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  Next month will feature a well known Dunmore East personality.

I publish a blog about Waterford Harbours maritime heritage each Friday.  
To subscribe to get it to your inbox email 
For daily events/updates

Maintaining Dunmore East Harbour

For this latest guest blog, I’m delighted to welcome back David Carroll, who shares more memories of his childhood in Dunmore East in the 1950’s & 60’s. In a similar vein to his previous blog on the village, and his recollection of the ship wreck of the St Austell, David gives us a no nonsense account of the village at the time, the geography, characters and what life was like on a daily basis. I’m sure you will enjoy it.
A recent visit to the National Maritime Museum of Ireland, based in the Mariners Church, Haigh Terrace, Dun Laoghaire brought memories flooding back of my idyllic childhood spent living in the harbour at Dunmore East.  They were triggered by a photograph of a diver, his helmet and diving suit. The information panel beside it included the following:
“Bob Lewis. A diver and stonemason with the Board of Works in Dun Laoghaire Harbour for more than 38 years, Bob Lewis was the last person to use this diving suit. His pump man was Michael John Molony. Lewis would not allow or trust anyone else to do the job. At the time there was no phone to speak with the surface. The diver had to signal with a series of pulls on a rope known as a life-line.”

However, it was not only at Dun Laoghaire harbour that Bob Lewis worked as a diver, he also came to Dunmore East. Both harbours came under the auspices of the Office of Public Works (O.P.W.) or the Board of Works as it was also called. Howth harbour was another and along with Ardglass and Donaghadee in Northern Ireland, these five harbours were designated as Royal Harbours before partition.
In the 1950s, a great deal of repair work was carried out on the foundations of the Dunmore East pier at the back of the lighthouse. Bob Lewis did all the underwater work. As the photograph below shows, work was also done in the harbour, particularly around the steps near the lighthouse. Here, a crowd would gather to watch, including myself. Once the diver went below the surface, there was not a whole lot to see but this did not deter sightseers still looking on.     
Diver Lewis preparing to dive.  Photo credit Theo Harris
The photo captures Bob Lewis and his support crew preparing to dive from the pontoon at the lighthouse steps in the harbour. The man in the cap must be his trusted pump man Michael John Molony and also assisting on the deck of the pontoon is Connie Fancy Power from Portally. The man in the shirtsleeves is Stephen Mullally from Killea. The man under the canopy, with the white shirt collar is, I am almost certain, Patsy Fancy Power from Killea, brother of Connie.
The author, David Carroll, standing
Beside the diving suit. 
The ‘Passage and Dunmore Jottings’ from the Munster Express(1) of 1955 reported as follows:  “Harbour Pier Repairs. The harbour pier at Dunmore East, which has been undermined by the sea, will shortly undergo repairs by the Board of Works. Stones and concrete are being pressed into holes’ and crevices.”
What I remember about Bob Lewis is that he was what I would call now, a very austere person. This, I suppose, was not surprising considering the dangerous nature of his work. Another thing, that I can recall, is that he always insisted staying, while working in Dunmore, with George and Maisie Roche.
A little bit like the certainties in life, death and taxes, there were two things that were certain about my childhood growing in Dunmore each summer. One was that the kittiwakes always came back and the SS Sisyphus, the Board of Works bucket dredger would turn up! In reality, it probably did not come to dredge the harbour every year but it always felt as if it was always present in the harbour during summer months.

S.S. Sisyphus at Helvick, Co. Waterford.   Photo credit- Waterford Co. Museum
The poor old Sisyphus was a much-unloved vessel. It had a different type of operation than the Portlairge that dredged in the Port of Waterford. The Sisyphus had a system of buckets linked by chain that lowered down through the bow and the mud was lifted, somewhat inefficiently, into the buckets and deposited in the hold as they turned over.  The Sisyphus was of course a steam ship and I can clearly recall looking at clouds of smoke, through my father’s binoculars, bellowing from the funnel as it came around Hook Head making its way towards Dunmore.
When the dredger worked in the harbour, it was a chaotic scene. A myriad of cables were laid in all directions from the ship to the shore keeping the vessel in place.  The clattering sound of the buckets was deafening in the harbour and, needless to say, lots of dirty smoke filled the air.
Sisyphus at Dunmore accessed from and repaired by Brendan Grogan
The master of the Sisyphus was called Kelly and he was from Arklow. However, the rest of the crew were from Dun Laoghaire. One of the mates was a big man called Maguire and he was a keen soccer fan. He came to Kilcohan Park one Sunday with my father and myself to see Waterford play and he introduced me to one my heroes, Tommy Taylor, the Waterford goalkeeper. I was absolutely thrilled as this was the first time that I had actually met a footballer in person. Tommy Taylor’s work had often brought him to Dun Laoghaire harbour where he had got to know some of the dredger crew.
At the end of the summer, there was always great consultation between the master of the dredger and my father, the Harbour Master, as regards weather forecasts. The dredger would not sail unless the sea was flat calm and the forecast for the following days was good as well.  The dredger had been built on the Clyde in 1905 but looked very old and decrepit by the 1950s. She never looked like a vessel that could withstand a battering at sea. The Sisyphus remained in service until sometime in the 1970s. Apart from a photograph of the crew of the Sisyphus, no artefacts are on display in the National Maritime Museum. An engine from another O.P.W. dredger, Saxifrage was preserved and is on display but sadly, the Sisyphus ended up in the scrapyard of Hammond Lane Foundry.
The efficiency and productivity of the Sisyphus was put into context a few year later, in 1963, when the W.D. Seven Seas, a suction dredger arrived in Waterford Harbour from the U.K. to dredge Duncannon Bar.  The contrast between the two vessels could not be greater. My father told me at the time the Seven Seas would dredge the entire Dunmore harbour in a single day.


At a later stage we will return with David to the Dunmore of his era with a look at the visitors that came to the port at the time.  I want to sincerely thank David for this mornings piece and also, as it happens, his regular correspondence and support in promoting the harbour area.  Next months guest blog will come to us from Catherine Foley, with an excerpt from her new book “Beyond the Breakwater”.  Regulars will enjoy it I know, particularly those with Passage East connections. If you would like to contribute a piece to any of my guest blog Friday’s (last Friday of each month) please get in touch to  All I ask is that the subject matter be linked in some way to the maritime heritage of the three sisters or the coast on either side, and 1200 words approx.  I will source photos and links to the piece and promote via my usual channels.

(1) Munster Express 19 June 1955

Thanks to Brian Ellis for his support to David with this piece.  Brian works voluntarily with the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire. 

I publish a blog about Waterford Harbours maritime heritage each Friday.  
To subscribe to get it to your inbox email 
For daily events/updates

Duncannon siege

An astonishing engagement during the Confederate wars in Ireland, saw an unlikely achievement by Irish rebels, when they sunk the flagship of Cromwellian forces at Duncannon.  The loss of the Great Lewis must have been a significant boost to the confederate forces at the time, ultimately leading to the capture of the fort. The discovery of a wreck site in recent years is a major archeological find. This months guest blog by my cousin James Doherty looks at the back story leading up to the event.
In the 16th and 17th century Waterford was a thriving port with a flourishing international trade. However, visiting foreign ships presented a potential security risk to the English administration. From trading, the Spanish and French knew ports like Waterford well and there was a danger that Ireland would be used as a stepping stone by an invading army whose final goal was England. In response to this perceived threat steps were taken to counter any invasion risk.
Periodically the defences of Ireland were bolstered, locally in the 16th century a stone blockhouse was erected outside Reginald’s Tower in the city which mounted eight large brass canon (these were later stolen by a English pirate but that’s another story). A canon battery was erected at Passage East and Duncannon became the focus of the harbour defences.
By December 1587 the fortification of Duncannon was nearly complete with two sconces (a type of angular earthwork) in place that could mount four culverin canon with a further four canon erected higher up in the fort[1]. As the 16th century drew to a close the threat to the English empire lay from Spain and in 1588 its armada set sail.
A combination of naval defeat and inclement weather ensured that only a third of the 130 ships of the Spanish Armada would ever return to home. The threat from Spain didn’t diminish however and her troops would land at Kinsale in support of Irish rebels in 1601. With Spanish troops fighting in Kinsale there was a risk of additional landings so defensive works on the coast took on a more frantic pace. A new fortification was completed at “The Fort of the Rock” situated across the river from Waterford on high ground with additional earthworks being added at Waterford City, Duncannon and Passage East [2].
1603 would see the defeat of the Irish rebels and the threat from Spain would recede, Duncannon would never be tested by the Spanish but a constitutional crisis in England and rebellion in Ireland would soon bring war to Duncannon.
Duncannon Siege from Hore Vol 4.  with thanks to Wexford Co Library

Less than forty years after the last major war in Ireland rebellion broke out in 1641 with Irish forces attacking Duncannon fort on St Stephens’s day[3]. Lawrence Esmonde commander of the fort was a fascinating character; his post was a reward for his service during the Nine Years War (which had ended in 1603) and was in his eighties when he would see action once more. As is often the case in civil wars this conflict would divide families whilst Esmonde senior held Duncannon his son Thomas was a noted commander with the Irish rebels[4].

The besieging Irish lacked the equipment or engineering expertise to break the defences of Duncannon and had to be content with bottling up the defenders in the fort. The English troops made occasional forays out of the fort and the fighting took on a bitter aspect with arbitrary hanging of prisoners occurring on both sides[5]. The rebellion in Wexford as in other parts of Ireland took on a sectarian nature as protestant homes were raided for supplies[6] with many fleeing towards the perceived safety of the fort. As the opposing forces settled in to what was effectively a siege, events in England would soon add an extra dimension to the Irish conflict.
The origins of the English Civil War are complex, England in the 1640’s was in turmoil, a rift had formed between monarchy and parliament, and in addition to this power struggle Scotland and Ireland were in open rebellion. King Charles Ist dissolved his uncooperative parliament after they refused to help the king raise armies to fight the rebels. These divisions would eventually lead to civil war which started in 1642, English troops abroad would have to decide which side they supported. In Duncannon the garrison commander declared for the king although many troops’ sympathies lay with parliament.
1642 would see sporadic fighting around the vicinity of Duncannon; one notable incident saw 100 English troops leave the fort by boat and attack nearby Redmond Hall. The leader of this sortie is listed as a Captain Thomas Aston who owned lands in Crooke just across the river from Redmond Hall. The hall was seen as sympathetic to the rebel forces and when the troops approached the hall the residents refused them entry. Musket fire and a small canon were used on the hall but disaster struck when a numerically far superior Irish force fell on the attackers from nearby woods with the English force being wiped out[7].
A depiction of Redmond Hall around this time via Hore, thanks to Wexford Co Library

As King Charles couldn’t muster enough men for a campaign against the Parliamentary army in England and fight Irish rebels he choose the lesser of two evils and signed a peace treaty with the Irish in 1643. This led to a cessation of hostilities in Ireland against royal troops and an uneasy truce was in place around Duncannon.

Throughout 1644 unhappy with any truce many of the king’s key army commanders switched sides and declared for parliament. Lawrence Esmonde was a king’s man and the circumstances around the Duncannon garrison going over to the side of parliament are unclear. One account from inside the fort mentions a parliament ship calling on the fort and the second in command a Lieutenant Larkin negotiating the garrison switching allegiance. It would appear that only a handful of the command staff stayed loyal to the king and Esmonde may have been left with no choice but to agree to the wishes of his men after his second in commands duplicity.[8]

With the garrison now declared for parliament hostilities would soon resume. The Irish wanted to guarantee access to the Suir estuary and an army was dispatched from Kilkenny to deal with the fort. The stage was set for one of the most dramatic events in the forts military history. In command of the Irish army was General Thomas Preston who had seen service in Europe and brought the knowledge and equipment needed to break the siege of Duncannon Fort.

Oliver Cromwell was aware of the precarious situation of the Duncannon garrison and dispatched 4 ships to resupply the fort with additional troops and supplies. When Preston’s Irish army arrived at Duncannon on the 20th of January he was met with the sight of a small fleet anchored off the fort[9].
The Madeline, Mayflower and Elizabeth were under the command of a Captain Bell in his vessel the Great Lewis. The Irish outside the fort were using four canons and a mortar to bombard the fort and the ships in the estuary attempted to fire over the fort at the Irish positions. A sortie from the fort towards the Irish lines was ineffective and as the canon fire from the ships was simply passing over the Irish positions the situation in the fort seemed desperate [10]
The Great Lewis copyright Brian Cleare

The Irish realising the vulnerable position of the four ships in the estuary spent the night of the 22nd of January moving their artillery to the high ground behind Duncannon. As dawn broke on the 23rd the ships realised they were trapped. The Irish had a window of several hours until the tide turned and they unleashed a sustained fire on the enemy vessels. When the tide and wind allowed Captain Bell ordered anchor cables cut and made way from the estuary as the four ships limped out of range of the Irish artillery.

Bell’s own flagship the Great Lewis was the most severely damaged and would sink with the loss of 200 men on the 26th of January with the other three ships escaping the Irish coast once repairs had been made.
The sinking of the Great Lewis was the turning point in the siege and a huge moral boost for the Irish, however the beleaguered garrison would hold out until the 18th of March before surrendering. The soldiers were allowed to march out to join the parliamentary army at Youghal with the fort now in Irish hands.
In 1649 the fort would fall under siege again with the Irish being on the inside this time as the Cromwellian army gained territory in Ireland. This attack was unsuccessful but the fort would eventually surrender to Cromwell’s forces after a lengthy blockade in 1650. The eventual capitulation of Duncannon fort would bring an end to nearly a decade of conflict on the Hook peninsula.

Thanks to James for todays piece.  Next months guest blog will bring us to a more modern era at Dunmore from another regular, David Carroll. If you would like to contribute a piece to any of my guest blog Friday’s (last Friday of each month) please get in touch to  All I ask is that the subject matter be linked in some way to the maritime heritage of the area, and 1200 words approx.  I will attempt to add photos and links to the piece and promote via my usual channels.

[1] Paul Kerrigan, Fortifications of Ireland
[2] Ibid
[3] 1641 Depositions , testimony of John Munroe Courtesy of Trinity College Dublin
[4] Jason Mchugh The Esmonde Family of Lymbrick and Ballytramont: An Old English Family
[5] 1641 Depositions , testimony of William Whaley Courtesy of Trinity College Dublin
[6] 1641 Depositions , testimony of John Sims Courtesy of Trinity College Dublin
[7] 1641 Depositions , testimony of Edward Aston Courtesy of Trinity College Dublin
[8] 1641 Depositions , testimony of Peter Hooper Courtesy of Trinity College Dublin
[9] Waterford Decies Journal issue 60 (article by Kevin Downes)
[10] Ibid

Thanks to Michael Dempsey of Wexford County Library for assistance with sourcing some of the photos for this piece.  And also to Brian Cleare for allowing me use the image of his painting of the Great Lewis

I publish a blog about Waterford Harbours maritime heritage each Friday.
To subscribe to get it to your inbox email
For daily events/updates

Duncannon Fort and the Waterford militia

April’s guest blog comes from a page regular, my cousin, James Doherty. Today he’s talking about a topic that was very much part of some recent blogs and presentations I gave on the Paddle Steamer service that ran between the city and Duncannon.  In this piece James gives us an insight into the history of Duncannon fort on the Wexford side of Waterford Harbour and the use of the facility by, amongst others, the Waterford Militia.

The concept of militia is certainly nothing new, at its core lies the citizen soldier a man ready to take up arms in defence of his country when called upon. The militia movement in Ireland remains relatively obscure and the idea that thousands of these citizen soldiers would drill and assemble each year may come as a surprise to many. 

Following the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 in Scotland, an act of parliament decreed the raising of a part time force of able bodied men between the ages of 16 and 60[1]. The proviso that this force was exclusively protestant ensured their loyalty to the crown. It would be the end of the 18th century before Catholics were allowed to join. In 1793 the British Army sent a large force to Holland to fight the French as the regular army was on the continent.  It created a dilemma however as there was no protection of the home front.  The solution was an expanded militia. Catholics were allowed join and numbers quickly increased[2]
The militia and cannon pose for the camera, Waterford Barracks
Between 1793 and 1815 the 33rd Light Infantry Regiment assembled in Waterford for a month’s training each year with the reservists being paid over this period. The concept was simple if there was a landing by a foreign force these men could be called upon to defend the country. Following the defeat of France in the Napoleonic wars this threat diminished and the militia was disbanded. 
By 1854 the drums of war were sounding again, however this time the foe wasn’t the French but the Russian Empire. The militia was reformed in November 1854 and by January they had 175 men elisted with this number doubling by the summer. When assembled the men were based in the Infantry Barracks in Waterford city (officers, seeking better quarters, stayed in the Adelphi Hotel). 
Army high command decreed that some militia units should receive training with Artillery and 1855 saw the Waterford Light Infantry Militia become artillery militia. Wasting no time the unit were sent to Duncannon fort to train with artillery pieces there. This visit downriver would become a regular occurrence for the city men of Waterford. As a state of war existed the Militia stayed called up and spent nearly six months at Duncannon
a 24 pound cannon typical of the type used by the militia
The presence of the militia men in the fort continued a long military tradition at Duncannon Fort. A fortification stood there since medieval times with large parts of the stone fort that stands today dating from 1588 when the modern fort was built to withstand the threat of the Spanish invasion. It took a 6 week siege for the fort to be captured during the Cromwellian wars and later in that same conflict the fort, having being retaken, withstood the attempts of Cromwell’s army to recapture it. 
In July of 1855 the militia men were asked to volunteer for the regular army with over 90 men agreeing to service in the Crimea. The remainder of the regiment would be dismissed for the rest of the year. The practice of summer training for the militia units continued between 1855 and 1860 with the Waterford Militia being sent throughout the British Isles. The benefits of using coastal forts for artillery training needs little explanation with the fort being a popular destination for training purposes with militia units from all over Ireland. However the local Waterford unit would not return until 1860. Over the next two decades the Waterford men would use the fort nearly twenty times. 
In June of 1871 the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Earl Spencer, inspected the Irish Militia and announced in Duncannon Fort that he was most pleased in how the batteries were manned and the proficiency of the men firing at floating targets in the estuary at ranges up to 2000 yards[3]
It wasn’t all hard work for the militia of course, or at least some of them!. The officers of the regiment occasionally organised receptions at the fort for friends and guests. The Waterford papers of 1883 reporting that a special steamer was hired to convey members of Waterford society to the fort where dancing continued late into the night before the steamer returned to the city[4]
An engraving of the fort from the late 18th C

For the rank and file of the militia though life in the fort would have been more mundane. Duncannon had little accommodation with room for officers only. Men would have slept in tents on the fort glacis with some training accounts mentioning anything up to 600 men in attendance. Large metal pots were used to boil hunks of meat that was served with potatoes for dinner. Sanitary conditions were extremely basic.

A curious factor of how the militia was treated was related to their pay; in this respect the Waterford unit was very lucky. As the regimental office was back in Waterford when the summer training was over the men would return to the city and be given their back pay. Other militia units were not so fortunate and when their training was over they would be paid and expected to make their own way home, often with disastrous results. In June of 1863 the Tipperary Militia fresh from a summer at Duncannon were disbanded on the quayside in Waterford. The Waterford News described the ensuing chaos in colourful terms. A warm patronage of our public houses was displayed by the Tipp’s, The city was filled with men made boisterous by deep potations and by no means coveted by any respectable community[5]. A few years later “The Tipp’s” were at it again although this time they started trouble on their way to Duncannon. The normal chartered steamer wasn’t available so the Tipp’s had to wait for the public steamer. Many of the Tipp’s spent their time in pubs on the quayside and when some of them were arrested a serious riot ensued when their comrades tried to affect their release[6]
1883 would see a re-organisation of the Army with the Waterford Artillery Militia becoming the 6th Brigade , South Irish Division of the Royal Artillery[7] with further army reforms in 1908 seeing the Militia being designated as reserve units. 
The military function of the fort waned at the end of the 19th century and adverts ran in national newspapers in 1915 offering the grassy area in front of the fort for rent [8] and the buildings known as the Artillery Stores offered up for rent in 1916[9]. The fort was burnt during the Irish Civil War but restored for use during the Emergency. After the Emergency the only military function of the fort was to be used for summer camps by members of the Irish Reserve Forces. 
So the next time you visit Duncannon Fort try and imagine the smoke and noise of the 19th century with artillery batteries blazing away at targets floating in the middle of the estuary as the gun crews scrambled to man the massive guns under the watchful eyes of their commanding officers. 

Having spent a number of weekends at Duncannon fort when a member of Civil Defence, I can only say it was always a wonderful place to visit and explore.  Its not our first trip to Duncannon of course, as my good pal and fellow blogger Bob, recalled a Duncannon beach family holiday in the 60’s previously. And armed with this extra insight into its history and occupation, hopefully you will make your way down to visit this summer.  It opens in June and more details are here.

If you would like to contribute a piece to any of my guest blog Friday’s (last Friday of each month) please get in touch to  All I ask is that the subject matter be linked in some way to the maritime heritage of the area, and 1200 words approx.

I publish a blog about Waterford harbours maritime heritage each Friday.  
To subscribe to get it to your inbox email 

My Facebook and Twitter pages chronical the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F  T

[1] The Records of the Waterford Militia by Major Otway Wheeler Cuffe 1885
[2] The Irish Militia 1793- 1802 , Ivan Nelson
[3] The Records of the Waterford Militia by Major Otway Wheeler Cuffe 1885
[4] Waterford News June 8th 1883
[5] Waterford News June 6th 1863
[6] The Manchester Guardian June 28th 1871.
[7] The Records of the Waterford Militia by Major Otway Wheeler Cuffe 1885
[8] Irish Examiner 8th of May 1915
[9] Irish Independent 13th of Sepetember 1916

Captain Richard J. (Dick) Farrell 1897 – 1993

In our first guest blog 2018, Brendan Grogan brings us this wonderful summary of the life and maritime career of Captain Richard Farrell. Captain Farrell, as I always heard him referred to, was highly respected in his role as Harbour Master, but then again having seen it all and done it all as a seafarer he had a unique perspective on what it takes to run a port safely and efficiently.

Captain Richard Farrell became Waterford Harbour Master in 1941 at the age of 44 on the retirement of his uncle, Walter J. Farrell who had held the position since 1903. He was the youngest child of eight children and only son of Richard Farrell (1869 – 1939), a shipbroker in Waterford. His first wife Frances Harbison whom he married in 1919 was a nurse, she died in 1953. In 1963 he married Maeve Kenny and they lived at ‘Trade Winds’ on John’s Hill. Maeve passed away in 2017 in her 104th year.
He was the only surviving Irish man to hold a Master’s Foreign Seagoing Certificate ticket for both Sail and Steam when he passed away in 1993 aged 94. He had sailed the world’s oceans on many ships between 1913 and 1941, namely:- 
S.S. Medic, Steamer, 1913-1915 as Deck boy. 
S.S. Jordanhill, four masted Barque, 1915-1917 as Able Seaman 
S.S. Killoran, four masted Barque, 1918-1919 as 2nd Mate 
S.S. Zaydo, 3 masted Barquentine, for nine months, as 2nd Mate 
S.S. Largo Law, Steamer, 1920-1927, as 2nd Mate and 1st Mate 
S.S. Gogovale, Steamer, 1928-1941, as 1st Mate and Master 1930-1941 
At the age of sixteen his uncle Walter secured a berth for Richard on the Harland & Wolff built steamship, White Star Liner S.S. Medic, out of Liverpool on which he served for a year and a half. His seafaring life had begun…… 
In an interview with Tom McSweeney for Seascapes, Captain Farrell at age 95 gave chilling accounts of his voyages around Cape Horn in four masted Barques and also of his involvement landing the Munster Fusiliers at Suvla Bay during WW1. 
Some excerpts from his log from 1915…… 
I had a mind to join a sailing ship and secured a berth as Ordinary Seaman on the S.S. Jordanhill, a steel sailing vessel built in 1892. This four masted square rigged barque was to be my home for this my first voyage around the world and so on 22nd of August 1915, the S.S. Jordanhill sailed for Port Arthur, Texas where we were to load case oil for Adelaide in South Australia. The ship was laden with 1,000 tons of clay ballast to provide stability for the voyage across the South Atlantic Ocean which lasted 42 days. 
On arrival at Port Arthur, the ballast was removed; this exercise took three weeks. The ship was then towed to the oil berth to commence loading the cargo of cased paraffin oil which was destined for the gold mining areas of South Australia such as Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie. 
The route from Port Arthur took the ship south out of the Gulf of Mexico towards the Equator and onwards east around the Horn of Africa. After one hundred and forty eventful days at sea, the Jordanhill arrived at Adelaide, Australia on the 10th of June 1916. After the cargo was discharged, clay ballast was again taken on for the next leg of the voyage. It took ten days to sail to Melbourne where the ship was to take on a cargo of wheat and then head east round Cape Horn and head for home. The ballast was again unloaded and a full cargo of wheat in bags was loaded to the Jordanhill. She was again down to her plimsoll marks. 
We were towed out to Hobson’s Bay the 10th August 1916 with instructions to head for Falmouth for further orders. On the 1st November, 83 days out, one of the hands working on the main royal yard sighted a steamer coming up from astern. It was my watch on deck and we were told to get the lifeboat ready for putting over the side. When the steamer got near, the Captain ordered the signal ‘we are short of provisions’ to be hoisted. The steamer was the S.S. Alkaid of Rotterdam bound from Rosario with grain for her home port. She hove near us and the 2ndmate, three others and myself manned the boat and set out towards the ship. The 2nd mate informed the Captain of the Alkaid of the items that we were in short supply of. We made two trips back and forth with bags of coal, sacks of flour and other provisions including a small keg of claret and cigars for Captain Roberts. The Captain of the Alkaid allowed us on board for a drink. I did not drink at the time but the temptation was too great and I in common with the others got a very liberal tot of schnapps. After thanking the Captain again, we all went on board our own boat again. Our boat was full up with sacks of coal and flour and going down the rope ladder I felt very elated, not being used to liquor. I stepped on to the bags, staggered and fell over the side much to the amusement of the Dutchmen looking over the steamer’s rail. The others pulled me in again quickly as sharks abounded in those waters. Later the Old Man (Captain Roberts) called all hands aft and gave them a small glass of the claret. He and the officers were smoking cigars for the next few days. 
At about seven p.m. one evening, the wind shifted to the North West in a heavy squall. It continued to blow a whole gale and the sea became very confused. She shopped one heavy sea forward and stove in the forward deck house which was made from teak and the same sea caught a young Dane name Hansen and before he could grab the lifeline he was taken overboard and never seen again. He was only twenty-one years of age. 
We soon picked up the North East Trades and set everything, royals, flying jib, staysails, spanker and gaff topsail, sailing ‘full and bye’, that is about half point or so from the wind. This was really exhilarating, sailing with the Jordanhill leaning over like a yacht with all sails drawing and doing about ten knots. 
S.S. Jordan hill, steel barque, built 1892 by Russell & Co., Glasgow, 2291 GRT.
Getting nearer the English Channel, we were getting a bit anxious about German submarines, as when leaving Melbourne, we had heard that they were getting very active. We had no means of knowing how the war was going. On 23rd of December we sighted the Lizard Light in Cornwall. We ran up our numbers and reported to the Light House. They signalled back ‘You are to proceed to Le Havre, your cargo is for the French Government’. On Christmas Eve, we sighted the Casquets Light on the French coast. At daylight, a French destroyer came close to us and threw us some French papers. On Christmas Day we were tacking very hard every four hours, next day we had lost sight of land but picked it up again in the morning under short sail. On the 28th December, a light cruiser (D19) took us in tow using a brand new 3 1/2inch hawser. She was indeed powerful and we were towing at about ten knots and everything held. When we got into Le Havre the cruiser let us go and we dropped anchor. The following day we were taken to our berth after 141 days at sea. The whole voyage had taken some seventeen months. 
Richard Farrell, 2nd mate S.S. Killoran 1918, age 21 yrs. 
S.S. Killoran, built 1900 at Ailsa Shipbuilding,Troon. 
S.S. Gogovale, built 1927, 4586 GRT, anchored off Algiers 1935. 
Captain Richard Farrell, Master S.S. Gogovale

Regatta Day Waterford c.1963. Captain Richard Farrell & wife Maeve, with Grogan family. 
 L-r. Paddy Hearne, Michael Walsh, Pat Rogers, Willie Walsh, Captain Farrell, John Walsh and Willie Hearne. The occasion is the retirement of Captain Farrell and a presentation by the river pilots of a piece of Waterford Crystal.
Photo via Trish Last Cluney originally featured in the Munster Express Friday 8th Aug 1975. 

I’d like to thank Brendan for sharing this amazing written and pictorial account of the life of Captain Farrell.  Our next guest blog will feature a maritime story from Tony Hennessey.  If you would like to contribute a guest blog, which is published on the last Friday of each month, please get in touch by email to

Tom McSweeny’s book, Seascapes . 

Previous blog on Walter J. Farrell

I publish a maritime blog about Waterford harbours maritime heritage each Friday.  
To subscribe to get it to your inbox email me 

My Facebook and Twitter pages chronical the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F  T