Views from Cheekpoint Village

Rivers

Cheekpoint is
a traditional fishing village located 7 miles downstream from Waterford City. It has been an important
navigation point for the ports of Waterford and New Ross as it is located at
the meeting point of the three sister river network, the Barrow, Nore and Suir.
Between them they drain an area of land second only to the Shannon.  The Suir 114 miles long, and the Barrow 119 miles long, (the Nore joins the Barrow
above New Ross) combine beside Cheekpoint and create the estuary that flows out
to the Atlantic. 

Meeting of the Three Sisters.  Photo via Anthony Rogers

Cheekpoint Quays.

Cheekpoint was reputed to have a settlement of Ostmen
(Vikings) in the distant past.  It was
also of strategic importance to the Normans. 
The first references to a quay date from the time that the Mail Packet
Station moved to the village.  The Station was created in Cheekpoint
in 1785 by local landlord Cornelius Bolton.  Cheekpoint Quay
would have been the point of departure for all mail,
including some freight and passengers, from Waterford to Milford
Haven in Wales during that time.  Several ships were employed on the
service and it was run by a Welsh Quaker, Captain Thomas Own.  The station operated until 1813, when it was
moved further down river to Passage and then to Dunmore East in 1824.  The
present quay was constructed in the 1870’s, as was the lower quay breakwater, and
both have seen several upgrades and additions down the years.  More about the quay here.

Cheekpoint in 1960’s  photo by Martin Power via Déaglán De Paor

 The Barrow Bridge

The Barrow rail bridge was for over 100 years the
connection that linked the SW of Ireland via Waterford to Wexford and Rosslare
port.  It is 2131 feet in length and
consists of 13 fixed spans mounted on twin 8 foot diameter cast iron
cylinders filled with concrete.  11 spans are 148 feet long and the two
closest the opening are 144 feet.  Because the port of New Ross is
above the bridge and an opening span had to be added at the deepest part
of the river channel.  The railway is a single track steel line, built
within the protective casing of a mild steel girder frame with cross trusses.

Sir Benjamin Baker designed the bridge.  Tendering commenced in late 1901 and was won
by a Glaswegian firm – William Arrol & Co.  Both men were responsible
for some of the finest engineering constructions worldwide, of their age.  The winning bid was £109, 347 and work had
commenced by June of 1902 and was opened on the 21st July
1906.  The bridge served its purpose
until Saturday 18th September 2010 when the last commercial train crossed
over. 

It has several distinctions as a bridge; it is the longest
railbridge in Ireland and it was also the last major rail line to be
constructed in Ireland and the bridge the last major piece of infrastructure.
Previously we covered the planning and construction of the bridge, its opening and eventual closure.

 
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Power stations

There are now two Power Stations across the river at
Cheekpoint at Great Island.  The station
on the left is a redundant oil burner.  The
building of the station started in 1965 and the first phase was finished in
1967. A second phase and chimney was added by 1972.   The
chimneys are 450 feet high and are almost as high as the Minaun.  There were 5 storage tanks on the site each
holding 17,000 tons of oil, which was delivered via oil tanker ships.  At it’s height the station employed up to 70
people.  The most recent station is gas
burning and its set to open this month, November 2014.  The
gas is delivered by pipe and the new station is said to have a lifespan of 30
years.  The entire site is believed to be
over 170 acres of land.

Fishing Weirs

A distinctive factor in the Cheekpoint fishery was the use
of fishing Weirs. An example of which can be seen above the main quay.  The
weirs originated with the coming of the Normans in 1170 and since that time
were responsible for much of the fish caught in the area, either directly or
indirectly.  They could provide year
round fishing.  Weirs could be used under
licence for Salmon fishing, for white fish in autumn and winter and also a
source of bait for the summer Eel fishery.

Eels like the heat and during winter disappear into the
river mud to sleep.  They emerge when they decide it’s warm enough and
feed voraciously.  This feeding frenzy suited the fishermen well who used baited
pots to capture them.  The Eels had to be kept alive prior to their sale,
and were exported live to the Netherlands. The buyers would arrive on the
quay with their water tanks on the back of trucks and the fishermen first
weighed the eels and then loaded them into the tanks for export. The village has a unique distinction in that it still has a
number of weirs in operation.  This is
unique not just in Ireland but also in Europe and most probably the world.

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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If the wind will not serve, take to the oars

As a young boy fishing in the river, the one thing I hated more than anything, was keeping up to the nets with an oar.  Pity the boy that let his mind wander and the boat blow off the nets, or worse, onto the mud on the flood tide on the coolagh (cool ya) mud.

I first began regular fishing in 1979, finishing first year in secondary school.  The holidays coincided with the Peal run, when the salmon men reduced the driftnet net mesh size to catch the smaller, younger salmon entering the rivers.  I’d fished before this, but only occasionally.  Maybe a drift of a summer evening, or a few tides, doing little more than watching from the bow twart. 

To be asked to fish was a big thrill.  It meant long hours, hard work, plenty of wettings and plenty of excitement.  It also meant some cash in your pocket, and my father always said unless you could jingle a few coins in your pocket that you had earned for yourself, we weren’t yet a man.  But it was also an education…a real education after the excuse of a one I had suffered over the winter.  We learned the nets, tides, weather, river, fish and hard work.  But of all of it, it was the oars that caused me the most hardship.  It wasn’t so bad if you were part of a younger man’s boat like Pat Moran or Anthony Fortune.  He wasn’t wedded to the oul ways…but if you happened to be fishing with his fathers generation, or my fathers, the best ways were the old ways which included many hours at the oars. The week started at 6am on the Monday morning and ran for the week, 24hrs up to the 6am on the Saturday.

In the past the oars had been the only method of propulsion for the punts in the area, apart from the use of sail, which was not a common method and something I never saw used.  It would remain so until the introduction of outboard motors after the second world war. 

A modern styled rowlock

The oars used were of red deal and generally fitted into the punt to allow for secure stowage.  The oar was made from 6″x’6″ red deal timber plank.  It was made from one piece for strength.  It had a carved handle, which allowed for the palm of the hand to cover it, a counterbalance, which meant that the oar was easier to manage when being used singlehanded.  A collar of leather was fitted where the oar fitted into the rowlocks.  This meant that the rubbing of timber on timber didn’t happen as it would quickly wear away.  When using the oars in dry weather you’d have to use the bailer to throw water over the collar or the sqweeking of it would drive you mad.  The shaft of the oar tapered off to the blade which was again the width of the plank and allowed the rower to catch a good piece of water to drive the boat forward.

The rowlocks on the punt were carved from oak and shaped to allow the oar fit nicely in place.  The Rowlocks were bolted to the gunwhale and two Thole Pins (pronounced Towel here) were hammer into 1″ drilled holes on either side of the oar.  Ash was commonly used as it was a durable timber.  I once used Hazel as it was nice and straight and I thought it looked smart.  But when rowing hard on the mud the thole pin snapped and I went head and arse into the bow, so never again.

An old oar in a sunken punt

There were particular points to be learned about rowing.  One was when you were told to row, you rowed, if you were told to “row hard” you really put your back into it.  “Back” was another command, and if your mind had wandered, or you weren’t paying attention you could be in real trouble.  “Pulling” when you were supposed to be “backing” could mean loosing a fish – a cardinal sin, and one to be reminded of time and again.

After leaving the shoreline or the quay we would “steam” (use an outboard) to the start of the particular drift.  This could mean a wait or perhaps we could set straight away, determined by the time of tide and the particular drift.  Waiting  with other punts was usually fun, as you would hear all manner of yarn.  The nets would be set with the engine and once set we would “out oars” and for the remainder to the drift would row to “keep up with the nets”.  The skipper would be on the aft oar the boy on the bow or for’ad oar.

Row hard(ish) Chris Doherty Bow oar & Mick Murphy

On some drifts only part of the nets were set, like flood tide on the Coolagh mud or ebb tide on the point.  You would keep up to the nets for a particular place and then would set the rest.  The older men preferred setting the remainder with the oars, meaning you had to keep on rowing on the bow oar while the skipper rowed with one hand and set the nets with the other.

After a winter sitting at a school desk your hands would be soft.  As a consequence those first few days at the oars would be hell.  The welts would rise within a few minutes.  By the half hour mark they would be black and blue and swollen.  You might think putting them in the water would ease the pain, but it was of no benefit.  There was a partial ease when the welts burst but then the when the salt water leaked in it stung like hell.  There was also the muscles in your arms that would be aching and the back to which you could find little ease.  Of course by the end of the summer these would be only memories, but to be relived the following summer.  

Tom Fergison (bow oar) Michael Ferguson, “keeping up to the nets”
Photo credit: Tomas Sullivan


Hauling the nets also required the skipper using the oars to keep the punt “on the nets”  As you hauled the skipper stayed midships and the boy went astern and each took a rope.  As you hauled the punt would either drift across or off the nets and with the momentum of the haul the skipper could put out either the aft or for’ad oar to bring the boat back in or out off the nets.

Once aboard it was time to set again and if you were lucky, the boy got to lower the outboard and steam back to the start of the next drift.  If you were really lucky you might get to set the nets with the engine…a real step up.

Over time the use of the oars diminished and in recent times, up to the closure of the Salmon driftnet fishery in 2006, many punts would not have even carried an oar.  The outboard which had become more dependable and men more skilled in their use, took over in many aspects of the fishery practice.  Today if you look around the quays you will see few enough timber punts and fewer oars.  Something that diminishes the village in my opinion. 

In case anyone thinks I’m complaining about the work we had to do let me offer you this quote by the American comedian George Carlin on a definition of hard work; “hard work is a misleading term. physical effort & long hours do not constitute hard work. hard work is when someone pays you to do something you’d rather not be doing. anytime you’d rather be doing something other than the thing you’re doing…you’re doing hard work.”  

The SS Alfred D Snow and Cheekpoint Green

When I was a child I used to come to the cottage on the Green on Sundays, long weekends and summer holidays.  It was my Grandparents, Tommy and May White’s house and it was always full of cousins, aunts and uncles and lots of gatherings and parties were held there.  Grandad had bought it in the 1950’s from “Billy the Green” Doherty who had reared a large family in the house.

The summers were the best because you got to play all day on the Green and be with your friends from morning til night.  The village was always busy in the summer months too with fishermen on the quay, coming and going from fishing, mending nets, checking boats.  There were always visitors on holidays and people coming to Mac’s for food.

When the cottage was full with cousins Nanny would make up extra beds in the sitting room and we would all pile in.  In the mornings the jackdaws in the big open fireplace would waken us with their squawking and flapping wings. 

My favourite place to sleep though, was in the small back bedroom. We were told this was an old ships cabin from a ship that had been wrecked in the harbour many years before.  This room had a low wooden ceiling with some iron rivets across it in places.  There was a small skylight which was then closed in place but could have been opened in the past to allow fresh, if salty air into the cabin on a ship that crossed the Atlantic for her trade.  It was a cosy room and often too hot on a warm summer evening.  It was only years later that I learned that the cabin came from an American ship called the Alfred D Snow.

The Alfred D Snow was a three masted fully rigged all timber ship which was built in the Samuel Watts shipbuilding yard in Maine USA.  She was 232 feet long with a beam of 42 feet and was built in 1877. 

image courtesy of Andrew Kelly

She left San Francisco on Aug 30th 1887 bound for Liverpool with a cargo of wheat under Captain William J Wiley.  She had fair weather on the trip, including the rounding of Cape Horn but as she came up towards the Irish Sea a south east gale blew up and the captain found that evasive measures were required.  The crew battled bravely but the storm grew in force and they were forced to call into Waterford Estuary to try find some shelter.  Sails were dropped, leaving her without much helm and they tried to inch the ship in under the hook peninsula that would have given them some shelter.  However the ship struck the sand close to Broomhill and got stuck fast.  Heeling over, the waves crashing over, the ships boats were launched with some difficulty and one managed to make it away but it was swamped and all aboard were drowned.  The others took to the rigging in the hopes of salvation.

On land the people were helpless to give direct assistance.  The Dunmore East lifeboat was called but didn’t respond until much later, which was a matter of controversy at the time.  The tug Dauntless did try to respond.  She was sheltering at Passage East but as she approached one of her paddles broke and she drifted helplessly away back up the harbour.  As the gale continued to roar and the seas continued to pound, the ship started to break up and the remaining crew were washed away and they too were drowned. 

In total all 29 crew men died.  Mostly American but also men from England, France, Germany, Norway and Russia.  There was an Irish crew man named Michael O Sullivan but I haven’t found out where he came from.  However in researching this piece I did learn that there was a survivor; the ships dog, a sheepdog, managed to swim to shore and climbed up the rocks to safety.

During the days that followed the Captains body was recovered and was shipped home for burial in a lead lined, brandy filled casket, (I wonder did he like a drink?).  Other crew men were interred in Ballyhack, but most were never found.  Pieces of the wreck floated in all along the harbour.  These were secured by the Coastguard apparently and were auctioned off.  That’s one possibility for how it arrived in Cheekpoint.

A model with the cabin behind the foremast
image courtesy of Andrew Kelly

Locally, it is said that it came to Cheekpoint quay and using rollers was brought up the village and the backroad and then down behind the cottage and put in place.  The Boreen wasn’t wide enough apparently.  It remained as it was until a few years back when my cousin renovated the house, so that in total the shipwrights at Samuel Watts yard created a cabin that lasted over 130 years.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to sleep in the cabin, but I don’t know if I would have slept so soundly had I known the whole history of the ship at that time.

Deena Bible 23/8/2014
Piece first read at the Heritage Week event in Reading Room Cheekpoint

With thanks to Andrew Kelly for further information.
John Power – A Maritime History of County Wexford Vol 1(2011)

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.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
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Water water everywhere…

Politicians in Ireland are currently at each others throats on the matter of water
charges
.  Whatever your political views, which probably lie on or between two polar opposites – that water is a human right and should be provided free out of existing taxes, to water should be privatised and turned into a commodity – my philosophical view is that water is a valuable resource which should be cherished.

My grandmother, Nanny, thought me a lot about valuing water, or as she put it “sparing”
it.  She would pour water from the tap into a plastic basin which sat in her Belfast sink in the kitchen every morning.  Very often the water would rinse an egg from under a chicken before it was boiled for breakfast, do several rinses of dishes during the day and her to wash her hands as required.  It might be topped up with water being drained from steamed spuds or veg.  Usually it was early evening or night time before the basin water was thrown out, but never discarded.  No, it went on plants in pots, a shrub in the garden or maybe to wash the steps.

We often chided her about it, but of course to her it was just a habit.  Nanny would tell us about walking as child to the wells to draw water.  It was the child’s job and was done as soon as they were strong enough.  It was a daily chore, seven days a week and had to be done even before she would go to school in the morning and on her return.  It was also a
woman’s job, as her brothers would have been fishing as soon as they could pull
an oar.

Spring well at Barn Quay
The closest well on the Russianside was situated between Moran’s Poles and Whelan’s Road on the strand. It was about 200 yards away from the house and required a steep climb while carrying filled pails in both hands. Sometimes, the water from the well was tainted with seawater due to floods or storms. In such cases, the girl had to wait for her father and the neighbors to remove the seaweed and flotsam, pour lime into it to cleanse it, and let it settle for a few days. While waiting, she had to walk an additional 300 yards to Ryan’s Quay to access the nearest well.

She was born in 1919, and it wasn’t until the early 1950s that the council finally constructed a new house for her. This new house came with the luxury of an outside tap. In the 1960s, Chris Sullivan, who did odd jobs when he wasn’t fishing, installed a new tap and Belfast sink in her back kitchen. However, even though the water was now flowing, she continued to stick to her old habits.

The other water source she valued was the water barrel.  She had one at the front and back, placed under the down pipe of the gutters and she often used it to wash, saying her
hair was always softer after the rainwater.  She also vowed that it was much better for watering plants.

One of the wells that still is in use is the well pictured above at the Barn Quay.  We often drink from it and to my mind it tastes delicious.  The Teen’s told me that Jenny O’Brien recently did a science project for school in water analysis and used the water from the well which emerges out of the cliff face where once there was a Slate quarry.  Apparently the water was pure and free of any pollution.

The other wells that I can recall; one in the high street under Margaret and Des O’Keffee’s , one in the basement of Daisybank House, one in the Rookery, one in the Marsh under
Mahon’s (now Ray McGraths), three in Coolbunnia; by Ned Powers  as you head up
the Hurthill, below Everetts (where Malachy & Michelle Doherty now live) and at “Maggie Mooncoins” below my brother Robert’s.  The nicest well water I remember was at Larry
Cassins on the Old Road.  As children we often stopped with my mother to slake our thirst.  He would come out with some mugs and distribute them round to us as my mother filled them from an earthenware jug that was always available. I have no doubt but there were many others.

Water Pump on the Green, Cheekpoint

I’m not sure when the water pumps were added to the village landscape, but there were two. The first is still in place on the village green and was in use into the 1980s. Pat Murphy of the Green told me it was there before his family arrived in the 1940’s. It’s still a beautiful feature but if memory serves it was painted green when I was a child. The other was at the cross roads, between the present shop and my Uncle Sonny’s house. It was removed by the council in the early 1990’s.

I recently came across an article in the Irish Independent by Damien Corless (09/08/14) which sheds light on the construction of wells across Ireland. Following the discovery by John Snow in London that Cholera was spreading through dirty water in 1854, several wells were built across the UK, including Ireland, which had suffered greatly from cholera at the end of the famine period. It is possible that the Cheekpoint pumps were constructed during this time.

I’ve seen some recent maps that seem to support this view. While browsing the OSI website, I discovered that the Historic 6″ map, which was created between 1829-41, doesn’t show the well on the green. However, it is shown on the Historic 25″ maps, which were dated between 1897-1913. This indicates that the well was present in 1913, and it’s likely that it was there even earlier.

De La Salle scouts having a drink at the well on Green 1969
photo courtesy of Brendan Grogan

Pat Moran remembers walking up the Mount to a
tap on the road by Josephine Elliots, so perhaps the council were supplying water in other
areas using a similar method.  Pat was a child at the time so it would have been in the mid to late 1950’s. His story got me thinking about a tap at Joanie Hanlons (where Charlie and Paul Hanlon now live) which was inside her hedge but away from the house.  I always wondered why it would not have been placed on her house wall.  Maybe it served the Russianside in a similar way.

Nanny’s habit of water conservation was learned at an early age, and her valuing
of water lasted her lifetime.  It was something to be spared and used with consideration.  There’s a lesson there for us all whatever our political outlook.  And in the future it could save us a lot of money.

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and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:
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The Irish Folklore commission’s visit to Faithlegg National School 1937

In 1937, the Irish Folklore Commission visited Faithlegg National School, then situated on the Old Road.  They asked pupils in the boys class to go home and interview their relatives or elderly neighbours and to write down the stories about the village or area they came from.  The boys stories, written in their own hand can be viewed online at the following link.  The girls participated also, but separately from the boys, (in those days they were in different rooms)  which can be viewed here.

Faithlegg School House on the Old Road closed 1961

One of the  boys who participated was Martin Mahon.  Martin was a gentle soul who as long as I could remember lived in the Rookery, Cheekpoint.  He wrote about Occupations in the village and stated that he wanted to follow his father into the fishing trade.  This he did as well as going to sea.  Martin liked nothing better than a pint, a smoke and telling a few yarns. 

Martin and Bridgid Power stepping it out at a Dinner Dance 1980’s
Photo courtesy of Bridgid Power

Martin  never married and died on October 8th 1999. He is buried at the top of Faithlegg Graveyard.  The following is what he had to write about the fishing.

“25th Sept 1937

Faithlegg National School (Boys)
Occupations

Pupil: Martin Mahon
Salmon Fishing.

Salmon Fishing is very common here in Cheekpoint.  Most of the men are fishing salmon.  My father is a fisherman, and I hope to be
one also.  The men sometimes make their
own nets but most of them buy them now. 
The salmon season opens in February and ends on the fifteenth of
August. 

The fishermen have to get a license to fish for salmon.  Before the season opens they get their nets
ready.  The first thing they have to do
is to oil the nets and put them out to dry. 
When the nets are dry they get some rope and rope them with twine.  Before they rope the nets to put corks on the
rope about a fathom apart.  When the nets
are roped they put some leads on them and then they are ready for fishing.

The fishermen fish in all weathers and in the night
sometimes.  Every day during the season
Mr Power and Mr Doherty go to town with any fish the fishermen catch.  The fishermen say that when the wind is to
the south is the best time to get fish over on the bank when the tide is coming
in.  When a fish goes into the nets the
fishermen leave go the end of the nets and pull to where the fish is lashing
and getting the gaff ready catch the part of the nets where the fish is and
sticking the gaff in the fish they pull him in and kill him. 

There are four or five places where the fishermen have to
wait for their turn to set their nets. 
One place is “The Rock” and another is Buttermilk Castle.  There are two boundaries and if they go
outside them they will be summoned.  One
is from Duncannon Head to Drumdowney point and if you were seen outside that
boundary you would be summoned. The fishermen also say that when the water is
clear it’s not a good time to get a salmon, because the fish can see the nets
and turn away or swim out around them.”

How much life and the Salmon fishing has changed in that time.  Driftnetting for Salmon was suspended in Ireland in 2006.  It has yet to re-open.

Many thanks to Jim Doherty for passing on this story originally to me, and to Catherine Connolly who posted the links to both accounts on the Cheekpoint Coolbunnia/Faithlegg Facebook page.

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.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  

F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales