So this is Christmas…2020

Well, 2020 has been a strange one, to say the least. A year where we saw Irish politics altered in a government formed of consonants and contrarians that was just missing a Big Brother/Love Island narrator. A pandemic that saw us hit pause in our schedules but ‘Continue Watching’ on our streaming services. We fell in love with Connell & Marianne, out of love with Zoom Calls and quizzes; but knowing that we never needed to hear the words “fancy a cuppa & a chat” more than ever before. We found new addictions like The Last Dance or The Nobody Zone, became masters of banana bread baking while the election turmoil in the United States appeared to offer a reprieve (from general monotony) before the real fare of the All-Ireland championship gave us Liam Cahill dancing a jig on the Croke Park side-line that would have made Michael Flatley blush.

     This year ranged from Shakespearian tragedy to screwball farce (golfgate & Rudy Giuliani to name but two) while our frontline services and their heroic endeavours surpass Arthurian legend. It was the strangest and toughest of years, but we’ve been here before. Could the words of Charles Dickens (the man who invented Christmas) ever be more applicable than from A Tale of Two Cities – ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…’

     From the Pharisees to Faithlegg: St. Ita

     One could argue that Waterford has had a connection to Christmas from the start of the story itself. As Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem where Jesus was born in a stable, the tale has a Waterford connection. St. Ita of Killeedy born in Faithlegg, County Waterford around 480 and known as the foster mother of the saints of Erin, was devoted to the Christ child with the poem Ísucán (cited in The martyrology of Óengus) depicting her nursing the infant Jesus. The reason for which was a logical way to fill the void of replacing her pet beetle. Yes, you have read that correctly. An unusual connection between the Pharisees and Faithlegg! Though Jenny Bledsoe concludes that “St. Ita’s tradition manifests a variety of forms of spiritual motherhood”. It’s not what Ita may or may not have done but rather that what she represents that is important.

St Ita
Eleanor McEvoy on stage

     She was seen to embody the ‘Six Gifts of Irish womanhood’ in the Celtic tradition; wisdom, purity, beauty, music, sweet speech and embroidery. It seems that Eleanor McEvoy’s A Woman’s Heart was for her – “as only a woman’s heart can know”. And just in case you’d like to mark your 2021 calendar, don’t forget Ita’s feast day is the 15th January. Even if you’re not religious like myself it would be nice to note the strength of the women in our lives on a more regular basis. Maybe the whole Woman’s Heart album might be played that day. Mary O’Neill and Ollie Carroll get the vinyl ready!

      Caring is Sharing & the Gift is in the Giving: Waterford Toy Shops

     As families rush to gather gifts for Christmas this year, spare a thought for C.V. K. of the Munster Express when he noted (in 1948) the toy shops Waterford could boast back in the early 1920s:

In the district of Waterford in which I grew up, we had – as it were – our own parochial toy shop, where all the year round we bought, at appropriate seasons, our marbles, hoops, tops, fishing nets, squibs, etc. That shop was…in Patrick Street and was owned in those days by Mrs. Manahan…her stock was always well stocked with the right kind of seasonal fare, and we seldom took our custom elsewhere, except perhaps a little farther down Patrick Street to Misses Nolan’s shop…

As we got bigger and ventured further afield down to Broad Street, we found that J.G. McCaul’s…shop had many more pretentious offerings in the line of toys, and here it was that many of us saw, for the first time, such modern wonders as trains on tracks, air rifles, Meccano sets, chemistry sets for the manufacture amongst other things of “stink bombs”…

In these pre-Woolworth days, the cheaper and less elaborate type of toy could always be purchased at Messrs. Power’s bookshop in Michael Street, and if we left our purchasing until as late as possible on Christmas Eve, we were always sure of a bargain in the drive to sell out Christmas stock before it went out of season…

…The shop of the late Mrs. Katie Dawson on The Quay, was another Christmas rendezvous of Waterford boys of my time, and here one could purchase cowboy suits…

This year will see the new Play Station top the Christmas list of many, while the cowboys of yesteryear such as Roy Rogers and John Wayne have been replaced by the Mandalorian and Stranger Things (if you pardon the pun). Air rifles now seem quaint to the capabilities of the new smart phone where likes on Instagram are akin to the games of Christmases gone bye. Still, it’s hard to beat the refrain of Shakin’ Stevens: ‘children playing, having fun’.

     Driving Home for Christmas

     In keeping with a musical vein, many will be listening to Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas with some hope of the holiday ahead. But many will be filled with a bittersweetness such as for those who can’t make it home; from wherever green is worn like the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Though we will echo the thoughts of drive safely wherever you are.

Redmond Bridge – Waterford

     For instance on the 23rd December 1929, a motor lorry driven by T. Baldwin of Passage East, lost control of his vehicle and crashed into the iron railings of the Redmond Bridge. It was believed that the steering gear went and with carrying a large load, the lorry began to slip back on the slight incline and crashed. Luckily for Baldwin he was uninjured though the bridge had seen better days. Apparently, the city engineer wasn’t happy to inspect the damage on Christmas Eve, but he was just told to build a bridge and get over it. I should be writing the jokes for the crackers with that one.

     The festive season can be a very difficult time for many. We only need to look at the story of Larry Griffin, the Missing Postman of Stradbally, whose family never saw him again after Christmas Day 1929. Over 90 years later his descendants still look for answers of what occurred in a small rural community. Though in tough times, we as a people can display our greatest character. We see Christmas as a time of giving, such as to charity.

     Even with the pandemic of 2020 we still see the issue of homelessness still rife in a country that purports to be one of the most modern and diverse in the western world. Sadly homelessness is not a new tale around Christmas time. We have the story of the death of Patrick Kennedy of Lissellan, Tramore on the 26th December 1932. Kennedy aged 49 was stated to have died as the result of “heart failure” due to “starvation and want of proper care.” Ireland was a bleak place economically for large parts of the 20th century as the Great Depression worldwide and the economic war with Britain led to many being unemployed and destitute in the 1930s.

     Kennedy had no work and was living for a time with his mother. His wife Bridget and two children stayed with their aunt but as Kennedy was earning no wage there was no financial support. While he lived with his mother and brother Martin, they survived on her pension of 10 shillings a week. The labourers cabin had two bedrooms, a kitchen, an earthen floor which was moist and muddy, no beds while the roof was as porous as a cullender. Such cramped confines led Patrick to look and beg for other quarters to reside in. So stark were Kennedy’s circumstances he lived in a shed for three months where his only warmth came from wearing two overcoats. They never complained nor sought help. Was it pride of a family or neglect of a society? Nevertheless, it cost Martin Kennedy his life that Christmas 1932.

     Looking Back, Looking Forward

     Christmas gives us a chance to pause and look back at our year or even life. Nostalgia is a plenty and hope is ever eternal. As we enter the period of completing endeavours and creating resolutions, remember the story of the author Morley Roberts. Roberts spent Christmas 1937 awaiting the publication of his book Bio-Politics which had taken him 50 years to write. At 80 years of age, he had already published over 70 books; mostly novels but had an affection for Waterford. A friend of Edmund Downey (novelist and owner of the Waterford News), Roberts had written a short story and poem about Waterford published in the Green & Gold magazine. Such was his interest in Waterford (which he visited two or three times) it was noted by the editor of the Waterford News that Roberts had ‘once wrote a letter to us in which he proposed a novel remedy for partition – a remedy too drastic for publication.’ And we wonder where Boris Johnson got his theories from?

Turkeys loaded in carts on the quay of Waterford – early 1900’s

     The lesson would appear to be that no matter how far we come, be it from the beginning to end of a year, one Christmas to the next, completing education or starting a new job; there is always the hope and thirst for more. For many in the UK and Ireland, Christmas was made by Val Doonican whose rocking chair style and festive cardigan wear was compulsory viewing. His album Val Doonican Rocks, But Gently managed to knock The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper off the top of the charts in December 1967. In fact, it was harder to get the Waterford man’s LP in his hometown then it was in England, not because of it’s popularity but due to a distribution problem as a result of foot and mouth. I for one know my father will have Val on in the car this Christmas. Before I use to raise my eyes upon hearing the album playing but now I can’t imagine the festive season without it.

     As you can see Christmas has seen difficult times before. Though it may not mirror that of EastEnders I think many will be glad for 2020 to be ending. Though we’ve had wonderful moments too such as Adam King (whose dad Dave hails from Dungarvan) who captured the hearts of a nation and reminded us no matter what obstacles, hugs can be given and dreams are there for us all. Some will dream of a White Christmas a la Bing Crosby. Others will not stop believing like Journey in the quest for Liam McCarthy. But Adam reminded me of a song that always comes to mind with Val Doonican, I can sing a rainbow. May we see brighter days ahead and all the colours of the rainbow.

     So if you’re spending your Christmas in Ballyhack or Ballybeg, reading the excellent Waterford Harbour: Tides and Tales by Andrew Doherty or listening to Val, have a very happy Christmas.

Thanks to Cian Manning for this wonderful reflection on a year that we will all want to forget. If you want to experience more of Cians work you will find him on Twitter where he regularly promotes his blogs on his twin interests of Waterfords history and sport. He is also the author of the excellent Waterford City, A History. Currently available in the Book Centre Waterford

Saving the stricken St Declan December 1950

On the week that Dauntless Courage arrives from the publishers to local shops, I asked author David Carroll to whet the appetite with a short guest blog, and he has chosen an On This Day post about a rescue that is legendary in Dunmore East due to the skill and bravery shown by the lifeboat crew in rescuing local fishermen.

On Thursday, December 14, 1950, the Dunmore East lifeboat Annie Blanche Smith was called out and the Munster Express of the following day, reported as follows:

IN THE NICK OF TIME
Dunmore Fishing Crew Saved from Certain Death
LIFEBOAT BRAVES SNOW, BLIZZARD AND HIGH SEAS

Last night (Thursday) at 8 o’clock, the fishing boats were coming into Dunmore, having been out since 10a.m. that day when it was reported to Mr. Arthur Westcott-Pitt, that flares were seen three miles west of Dunmore, off the dangerous Falskirt Rocks, near Rathmoylan Cove. Immediately Mr. Pitt ordered the lifeboat to go to sea to their assistance. At the time there was a terrific snow blizzard, with visibility practically nil, and it was doubtful if the lifeboat would be able to see the boat in distress.

…a very high south-easterly wind prevailed. The lifeboat left Dunmore at 8pm and nothing more was seen or heard of her for over two hours by watchers on the cliffs. Then the lifeboat appeared towing back McGrath’s fishing boat. What happened in the meantime can only be described as one of the most gallant feats of the Lifeboat Institution, thanks to the bravery of the Dunmore crew, which was as follows: Patrick Power (coxswain), Rd Power (second coxswain), Richard Murphy (chief mechanic) Michael Whittle (second mechanic), Maurice Power (deck hand).

Annie Blanch Smith and her crew at Dunmore East 1958. A John Aylward photo.

The lifeboat crew searched the sea for the boat, and at first were unable to locate it and then to their amazement, found her a ship’s length of going on the Falskirt Rocks. To the utmost risk of the lifeboat and crew, the members went in amongst the rocks.

The distressed boat had previously dropped an anchor and sent out flares, but owing to the big seas, the anchor chain was smashed. To slow up the boat from making towards the cliffs-and their doom-the fishing crew threw out the herring nets, and this formed a brake slowing their relentless momentum towards the rocks and subsequent drowning.

Falskirt on a calm day. Photo Neville Murphy

Just in the nick of time, the lifeboat crew threw them a line and saved them. In only a matter of moments, the fishing boat would have been smashed to atoms, with the loss of five men.
It appears that the engine of the fishing boat had failed a few hours previously when they sent up flares and threw out the anchor. But for great fortune and the bravery of the lifeboatmen, the fishermen would likely to have been lost in a night of terrible conditions.
Mr Westcott-Pitt wrote the following at the end of the Service Report:

I would particularly like to bring to your notice the bravery of the Coxswain and 2nd Coxswain who successfully carried out a wonderful rescue. The 2nd Coxswain at the wheel took the lifeboat into the half submerged Falskirt Rocks in a snow blizzard during a full SE gale with the full knowledge that herring nets were drifting all around so as to enable the Coxswain to get a line on board the St Declan thus to rescue the five men- who were certainly doomed but for the brave and cool courage of the Cox, 2nd Cox and crew.

*John (Rocky) Power was listed in the official Service Report as a member of the crew. His name was omitted from the newspaper account. Skipper of the Saint Declan was Paddy Matty Power. Also, aboard was John Dunne of Coxtown, a stalwart of the lifeboat crew for many years, Jack Whittle, Dick Bulligan Power and Davy O’Rourke.

The Munster Express dated February 16, 1951 carried the following report:

GALLANTRY OF DUNMORE EAST LIFEBOAT MEN
R.N.L.I. Awards for Rescue in Gale

The R.N.L.I. has awarded to Coxswain Patrick Power of its lifeboat at Dunmore East, Co. Waterford, a clasp to the bronze medal for gallantry which he won in 1941; the bronze medal to Second-Coxswain Richard Power and £3 10s. to them and each other member of the crew, for the rescue on the night of December 14 of the fishing boat, “St. Declan” and her crew in a gale with blizzards of snow.
The lifeboat found the fishing boat close to the dangerous Falskirt Rocks. She was riding to her nets. In a few minutes she would have struck the rocks, the nets would have closed round her, and a rescue been impossible.
The lifeboat went close to her, a line was thrown, and using 80 fathoms anchor cable, the lifeboat towed the fishing boat clear. This was done in extreme darkness in the teeth of the gale, with the tide running against the wind and a high sea breaking fiercely on the rocks. The lifeboat was handled with great courage and superb seamanship.

The awards took place in London on March 13, 1951 at a RNLI ceremony, where presentation was made by the Duchess of Kent. Coxswain Paddy Billy Power was awarded a bar to the bronze medal which he won in 1941 and Second Coxswain Richard Power a bronze medal. Coxswain Edward Kavanagh of Wicklow was also a recipient at the same ceremony.

Paddy Billy Power with The Duchess of Kent , London, March 13, 1951.
Photo: John Aylward

After the presentation, a spray of shamrock was given to the Duchess of Kent by the three men from Ireland. In her speech, the Duchess said “it was with great pleasure that she had an opportunity of acknowledging the bravery and courage of men from lifeboat stations in Ireland”. She said: “No praise is too high for the 2,000 men who, year after year, carry out their work of rescue with a cheerful disregard of the dangers of every kind which attend this work.”

Get David Carrolls new book on the
history of the Dunmore East RNLI, Dauntless Courage now!

Thank you, David, what a stirring account of a dramatic rescue. I first heard of it while drifting for herring as a boy myself and the description of the lifeboat managing to get alongside a fishing boat in such conditions and with the driftnets all around, filled me with awe. Expect many such accounts in Dauntless Courage which will be in the local shops in Dunmore East, the Creamery, Burkes of Crooke, and Powers of Cheekpoint from this Wednesday afternoon. It will be in the Book Centre also and the committee that has worked so hard behind the scenes to support David will be at the Lifeboat Station in Dunmore East this Saturday 19th December between 11AM and 3.30PM and Sunday 20th December between 12PM and 3.00PM where pre-orders can be collected.

The Dunmore East area and the lifeboat fraternity, in particular, received some sad news at the weekend with the death of Agnes Abrahamsson. Agnes had a long family association with Dunmore East RNLI as a member of the Fundraising Branch, she was predeceased by her husband Walter who was a Coxswain/Mechanic for many years. Agnes was the mother of the current Coxswain/Mechanic Roy Abrahamsson. A sad loss, deepest sympathies to her family and friends. May she Rest In Peace. More information on her funeral arrangements here.

Attack on HMS Brave Borderer

A guest post by Conor Donegan

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Irish Revolutionary period (1912-1923), is the degree to which counties, and often areas within counties, varied from each other in terms of levels of IRA activity. Waterford is perhaps one of the best examples of this trend, with the west of the county seeing intense fighting on par with other Munster counties, while the city and its eastern hinterland was largely quiet, due in no small part to its strong affinity with Redmondism. Consequently, Waterford’s reputation as a republican stronghold is usually regarded as weak when compared to the likes of say Cork or Tipperary. In September 1965, that perception briefly changed when an audacious attack was launched on a British warship in Waterford Harbour by three members of the South Kilkenny IRA; an incident that occurred 55 years ago on this day.

Between the end of the Border Campaign in 1962 and the eruption of the Troubles in 1968/1969, the IRA appeared to disappear off the radar as the republican movement turned towards socialist politics and the infiltration of civic organisations. Anglo-Irish relations appeared to be improving. Taoiseach Seán Lemass and Northern Prime Minister Terence O’Neill exchanged visits, and the British returned the remains of Roger Casement to be interred in Glasnevin.

In March 1963 Waterford Corporation passed a resolution reflecting this thaw in relations, expressing the belief that ‘…never during the past 700 years had the relations between Britain and Ireland been on a more friendly basis, whether taken on a governmental or individual basis’.[1] The four-day courtesy visit of the Royal Navy minesweeper St David to Waterford in 1961, including a civic reception hosted by Mayor John Griffin, was just one of several such visits to the City during the 1960s.[2] Scenes unimaginable just 20 years previously were now taking place on a regular basis, welcomed by Waterford’s civic and business leaders, but drawing the ire of local republicans.

A group of people posing for a photo

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Captain Thomas McKenna, Director of the Irish Naval Service, being piped aboard HMS Rocket during her visit to Waterford in 1962, one of several such visits to the City during the early 1960s (Source: Cork Examiner, 27 January 1962)

Richard Behal of Kilmacow, Co. Kilkenny had been a member of the IRA since the 1950s and had previously been involved in disturbing the visit of Princess Margaret to Abbeyleix Castle in January 1965.[3] Behal deplored the ‘re-familiarisation of the British armed forces in Ireland’, and sought permission from IRA Chief of Staff Cathal Goulding to launch an attack on the next such visit of a British warship to Waterford.[4] Permission was received and an opportunity presented itself when the HMS Brave Borderer arrived in the City on the 6th of September, accompanied by the usual civic reception.[5]

Behal, and his comrades Walter Dunphy of Mooncoin and Edward Kelly of Mullinavat, planned to fire on the motor torpedo boat from the riverside when she was scheduled to leave Waterford on the 10th. The Brave Borderer was one of two Brave-class fast patrol boats commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1960, the other being her sister, Brave Swordsman; with a maximum speed of 50 knots they were among the fastest naval vessels in the world at the time.[6]

A small boat in a body of water

Description automatically generated
HMS BRAVE BORDERER, FIRST OF THE BRAVE CLASS FAST PATROL BOATS ACCEPTED FOR SERVICE BY THE ROYAL NAVY. JANUARY 1960, DURING TRIALS IN THE SOLENT. SHE WAS BUILT BY MESSRS VOSPERS LTD, AND HAS A TOP SPEED OF OVER 50 KNOTS. (A 34261) HMS BRAVE BORDERER, a fast patrol boat, during trials in the Solent, January 1960. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205164370

In a June 2018 interview, Behal stated that the aim of the attack was never to cause harm or worse to British sailors, but rather to make a protest against the increasing presence of the Royal Navy in Waterford, and what Behal and his comrades suspected was a prelude to Ireland’s accession to NATO.[7] The upcoming golden jubilee of the Easter Rising was also a motivating factor. Armed with an anti-tank gun retrieved from an arms dump in the Midlands, the three men set up position at Gyles Quay on the Kilkenny side of the river facing Little Island, early on the morning of the 10th of September.[8] A number of Garda foot patrols passed the men’s position along the railway line separating them from the Suir, indicating some anticipation of an attack on the part of the authorities.[9]

Present day photo showing the approximate location at Gyles Quay on the Kilkenny side of the river where the IRA were postioned
The black x shows the approximate location at Gyles Quay where the attack occurred (Ordnance Survey No. 76)

The quietness of the vessel’s jet propulsion engines caught the men by surprise, and Behal aimed for a position halfway between the deck and the waterline and about a third of the way back from her bow. He managed to fire two shots which pierced the hull, before the Brave Borderer accelerated to full speed in an attempt to escape the gunfire, without firing back.[10] Before she managed to round the bend in the river, Behal’s third shot hit one of her engines which caused the boat to veer erratically from side to side, and disappear down the Harbour in a cloud of smoke; such was the commotion caused by this third shot that Ned Kelly fully believed they had sunk her![11] The Brave Borderer eventually passed the Hook and made it to Torquay the following day; her refit lasted four months and cost several million pounds.[12] No casualties were reported.

Interview with Richard Behal, by Irish Republican Marxist History, 25 June 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGvDZviA0wY

Behal, Kelly and Dunphy were captured by Gardaí on the mudbanks close to the Barrow Bridge, and were remanded in custody in Waterford charged with ‘possessing firearms with intent to endanger life’.[13] Throughout the trial, demonstrations were regularly held at the courthouse in support of the men, and anti-British feelings ran high in the city. The Mayor at the time, and later TD, Patrick ‘Fad’ Browne was obliged to defend himself in front of a hostile crowd which had assembled at his house on Luke Wadding Street and thrown stones at his business a few doors down.[14]

The three men were each sentenced to nine months imprisonment, though Behal would make a daring escape from Limerick Prison in February 1966.[15] After another brief stint in prison in the 1970s, Behal served on the Ard Comhairle of Sinn Féin, addressed the General Assembly of the United States Human Rights Commission on behalf of the 1981 Hunger Strikers, and stood as a candidate in the 1984 European Parliament elections.[16] He currently lives in Killarney, Co. Kerry. Walter Dunphy still resides in his native South Kilkenny. Ned Kelly sadly passed away in 2011.

This fascinating incident, undoubtedly the last naval engagement in the Suir’s long and turbulent history, occurred 55 years ago on this day.

A close up of a newspaper

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Front page of the Munster Express on 1 October 1965 showing the demonstration outside Mayor Fad Browne’s house, in support of Behal, Dunphy and Kelly

Endnotes

  1. Ferriter, Diarmuid, The Transformation of Ireland 1900 – 2000, (Profile Books Ltd, London, 2005)
  2. Irish Independent, 10 August 1961
  3. Bell, J. Bowyer, The Secret Army: The IRA, (Transaction Publishers, New Jersey, 1997)
  4. Limerick Leader, 24 April 2010
  5. Cork Examiner, 7 September 1965
  6. www.iwm.org.uk
  7. Interview with Richard Behal, by Irish Republican Marxist History, 25 June 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGvDZviA0wY
  8. Ibid
  9. Ibid
  10. Ibid
  11. Ibid
  12. Evening Echo, 10 September 1965
  13. Ibid
  14. Munster Express, 1 October 1965
  15. Irish Times, 21 March 2016
  16. Nenagh Guardian, 26 May 1984