul piseog about the date didn’t exist at the time.  It certainly was a misfortunate date for the young mate.
This blog today is prompted by a recent photograph posted by Andy Kelly to the Waterford Maritime History Facebook page (see above).
(1) Irish Times Saturday Feburary 14th 1959. p 1.
(2) The Story of the Dunmore East Lifeboats. Jeff Morris. 2003
(3) Irish Times. Tuesday 17th February 1959. p 4
(4) http://www.shipspotters.nl/viewtopic.php?t=1347 Accessed 19/9/2018
(5) Ibid
* The crew was given as: Paddy Power, Cox; Richard Murphy, Engineer; Arthur Wescott Pitt; Richard, John & Maurice Power. sourced from Dublin Evening mail 13/2/1959 p 7
Postscript:  Maurice Power of Carrick passed along an article from the then Cork Examiner Monday 16th Feb 1959. p 8.  A few other details and points of clarification are contained.  According to the article, Pat Rogers boarded the pilot vessel and went to the scene.  They then turned back and raised the alarm having ascertained the nature of the problem.  The life boat initially took four away and stood by, then removed a further three and returned to Dunmore.  Meanwhile a coast watch crew were setting up their apparatus in case the need for an over the cliff rescue was required. It was apparently the first time for any of the crew to sail to Waterford, and for the ship too. Some were as young as 16. The other detail that is interesting is that two other vessels were on the scene; A Duncannon based Arklow registered trawler (no name as yet I’m afraid) and a Dutch lugger Tide. The Helemar-H fired two rockets with line attached.  One was picked up by the trawler which tried unsuccessfully to haul the ship off the rocks.  The tugs mentioned were dispatched from Liverpool and Falmouth.


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Death on the Paddle Minesweeper Haldon

In a dramatic few weeks in August 1917 Dunmore became the center of a naval espionage operation that saw the destruction of a U Boat, the rescue and interrogation of her captain and a salvage operation to lift the boat from the depths of Waterford harbour.  But another event happened during this time, the damage of a minesweeper off Creaden Head and the death of one of her crew.
The destruction of UC44 at Dunmore East on the 4th August 1917 is relatively well known locally as it was commemorated by the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society on its centenary. Whilst laying mines in the harbour she struck her own mine and plunged to the floor of the harbour.  Three of her 29 crew escaped the sub, but only one, the Commander Kurt Tebbenjohannes, survived.  Whilst he was transported to London for interrogation and a salvage crew arrived in Dunmore to attempt a daring feat of retrieval, a more mundane but vitally important event was happening in the harbour; mine clearance.
Accessed from https://www.clydeships.co.uk/view.php?year_built=1916&builder=94&ref=6033&vessel=HALDON
Mines were a constant hazard to shipping in the first world war in the harbour.  To counteract the threats they posed the dangerous work of minesweeping was required.
Underlying the dangers I have recorded the loss of two ships off Dunmore already.  UC44 had laid her mines in a line from Creaden Head seawards. Many, me among them, would probably think in trying to destroy ships, the mines would be laid in a line across the mouth of the harbour. However, it makes much more tactical sense to lay them in the line described, as all ships would have called close to Dunmore to collect a pilot, and then proceed towards Creaden Head. (1)
I’m unsure if more than one ship was employed in the work that August, but I’d presume two.  But one of these mine sweepers was the Haldon; an Ascot or Racecourse class of paddle minesweeper.  The Haldon was purposely built for the work by Dunlop Bremner Co Ltd of the Glasgow.  She was launched on the 29th March 1916.

The work of such ships was typically countless hours of slow sweeps of vacant waters, interspersed by short periods of tension and drama on locating a mine. Here’s a short description of the work:
“Early British minesweeping was limited to the towing of a ground chain from two spars set across the stern of a vessel but this resulted in an extremely narrow swept path and the chain was easily snagged by seabed obstructions. The next development was a serrated wire sweep towed between two ships. Otter boards, used by fishermen to keep open the mouths of their nets, were employed to increase the width of the bight of wire in contact with the seabed. This simple design frequently became snagged on rocks and wrecks on the seabed but technicians based at HMS Vernon overcame this problem with the introduction of redesigned otter boards known as kite otters. These were not only used to divert the ends of the sweep laterally but others could be rotated 90 degrees and used to depress the ships’ ends of the sweep wire to a chosen depth. This was the basis for the British Type Actaeon or ‘A’ sweep used for almost all Royal Navy minesweeping operations during WW I. It was effective for depths down to 50 fathoms.” (2)
The mine sweepers swung into action very quickly.  Although they could not know it, at least seven mines had been laid before the accident.  Fatefully it would appear to have been the last mine to be cleared on August 7th, which would lead to the damage to the Haldon.  Although I have no details as to exactly what happened, one common accident was caused by mines slipping under the ship along the towing cable and detonating.  The Haldon although badly damaged survived the war. A deck hand was not so fortunate. 
John Gowans was previously recorded as having died as a result of illness. It was subsequently clarified by family members that he was killed in action on the minesweeper that day of Tuesday August 7th off Creaden Head.  John was twenty-seven, from the fishing village of St Monans in Fife, Scotland.  He was the son of William and Agnes Gowans and is buried at Cobh old church cemetery.  But is also remembered on his family’s headstone at his local cemetery.
With thanks to Frank Murphy
https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/98115073/john-gowans#view-photo=89790989
While searching for the details of John I was struck by the similarities between his home place and Dunmore.  A fishing village, where men set out clear in their minds of the risks associated with the ocean, but resolute. From contemporary local newspapers it seems the Gowans of St Monans shared in that tradition, with one at least receiving an award for life-saving of fellow fishermen.  I have no information as yet on his career with the navy, no notion of his life aboard the ship or whether he ever set foot in Waterford or Dunmore East. Knowing so little also set me to wonder would anyone light a candle to him at this stage? Would anyone remember him in their prayers? Would anyone place flowers upon his grave? Another victim of the war to end all wars and another name that is deserving of remembrance.
A grey granite celtic cross is the war memorial at St Monans,
John Gowan is listed amongst the sailors.  Thanks to Brian Moyes
http://www.clydesideimages.co.uk/war-memorials-fife.html
(1) Details gleaned from last years Friend and Foe seminar
(2) Accessed from https://www.navy-net.co.uk/community/threads/how-did-minesweepers-operate-in-ww1.72601/
I want to thank Eddie Mulligan, Frank Murphy and Brian Moyes for assistance with details of this mornings blog
I publish a blog about Waterford Harbours maritime heritage on the last Friday of the month.

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Maintaining Dunmore East Harbour

For this latest guest blog, I’m delighted to welcome back David Carroll, who shares more memories of his childhood in Dunmore East in the 1950’s & 60’s. In a similar vein to his previous blog on the village, and his recollection of the ship wreck of the St Austell, David gives us a no nonsense account of the village at the time, the geography, characters and what life was like on a daily basis. I’m sure you will enjoy it.
A recent visit to the National Maritime Museum of Ireland, based in the Mariners Church, Haigh Terrace, Dun Laoghaire brought memories flooding back of my idyllic childhood spent living in the harbour at Dunmore East.  They were triggered by a photograph of a diver, his helmet and diving suit. The information panel beside it included the following:
“Bob Lewis. A diver and stonemason with the Board of Works in Dun Laoghaire Harbour for more than 38 years, Bob Lewis was the last person to use this diving suit. His pump man was Michael John Molony. Lewis would not allow or trust anyone else to do the job. At the time there was no phone to speak with the surface. The diver had to signal with a series of pulls on a rope known as a life-line.”

However, it was not only at Dun Laoghaire harbour that Bob Lewis worked as a diver, he also came to Dunmore East. Both harbours came under the auspices of the Office of Public Works (O.P.W.) or the Board of Works as it was also called. Howth harbour was another and along with Ardglass and Donaghadee in Northern Ireland, these five harbours were designated as Royal Harbours before partition.
In the 1950s, a great deal of repair work was carried out on the foundations of the Dunmore East pier at the back of the lighthouse. Bob Lewis did all the underwater work. As the photograph below shows, work was also done in the harbour, particularly around the steps near the lighthouse. Here, a crowd would gather to watch, including myself. Once the diver went below the surface, there was not a whole lot to see but this did not deter sightseers still looking on.     
Diver Lewis preparing to dive.  Photo credit Theo Harris
The photo captures Bob Lewis and his support crew preparing to dive from the pontoon at the lighthouse steps in the harbour. The man in the cap must be his trusted pump man Michael John Molony and also assisting on the deck of the pontoon is Connie Fancy Power from Portally. The man in the shirtsleeves is Stephen Mullally from Killea. The man under the canopy, with the white shirt collar is, I am almost certain, Patsy Fancy Power from Killea, brother of Connie.
The author, David Carroll, standing
Beside the diving suit. 
The ‘Passage and Dunmore Jottings’ from the Munster Express(1) of 1955 reported as follows:  “Harbour Pier Repairs. The harbour pier at Dunmore East, which has been undermined by the sea, will shortly undergo repairs by the Board of Works. Stones and concrete are being pressed into holes’ and crevices.”
What I remember about Bob Lewis is that he was what I would call now, a very austere person. This, I suppose, was not surprising considering the dangerous nature of his work. Another thing, that I can recall, is that he always insisted staying, while working in Dunmore, with George and Maisie Roche.
A little bit like the certainties in life, death and taxes, there were two things that were certain about my childhood growing in Dunmore each summer. One was that the kittiwakes always came back and the SS Sisyphus, the Board of Works bucket dredger would turn up! In reality, it probably did not come to dredge the harbour every year but it always felt as if it was always present in the harbour during summer months.

S.S. Sisyphus at Helvick, Co. Waterford.   Photo credit- Waterford Co. Museum
The poor old Sisyphus was a much-unloved vessel. It had a different type of operation than the Portlairge that dredged in the Port of Waterford. The Sisyphus had a system of buckets linked by chain that lowered down through the bow and the mud was lifted, somewhat inefficiently, into the buckets and deposited in the hold as they turned over.  The Sisyphus was of course a steam ship and I can clearly recall looking at clouds of smoke, through my father’s binoculars, bellowing from the funnel as it came around Hook Head making its way towards Dunmore.
When the dredger worked in the harbour, it was a chaotic scene. A myriad of cables were laid in all directions from the ship to the shore keeping the vessel in place.  The clattering sound of the buckets was deafening in the harbour and, needless to say, lots of dirty smoke filled the air.
Sisyphus at Dunmore accessed from http://trawlerphotos.co.uk and repaired by Brendan Grogan
The master of the Sisyphus was called Kelly and he was from Arklow. However, the rest of the crew were from Dun Laoghaire. One of the mates was a big man called Maguire and he was a keen soccer fan. He came to Kilcohan Park one Sunday with my father and myself to see Waterford play and he introduced me to one my heroes, Tommy Taylor, the Waterford goalkeeper. I was absolutely thrilled as this was the first time that I had actually met a footballer in person. Tommy Taylor’s work had often brought him to Dun Laoghaire harbour where he had got to know some of the dredger crew.
At the end of the summer, there was always great consultation between the master of the dredger and my father, the Harbour Master, as regards weather forecasts. The dredger would not sail unless the sea was flat calm and the forecast for the following days was good as well.  The dredger had been built on the Clyde in 1905 but looked very old and decrepit by the 1950s. She never looked like a vessel that could withstand a battering at sea. The Sisyphus remained in service until sometime in the 1970s. Apart from a photograph of the crew of the Sisyphus, no artefacts are on display in the National Maritime Museum. An engine from another O.P.W. dredger, Saxifrage was preserved and is on display but sadly, the Sisyphus ended up in the scrapyard of Hammond Lane Foundry.
The efficiency and productivity of the Sisyphus was put into context a few year later, in 1963, when the W.D. Seven Seas, a suction dredger arrived in Waterford Harbour from the U.K. to dredge Duncannon Bar.  The contrast between the two vessels could not be greater. My father told me at the time the Seven Seas would dredge the entire Dunmore harbour in a single day.

       

At a later stage we will return with David to the Dunmore of his era with a look at the visitors that came to the port at the time.  I want to sincerely thank David for this mornings piece and also, as it happens, his regular correspondence and support in promoting the harbour area.  Next months guest blog will come to us from Catherine Foley, with an excerpt from her new book “Beyond the Breakwater”.  Regulars will enjoy it I know, particularly those with Passage East connections. If you would like to contribute a piece to any of my guest blog Friday’s (last Friday of each month) please get in touch to russianside@gmail.com.  All I ask is that the subject matter be linked in some way to the maritime heritage of the three sisters or the coast on either side, and 1200 words approx.  I will source photos and links to the piece and promote via my usual channels.

(1) Munster Express 19 June 1955

Thanks to Brian Ellis for his support to David with this piece.  Brian works voluntarily with the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire. 


I publish a blog about Waterford Harbours maritime heritage each Friday.  
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Castaways of the SS Beemsterdijk

When the 42 man crew of the Dutch owned SS Beemsterdijk departed Greenock for Cardiff in January 1941 none of them could have known that all but three would ever see their families again.  Those three fortunate men that survived had the keen eyes of the men in the Brownstown LOP and the prompt action of the crew of the Dunmore East Lifeboat to thank for their salvation.
The SS Beemsterdijk departed the Clyde for bunkers in Cardiff in January 1941. It was  during WWII and ships faced a threat of submarine attack or sea mines. The cargo ship had an international crew aboard and was sailing with a new degaussing system to offset the threat of magnetic mines. However the system seems to have impeded the ships compass and it is thought that the ship lost its way.  On Sunday January 26th the ship struck a mine and was abandoned, all the crew getting safely away.  An SOS had been sent and a reply received confirming a rescue was imminent.  After an hour a party went back aboard the ship as she was staying upright in the water.  Following and examination all the crew returned and the lifeboats were hauled aboard. They waited on deck all Sunday and through the night with eyes on the horizon for the rescue that never came.  By the morning of Monday the ship had sunk very deeply and the captain decided to abandon ship again. The lifeboats were just away when the ship sunk and because of the suction all hands were thrown into the water. 
Photo credit wwwopac maritime digital
The crew were swimming around trying to grasp what they could to help stay afloat. Some overturned lifeboats were righted and men managed to climb aboard, the four castaways of our story managed to reach a life raft.  In time the shipwrecked men drifted apart and four men found themselves alone in the Atlantic on an open raft.  Although it had holds for food and water, these were empty.  The men were; 4th Engineer Van t’Hoff, Steward Peter Schrage, Bosun’s boy Stanley Gillard and a galley boy named Lennerts.  Alone they drifted and although they came within sight of land at times they had no way of signalling.  At one point on Tuesday 28th they were washed off and had to swim back to their raft.  On the Wednesday Lennerts became overcome and disappeared off the raft overnight.  On Thursday 30th they were spotted by the look out post on Brownstown head (LOP 17) and the alarm was raised. (1)
The Dunmore Lifeboat received the call to launch at 10.20am and were launched and heading west in very rough conditions within ten minutes. The raft was spotted heading towards the rocks on Newtown head but in challenging conditions the lifeboat managed to get safely alongside.  The bowman (Muck Murphy) lept aboard the raft and the weakened and distressed sailors were helped aboard the Annie Blanch Smith.(2)

The raft was left to drift and the lifeboat headed back east towards Dunmore East where a reception committee was awaiting. Red cross volunteers and an ambulance were on hand under the direction of the chair of the local branch Arthur Wescott Pitt. Once ashore the men were placed onto stretchers and removed to a local hotel owned by Mr McCarthy* where they received all the attention they required. Meanwhile the raft the men were on was smashed to pieces on the rocks under the Metal Man. Although the Tramore Coast Watching service had turned out in full readiness, one wonders if in the men’s weakened state, they would have survived(3)
Annie Blanche Smith. At Waterford 4th April 1953. Robert Shorthall Collection.
With thanks to Andy Kelly
There were two others who deserve a mention on the fateful morning.  David Tobin, Brownstown and John Power, Coxtown also spotted the men on the raft.  They attempted to row out to rescue them but in the heavy seas an oar was broke and both men had a difficult enough job to regain the safety of the shore.(4)
Of the men’s fate thereafter I could find no more.  They were finally decided to be well enough to travel in late February, being removed to the Waterford County & City Infirmary for follow up treatment.(5) The Waterford Standard of the following day has an interview with both Van t’Hoff and Stanley Gillard in the Sailors Home in Henrietta St, where they are under the care of Mr and Mrs Marno.  Both men are fulsome in their praise for their rescuers and the kindness shown to them in Dunmore and Waterford.  Young Gillard is keen to get back to sea.(6)  Perhaps the older Van t’Hoff is more careful of what he wishes for!
(1) Waterford Standard.  Saturday Feb 8th 1941. p 1  An article featuring an interview with Arthur Wescott Pitt who gave a description of the incident based on talking to the three survivors.
(2) Jeff Morris. The Story of the Dunmore East Lifeboats. 2003
(3) Cork Examiner. Friday January 31st 1941. p 4
(4) Waterford Standard . February 1st 1941. p 1
(5) Munster Express. Friday February 21st 1941. p 5
(6) Waterford Standard. Saturday February 22nd 1941. p 3
* McCarthys was later known as the Ocean and is now known as the Three Sisters.  Thanks to David Carroll for the information.

Following publication Peter O’Connor sent on the following link which gives much extra detail of the events: http://www.nederlandsekoopvaardijww2.nl/en/

I was also lucky to receive an email for a dutch gentleman who had researched the above piece via Brendan Dunne of Dunmore.  John van Kuijk replied with the following information that he had gleamed on the survivors:

“Hallo Andrew,

Back in 1941 , after a long recovery period Willem van’t Hoff and Peter Schrage both served on other ships and survived the war.

Willem van ‘t Hoff received further leave and treatment at Cape town SA. During the rest of the war he served on ten ships or more. I contacted his daughter. She told me that after the war, as an engineer, he had his career in the Holland America Line serving on various ships. In 1966 he ended his career being the main engineer on board the ss Rotterdam, which now proudly is national heritage as a floating hotel / museum / event in Rotterdam Harbour.  Ironically he died shortly after retirement and before sailing, having been presented with a free trip for both him and his wife to New York. In stead his wife and daughter could make this trip.

After recovery Peter Schrage also served on many ships, being torpedoed in 1944 while on board the ss Bodegraven near West Africa. He survived again! After the war he got married, had his family and sailed the waters of Amsterdam Harbour. So I was told by his closest daughter.  In 1953 he went to the rescue of the victims when the dikes in the province of Zeeland gave way to enormous flooding.

Stanley William Gillard, at the time only 17 years old, had soon recovered from his injuries and was, back in England, able to identify the bodies of some crew being washed ashore near St. Davids’s in Wales. I contacted one of his sons, who was only two years old when his father died in 1954. From hearsay he gathered his father also served on more ships. He then was shipwrecked and for 6 days adrift at sea and suffered frostbite. Until just before his death in 1954 Stanley was working for a die casting firm X raying the castings for defects. His ambition was to run his own fishing boat out of one of the channel ports and set his own wet fish business up.

That’s the story!”

Many thanks to John for sharing this with us.

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