One of our favourite boat trips is up the Campile Pill from where we can call to Dunbrody Abbey, visit the village itself or explore the neighbourhood and its interesting heritage. Although my favourite pastime is in exploring the fishing heritage of the area, another fascination is maritime trade, and of course, the Campile Pill was used for this too.
The Pill is located on the Wexford side of Waterford estuary across from Cheekpoint. You enter it across the tidal Shelbourne Bank, a vast mudflat. The Pill is visible at low water, but only navigable with a kayak I would think. As the tide rises, the mud bank covers and you would be forgiven for thinking that the Pill was a river. About a ½ mile up you come to Dunbrody Abbey on the right, the Kilmanock embankment is on the left, a vast wall that blocked out the river leaving the marshes to be drained in the mid-1800s as far as I can ascertain. The mighty Barrow once flowed through these marshes too – creating The Great Island.
As we proceed upriver we pass under a metal rail bridge, the Gantry Bridge, and then after some twists and turns, we pass under the New Bridge or Dunbrody Bridge on the old OSI maps. We are now entering narrow waters, with lots more mud banks, a double kiln is visible on the right and another few hundred yards the Pill breaks in two. Take the left and you will wind up about a stone’s throw from the old Portobello Bridge (a trip for only the most adventurous – Deena said she would divorce me if I tried to go back there again) and the right takes us to Campile.
Now to clarify the word Pill. Up to recently I have tried unsuccessfully to find a clear and unambiguous explanation of the word. Most accounts accept that it is an imported word – almost certainly from the Normans and used very commonly in Waterford and along the banks of the Three Sister Rivers; Barrow, Nore, and Suir, but apparently not as common elsewhere in Ireland. It also seems to be a common enough word on both sides of the Bristol channel, the River Severn, and along the SW coast of the UK. I recently put out an appeal for more information on this via Twitter and the response was so good I will need a separate blog to record it.
Campile is apparently derived from its location at the head of the Pill. In this case, the bridge in the village at the point where the Pill stops being tidal. In Irish, this translates (according to some accounts as Ceann Phuill – the Head of the Pill)
On the Logainm placename site, several different spellings are recorded down the centuries including Kempul (1195) Kempuil (1296), Kempull (1654) Ceanpoyle, and Keinpoil (1816). The site has also a number of variations on the origins of Pill – small watercourse, pool, tidal stream, a tidal inlet, etc.
Historically I guess the Cistercian Abbey at Dunbrody is arguably the most important site located on the Pill. Located on the Eastern side, on a hill overlooking the pill and the present Kilmannock Embankment where once the mighty Barrow flowed to create “Le Great Island”. Below the abbey, at least two tidal water mills were located at the placename still recorded as Saltmills. Above this, there is the Water Gate which even though it is now overgrown and largely forgotten, still impresses as a piece of architecture. A small tributary flows up to this but the old maps show that the lands here were low-lying and prone to flooding, doubtless, the river once flowed here too. I imagine it played a much more important role in the heyday of the Abbey as the monks controlled the waters, managed the fishing weirs, and greeted weary travellers at the gate.
I know nothing of the fishing on the Pill, although I can only imagine that using the power of the tides, many was many the scooneen (a local phrase for a short driftnet tied from the shore to an anchor in the river)placed at various locations along it to try to catch a salmon in the past. I see no evidence of weirs anywhere along it, although there are short poles in areas – these look to be for mooring boats in the past. (Billy Colfer shows a prong moored beside these page ref)
When the monks were pushed aside the lands went over to the Etchingham family, and later through marriage, it passed to the Chichester family.
According to the Horeswood Historical Society (HHS) in their wonderful book on the Campile Bombing[i] as many as 22 barges or lighters were operating the Pill. Much of this trade was carrying Limestone to be burnt in local lime kilns and then used as fertiliser on the land or for a myriad of other uses. There is a fine double kiln on the way up to the village just above the New Bridge and the remains of at least one kiln is adjacent to Harts. The lighters would also take freight away.
As regulars know the Lighters are a passionate interest of mine and I have a deep respect for the river knowledge of the men who operated them. Harnessing the power of the tides, they worked with nature to propel their flat-bottomed craft along the rivers using oars, poles, and basic sail to make their way, and an anchor to hold onto the hard-won milage. Operating in the Campile Pill was an extra challenge as the mud flats must have shifted and changed and the New Bridge was so low. – Interestingly the HHS does mention that the bargemen could not pass under it at high water.
The book mentions that in the 1800s Barron’s of Campile had 7 barges, Murphy’s of Ballykerogue had 2 while Michael Sinnott also of Ballykerogue and Hart of Campile had 1.
Harts barge was involved in two recorded incidents (there was certainly more I imagine) – in February 1914 the boat was swamped in a storm while anchored off the Kilmannock embankment and the three-man crew was rescued by two local Great Island fishermen – Thomas Dunphy and William Doherty. A month later having been refloated, the lads were again in trouble. Having taken on a cargo of coal and other items in Waterford worth £100 the barge was again off Great Island when they lost the rudder in a gale, but they managed to reach the shore before jumping for their lives – the barge sank soon after.
Kennys of Campile had a motorised barge operating in the 1930s while the Shelburne Co-Op bought an engine-driven barge from CIE in the 1950s to bring grain to Halls of Waterford. The barge was pole driven on the tides up and down to the Gantry Bridge before the engine was started and they continued under power to deeper waters.
Lighters used the Pill prior to this of course (I have found a lot of information on this including crew, but it will take another blog post)– using the tides to bring much-needed imports such as coal and to bring away farm produce from the village. Interesting to note that the Piltown Stage was also very accessible to locals – using the PS Ida on her daily New Ross to Waterford route. And of course, there was the train which operated from 1906. It was so interesting to me to see the river played such an important role for so many years after the railway came.
I could find little enough online or in the newspapers about the Pill, although there were three tragedies reported. There was one story on Duchas of a drowning “On the 10th of June in the year 1911 a very sad drowning fatality occurred at Portobello Pill in the Barony of Shelburne County Wexford. A boy named Peter Kavanagh from Coolaherin Campile Co. Wexford nineteen years of age went for a swim”
The People newspaper of July 1880 carried just a snippet of a tragedy – a young lad named Peter Quinn, the son of a Campile shoemaker was drowned in the Campile Pill. The last accident was a railway worker.
The Enniscorthy Guardian of Saturday 16 May 1903 recorded that the body of a railway navvy – James Harvey, Great Island (He was living in railway accommodation it seems), was found under the new railway bridge (the Gantry Bridge) on the morning of May 11th, 1903. Sargent Fitzgerald of Arthurstown took charge, searched the body, and removed the corpse to Campile. James was “an old railway employee who was addicted to drink” according to the follow-up inquest. He had been drinking in Harts where the local blacksmith James Murphy deposed that he was in good form and appeared to be sober at 9.30 pm. Joseph Harte deposed that he had served him a pint that night and he believed he left afterward alone to make his way back to Great Island. Dr. WJ Shee was deposed and gave a description of his injuries considering it to be the cause of a fall. David Munroe, general manager of the Campile section of railworks gave evidence about the character of his deceased employee and explained that he had no right to be walking along the bridge which was specifically for trains. The jury found that he died of a fractured skull occasioned by a fall and that a notice should be placed on the bridge warning the public of the dangers of crossing.
I’m afraid we are getting close to hauling out the punt for this year, and there may be no more trips on the Campile Pill until 2023 (all going well of course). But I need to spend a bit more time writing as opposed to “messing about in boats” – I look forward to getting back out there, however, as I never feel more alive than when exploring the river.
Postscript – I started writing this story in 2019. The great John Flynn gave me some photos and also an extract from the Campile bombing book, so it’s not like I didn’t have the information. I managed to find the book in Wexford recently and rereading it spurred me into action. My thanks to John for his support, all errors and omissions are my own.
Apologies to my email subscribers. I was using feedburner as a mail delivery system which was discontinued by Google in July. It seems that Mail Chimp is the solution and I am hoping to get this rectified soon.
[i] Horeswood Historical Society 2010. The Campile Bombing – August 26th 1940. Nass Printing. Kildare (specifically pp 1-2)
My blog this week is different to the norm. Firstly it’s a long form article, almost three times the length of my usual stories. I had toyed with the idea of breaking it up, but decided to let it run. Secondly I have had a significant amount of help with the story and two men in particular have favored me with their time, resources and assistance; John Flynn and Paul Grant.
The Ballinlaw Ferry has an ancient history. It ran in various forms, probably from the early Christian era to the early 1960’s and must have transported tens of thousands of people in that time from the most exalted to the most humble and I’m confident that we will never really know the true extent of it. A ferry crossing was an important part of the transport infrastructure to our fore bearers allowing as it did for short cuts to be taken before the engineering ability existed to construct bridges to ford rivers. As such they played a role in defense, commerce, social cohesion and wellbeing, a good example being the present Passage East Ferry further down the harbour.
My own, and probably anyone else’s educated guess about the age of the Ballinlaw Ferry is that it surely dates at least to the foundation of a monastery on the road to the ferry on Great Island (Inis Teimle) at Kilmokea. At least when the island was picked by Herve de Montmorency as his base of operations after the Norman conquest we are told that it was chosen because of its strategic position on the Wexford – Waterford road, suggesting, if not confirming the pre-existence of the ferry. The Island was passed over to William Marshall on his death in 1205 and remained as an important trading centre until it was eclipsed in favour of New Ross.
The first official record of the ferry operating on the Wexford side is 1282 when the provost of the local burgh (village, which was probably close but not in the Kilmokea early Christian settlement, but actually associated with a tidal salt water mill and associated farm, buildings etc close to the islands causway) was paying rent on actually two ferries on the island, Colkery and Portilash.
The historian Hore speculates that the “vestiges of two intrenchments by some supposed to have been thrown up by the Danes to defend the pass to Ballinlaw ferry”
Elsewhere he claims three ferrys are operating on or associated with the Great Island; Of these Hore speculates that Colkery is associated with a weir- after the Gaelic word Coraidh and although not stated I understand from as careful a reading as I can manage, that it was close to Dollar Point, upriver from the Island,
The next has a number of variations in the spelling including Porsyllach, Portilash, Portillagh, Portculagh and finally Kylmuke – so this perhaps is what we comonly know as Ballinlaw Ferry, there being a very obvious relationship with the last name and with Kilmokea.
The third crossing point is a bit of a mystery, but Hore is of the opinion that it crosses to Cheekpoint. For example he states that in one case it is located past Loughtown and Newtown later a mention of a ferry at Le Crook, which he discounts as being the placename further out the harbour but rather a geographic description of Cheekpoint and finally a mention of a ferry from Kennock (Kilmannock) worth 2s 6d per year 
Various amounts of rent are given for the ferrys, but the Kilmokea/Ballinlaw operation pays the most; consistently in the 13thC 5-6s. Farms are associated with the operation, perhaps as a means of sustenance, or (and I think more likely) as a description of the operation, ie that revenue was farmed from the operation of the ferry. Interestingly the income dropped from the Island after a terrific storm occurred on August 1st 1284. The mill and much of the farm were destroyed by floods and strong tides and damage was caused to fishing weirs. It would suggest that there was a vibrant trade on the island that was badly impacted by the weather.
Perhaps as a measure of the ferrys importance, the rent for Kilmokea ferry is on par with the rent to operate the ferry in New Ross (5s), which is equal to the rent paid by burgesses (villages).
In later years the ferry’s are less prominent in the accounts, and it is hard to judge if they were operating at all. For example in 1397 “Richard II granted to Roger Codde the custody of the towne of Ross together with the mills, meadows, fisheries and ferries and the town of Dubarresilaund and everything belonging to it” Dubarresilaund referes to Great Island, when it was leased by John Durbaro de Llond who exported herring from the area to England. However, as you can see there is no direct mention to the ferry operation.*
Looking more closely now at the Ferry of Ballinlaw as regards the operation I have been told that two boats operated on the route, one for foot passengers the other for animals and that this appears to have been the case until at least the start of the 20th Century. From local sources the preferred passenger transport seems to have been the locally abundant and popular Prong. However a larger craft was required for animals. One description was of a boat propelled by two long oars that rowed the vessel across the water. This brings to mind a lighter, but perhaps it was just a large punt or other vessel (Prongs of great size were also built). I was also told that within living memory horses were guided across by a boat as they swam the river. The operation, no doubt, conducted when the tidal conditions were favourable.
In all cases the departure point from Great Island seems to have been the end point of the present roadway which we always called when fishing, the Ferry Point. Two opinions were offered locally on the landing point of the ferry on the Kilkenny side. One, that it was close to the present road as it meets the water at Ballinlaw, the other that it was further downriver at a larger quay. Evidence of the historic maps series tends to prove both in fact to be right. The 6inch of 1837-42 has it close to the present road, the 25inch map of 1888-1913 positions the landing point further down closer to Hennerbrys/O’Briens, perhaps as a consequence of the ending of the official route.
I found no information on the cost to patrons for a trip. However as the rent was similar for New Ross and the Kilmokea ferry it’s plausible at least, that the rates were similar. The New Ross Corporation book stated that the prices were as follows; ½d for every man and woman, 1d for every horse, cow or bullock, ¼d for every sheep or goat, ¼d for every stone of wool and ½d for each barrel of corn. 
A fascinating account of connecting with the river paddle steamer Idais worth quoting. “But the most exciting experience of all was at Ballinlaw, when the ponderous ferry-boat with passengers and farm produce from the Great Island made contact with the Ida as she lay to mid stream. To get the passengers safely aboard by means of a companion ladder involved considerable risk in rough weather. But the Ballinlaw boatmen knew their job, and no accident occurred in living memory” 
is dated from 1786; “This is a very good horse ferry, but not so for carriages. It is by much the most convenient way for
travellers coming from Waterford, as the boat is on that side of the river; and
for this reason you are subject to great delays if you come this way from New
Ross – The other road is then recommended” 
What the papers say
of UNRESERVED AUCTION OF HIGHLY-BRED DAIRY COWS appeared in the papers of 1863,
from the Executors of the late John G.Ussher, at LANDSCAPE (2 miles from New
Ross, 15 from Wexford and nine miles from Waterford via Ballinlaw Ferry. Which I think highlights the benefit as seen
by using the ferry instead of the road to New Ross. The piece goes on to mention of the Ferry
Inn, Ballinlaw, Slieverue, on the old stagecoach route. This notion of a stagecoach route seems to
tally with local stories I have heard, but I have nothing concrete to draw on
Underlining its use as a horse ferry I found this piece. “Saturday morning a melancholy accident happened near the ferry Ballinlaw.—As Mr. Lumsden, Fethard, was riding towards Waterford, for the purpose of meeting his daughters, who were going from that city on a visit him, he was thrown from his horse and killed on the spot.—He was so much disfigured by the fall, that, although perfectly known in the neighbourhood when living, persons could not discover whom, or where he belonged, until his daughters arrived to the fatal spot, who were the first that made the melancholy discovery.”
And it wasn’t just horses! This from an election of 1830 “A
fine bullock donated by James Esmonde Esq. for the support of the Freeholders
belonging to the Independent interest during the approaching contest brought in
triumph into town (Waterford) decorated with green ribbons, green boughs, laurel,
and orange ribbons being attached to the extremity of the tail and the feet, on
which the animal trampled. Mr Esmonde had him landed at Ballinlaw Ferry. Numbers went from town, met him, and marched
him on in regular procession.” Meeting objectors on Timbertoes, they finally
entered the city after the procession was forced through.
And of course it wasn’t just law abiding citizens who traversed the waters. A Waterford city man named Patrick Goggins, described as a tramp, who was on the run in Wexford having attacked General Napper, used the ferry to make his freedom. He “…crossed into Sutton’s Parish, going towards the Great Island, where he knew there a regular ferry across the river at Ballinlaw. A short distance outside the village of Campile, he met a policeman, who was on the look-out for him… and deliberately walked up and asked for a match. Of course the constable never imagined that Goggins would be so cheeky, and leaving the policeman, he passed on into the village, got a drink and a bun in one of the shops, and then set out for the Great Island district. Here he lay in concealment for some hours…crossed over in the ferry-boat. They crossed too, but could get no trace of him. As to his course on reaching the Kilkenny shore there are many stories told. One is to the effect that he walked through Mooncoin to Carrick-on-Suir and … to county Waterford from which he passed on to his native city, where among the lanes and slums of Waterford be has been since able to evade the police of the city…”
And there were women trying to evade capture too! In a piece titled “The Adventuress in New Ross”  we learn of a Kilkenny lady named Keating, well known to the local constabulary of that city as a con artist. She had spent several days in the town of New Ross and the outlying area tricking people out of their money. “…she is known to have driven in a covered car from Waterford on the following day out to the Kilkenny side of Ballinlaw Ferry, and crossed over to the county of Wexford from which place all trace of her is lost completely. Where she has gone to, or where she is at the present moment, is now a mystery, but if the police had any grounds to go upon—or if any of the victims cared to make an information there is not much doubt but that the adventuress would soon be in ‘durance vile’ awaiting the sentence of the court. As it is, however, those who have been victimised are not inclined to go before the public and prosecute.”
And of course the weather impacted the ferry too. In 1838 a S.E. gale washed out the causeway linking Great Island to the Wexford mainland, and also the ferry. The condition of the causeway was described as “…been intersected several deep and wide chasms, and rendered impassable…” causing problems enough for the island, but impacting travel between Waterford Kilkenny and Wexford via the ferry”. The article demands a more secure and better engineered causeway for the future of transport security.
20th Century and closure
In terms of later years I have heard that the Barden family
ran two boats until at least 1906, or the building of the Barrow Bridge. I suppose it would be no surprise to anyone
that the railways had a significant impact on it. However locally I was told a service,
unofficial perhaps, but a service nonetheless ran until the 1960s.
A member of the Shalloe family did kindly correspond with me recently with some family memories which I think are valuable and deserve recording. “My granny was a Shalloe from the ferry / Ballinlaw…We were told the Hannigans and Heneberrys ran the ferry from the Waterford side…and that a few of the Shalloes ran it from Wexford side in the early 1900’s anyway ( Ned/ Markie/Michael). They all used prongs as it was very muddy on the Wexford side and you could pull up on the mud with the prong. My greatgrandfather Michael Shalloe ran a prong across. He told stories of dropping lads in under Snowhill who were on the run from the black and tans…The Lannons may have been involved in the 1800’s and the Shalloe/ Lannon families did inter marry”
In some sense the work of Jim Walsh tallies with the family memories above. In it we read that the Barden family (who lived in what I believe was a coaching Inn on the Ballinlaw side)ran a licenced ferry using two boats, one for animals, another for passengers. Mail was transported, but was collected by horse drawn mail coaches (this seems to confirm that there was no system to carry coaches already suggested). The last two ferrymen who lived on the Wexford side were said to be Larry Lennon and Markie Shalloe; Larry retired in the 1920’s, Markie retired circa 1963. The last ferrymen on the Kilkenny side were said to be Neddy and Pat Doyle.
While walking around Ballinlaw last week I met Joe Malone who was happy to share some memories of the Ferry. His thoughts of course tallied with my own in terms of these area and how close the communities were. Joe recalled taking a group of Dutch cyclists across not so many years back as a favour. They had come to Ballinlaw from Waterford thinking the ferry still ran. They intended cycling onto Arthurstown where a youth hostel was to be their bed for the night. Rather than show them the road to New Ross, he piled them and their bikes into his boat and dropped them across.
I’m sure he or others like him would think nothing of doing likewise today. Or at least they would if boats such as prongs, and those skilled in handling them were are numerous as heretofore. Those days are fading fast of course and I think I will leave the final say on the men and their qualities to T.F. O’Sullivan: “The test of a good boatman…was to negociate…the river bend at Ballinlaw, on a moonless night. The river at Ballinlaw is known as Paul Gauls, after a pub that stood on the shore there.** I never saw the name written down before I wrote it down myself, because old boatmen are not all that good at writing; but I have spelled it as I think an old boatman would, if he could. Writing is another skill, to be sure, and no harm to those who have some use for it; but if you were rash enough to challenge a Barrow boatman’s skill the least you might expect as a reply is the proud boast of the Barrow Boys: ‘I’d steer down Paul Gaul’s if the moon was tarred”
I have a regular crew of helpers who come to my aid with links, contacts, books, opinions and advice and on this trip Frank Murphy, Jim Doherty and Michael Farrell were to the fore. But as I could find little in my usual resources on this topic I did something unusual, I put it out on social media in the hope of other leads. I had an overwhelming response, and too many to thank individually. But John Flynn not alone gave freely of his time, he also trusted me with his books and other materials which I am deeply grateful for. Paul Grant, likewise, could not have done enough to help me both in terms of time and resources and I am indebted to him for many of the images that I have used. Joe Malone was also very generous with both his time and his knowledge. I also would like to expressly thank Brian Forristal and Martha Bolger for information which is contained within the piece. I also received some worthwhile links and information from the local research section of Kilkenny Co Library. My thanks there especially to Nuala.
Lastly can I just say that I hope I have neither offended or misrepresented anyone’s information in the article. Any errors, omissions or inaccuracies are mine and mine alone and are based on my mis-judgement or mishearing/reading of material supplied. Happy to correct or amend as required. Please leave me a comment below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you liked this story,I’ve blogged on Ferry services before for example
 William Marshall and Ireland. John Bradley, Cóilin Ó Drisceoil & Michael Potterton, editors. 2016 Four Courts Press, Dublin (From a chapter by Billy Colfer, William Marshalls Settlement Startegy in Wexford (pp 260-261) via John Flynn
Hore.P.H History of the Town & County of Wexford. Dunbrody Abbey, The Great
Island, Ballyhack etc. 1901 London. (I’m
indebted to John Flynn for the loan of his copy)
Ibid p 198 & see also A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland Vol II), Samuel
mention this here because in discussing the position of a ferry crossing to
Cheekpoint the south side had three fishing weirs of note, one at Kents Point,
the other at Culletons and a third at what we call the White Stone. This
appears to be at variance with Hore’s later opinions on the Cheekpoint weir,
but I mention it as i think there might be some merit in at least highlighting it.
History of the Town & County of Wexford. Dunbrody Abbey, The Great Island,
Ballyhack etc. 1901 London pp 205-213
Ross Rosponte Ros Mhic Treoin An Anthology Celebrating 800 years. Tom Dunne Ed., 2007. Wexford County Council
Public Library Service p 216
History of the Town & County of Wexford. Dunbrody Abbey, The Great Island,
Ballyhack etc. 1901 London pp 205-213p 223
New Ross Rosponte Ros Mhic Treoin An Anthology Celebrating 800 years. Tom Dunne Ed., 2007. Wexford County Council Public
Library Service. p 216
Quote from Jogging my Memory, The Monks
School New Ross in the 1880’s. Mark
Canon O’Byrne. From The Past: The organ
of the Uí Cinsealaigh Historical Society. No 18 (1992) pp 55-74
from “The Post-chaise Companion: Or,
Travellers’ Directory Through Ireland”. William Wilson 1786 Dublin and
accessed as a free ebook via Google Books
 Waterford News and Star Friday, July
03, 1863 Page: 1
Chronicle – Saturday 21 April 1798 page
Chronicle – Saturday 20 February 1830 page 1
People – Saturday 21 July 1894 page 4
People – Saturday 07 October 1893 page 5
Conservative – Wednesday 05 December 1838 page 3
Email communication received over Christmas from Yvonne Uí Chuanacháin
Sliabh Rua: a history of its people and places / compiled by Jim Walsh.
[Publication- Ireland: The Jubilee and Bi-Centenary
sub-committee of Slieverue Parish
Pastoral Council, 2011]
said earlier in the piece, I am unclear about the ownership/charter employing
the ferry throughout much of its history.
From a conversation with my cousin James Doherty who is employed in
Kilkenny Castle, it seems that the Butlers may have held this. How they came to have it, or when requires
TF. Goodly Barrow, A Voyage on an Irish
River. 2001. Lilliput Press. Dublin
*Paul Grant first mentioned the name of the ferry to me as Camnock, from the Irish suggesting the steep road of the knock, giving a very accurate geographic description of Ballinlaw even today. Jim Walsh records that in 1407 the ferry was leased for the sum total of 20 pence . In 1427 it is leased to a Richard Fitz John by the Earl of Ormond The Earl was reputed to have built Ballinlaw Castle as a defensive structure for the protection of the ferry Suggesting an important investment, and tallying with a similar investment at Grannagh.
**Poll Gaul was a lady, who ran the pub at Ballinlaw with her husband a man named Lyons. It was later taken over by the Halligan family, and later still (and to this day although no longer a pub) the Malones when Aggie Halligan married a Malone. Via Paul Grant
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