Christmas in Aylwardstown

The last guest blog of 2018 comes from the River Barrow and brings us back to simpler times in the company of the Connollys of Aylwardstown via the pen of Brian Forristal. The area of Aylwardstown is beside the river Barrow close to Glenmore on the Kilkenny side and Tommy was well known in Cheekpoint as a builder and repairer of the distinctive local boat the Prong. Brian like myself was raised around the river and has a deep appreciation of it and the people who lived upon it. I loved this account and I believe you will too.

Tommy realised as he looked to the north east that there was snow on the wind and it was blowing savagely down an angry River Barrow.  He knew that there was a lot of work to be done before Christmas arrived and the last thing he needed was a blizzard of snow to delay him.

That Christmas tree he had seen last week in Graiguenakill, softly nestled in a grove of larch wood needed chopping before anyone else cast their eye on it.  A splendid specimen, not too tall so as to fit into the kitchen of the cottage nicely, and not too broad as to impinge on the tight space near the dresser.   He had better go soon and cut it down for he had to drag it back to Aylwardstown across the fields as he did not want anyone else to see him take it out of the larch wood.

That was one of the pre Christmas jobs to be done, another was to kill the goose he kept on the commons and had been fattening for the previous months. Extra kindling had to be brought in, in case the weather took a turn for the worst, which meant dragging it from the cutting shed situated just north of the cottage on the river bank.  Country cottages were always adorned with holly and ivy for the festive season and gave a natural feel of the outdoors, indoors; this had to be gathered from the surrounding fields.

The late Tommy Connolly, Photo by Brian Forristal

He dallied about which to do first and after much soul searching decided to go after the tree, that was the one that could not wait, all the rest would still be here when he got back.

He informed Molly that he was heading for Graiguenakill to cut the Christmas tree and would be gone for a few hours.  She asked him would he be back for his dinner at 11 o’clock and he said he would, seeing it was only 8am, he thought he had plenty of time to get there and back.

Gathering an axe from his shed he headed along the road as far as the railway tracks and cut into the fields that ran behind kelly’s big house, then veering right in the direction of Carrigcloney until he met the road that ran back to the river.  Moving on north west from here he cut across the large stubble field behind Killivory/Kilmokevoge ruined church, he was now in sight of the glen where the larch wood was.  He crossed the stream at the end of the gorge and climbed the winding lane that led through the larch wood.  About half way up this lane and in behind the first few lines of larch stood the tree that Tommy had eyed up weeks before.  Taking off the rope that he had carried around his shoulder, he firmly gripped the axe with both hands and began to chop at the butt of the tree.  While it did not take long to cut through the stump, by the time he had felled it he had worked up a good sweat, which kept the biting cold at bay. He proceeded to tie the rope around the butt and then headed for home making his way more or less back along the same route taken previously towing the tree behind him.

When he got to the ditch at the far end of the stubble field, just as he was about to push the tree over onto the road, a voice bellowed to him from the roadside, it was Dermoy Ryan from Killivory just along the road.

“I see the Christmas tree is free again this year Connolly?” he shouted

“As every other year” he retorted back.

“You must be frozen to the bone crossing that 5o acres of stubble, come up to the house and we will have a Christmas drink to put the heat in you”

Tommy tied the tree to a fence post on the inside of the ditch, out of sight from anyone using the road.  Both of them headed to Dermoy’s cottage along the roadway and went inside, Tommy sitting in beside the fire to feel the warmth of the glow.  Dermoy handed him a full glass of whiskey and then joined him by the fire.

Both men talked and drank for ages and those reminisces of years ago entered their conversation with laughter and good banter.  One glass led to another and before long Tommy had forgotten about the time and the dinner, when something tweaked his memory he jumped up suddenly and bade Dermoy farewell and a happy Christmas and sprang out the door to look for his tree.  Luckily his tree was in the same spot so he untied it and headed for home, even though as a much slower pace that he had left that morning.

It was now around 1 o’clock and he still had a number of jobs to do around the cottage.  Getting back to Aylwardstown he was met by the wiry comment from Molly that a liquid lunch must have been provided by the fairies considering the state he was in.  He shook off the verbal onslaught and brought the tree into the cottage and sat down and had his dinner before tackling the other jobs on the list.

Molly said she would look after the tree and decorate it while Tommy finished his dinner and got on with the other jobs.  Having soaked up much of the whiskey he set about killing the goose for the Christmas table and was glad he had a few that morning to steady his nerves.   The kill was swift and humane and the bird did not suffer, the prized goose was prepared for the pot and left to hang until the flesh was ready for the pot in the days to come.

A bustling South St. New Ross pre 1940’s
Courtesy of Myles Courtney, New Ross Street Focus

By now a few flakes had started to fall and gathering in the holly and ivy was now paramount before the real cold spell arrived.  Two fields over towards Carrigcloney lay a grove of hazel and hawthorn trees which had a good covering of ivy and would be easy enough to pull from the trees.  Having arrived and pulled the long strips from the bark he rolled them into circles and tied them down, now they were handy to throw over the shoulder for the short journey home.

For the holly he would travel up the lane and over the railway tracks to the Phelan’s land.  On the boundary ditches lay some good specimens of holly which always supplied a good crop of berries; without the berries the spirit of Christmas would not sit in the cottage, this was his way of thinking.

With all that collected and left in the yard, Molly worked away at making it into shapes that were accessible inside the cottage.  The list was dwindling and now all that was left was to get the train into New Ross and gather the groceries to tie them over the festive spell.  A little extra would be bought in the event the weather turned bad and they were unable to get out of Aylwardstwon over the coming weeks.  Shopping completed Tommy would head into the local pub to catch up on the news with old friends and acquaintances, while Molly would head over town to do the last few bits and pieces.  When fishermen get together there is no stopping the talk and the time passes quickly, half one after half one soon disappear and merriment ensues.

As dusk begins to fall and Molly returns to collect Tommy, they both head across the bridge to catch the returning train.  Weighed down with several bags they would be glad to see the sight of the cottage and the flowing river, home they would be, tired but happy that they got through the necessity of the festive shop and they could now relax and enjoy it all together.

Glenmore railway station. Photo via Paul Grant.

Christmas morning brought a late dawn with grey skies and a bitter cold feel to it.  Tommy had a blazing fire going early on to keep the bitter cold out and the crackling of the blocks sent slivers of red hot wood out into the centre of the cottage room.  Dinner was prepared early as they usually had theirs at about 11 o’clock in the morning. At that time Molloy and himself sat at the little table that looked out over the yard and out to the river and rejoiced in the little feast that lay before them.

 The shortness of the winter light soon caught up upon the Barrow valley and Molloy drew the curtains and settled down to the evening.  The television was put on first to see if there was anything of interest to watch, failing that the radio was engaged and some traditional Irish music would sooth the evening away.  Tommy was often tempted to take down the fiddle and join in with the music, but he preferred a few people to play to than rather an almost empty room.

Both of them sat in on the fire and watched the embers glow and talked of the day, what tomorrow might bring and past Christmas’s had went.  The clock chimed on the wall and the night was still, crackling logs the only intruder into the stillness.

About 8 o’clock when all was quiet a faint knock appeared on the front door, slightly startled Tommy shouted to know who was there.

“Tis Seán Óg Kennedy from Rathinure”

Tommy opened the door and the dark shadow of Seán entered the cottage spouting seasonal greetings to them both.

On been asked what brought him out on a dark and cold night, he said he could not put up with listening to his brothers bickering any longer in the house, even on Christmas night they argued about the price of cattle, what field to sow potatoes in next spring, who’s turn it was to feed the calves in the morning.  He had enough and strolled to the river to find a bit of solace and a quiet corner to sit in.

Shuffling in on the floor he warmed his hands and then Tommy handed him a glass of whiskey and the chat ensued.  They talked well into the night and the sign of sleep never set upon any of them.  As the clock chimed midnight Seán decided he had taken up enough of their time and decided to head for home.  Tommy offered him a spare bed in the back room if he did not fancy going out.  Declining, he faded into the darkness of the night with the words of Tommy ringing in his ears not to go home by Kilcolumn graveyard as the dead would still be about celebrating the festive night and he might get caught up with them.  If he felt any fear at walking home at that hour it was the last thing he wanted to hear then.

The cottage door was bolted and the two elderly people made their way to their bed.  Another Christmas night had passed and now they looked forward to the New Year and the coming spring, when the haggard would take all his attention to get ready for another growing season. The spirit of Christmas had for another year settled on the cottage by the Barrow and gave it its blessing, all was quite there again.

©Brian Forristal

My thanks to Brian Forristal for bringing that slice of life from the River Barrow at Christmas, even if you did not know the people I’m sure the characters depicted would be familiar to you.  A neighbour of the Connollys on the Wexford side of the Barrow was John Seymore, known as the god father of self sufficiency who I have written about before. Guest blogs are published on the last Friday of the month and if you have a story to share about the three rivers or the harbour area please submit it to tidesntales@gmail.com 

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Joe Walsh of Passage East

Catherine Foley, the author, has kindly submitted a second guest blog feature to the page.  It follows a hugely successful initial guest blog some months back, entitled Beyond the Breakwater which brought us back to the Passage East of her youth and Waterford city.  For this blog, Catherine remembers with a loving fondness her uncle, Joe Walsh.  

My uncle Joe was often with us when we came together at important family occasions in our aunts’ sitting room in Helvick. He was an integral part of family life, spending every holiday with us. He’d lock up, leave his home in Passage East for a couple of weeks, get the bus to Waterford, catch the outgoing one to Dungarvan and we’d drive in from Ring to collect him at the terminal.

He was a merchant seaman who went to sea as a young man. He spent many years working on ocean liners and oil rigs. In later years he fished out of Passage East.  He was a gravedigger in Crooke for a while too.

He was my mother’s brother and he was my godfather so there was a special link between us, not that I appreciated him when I was a young scamp with no time to listen to the cautionary voice of Joe.

Yet, I always knew he was my greatest ally, and as I got older I came to realise that we were alike in many ways.

In his downtime with us, I remember him working with rope. Even in the end when his mind was gone and he lay in a hospital bed, his hands working, tying imaginary ropes, repeated the same actions in the same sequence over and over until one of us caught and held them still.

Joe in later years

Once he arrived, Joe would take on all washing-up duties, and being a sailor through and through, he was far better than any of us girls: when he’d be finished the place would be gleaming, ship-shape and clean as a whistle, everything tied down and shining like a galley.

He often gave us money too, he’d bring us presents and he had all the local news for my mother, Ena, who had grown up in Passage and loved to hear stories about her home place.

And so on Christmas morning we’d all set off for our aunts’ house, which overlooked the fishing pier of Helvick in west Co Waterford, where us young ones would get presents, we’d get to listen to the adults talking about old times and to top it all off, we’d have a singsong.

My aunts always had Barley’s Lime Cordial as a treat for us, Cherry Brandy liqueur for my mother and Guinness and whiskey for the men. My aunts only drank tea.

Joe was usually called on to sing first because he loved to and because his voice was rich and melodious. He relished singing and he had a store of favourite songs that he’d learned from listening to artists like Johnny Cash and Jim Reeves.

He used to sing Roger Whittager’s The Last Farewell as well. After a swallow of Guinness to slake his throat, he’d put his glass down carefully on the coffee table and compose himself. His face would take on a dreamy, serious expression. Then he’d lift his head and begin: his deep, rich voice filling the room with the music and the story: “There’s a ship lying rigged and ready in the harbour, tomorrow for old England she sails.”

From the start we’d be hooked by the song. “Though death and darkness gather all around me… and the taste of war I know so very well,” he’d sing, his shoulders rising philosophically on the crescendo.

We loved this one because it told a story and we all knew the chorus with its lilting, easy melody: “for you are beaut-i-ful, and I have loved you dearly, more dearly than the spoken word can tell.”  We‘d join in at that point and sing along with Joe.

Walsh children 1930’s

His own life at sea seemed to give the song an added pathos. He had never married, and I always felt that those songs of lost love were heart-felt in some way. I had a sense that there was some hidden trauma but I could only guess at what that might be.

A ring of stout around his mouth was a sign that Joe was truly in the moment. The sadness in Joe that us young people could never miss but never understand seemed to add to the piquancy of the words.
As he sang, he’d lift his head up at certain parts almost in sympathy with the fate of the tragic sailor and time would slow down as his voice filled the room.

He had a head of rich black hair, a strong jaw-line and a fine profile. He was a very handsome man. He smoked Major cigarettes – the tops of the fingers on his left hand were brown from years of holding the stubs in the cup of his hand. His masculinity and strength coupled with an incongruous vulnerability could leave me feeling slightly embarrassed. The angelic quality of his voice and his open trusting eyes seemed to pose a question that I could not fathom.

Joe had thick black eyebrows and his dark brown eyes would hold your gaze with a look of honest appraisal while speaking to you.

He walked with a limp: one shoe was always built up by the cobbler to compensate for the shorter leg that had shrivelled as a result of excessive cycling and hurling as a young man. Because of this, he sat in the armchair in his own characteristic way, almost in a kneeling position as if genuflecting, the shorter leg folded underneath him, his knee nearly touching the floor.

Catherine’s dad Joe left and her uncle Joe

Those times remain clear in my memory now, of Joe singing with emotion of other worlds and times. Looking out the window in Helvick, I remember the grey-green sea stretching off down the coastline to the east, towards Hook Head in the distance with the town of Dungarvan visible to the west.

He always favoured songs about loneliness, about drinking and about disappointment. I remember him singing about the man sitting in a honky in Chicago when he sang Little Old Wine Drinker Me. “I asked the man,” he’d sing, “behind the bar, to play the juke-box, and the music takes me back to Tennessee”. He used to lift his shoulders in a semi-shrug as he sang the last line: “When they ask, who’s the man in the cor-ner cry-ing, I say little old wine drinking me.” Unhurried, he’d pause like any singer if a long breath was required. He’d often close his eyes but sometimes, he’d look into the near distance as he put his heart into the words. Now the words and the music of those songs merge like a collage of melodies: the notes unfolding slowly in my head, Joe’s voice rising effortlessly.

He died in his late sixties in the hospital in Dungarvan. We buried him on an icy cold, wet day in Crooke in January 2004 alongside his parents,  Joe and Mary Ellen Walsh (née Martel). There were hailstones and freezing rain on the day and it seemed fitting. As the coffin was lowered into the ground; it was as if whatever he’d endured was blanched away and his life was purified by the freezing downpour.

I’d like to thanks Catherine for providing this tweaked extract from Beyond the Breakwater, Memories of Home. If you follow the previous link you can buy it online, or as a kindle.  Its published by Mercier Press and is available as they say in all good bookshops, including the Book Centre, Waterford.  If you need any more convincing about this wonderful book Manchán Magan gave it a “rave” review in the Irish Times. 

A tweaked extract from Beyond the Breakwater Memories of Home
By Catherine Foley (c) Published by Mercier Press 2018.

1950’s Dun Laoghaire visitors to Dunmore

My guest blog this month is from a stalwart of the page, David Carroll.  Like myself he has a passionate interest in the local maritime heritage story and his personal reflections and research into the stories make a significant contribution to our understanding.  This month he considers the regular summer visitors from Dun Laoghaire to Dunmore during his childhood and paints a very vivid scene.

Both my parents, Desmond and Freda, were from Dun Laoghaire but had come to live in Dunmore in 1947, six months after I was born. The reason we arrived was that my father was appointed Harbour Master in succession to Major Wilfred Lloyd.  My parents were very happy living in Dunmore and had integrated well into the maritime community of the village. They remembered Dun Laoghaire fondly and loved every opportunity that presented itself to catch up on gossip and news.  Countless visitors made this possible; members of the OPW dredger crew, visiting yachtsmen, fishermen during winter months and also those staying in the hotels, caravans or renting houses during the summer months.

1950’s Dunmore

One such visitor was my uncle Jim (J.J.) Carroll who came to stay with us one summer during the mid-1950s at the time the Dunmore Regatta was taking place. My uncle, who incidentally was the first curator of the National Maritime Museum, was an expert model maker of ships and locomotives. He brought with him a model yacht that I was able to race in the regatta, which was a great thrill for me. He also brought a replica model of the Kingstown lifeboat Dunleary 11, the last lifeboat to be stationed in Kingstown, which relied solely on oars and sails for propulsion. It was in service from 1914 until 1919, during which time the RMS Leinster was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine UB-123 off the Kish with the loss of over 500 lives in October 1918. I arranged for the model to be displayed in our garden beside the harbour to draw attention to the Annual Flag Day for the Lifeboat, which was always held on Regatta Day.  That was a time, long before Twitter and Facebook were used to publicise such events. The model is now on display in the National Maritime Museum.

JJ’s model as it looks today, highlighting the proud history of the Dun Laoghaire Lifeboat
Dunmore was a favourite port of call for Dun Laoghaire yachtsmen. It was an ideal ‘stopping-off point’ for a yacht sailing onto Crosshaven or West Cork and was also convenient for yachts coming from Milford Haven in Wales. Looking at visiting yachts to the harbour as recorded in the 1957 Irish Cruising Club Annual, over fifty per cent showed Dun Laoghaire as their home port. This would be typical of all summers in the 1950s and up to the time that the re-development of the harbour started in the early 1960s.
I have some fond memories of the Dun Laoghaire yachts coming to Dunmore and some that I might want to forget! The typical yachtsman arriving in Dunmore would have been a professional type of person as yachting was a pastime that required a lot money to fund. Having worked hard all year, many would let their hair down during their time in Dunmore. It was mainly all good-natured fun and antics but one escapade that I was told about, by my parents, involved a small Messerschmidt car being brought through the windows of the Haven Hotel and placed in a guest’s bedroom.

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One of the most ebullient yachting characters from Dun Laoghaire was a dentist called Gerry Reddy. He was a regular visitor, coming as a member of the crew on different yachts. On one famous occasion, he arrived, not by sea but rather by air and it almost had an unhappy ending. The front page of the Irish Press of 12th August 1954 reported as follows:
Escape In Waterford Plane Crash
“A 4-Seater Miles Messenger aircraft crashed at Dunmore East, Co. Waterford last night while attempting to land on a local air-strip. Neither of the two occupants of the plane was injured but both received a severe shaking. The plane was piloted by Mr. Cedric O’Callaghan, who had with him as passenger Mr. G. Reddy also of Dublin. After circling the harbour twice, the plane overshot the landing ground, plunged through a wire fence and landed heavily in scrub. The under-carriage and wings were wrecked”. [1]
The Waterford News went on to say: “..It was the second time within a week that Mr. Reddin (I think they meant Reddy) figured in an unpleasant incident. The first occasion was when the yacht in which he was a passenger was buffeted by mountainous seas five days ago off Hook lighthouse.

All on board though that they were going to be swamped and crushed to death on the rocks. They tried to light flares, but they had become so wet that they would not light. It was the intention to raise an alarm so it could be conveyed from the lighthouse to the crew of the Dunmore East lifeboat.

If the lifeboat had arrived at that time, according to Mr. Reddin, they would have abandoned the craft at sea. They steered the boat two miles out to sea after considerable difficulty and managed to get into Dunmore East on the tide.” [2]
Two other regular yachtsmen were Roy Starkey and Bob Geldof  who sailed a small 4-ton yacht called Bonita.  I can recall them coming into our house at midnight to hear the shipping forecast on BBC radio. This information was vital to them before setting off to round the Tuskar and heading up the Irish Sea home to Dun Laoghaire. Bob Geldof lived just a few doors away in Crosthwaite Park, Dun Laoghaire to where my mother had lived before her marriage. I can recall saying to her that Geldof was an unusual name and she told me that  it was a Belgian name and the family had come to live in Dublin, which satisfied my curiosity. Many years later, he rose to national prominence because of his famous son, also Bob who became celebrated as the singer with the Boomtown Rats and who brought Live Aid to the world.
Two motor yachts from Dun Laoghaire, listed in the 1957 Irish Cruising Club Annual were the Kittiwake and the Santa Maria and I have memories of them both for very different reasons.
Community Noticeboard:
The Santa Maria, may have been a converted fishing boat, and was kept in pristine condition by two professional yacht hands from Dun Laoghaire called Pat Carey and Billy Davis. They crewed and maintained the motor yacht on behalf of the Creedon family, who were well known in business.  Pat and Billy were real seafaring characters and I always thought that they may have spent time at sea earlier, with Irish Lights or maybe on the mailboats.
During my summer holidays around that time (1957/58) I was allowed serve as an altar boy at the daily Mass in the small chapel attached to the Convent that overlooked the harbour.  On one occasion, I was told that  the priest celebrating mass would be the priest who was a guest aboard the Santa Maria. The priest was from Blackrock College in Dublin. He obviously was used to older and better-trained boys serving and was very intolerant of me as I struggled sometimes with the responses, which in those days were in Latin and I had a tendency to ring the bell at the wrong time!  After Mass, the priest took me aside and told me directly that I would need to speed up and cut out the errors. I was very upset and did not return to the Convent after that until the Santa Maria was well and truly around Hook Head.  Much later, I discovered that the priest was Father Walter Finn, nicknamed Wally, who was a famous rugby coach in the College and coached many successful SCT teams.
I had much happier memories of the Kittiwake. Another well-known person in business, called Sam McCormick, who held the agency for Caterpillar heavy-duty machinery in Ireland, owned this motor yacht. This company later became McCormick MacNaughton.  He and his family were always very kind and generous to my parents.  I often used to catch shrimps in the harbour and hand up a bucket full to the guests staying onboard, who always seemed to enjoy cooking and eating them.
At the end of the 1957 summer, my father was asked to skipper the Kittiwake on its return voyage to Dun Laoghaire.  Along with Sam McCormick and his eldest daughter Jean, I was given special permission to be part of the crew. I was absolutely delighted. This was to be first time to go past the Hook in a boat and I was told that the course my father was to steer would bring us right between the two Saltee Islands. I could not hide my excitement. From Killea church, you could see the Saltees in the distance off the Wexford coast.  I was looking forward to seeing them at close quarters, but the reality was somewhat different, as I got very seasick as we passed through the sound between the two Islands and had to lie down on a bunk in a cabin for a few hours. We reached Wicklow by nightfall and went to the Grand Hotel for a lovely meal. My appetite has returned at this stage.  Next day, was the All-Ireland Hurling Final and we completed a very enjoyable voyage to Dun Laoghaire along the Wicklow and Dublin coastline. I recall that it was about 3am, when we arrived back in Dunmore by car but I was still up in time for the first day back at school, which was overshadowed somewhat by Waterford’s narrow loss in the final.
It was not only during the summer that Dun Laoghaire folk came to Dunmore because during the winter herring seasons, fishing boats from Dun Laoghaire formed part of the large fleet fishing in the rich herring grounds at Baginbun and landing their catches at Dunmore.
Nordkap photo courtesy Richard Mc Cormick, National Maritime Museum” 

One Dun Laoghaire skipper who stood out and was held in very high esteem by my mother and father was Brian Crummey of the m.f.v. Ard Ailbhe. This was partly because he hailed from Booterstown, where my parents had lived but more importantly because he was highly qualified and trained skipper and a very ambitious one that had the expertise and drive to compete with foreign fishermen.

In 1967, Brian travelled to Norway to bring the trawler Nordkap back to Ireland. It was 65 feet in length (20 m), wooden hull and powered by a 230hp engine. It was an outstanding vessel.  Brian, of course continued the Dun Laoghaire / Dunmore East connection many years later when he married Frances and came to live in the village.
The two ports will always have connections and I am sure that other people will have as many happy memories to share, over the years, as I had growing up on the harbour in Dunmore.


Next month’s guest blog will feature Catherine Foley, who will introduce us to her uncle Joe from Passage East.  I’m always delighted to get contributions for the guest blog.  If any others out there would like to contribute, I would love to hear from you.  The brief is 1200 word count, on a theme of  the three sister rivers, the ports of Waterford and New Ross and harbour maritime history.  If interested to know more or discuss an idea please drop me an email. 
I publish a blog about Waterford Harbours maritime heritage each Friday.  
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[1] Irish Press 12 August 1954
[2] Waterford News 13 August 1954 (Thanks to Michael Farrell of BGHS for alerting me to this.)

A Lifetime Fishing, Billy Power Recalls

This months guest blog is brought to us by Pat Nolan. Pat recently republished a piece in the monthly Marine Times magazine with the headline “A Lifetime Fishing, Billy Power Recalls. It was to coincide with Billy’s recent retirement. Needless to say I’ve met Billy countless times in the last few years, and he is never without a fascinating snippet of information about our maritime past. I was so taken with Pat’s piece I asked him via Marine Times Editor Mark McCarthy to consider allowing me to republish. Pat graciously agreed.
Dunmore East man, Billy Power, has experienced the roller-coaster fishing scenario over several decades at the Co Waterford port.  He has witnessed the transition from the slack times of the 1930s and ‘40s gradually rise to the heady days of 1970s and ‘80s. Sadly, he has also subsequently witnessed the downward trend that is so evident today. It was not on the deck or in the wheelhouse of a fishing boat that this insight was accrued, but behind the counter of a business that during the 20th century became synonymous with Dunmore East fishing.   Yes, it was a business that supplied food, drink and a variety of provisions to crews of fishing vessels from far and wide. The regular contact with boat owners, skippers, fishermen, fish merchants, agents, etc. provided Billy with a noteworthy overview of fishing activity at the port. In the early days Power’s business was centred on one location. Today Power’s Bar and Power’s Centra Convenience Store & Bureau de Change are separately located on the Dock Road. Many years ago the combined business was widely referred to as, ‘The Butchers’, or ‘Bill’s’. That was a throw back from the days when Bill Power senior, the butcher, also sold groceries and alcohol to locals and fishermen. Today Billy’s interests are centred on the convenience store.

Dunmore circa 1950’s with a busy quay.  Photo sourced from William Power

As he recalls it, the upturn in Dunmore East herring fishing in the early 1950s was given great impetus by the arrival of Nolan’s driftnet boats from Union Hall, Co Cork, in the winter of 1950’/51. They came at the prompting of local fish merchant, Paddy O’Toole, who believed that herring shoals were plentiful in the nearby bay and river estuary. With my family being involved I can recall the circumstances very well. Following Paddy O’Toole’s phone calls there was deliberation as to whether the boats should go or not. In a matter of days it was decided that one would go. Around the end of October 1950 the 35ft fishing vessel, Florence, set out on the then formidable 100-mile trip to Dunmore East. She was skippered by Willie O’Neill and crewed by Thomas O’Sullivan, Pat O’Donovan, Paddy Minihane and Johnny Leahy, all local men who  have long since passed on to their maker. Perhaps though, Nolan owned boats and Union Hall crews were no strangers to Dunmore East. An extract from the Southern Star Newspaper of the early 1900s leads us to believe as much; the extract, which refers to my grandfather, reads as follows, “Mr Joe Nolan’s motor boat, Ocean Star, had a large take of herrings last week at Dunmore. They fetched a record sum of £300.”

Did the deliberation, planning and preparation of the 1950s venture prove worthwhile? As it turned out, yes! Paddy O’Toole’s hunch had been correct; herring shoals were indeed plentiful, with good landings and reasonable prices. To celebrate Christmas, Willie and his crew made the long trip back to Union Hall in the Florence.  They returned to Dunmore East a week or so later. It was their first trip home since departing in late October. A long time for five men to live on a small boat with none of today’s luxuries!  The vulnerability of those same small boats fishing at night in adverse weather conditions was also brought home when some time later the Florence made news headlines.  It arose when she lost her rudder while herring drifting. Fortunately the Schull boat, Ros Guill, was fishing nearby. Her skipper, Dan Griffin, realising that the Florence was in difficulty came to her assistance and towed her to the safety of Ballycotton harbour.

Dunmore fishermen via Barony of Gaultier Historical Society

The months that followed the initial departure of the Florence to Dunmore East saw three further Nolan owned boats do likewise; the Happy Home skippered by Jack Burns, the Dun Aine skippered by John Burns, and the Hopeful, skippered by Mickey Deasy. Each of those boats was a mere 38ft in length. Winter fishing in the vicinity of Hook Head and even up the Waterford estuary was a tough business in small boats. It was not for novices or the faint hearted. Strong winds occasionally accompanied by hail, sleet and even snow, blew towards the nearby rocky shores. Foul weather clothing used at the time was fearfully inadequate. Life was not easy for men working with nets and ropes coming out of icy-cold water. I have no memory of gloves being worn at that time!  Men were pushed to the limit, often working in pitch dark nights at a time when lighting in and around boats was insufficient by any standards. That’s the way it was in those days.

Within two years or perhaps far less, of the Florence’s arrival at Dunmore East, the number of boats fishing from the port greatly increased. The pier that had been virtually deserted a short time previously suddenly became a hive of activity. Herrings were being landed by the boatload! Yet, the activity of those early years was minuscule in relation to what was to follow. Soon the Florence and her likes were replaced by much larger boats.  As more sophisticated fishing techniques replaced drift netting, the volume of herring caught was so great that queuing of boats waiting to berth or to deposit their catches at offshore factory ships was a common sight.
Ballyteige Bay to the east of Baginbun Head, Co Wexford was the location where most herring were caught. Baginbun became a bye-word for that particular sea area.
As the 1950s progressed there was a fairly swift move away from drift netting when purse seining and other different versions of seining, including the famous coil-a-side or indeed half-coil-aside, began to establish themselves as more efficient ways of catching herring. To coin a phrase, the show was on the road, and Power’s business along with most aspects of life in Dunmore East was on the way up.
As we sat in his home in August 2010, Billy pointed towards what can only be described as stacks of ledgers, all of which he said, “Held records of fishing boat provision-accounts from the distant past.” When I asked him if I could see the records from the late 1950s for the Larus, a boat owned by my own family, he extracted the appropriate ledger from the pile in a matter of minutes.  He went on to say, “By the end of the 1950s we had on our books, boats not only from all round the Irish coast but also English, Scottish, German and Dutch vessels.  Throughout the 1960’s and ’70 we also supplied provisions to a large Belgian fleet, as well as some French and a few Norwegian vessels. While the Norwegians engaged in whaling and shark fishing, the Belgians mainly caught white fish. We had one hundred and thirty Dutch boats alone on our books. Drift netters from the Cornish ports of Penzance and Mousehole arrived on the scene early on. Within a season or two the St Ives purse seiners, Girl Renee and Sweet Promise also arrived. Word had spread around the Cornish coast that money was to be made at Dunmore East. The message was, there are loads of herring there, get in touch with Paddy O’Toole regarding fish sales, and call on Mrs Power for virtually all other needs – she’ll look after you’.”
Billy added, “The Dunmore herring fishing of the early to mid-1950s was a tremendous boost for those Cornish fishermen. Many of them were post-war British Navy retirees trying their hand at long-lining. Previous to their coming to Dunmore, meagre earnings of around £2 per week were par for the course. I remember that a crew on one of those St Ives boats made £5 a-man the first week here and £10 the next week. That was followed by a run of £30 for five weeks in succession; more money than they would otherwise have made annually. Thanks to the Dunmore ‘silver darlings’, Christmas at St Ives was made all the more enjoyable that year. It was the cue for many more Cornish boats to head in this direction.”
What did Billy remember of the Irish and Scotch boats that fished out of Dunmore East?  On the whole they seemed to do well, and as years went on into the 1970s some of them made absolute fortunes. The North of Ireland and Scotchmen initially had boats and gear that were superior to their South of Ireland counterparts. Out of that grew a situation that at one point caused great unpleasantness between Irish skippers, or at least some Irish skippers, and their Northern counterparts. By the late 1960s boats and gear of both factions were on a par. Throughout what I will call, ‘the Dunmore East herring campaign’, the McGrath brothers, Jack and Tommy, are reputed to have been great stalwarts of Irish fishermen. In the difficult times, when other agents and buyers choose to deal with ‘outsiders’ the McGrath brothers were instrumental in keeping the Irish fleet at sea.
It would appear, according to Billy, that those who came worst out of the Dunmore East herring fishing of the 1950s and ‘60s were owners who acquired boats though the BIM hire purchase scheme. They were obliged to sell their fish via BIM, a body that failed to find market outlets matching the large Dutch, German or French merchants, many of whom who had luggers on standby to ship fish to the continent as and when required. Accordingly, the owners of BIM boats were consistently paid considerably lower prices than those boat owners who sold on the open market. The BIM restriction Billy says “Was like something out of communism.”

Barreling “Silver Darlings” in Dunmore
Photo sourced from William Power

In the course of general chat Billy recalled periods during the 1970s when problems in other countries proved advantageous for the herring fishing industry at Dunmore.  Inflated prices became the order of the day. He recalled that respectively, a desert war and a fishermen’s strike were responsible for two such periods. In the first instance a Dutch company operating in Dunmore was contracted to supply herring to the Israeli Army. That he recalls, “Put a lot of money into fishing here in the early 1970s.” The fishermen’s strike referred to took place in France. All the big pelagic boats there became involved and did not go to sea. With a keen eye for business, some of the continental merchants operating at Dunmore channelled vast quantities of herring into France via back door routes. It was an extremely lucrative venture for all concerned!

Going back to the unprecedented volume of business that came the way of the Power family, I asked Billy how they coped with it. In reply he made light of it, simply remarking on what a great woman his mother, affectionately known as Katie to all and sundry, had been. He commented on how admirably she managed following the death of his father in 1960. He also spoke of the part played by family members including his brother Peter and sister Helen. Bookkeeping and accounting in general were carried out in the form of traditional ledger recording etc. Importantly the accounts of most boats were paid through agents or fish buyers representing fleets and individual boats.
Sadly, it has to be said that in the midst of the good times at Dunmore East there were boats that for one reason or another didn’t do so well. Billy points to the absurd sales restriction placed on BIM boats as part of that problem. Yes, there was the occasional boat that didn’t manage to pay its way, but Mrs Power knew the score and gave leeway in the matter of overdue accounts to those she knew to be genuine people down on their luck. Years later many of those fishermen returned to repay and thank her! Indeed money resulting from unpaid bills was forwarded to her to from distant parts of the world. It came from those genuine men who many years previously failed to make their fortunes at Dunmore East!
As a footnote to our chat Billy smiled as he recalled that in the days of the Dunmore East boom-times, more than fish left on continental bound ships and luggers. It was not unknown for consignments of beef and lamb to make their way into holds. The question is who supplied the expertly butchered sides and cuts of meat? All those years later, I feel that we will not be in breach of any official secrets act, or the likes, to disclose that the prepared consignments referred to travelled but a short distance from shop to ship. Sufficient to say, a young chap named Billy Power was known to be very handy with cleavers, bone saws, trimming knives and other implements likely to be found in a butcher’s shop!
I’d like to thank Pat for agreeing to allow me post this excerpt from his article.  I gives a tremendous overview of the fishing at Dunmore, particularly in the 20thC. Pat’s description of the life and conditions endured aboard vessels such as the  Florence was part and parcel of my childhood hearing of fishing, indeed it was not far from my own experience when I first started out, particularly in the wintertime. The piece was republished recently as a tribute to Billy on his retirement. I certainly wish him well, and look forward to many more years of stories and yarns from the man.


Finally from me just to say that I’m delighted to get contributions for the guest blog.  If any others out there would like to contribute, I would love to hear from you.  The brief is 1200 word count, on a theme of  the three sister rivers and harbour maritime history.  If interested to know more or discuss an idea please drop me an email. 
I publish a blog about Waterford Harbours maritime heritage each Friday.  
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Beyond the Breakwater

Catherine Foley is a proud Waterford woman who grew up initially in the city before moving to An Rinn in the Waterford Gaeltacht. Deena and I had known of her before, through her contributions to RTE Radio 1’s Sunday Miscellany.  However it was her cousin, and a regular contact of tides’n’tales on facebook, Mary Chaytor nee Rogers who alerted me to her recently published book; Beyond the Breakwater, Memories of home.  The memoir takes us from her early days in Lower Newtown, a move in 1970 to the Gaeltacht, her career in journalism and as a carer for her parents in later years.  But as this is a maritime blog, Catherine decided to share some recollections of regular visits with her maternal grandparents in Passage East; Joe and Mary Ellen Walsh. I think you will enjoy them.

My maternal grandmother, Mary Ellen Walsh, was a tailoress who lived in Passage East in County Waterford, all her life. She wore her grey hair tied back in a bun at the base of her head. She had deep-set dark brown eyes – a link to her Corsican ancestry. She wore a navy wrap around apron that had a pocket at the front in which she carried her beads, a few stray hairpins, sometimes the stub of a pencil or a spool of thread and maybe a little ironed handkerchief.

Catherine as Little Red Riding Hood with her mother Ena Foley nee Walsh

I remember her sitting at her Singer sewing machine, her upper body curved over the machine as she swayed back and forth in time with the motion of the wheel and the foot pedal underneath, all aligned and working with clockwork-like syncopation and co-ordination. I remember her starting the machine when she pressed down on the pedal underneath and then gave the wheel at her side a bit of a push. With nicely timed and precise movements, she’d crank up the beast and like a great steamboat it would all start up, and the whole machine would trundle into action, the needle ratcheting along. Then my grandmother’s highly controlled and beautifully intense dance would begin in earnest.

As children we stayed with my grandparents Joe Walsh and Mary Ellen in Post Office Square in Passage East throughout the 1960s. The noise of the Singer was like the sound of a great farmyard contraption clattering along. It had a rhythmic beat, a battering ram of a tune that carried a message of great condemning conviction and certitude, both satisfying and mesmerising. It was like hearing little hammer blows falling, cascading, tumbling down through the needle onto the fabric.

In the midst of this mechanical mayhem, she’d sometimes give the wheel at her side an extra little encouraging lash of her hand to speed up the sewing and that’s when she’d travel into the stratosphere of sewing wizardry. With her head bent low and her hands over the dress, she’d be flying along, concentrating fiercely, united as one with the powerful engine, her needle jabbing in and out of the material.  At such moments, she was completely focussed, having to keep the seam in its correct place, the pressure up and the momentum going, pacing it, weaving it, all the parts moving in one great headlong rush. She was the seamstresses’ version of Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Mary Ellen Walsh and Catherine as an infant

The Singer, coming to a temporary stop for a moment, used to sound exhausted as it wound down, the frantic energy seeming to dissipate while my gran readjusted the fabric and fixed it under the needle. Then I’d see her thread the needle, holding her breath like a tight-rope walker, her glasses half-way down her nose as she tried to hold the cotton between her thumb and forefinger and direct it through the eye.  It seemed to me as if she was facing down the beast, and a dual of two wits, a fight to the finish, would ensue until she’d threaded the needle, and once again bent the automaton to her will…

Her father was Joe Martel, a Corsican who ran away to sea when he was sixteen. He left either a year before or a year after a full census was conducted in Adjaccio in 1873 and although my sister and I went to Corsica years later and combed through the census returns in the heat of the National Archives we found no trace of him or his family. His father was Bastien Martel, a stone mason.

Joe Martel secured a job as a sailor on board a ship and sailed out of Adjaccio and thus he became a merchant seaman. In time, he became a bosun. On one of his voyages, he met a Captain William Ryan, from Passage East, and the two became friends. They must have been in their twenties when they came home to Passage on leave, Captain Ryan showing him his home place, where small fishing boats were tied up along the quays in the village, at a narrow stretch in the River Suir before the estuary widens to flow out to open sea. It was here that Joe Martell met Willie’s sister, Mary Ryan.

We have a photograph of Joe Martel with his drooping moustache and a slouched soft cloth cap, very much in keeping with the manner of his countrymen back in his native Corsica. His eyes are deep-set under the brim of his cap. The two were married in Crooke Church in 1883 – the same place where my parents married in 1958.

Catherine as a toddler with her grandfather Joe Walsh 

Joe Martel and Mary, his wife, had four daughters – RoseAnn, Maggie, Angela and Mary Ellen Martel, who was the youngest and my grandmother. Ena, her daughter, and my mother, remembered Joe Martel even though she was only a little girl when he died. They used to walk along the cockle walk together, chatting away, hand in hand. He had black hair, dark brown eyes and sallow skin. He used to make model ships, which he moored against detailed miniature piers, all set against the painted background of the river estuary with detailed scapes of Ballyhack, Arthurstown, Duncannon and Cheekpoint all easy to pick out. These elaborate seascapes were housed in great display cases made of glass. He used Mary Ryan’s grey hair for the wisps of smoke coming out of the funnel of the ships. He was the first seaman to bring a gramophone home to Passage East from one of his voyages.

I have photographs of the times when we posed in the lee of the derelict Geneva barracks at a summer fair. I remember the swinging cots, the sandwiches and the cups of strong tea from wobbly tables in the field. Different years, different photographs. In another I am a child with my mother kneeling in the grass beside me, smiling. I am dressed as little red riding hood – in a kind of djellaba down to my sandaled feet. I have a basket on my arm but my tear-stained face shows what an unwilling participant in the fancy dress of the early 1960s I was. I can remember being afraid because I thought I was going to meet the wolf.  But tear-stained or not, I came away with first prize. Some of those memories are still vivid. Here’s an extract from Passage,  a poem, that is part of my recently published memoir, Beyond the Breakwater.

Their words are in my head today,
they echo back and forth
lulling me into a half-remembered time
when I was four and younger
in my pram
outside on the footpath
looking up at Canacanoe Hill.
The pump in front of Connors’ house.
The shop. Ice-cream,
Did they get a salmon?
No, they’re very scarce.
Crabs, gulls, stones, herrings.
The smoke house, shells, rain.
Get up to bed,
The Men’s Walk, the dock, evening,
The Blind Quay,
The slip, the steps, the gunwale.
We all grew up but their words are in my head today.
They echo back and forth.

I’d like to thanks Catherine for providing this tweaked extract from Beyond the Breakwater, Memories of Home. Its published by Mercier Press and is available as they say in all good bookshops.  (I got my own in the Book Centre, Waterford). There were many stand out pieces in the book for me like her wandering up Alphonsus Road on her communion morning knocking on doors, or the deeply poignant Ardkeen Visit.  And I was delighted to readt her perspective on the visit of Jackie Kennedy to Woodstown which featured in another recent guest blog by Joe Falvey.  If you need any more convincing about this wonderful book Manchán Magan gave it a “rave” review in the Irish Times. 


Community Notice: Free Concert at Faithlegg House Hotel. Booking essential…

Finally from me just to say that I’m delighted to get contributions for the guest blog, especially from a female perspective.  This is blog post 241 and only the third guest blog since we started in late 2016 from a woman.  So if any others out there would like to contribute, I would love to hear from you.  The bref is 1200 word count, on a theme of  the three sister rivers and harbour maritime history by email to russianside@gmail.com.  Next month will feature a well known Dunmore East personality.

I publish a blog about Waterford Harbours maritime heritage each Friday.  
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