Remembering Catherine Meagher

I was so looking forward to an event scheduled to happen in Faithlegg graveyard this morning. However, like so many other plans across the nation it has fallen victim to the weather. The weather I’m referring to, for anyone living abroad, is a snowstorm which struck on Tuesday and has persisted all week. The event was the blessing of the bonnets at the Meagher family tomb.
The bonnets project is the brainchild of Dr. Christina Henri an Australian artist who has worked to raise awareness about the 25,000+ women who were transported to Australia, sometimes for offences as minor as stealing bread to feed their children. I blogged about her project last year, to help promote the exhibition created by local crafts women as part of International Women’s Day and hosted by the Waterford Women’s Centre. Its happening again this year in Central Library, Waterford.
Accessed from http://waterfordireland.tripod.com/catherine_’bennie’_bennett.htm
I was excited at the prospect of this mornings event of course because it would have brought more national and international attention the tomb of the Thomas Francis Meagher family here in Faithlegg and provide a higher profile for his first wife, Catherine.
Catherine Meagher was the daughter of an Irish free settler to Tasmania, Australia named Bennett. She was only 19 when she met and fell in love with the Irish freedom fighter.#  Thomas was originally sentenced to death following the failed Young Irelander rebellion of 1848, but his sentence was reduced to transportation to Australia by Queen Victoria. 
Catherine was a governess when they met and Meagher later wrote that her influence was his salvation. They married on February 22nd 1851 and a year later her first son was born, Henry Emmett Fitzgerald Meagher.## However by this stage her husband had staged a dramatic escape from his sentence, firstly with the help of local fishermen to the island of Waterhouse Island, where ten days later he was picked up by the ship Elizabeth Thompson which dropped him to Pernambuco and eventually via the American brig Acorn to New York arriving Nay 26th 1852*. The plan was that his wife and new child would join him there, but their son died and following his funeral and a period of mourning she commenced the journey alone.
Catherines last resting place at Faithlegg
Catherine arrived in Ireland in early 1853 where she was astonished by the greeting she received in Waterford. Thousands turned out to welcome her and she was feted wherever she went. Before she continued on to America, a special meeting of the city fathers took place at City Hall including businessmen, dignitaries and invited guests.  Speaker after speaker bested themselves in praise of the lady and her husband and this was followed by a delegation walking down the Mall to present a scroll and gifts as a prelude to her journey to meet her husband.(1) 
She journeyed to America with her father in law, but the reunion with her husband was an unhappy one. He was seen as a hero in America and his energy and time was devoted to his adopted homeland and he was constantly in demand. When Meagher decided to journey to the west coast, Catherine, who was pregnant at the time opted to return to Waterford but following the birth of another son, she fell ill. She died in the Meagher home at midnight on Monday 9th May 1854 aged 22. She had been sick for a fortnight with Typhus.  Her hope was that she would return to America to be with her husband. However she was buried in the family tomb at Faithlegg. I have written before how that was a right denied her husband.
The Meagher statue on Waterford’s Mall
So unfortunately today instead of a blessing and some welcome attention on this forgotten lady, we are ensconced in our homes awaiting a thaw.  The events of this years 1848 committee are in tatters despite all the committees hard work.  As a member of many groups I realise that perhaps 90% of the work was already done. So as disappointed as I feel over the loss of this event they must feel so much more frustrated.  But there is always next year for the committee, and don’t forget the bonnets and the other events coming up soon for the local International women’s day.  
Some details on Catherine accessed from https://tasmaniangeographic.com/iris-exiles-thomas-o-meagher/
(1)Waterford News 8th July 1935 p2.  The gifts (which were described as “having the advantage of being useful as well as beautiful”) were of silver and gold and included a brooch, a bracelet and a card case.  The presentation was made in the drawing room of Meaghers home on the Mall and was made by the Mayor, Thomas Fitzgerald Strange.

# Forney. G. Thomas Francis Meagher. 2003. Xlibris corporation
##ibid

*Cavanagh. M. Memories of General Thomas Francis Meagher. 1892. The Messenger Press. Worcester. Mass.

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The “Divil” and the Captains Coffin

In 1932, a Hungarian sea captain, Rudolph Udvardy, who was master of the MV Honved,was in the port of Waterford with a cargo of Maize. To free up berth space, the Honved dropped down to Cheekpoint, where she anchored while the ship waited for an outgoing cargo.  (Following the Market crash there was a shipping slump, and ships struggled to find cargo)  Captain Udvardy was already ill when entering port.  So he continued to receive medical attention when at anchor off the Russsianside, Cheekpoint. The doctor traveled over from Dunmore East, and was regularly rowed out from Moran’s poles to the ship by my Grandmothers brothers, who also waited to return him to shore.

gathering at Faithlegg church gates 
Alas, the Captain died on Friday 2nd September 1932.  And he was removed next day to Faithlegg on a beautiful sunny afternoon. Later that night the chapel-woman went to lock the church door.  As she was about to close it out she noticed a silhouette near to the altar. Moving slightly closer she could hear a low mumbling sound.  Terrified, she turned on her heals and ran to her home – The lodge at Faithlegg gates.  There she explained what she had witnessed to her husband and another man who was there playing cards.  There was a lot of talk about the devil coming for the captain, there was a lot of winking amongst the men too.
The captain’s body leaving his ship for the last time aboard the
“Point Lass” with Billy & Denny Doherty (The Green)

They agreed to accompany her back to the church.  Strolling in, they had a light step, but this froze at the back of the church when they too heard sounds.  More cautious now, they scooped up some holy water and began to inch forward, splashing it as they went, hoping t’wud be enough to keep any evil away.  In the darkness nothing could be seen, but as they inched forward, the mumbling could be discerned to words, strange and foreign words.  Panic was rising amongst the three and the holy water was being splashed with abandon when one of them stumbled and emitted a cry.  All went silent, no mumbling could be heard, and then a whisper came from the area where the Captains coffin stood. Someone was asking who was there, in broken English and in a strange tongue, but human undoubtedly.

Moving forward the protectors of the Captains coffin were confronted with the Arab crew,  They did not understand the Christian custom of leaving the coffin on its own in the Church overnight.  Their custom, they explained, was to remain. The chapel was left open that night and next morning the Captain’s body was committed to foreign soil.  The grave was surrounded by his officers and crew. And there was a huge turnout from the area, a turnout as befitted a sailor who died so far away from his family, something well known to the village of Cheekpoint.

The graveside, bedecked in local flowers

The ship remained for a few more weeks, and finally with a new Captain sailed out the harbour. His wife would later sent a small plant in a pot, asking that it be planted to mark her husbands grave. She need not have worried however.  His grave was originally marked by a very distinctive metal plaque (John Sullivan could tell me that this was made by Jimmy Shanahan (RIP)) and when this finally disintegrated, a local benefactor provided the headstone that now marks his last resting place.  Flowers still appear on the grave from time to time,  A reflection of how deep the connection to the events that autumn in 1932 went.

Udvardy Rezso: Elt So Evet, Szept 2 1932. Beke Hamvaria.
Sea Captain Honved, Nationality Hungarian. Died aboard Ship Honved at Cheekpoint

Photo credit:  I took copies of the three photos above from an article by John O’Connor in the Munster Express a few years back.  My grandmother had a full set of photos, as did many others in the village, but these are no longer at home.  One of the ships officers had a camera and took several photos in the village at the time.  He made several copies and posted them back, I’m guessing in some token of appreciation for the kindness shown.

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A brief history of Faithlegg

This Sunday 21st August my wife Deena and I will conduct a heritage walk through Faithlegg commencing at 12noon at the Church.  Its the 11th year that we’ve organised something for Heritage Week . Faithlegg is probably best known now as a location for weddings, its hotel or to golfers who want 18 rounds in a stunning location.  But to others, its a significant historic location.  So what might you see in Faithlegg.

Well to start with the Churches themselves make a beautiful starting point.  The newer church dates from 1826 and is still in use today.  I served as an altar boy here in my youth, and I mentioned before how we traveled on the mass bus every Sunday morning, something that usually leaves younger readers agape.  There’s an interesting love story attached to the stain glass windows concerning a young heiress of the Power family and an ex Mayor of Waterford, John A Blake. Blake was the man responsible for the Peoples Park in Waterford city.

The church beside it of course is ancient, and many hold the view that it is the site of two churches, and probably stands on the remains of something earlier.  Of course the townland next door is called Kilcullen, or the Church of Cullen, and another church site is located there. If that’s not enough, there was a chapel in Faithlegg House, and mass was conducted on the Minaun in penal times! Surely to be interred here means automatic entry through the pearly gates.

Last resting place of the Bolton family

We have graves historic, such as the tomb of Thomas Francis Meagher, we have graves for sea captains, sailors and the lady who died twice! But most of all we have, in the Council award winning graveyard, the graves of men and women who worked their fingers to the bone to raise a family and try and live a good life.  I put a few of them into the ground, as I worked as a gravedigger in the 1980’s when work was scarce and any job was welcome.

Faithlegg itself has a long history.  It was granted by Henry II to a Bristol Merchant named Aylward after the Norman landings in 1171/2.  Aylward initially built a Motte and Baily to protect himself, but as tensions eased a fine stone castle was built on the lands above the church.  The last of the Aylwards were hung from the trees around abouts after the siege during the Cromwellian invasion, and to this day, there is the mystery of the abandoned Faithlegg village around the castle site.

Motte & Baily with Keep atop – via Google images

Entering Faithlegg we come across the emblem of the area, St Huberts Deer, probably reflecting the Power family’s love of hunting, St Hubert being the patron saint of Hunters and their dogs.  Hubert, the legend goes, was an avid hunter who went out one Good
Friday morning into the Ardennes in search of a stag. As he was pursuing his
quarry the animal turned with apparently, a crucifix standing between its
antlers, while he heard a voice saying: “Hubert, unless thou turnest to
the Lord, and leadest an holy life, thou shalt quickly go down into
hell”.  He quickly converted! 

Faithlegg House was designed and built in 1783 for Cornelius Bolton, who would later go on to create an industrial village at Cheekpoint, we covered that at last years Heritage Week event. Bolton was the last in the line of the family who gained the estate after the Cromwellian invasion. Following bankruptcy it was bought by the Power family in 1816, and the Hotel as it stands today is largely the extension and ornate refit of the house undertaken by the newly wedded Pat Power and Olivia Nugent (daughter of the Earl of Westmeath) in the 1870’s

Faithlegg Harries at the “Big House” AH Poole photo 1890’s

Returning to Faithlegg we can’t but stop to consider the early christian site, dedicated to St Ita.  Her holy well has long been a feature in the parish, but it was once known as Tobar Sionnach. or the Well of the Fox.

These and much more will feature on our walk this coming Sunday 21st August, at 12 noon.  But if you want to walk it yourself here’s a self guided walk to follow.  And if you are coming, your own stories of the area would be welcome too.

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TF Meagher; A rebel students return to Waterford 1843

Thomas Francis Meagher was born in 1823 in
the building that is now the Granville Hotel on
Waterford’s busy quays. The family spent some years at Ballycanvan, hence the family tomb at Faithlegg.
Thomas got an expensive education which
culminated with Stoneyhurst College in England. In
Easter week 1843, when he was not yet twenty, he returned home, having been
away for a year.  In his Recollections of Waterford1 he includes a
very interesting account of this return including his journey up the harbour to
his native city.
“A bright sun was lighting up the dingy walls of Duncannon Fort as
we paddled under them.  There was Cheek point on the left, towering
grandly over the woods of Faithlegg.  Further on, at the confluence of the
Barrow and the Suir, were the ruins of Dunbrody  Abbey – an old servant,
with torn livery, at the gateway of the noble avenue.  Further on, the
grounds and stately mansion of Snow Hill, the birth place of Richard
Sheil.  Then the Little Island, with its fragments of Norman Castle and it’s
broad cornfields and kingly trees.  Beyond this, Gauls Rock, closing in
upon and overlooking the old city.  Last of all Reginalds Tower – a
massive hinge of stone connecting the two great outspread wings, the Quay and
the Mall, within which lay the body of the city – Broad Street, the cathedral,
the barracks, the great chapel, the jail, the Ballybricken hill, with its
circular stone steps and bull post.  The William Penn stopped
her paddles, let off her steam, hauled in close to the hulk, and made fast. 
I was home once more….”
PS Toward Castle, an example of an earlier paddle steamer, I’m taken
with the image however, of the person atop the paddle and imagine Meagher
in just such a position on entering the harbour. 2
Apart from the wonderful writing, I found it interesting not just in
what he sees around him, but also what he left out.  I think most accounts
of the harbour now, would start with the Hook light, yet for
Meagher its the “dingy walls of Duncannon Fort“, surely a hint of his
political and revolutionary outlook, and a conscious consideration to its
strategic and sometimes dark history.  Contrast it with his description of
the Cistercian abbey at Dunbrody “an old
servant, with torn livery” in ruins possibly not long after the
dissolution but yet a beacon still to the young Meagher.  Maybe this was
because it brought to mind a time when although ruled by foreigner, the country
had been free to practice the catholic religion. Or perhaps the prosperity
the Cistercians, Templers and Norman merchants brought to the harbour area.
Dunbrody Abbey, Co Wexford from the river
I can’t see why Passage or Ballyhack don’t get a mention, given their
commercial importance, although perhaps waning at the time due to steam power.
 And it would be wonderful to hear of the sailing ships, steamers, work
boats and fishing craft plying the river at the time. Its also interesting to
note what has come since, for example the Spider light at
Passage, Great Island Power Station and
the Barrow Bridge. 
Snow Hill House, Co Kilkenny. 3

Perhaps the most amazing thing I found in Meaghers account was his
confident style. not just the excerpt above, but also his account of walking
through his city streets and calling to the
Waterford Club
. His debates on the need for radical change and his vision of a
different Ireland were, I think, astonishing for someone so young. Its hard to
imagine that a few short months later he would make his first political speech
in Lismore at a rally organised by Daniel O’Connell, that he had yet to raise
the first tricolour, for which we now have an annual commemoration,   to
co-found the Young
Irelanders
, to participate in the failed rising of 1848, be transported to
Tasmania, escape to America where he would eventually found the Irish Brigade
to support the union cause in the American
Civil War
. Yet in his account all these things are suggested, or at least seems
possible, such is his certainty in himself.
TF Meagher in later years
Meagher has his detractors and I have read some harsh criticisms of the
man online.  But Meagher was a man of principal, a man of action and a man
like all humans, of no small measure of complexity. Looking out upon the
harbour as I write, I wish I could see a young idealist entering the harbour
with a vision of change for this blighted republic of 2016.  Yet I have no
doubt the same youthful visionaries are out there.  Working here at
present against a different foe, a bureaucratic monster, all pervasive and
cloying.  Working via peaceful means to create a different republic.
 Less for speeches than blogs perhaps.  Less
for insurrection than consciously and critically living their lives.
 Just as much for direct action but by different means.  Here’s an
example of two young women doing just that, one of whom hails from the
Russianside!, which I came across
recently: https://womenareboring.wordpress.com/
I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
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1.  I accessed the account of Meaghers in Fewer.T.N. (ed) I was a day
in Waterford. An anthology of writing about Waterford from the 18th to the 20th
Century. 2001.  Ballylough Books.  I fear the book is now out of
print, but is available in the Waterford room of the city’s Central Library.
 Certainly would be good to see it reprinted.
2. Sketch of PS Toward Castle accessed from here.  Despite
numerous searches I could find no further information on the PS William Penn.
 Tommy Deegan and Frank Murphy were both helpful in providing some leads.
 Apart from Meaghers account, two other references to the ship exist.
 Bill Irish recorded that the Waterford Steam Navigation Company were
using the ship from 1837 in Decies #53 and via Frank Murphy she is mentioned in
Bill’s book on Ship Building in Waterford as being owned or part owned by the Malcomson’s of Waterford.
3. photo of Snow Hill copied from Jim Walsh’s  “Sliabh
Rua, A History of its People and Places” again out of print and available
in central library,

The Waterford man who sailed with Captain James Cook

Captain James Cook is a renowned explorer who led three separate expeditions into the largely unknown Pacific in the late 1700’s and claimed much of it for his country. But he had the help of at least one Waterford man, a certain William Doyle, who has a headstone dedicated to him at Faithlegg graveyard.  Unlike the commissioned officers, sailors like Doyle who were the backbone of the navy, have remained largely hidden and unknown, surely an injustice.

The actual stone (pictured above) records that; This stone was erected by | MARY DINN of Passage | as a mark of her burial ground and in memory | of her father NICHOLAS, her mother HONORA, her | brother MARTIN, her sisters and | particularly of her brother WILLIAM DINN | alias DOYLE, who sailed round the Globe | with Captr COOK, and was present at the death | of that great circumnavigator at Owhyhee. | and who died respected and regretted at Stoke | near Devonport in England, in June 1840 |having spent a long life as a Warrant Officer | in the Services of his Country. | “May they Rest in Peace. Amen”.
The man William sailed under James Cook, was born in 1728 to a farm hand and apprenticed himself to a coal merchant in Whitby to learn his trade as a mariner.  In 1755, after nine years at Whitby, he left and joined the Royal Navy and within two years was appointed Ships Master, in charge of navigation.  He excelled at this and also developed a particular skill in map making, something of immense value to the navy and the empire builders at the time.
Captain Cook
In 1769 Cook departed for his first and arguably his most successful voyage on HMS Endevour to chart the southern seas and it was a voyage that would see him “discover” New Zealand and Australia and claim them for Great Britain.  Discover is of course a disputed term now, after all Polynesian explores had previously settled New Zealand, and the Aboriginal peoples of Australia had lived happily for thousands of years before.
He returned home in 1771 and received a heroes welcome.  At that stage he had remapped almost 1/3 of the known world.  (Worth remembering however he had the assistance of a Tahitian priest and navigator). He was justly celebrated as he had not lost a single man to the affliction of scurvy – caused from poor diet and lack of vitamin C – which was more common a reason for sailors to die on long voyages than accidents, drownings or other misadventures including strict disciplining such as keelhauling!
Such was his success, and enthusiasm, he was dispatched in 1772 to the south seas again, this time to try discover the great southern continent – which to the seekers of new lands and opportunities for expansion turned out to be a great disappointment – Antarctica.

Sketch of the three voyage routes

His final voyage departed in 1776 with two ships; HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery.  One of the other officers on the trip was a chap named William Bligh, infamous now for the Mutiny on the Bounty. This voyage was to discover the North West Passage, a fabled route to the China tea plantations over North America and Canada.  The trip seems to have been a disaster from he outset, with Cook becoming more erratic and less tolerant which probably led to his death. Arriving in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) in 1779 they were initially treated as guests.  Once provisioned they departed but returned a few days later to repair a broken mast.  This time the islanders were less hospitable.  Apparently the cause of his death is subject to intense academic debate, but he was hacked to death after he and a party of ships marines went ashore with guns to take a king of the tribe hostage.

Michael O Sullivan of the Waterford History Group has previously sent me on information about Faithlegg Graveyard amongst which is a mention of Doyle.  He is listed on theResolution muster on Cook’s Third Voyage”, William. who was born in Waterford in 1756, joined HMS Resolution on 16 May 1776 and served as AB Boatswain’s Mate from 28 May 1776.

His position was one of some responsibility and this rank, piece here on the ranking system within the Royal Navy, could be seen as a minor or junior officer role, one for up and coming men with sea going experience.

Although Cook enjoyed great respect from crew, and many continued to sail with him on more than one journey, Doyle is not listed on any of the previous voyages.  His position however, suggests that he had sailed for a period of years prior to joining the Resolution.

His epitaph tells us that he died having spent a “long life as a Warrant Officer”. The Warrant officer role was a position of some respect and authority, and was the highest that a non commissioned crewman could rise.  It was granted by a certification board within the Navy and the holder had almost the same rights and respect as afforded to commissioned officers. The Warrant Officer had access to the quarterdeck and wardroom, were seen as specialist seamen and also had to have literacy and numeracy skills.

The third great voyage of Cook may have ended in death and failure for the man, but both ships returned to Britain in 1780 and sailor Doyle continued his career and enjoyed a long life.  He must have witnessed many remarkable events in his life. However, being a non commissioned officer, his name and role is not as prominent as the commissioned ranks, or as easy to find.  Doubtless the same can be said for countless others who sailed from Waterford and made valuable contributions to the development of the Royal Navy.  

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
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Many thanks to Michael O Sullivan of the Waterford History Group for assistance with this piece.