Waterford harbours lost souls

This months guest blog is courtesy of Fintan Walsh and I think it prepares us for the upcoming month of December, which for us here in Waterford is going to be about commemoration.  For it was December of 100 years ago that Waterford’s worst maritime tragedy occurred.  However, a maritime area such as Waterford harbour has seen it’s fair share of tragedies. The following remarks by Fintan sets out to capture the scale of this loss in the harbour area alone. They include some very harrowing and poignant stories, including two from my own family.  Its a fine piece of research in itself, but also a wonderful piece of social history, and I was thrilled that Fintan was willing to share it.

A few weeks ago Michael Connors Chair of the present Passage East and Crooke Development Association asked me if I would put a few words together for the Opening of the Memorial Garden on June 13th 2015. Not being a historian but with an interest in my own place I beforehand apologise to the family of someone I may leave out due to human error or not knowing the fact. I will start with all those lost in our estuary down as far as the Hook in Co Wexford and Creadon Head in County Waterford since 1900 and also include anyone from the area who were lost outside the harbour but will cover those lost in the two World Wars separately.
SS Formby via Shaun McGuire
Background to the area.
First of all it’s true to say that all the villages along the River Suir in County Waterford and Wexford since time began relied on the river and the sea and fishing for a living. Now I’ll take ye back to the forties and fifties in the Passage. I grew up in and the fishing scene in the Harbour. At that time all the Weirs up to Cheekpoint were very active as were the Bags on the bank near the Spit Lighthouse, the salmon fishing season from February 1st up to August 15th had numerous boats on the river with plenty fish landed, the herring season in the winter saw boats come in full to the gunnel’s, trawling was also very much part of the scene as was scoping for mackerel during the summer season.

Contrast that to the present time with all fishing practically gone, what happened to all this one may well ask; As a personal viewpoint I would say when Ireland joined the EEC in 1973 the lot of the Irish inshore fishermen took a downturn and the results are clearly visible to day for the worse. Generations from the areas at both sides of the estuary also went to sea to earn a living, my own father told me that one night in the late nineteen twenties when he went ashore in Rio De Janeiro to the Seaman’s Club he met 17 others from the area the majority on different ships. I thank the previous Development Association Committee whose idea the Memorial Garden was and acknowledge the great work they did carried on by the the present one. I now list by name to the best of my knowledge all from the areas lost since 1900 starting in the Harbour.

The Memorial garden yesterday afternoon

In Harbour

Before going through the list its fair to say where people have been drowned with no survivors from the incident and no witnesses it is only speculation as to what actually happened. In the estuary I have gone back to the early 1900’s. The first tragedy took place here in Passage when Thomas Delahunty Kilcullen aged 18 yrs was drowned while swimming in late July 1908. The second name that cropped up was that of my own grandfather Paul Walsh, my fathers father, who went out in a boat to take a pilot off a ship and his boat capsized just above The Point or Hell Point in choppy conditions and he was drowned on St Stephen’s Day 1912. On Christmas Day 1914 the mate of the Duncannon steamer that plied between Waterford and Duncannon and calling in to Passage on the way was drowned after slipping in to the water at Passage Pier between the ship and the Quay his name was Martin Breen.
On January 14th 1920 three lost their lives from Passage when the yawl owned by Rd Galvin capsized the three were William Elliott, William Parker and Pat Organ. Galvin clung to the upturned boat and was saved. In November 1931, Fred Murphy from Passage, a boatman was being towed up to Waterford by a steamer heading for Halls Grain Store to be moored by him but when they arrived in Waterford he was missing. On 10th December 1937 Michael Cahill, Passage, father of Tom and Nancy was lost when his ship foundered when its cargo shifted up off Belfast Lough. In April 1939 John Furlong an uncle of John’s and Patricia’s was accidentally killed aboard his ship.
Passage East with fishing weirs, Lamperts point, Hells Point in photo
On a Sunday in November 1940 two men from Ballyhack were coming across to Passage in a punt in choppy conditions Robert Keating and Thomas Whitty. Thomas was coming over to make final arrangements for his wedding three days later to Mary Elliott from Passage, Keating was to be his best man. Half way across they were noticed to be standing up in the boat waving frantically as if they had lost their oars but then the boat capsized. Even though help arrived within some minutes they were drowned. Whitty’s body was recovered with his letter of freedom and wedding ring in a pocket. Ironically Keating had survived on a raft for three days at sea the year before. Less than a month later Whitty’s father Paddy Whitty was drowned when his ship was sunk during the second war he was expected home for Christmas and had not been informed of his son’s death.
Four and a half year old Ned Robinson Brookside Passage son of Philly and Annie was drowned in October 1947 and the theory is he fell over the Quay in Passage his body was recovered up river the following day. Frances Kennedy aged 2 from Passage was tragically accidentally drowned not in the Suir but in Bone’s Yard in the village of Passage where the Ferry Offices are in a water barrel. The tragedy that saw the biggest single loss of lives from the area occurred on a good enough night in November 1949. Four from Passage were fishing for herrings in Jim Kirby’s motor boat down near the mouth of the harbour, Joe Robinson, John Joe (Killy) Kirby father of Jim and Willie Rogers Madeline’s brother all related as well as Willie Keating, Dobbyn St and all were lost in what could be called a mystery of the sea, the main theory being they sunk after taking in a large catch of fish. Joe Robinson’s brother James Robinson (The Masoner) was drowned in Newcastle on Tyne a few days later the same week falling between his ship and the Quay.
In March 1950 Ben Kavanagh Passage was found drowned over the strand underneath Crooke Church at the waters edge and his faithful dog Don was beside him.  A month later in April 1950 Dave Pepper Passage died while out fishing. John Fowler, Blynd Quay, Passage aged 19 was drowned while trawl fishing with his father Paddy in a motor boat up near The Gas Buoy, in January 1952. The boat was only purchased a short time before the tragedy and had been converted and quite easy to go overboard from, a very sad time for the Fowler family, especially the father, they lost a daughter of 17 Margaret two years before due to meningitis.
Martin Lucas from Crooke died in Drogheda Docks in April 1956. John Ferguson, Cheekpoint was washed overboard from a ship in January 1957 and was lost, and Joe Doherty, Cheekpoint also drowned that month (My uncle Joe, who fell between his ship and the quayside in Port Arthur Texas A.D.). In April 1960, Tom Baldwin, Passage was drowned off the Quay in Passage on a Sunday afternoon.
An original sailing yawl, typical of many in the harbour, the William rebuilt by Matt Doherty Coolbunnia
Photo courtesy of PJ O’Shea
Don Hearne (Olive Walsh and Margaret Farrell’s brother) & Joe Rogers another brother of Madeline’s lost their lives on May 1972 down The Harbour while out fishing for salmon on a very wild day for May. In October 1973 a male nurse Martin Flynn from Dunkitt a non swimmer was drowned while climbing from his boat on to the pier in Cheekpoint when he lost his grip. Eddie Gunnip, Passage was drowned in Tramore Bay in January 1975 on a very bad night; his two son’s Willie & Philip as well as Henry Mason were with him and witnessed it. The river Liffey was where Martin Quilty from Woodstown drowned in June 1976. In August 1980 8 years old Joseph Doherty, Cheekpoint son of Robert and Mary Doherty was drowned in Cheekpoint. Pat Pepper, Passage was lost in English Channel from the Bell Rover(1) in November 1981 rather mysteriously. Mrs Kitty Walsh Passage, mother of Willie and sister of Willie Mason who was drowned during the war, was drowned in January 1984 in the Harbour. On August 8th 1995 two men from New Ross John Lacey and Michael Aspel were drowned at ESB Power Station opposite Cheekpoint when their tugboat Ross 1 capsized while helping to berth a large tanker. Paddy Kelly, Crooke and Ballymacaw was drowned while out fishing alone off Ballymacaw in August 1998. In 2003 Dr Jim Molloy, Woodstown very well known in the Passage are was drowned up near Golden in Tipperary while fishing on The Suir in late November 2005 Jimmy Meyler from Ballyhack was drowned near The Saltee Islands from the trawler Rising Sun. In September 2009 Paddy Mason, Passage husband of Margaret and father of her family died when he fell from his boat near Churchtown while tending to Lobster Pots. John Ennis from Ballyhack was drowned in the harbour while trawling mussels in February 2011.
Then came the greatest family tragedy in the area and indeed probably in Ireland when The Bolger brothers from Passage, Paul Bolger, Shane Bolger and Kenny Bolger were drowned on June 12th 2013 out near Brownstown Head. Richie Walsh, Barrack St who died on an aeroplane while going to catch a ship he had been sea for years. A number of people from outside the area were lost in drowning tragedies while in Duncannon and Woodstown on days out, as were two canoeists also at the mouth of The Harbour. We couldn’t let today go without mentioning the biggest loss of life in The Estuary which occurred on January 4th 1888 when the American fully rigged ship Alfred D Snow foundered with the loss of all 30 on board below in Herreloch Bay with just the Captain’s dog making it to the shore at Creaden Head, the vessel had left San Francisco in August 1887 with cargo of wheat for Liverpool but was blown into The Harbour in a horrendous gale. A small number of bodies were recovered and were buried in Ballyhack Cemetery. There were also a number of ships lost with small crews in the estuary in the period before 1900.
Now we come to the Two World Wars eras. Its worth saying first of all that despite these wars the human being has learned little from them when you see the state of our world at the moment in many areas where the lust for power has no regard for the great sacred gift of life.We will take a look at the First World War and the impact it had in this area. Damien Tiernan gave an excellent presentation last November to The Barony of Gaultier Historical Society on all who perished from all over The Barony of Gaultier both on land and sea, I include those lost at sea from the locality and its environs. Many of the names mentioned I had heard of but others were new to me. My father would have told me of quite a few especially those from the immediate area. All I have named and for a very small number was unable to identify the family they came from both world wars where news traveled very slowly especially the first war and it may not be the family of those involved heard it first it may have been the local Parish priest or Sergeant of the Police in First War or Guards in the second and it could be a month or more after the tragedy. A Sod was then turned in the local graveyards with a short ceremony held.
HMS Goliath accessed from https://www.dartmouthgreatwarfallen.org

First War

In the First World War the huge Battleship Goliath was torpedoed off Cape Helles on May 13th 1915 by a Turkish torpedo boat and 570 of the 700 crew were lost including James Mason and James Walsh, Passage, he was John, Faley and Jim (Wyse’s father), Willie Barron, Ballyhack also went down and a few locals survived. Peter Sullivan from Crooke was also lost in the same area in August 1915. John Connors also John O’Connor from Passage, lost his life in the Mediterranean in January 1916, his grandson Johnny from the Munster Express says he was a Cheekpoint man. James Daly Passage lost his life in the Battle of Jutland in 1916, he lived near where Gerry Walsh lives, I remember the Ma Daly there. Maurice Donnelly, Crooke went in June 1916. Thomas Rogers a member of the Australian infantry but a native of Passage went in December 1916.  James Harney, again Crooke, went in April 1917 on the Gretaston in the Iberian Peninsula. Then we come to the sinking of the two Clyde boats in the Irish Sea the same week end in December 1917,with a total loss of 83 lives The Formby and The Coningbeg, with many from the Waterford area and several from this area. These included the following from Passage John Hearne, John Walsh, Father of Paddy Abb Walsh, Patrick Walsh up the Gap (he was the same Walsh as Mary that married Tom Baldwin) Thomas Keating Passage and John Hurley he was a brother of Capt Henry Mason’s first wife, Edward Meyler was also among them as was Stephen Whitty, Ballyhack an uncle of Stephen’s who was married to May Mellor and lived in Passage. There was also John Burns, Cheekpoint, I remember Darkie Burns from his family. Another from Cheekpoint was a Swede James Clawson who worked on the Barrow Bridge married to a local lady, Brigid Sullivan from Coolbunia. Jeremiah Sullivan, Half Way House was also among them. Then in March 1918 off the Irish Coast, John Hearne and Martin Walsh were lost, the latter may have been from the same family of Patrick up the Gap their ship The Penvearn being torpedoed
SS Ardmore accessed from http://www.corkpastandpresent.ie/history/thelossofthessardmore/

Second War

With regard to the Second World War the year 1940 was a very tragic year for this area both in The Harbour and in the war. In June that year Joseph Hearne, Passage who took part in the evacuation of Dunkirk was accidentally drowned in Cardiff. He was torpedoed 3 times in the first war and was rescued each time. In June James Fowler, Crooke was washed over the side from his ship in heavy seas. In September Mikie Bolger, Kathleen’s father and Laurence Moran, father of Larry who was born a few month’s later, Willie Mason, Willie Walsh’s and John Furlong’s uncle, and Phil Hanlon, Cheekpoint lost their lives in the Atlantic. They were on a ship bringing a cargo from Boston to an English port, Bolger was the Bosun and they were torpedoed. In November Pat Ryan was lost off the Saltee Islands when the Ardmore went down. In December Walter Whitty, Cheekpoint and Willie Daly, Passage, married to two Kirby sisters from Passage were both injured in bombing incidents at sea and both died. Ned Robinson from Beresford Row, Passage, son of Na Na was lost in November and Robert Rogers also went in December. In May 1941 John Everett from Faithlegg was lost on the HMS Jersey and in October 1941 Edmund Nugent, from Cheekpoint was lost. In November 1942 Eddie Barry, from Newtown Passage from the well known Barry family of the present day. was lost. In 1944 Tommy Whitty from Ballyhack a brother of Stephen lost in the Formby was lost also as was Pakie Cluney, Passage,  uncle of Paddy when his ship was sunk a few days out from New York. On 24th January 1944 Robert (Bobby) Butler Cheekpoint (44) was lost in the Mediterranean heading for Naples with wounded personnel when the Hospital Ship St David on which he was Assistant Steward was bombed and all aboard were lost.(2)
In closing I hope the coming generations in the area will realise why the Memorial Garden is here and that each and every one of the victims will be remembered and never forgotten. Again apologies to any family where some one may have been left out and still left out through no fault of mine.
I’d like to thank Fintan for allowing me republish his work and I hope this helps in publicising the risks that fishermen and seamen have taken in the past and that their efforts will never be forgotton. It may also underline the respect that everyone should pay to the water. Fintan also asks that if anyone has further information that can be added to this list to email him at  fintanwalshwaterford@gmail.com
(1) Updated since publication thanks to Paddy Roche
(2) New details added since publication thanks to Tomás Sullivan

I’d just like to remind people of the forthcoming commemoration of the loss of the Coningbeg and Formby which will be held in Waterford city Friday 15th and Saturday 16th December.  This evening Friday 24th The Waterford Archaeological and Historical Society will host a talk on the sinkings in St Patricks Gateway at 8pm. More details here.
My book on growing up in a fishing village is now published.
Buy the book online or
now available to buy off the shelf in the following:
Ardkeen Quality Food Store Waterford                Readers Choice, Dungarvan
Book Centre – Waterford      Powers shop Cheekpoint    Burkes Shop Crooke

Breakwater gift shop Dunmore East

Irish National Heritage Park, Ferrycarraig, Co Wexford
Nolans Bookshop, New Ross, Co Wexford       Book Centre – Wexford

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