Placenames of the Three Sister Rivers

For Irelands Heritage Week 2020, Deena and I will host a series of guest blog posts each day on the Placenames of the Three Sister Rivers, the Barrow Nore and Suir.  Starting on Saturday 15thAugust,  we will post each day culminating in publishing a new webpage on Sunday 23rd August of an A-Z of Three Sisters Placenames. 

A map I made up of the exntent of the rivers

There is magical element to the South East of Ireland that seems to go unnoticed and underappreciated.  It’s the magic of the rivers.  A collective network of over 320 miles that is home to fish, birds, mammals and humans.  It was Irelands first great highway, the route where ancient peoples journeyed in settlement, were sustained by its bounty and gave thanks with stories of myths and legends. 

These rivers number three.   The longest is the Barrow, An Bhearú at 120 miles (192 km) long.  It rises in the Slieve Bloom Mountains in Co. Laois.  The River Nore, An Fheoir is 87 miles (140-kilometre) long and rises in the Devil’s Bit Mountain in County Tipperary.  The Nore joins the Barrow just above New Ross and flows southwards to meet the third river. The third is the River Suir, Abhainn na Siúire,  115 miles (185 kilometres)long and although slightly shorter than the Barrow it is actually more powerful.  Like the Nore it rises in the Devils Bit in County Tipperary.  The three Irish rivers that meet at Cheekpoint and flow out the estuary are collectively known as the Three Sisters, An Triúr Deirfiúr. 

The meeting of the Three Sisters at Cheekpoint. The Suir flows from the left, meeting the Barrow and the Nore and flow down to the sea. AH Poole Photo. 1899. NLI

My earliest memories have been the rivers, in all their moods and in all their varied beauty.  Winter or summer, daylight or dark, there’s a special quality to the water, that just like trying to hold it in your hands, when I try to capture it in words it runs away.  One of the tangible qualities that I can grasp however is its placenames.  Some locations have numerous names, others are elusive, perplexing, mysterious.  Some are descriptive, geographic, basic even,  whilst others are historical, defined by human habitation, influence or notable events.  All however have a special charm, all collectively add to the story that is the three rivers, and some we intend to capture for this years Heritage Week.   

Deena and I have been involved in Heritage Week every year since 2005. This included walks, talks, exhibitions, re-enactments and collaboration with a wide variety of local groups, individuals and organisations like the Office of Public Works.  Due to the Covid 19 restrictions, we needed to try something different.  So we moved it online.  And in an attempt to engage people we put an invite to people who have worked with us before, or who we knew had a shared interest in the rivers. 

On each day of Heritage week at least two stories will be shared online at Tides and Tales. There will also be daily social media postings where others can get involved using the hashtag #HeritageWeek2020 and #ThreeSistersPlacenames.  Or if you prefer email a piece to Our hope is to encourage others to get involved, by sharing their own favourite placenames. The project will culminate on Water Heritage Day with a new webpage with an A-Z list of placenames showcased through a wide range of mediums including stories, poetry, photographs, and art.

Remembering Ryan’s Quay, Cheekpoint, Co Waterford

Ryans Quay, Cheekpoint

Irish placenames are intriguing and sometimes confusing. Many originate from our early history. They may have been shaped by historic events, or relate to geographical characteristics. Some have been confused by language from our history of conquest. But they can also be fleeting, referring to families and their association with a place. These can come and go as a person or a family moves on. Yet others endure many years after, perhaps inexplicably so. One of those in Cheekpoint must be Ryan’s Quay.

Now it’s not just a quay, it is also a two storey dwelling and a very distinctive boathouse. For many years it included a freshwater well. And up to recent years was only accessible by boat, or by shanks mare along the strand or via a steep and narrow borren which was only passable by foot. It also refers to the shoreline on which it is located, a curved stretch between Cheekpoint and Passage East. Risking a local rift I would try to further refine it as between the Point Light and Sullivans Quay.

In my childhood, it was a popular summer swimming destination. Fishermen used it as a base, paint their punts, or carry out repairs. In my childhood the remains of the poles that were used to “Spreet” or dry the salmon nets were still to be seen. It also overlooked a very popular and frequented ebb tide salmon fishery drift. I recall many times sitting on the quay chatting to my father or other fishermen and they watched the corks of the driftnets or hauled them aboard close into the shore.

John Moran (Long Island NY and at the time service in Europe with the USAF, gets a lesson in cleaning a net at Ryan’s Quay from his uncle, Paddy Moran. August 1956. Paddy married Bridgid Heffernan and they lived there until they moved to the Mount Avenue. Eileen Moran Collection.

In my forthcoming new book, I have a chapter on smuggling in the area of Waterford Harbour. In this, I recall first hearing about smuggling when sitting at Ryan’s Quay as a child. I was with my father Bob, and his friend Paddy “Batty” Doherty. Paddy was recalling “oul Ryan the revenue man”.

Three Ryans were listed in the census of 1901. James (54) was an “Exams Officer Customs”. His sisters Ellen (60) and Sophia(56) were all in the house on the night of the census, all unmarried. James had a brother Captain William Ryan who lived at Passage East and a sister Mary. We met both previously through the writings of Catherine Foley. Unfortunately, no record of the family exists in the 1911 census. A similar case for many of the Cheekpoint records I’m afraid. I also found an earlier reference to a Ryan living on the shore her in a newspaper account from the 1840s and again in the 1860s relating to weir ownership. This was a scotch weir on the Wexford shoreline. In recent years I have often wondered was it this gentleman who had the quay built and the house. Its certainly the earliest mention I can find.

The next family I can associate with the house was Paddy and Stasia Heffernan and their daughter Brigid. We have met them before on the blog about Captain Udvardy and his wife Rosa. Paddy’s nickname was the “Shag”. The name may raise a giggle or two because of its modern meaning. However its the common name locally for a Cormorant, a seabird that is in its element on the water and is a renowned swimmer. Paddy’s nickname related to his swimming abilities. In my youth referred to the area as the Shags Quay and a tree below it as the Shags tree. (I know my brother in law, Maurice, still does – probably because his father fished so often from the location during his own upbringing)

A recent view.

At some point in the 1960s (I think) a lady named St Ledger moved into the location. I only remember her as an old lady with a distinctive accent who would come out and chat with my father. I understand she had fled Rhodesia in southern Africa during the conflict there (it is now the country of Zimbabwe). She had written at least one book of children’s stories based on her African experiences. She was featured on an RTE programme on one occasion, and I played a bit part, standing into a shot with my cousin Sean and his donkey which was used as a promo. Later she was joined by her daughter Geraldine Turner and her granddaughter Mary. As a consequence, some of my generation referred to the place at that time as Turners.

A view of the shore looking from the Point Light

Geraldine and Mary left the house and quay in November of 1986. They left on a beautiful crisp Saturday, November morning and half the village turned out to help them move their belongings. The inaccessibility of the house meant that we had to use punts and motorboats. Their belongings were brought out onto the quay, placed on board, and dropped to Cheekpoint Quay where a truck awaited. The reason I can remember it – The day before was my 21st Birthday and I was never as hungover. We worked all day to five pm and I collapsed into bed thereafter – pledging to never drink again!.

Jacqui Doherty and Sean Connolly bought the property in 1987 and they raised a fine family at the quay. Many of the present generation refer to it as Connolly’s or Jacqui’s. Jacqui is there to this day and I would imagine her name, or her childrens’ will be with it for a long time yet. Who knows, maybe it will endure, seeing off Ryan’s Quay as a placename in the future.

Ryan’s Quay from the river. Tom Sullivan hauling the nets after a drift around the Point Light. Tomás Sullivan photo

Dauntless Courage: A Book Celebrating the History of the Dunmore East RNLI
Regular readers will be aware of my good friend David Carroll. David has spent nearly two years researching this book which is now near completion. The book, which is based on archives both here in Ireland and the RNLI archives in Poole, England, will detail the boats that were stationed in Dunmore and the stories of the rescues they carried out. Also included in the book will be many interesting and unique photographs that have not appeared in public before. The story of the village itself, and its link as a fishing community with the Lifeboats and crews, brings the reader from the earliest times of saving lives at sea in the area up to the present.
Pre-orders are now available.

Deena and I have been involved in Heritage Week every year since 2005. This included walks, talks, exhibitions, re-enactments and collaboration with a wide variety of local groups, individuals and organisations like the Office of Public Works. Due to the Covid 19 restrictions, we needed to try something different. So moving it online, we came up with an idea around capturing various placenames associated with the Three Sister Rivers; the Barrow, Nore & Suir. We also put out an invite to people who have worked with us before. We got a very favourable response. So for heritage week 2020, we will do at least two blog posts per day from various contributors. This will stretch from the harbour mouth to the tidal extremes. It will culminate in the launch of a new web page with an A-Z of Three Sister Rivers Placenames on Water Heritage Day, Sunday 23rd August.

My thanks to Mary Chaytor nee Rogers for some extra details post publication.

Moran’s Poles – a placename, a refuge

I’ve a long association with Moran’s Poles, its provided me with some of my happiest times, and to date, the scene of the worst tragedy in my life. As a child it was a working space, an area where the fishermen hauled out their punts and prongs to dry them out over winter and make repairs and paint them up. It was also a safe anchorage except in easterly wind, and the strongest of SW winds. And there they gathered, the fishermen to work, to smoke, to yarn the short winter days away, and there I sat absorbing all that they said and done and felt part of them.

A summer capture of the sunrise – I have to admit I am surprised at the positive reaction I continue to get to these photos, surprised but very grateful

Now that the fishing has all but gone, and those old fishermen are enjoying their eternal reward, I still cling to the place and still use it to keep the punt safe and overwinter. But there is hardly a day that passes that I don’t walk down and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the place and it was this that started me out on the social media posts, and which on twitter are now found on the hashtag #MoransPolesSunrise. But whether it is dawn or dusk, ships passing, birds flying, swans foraging or young people rowing, I probably take more photos of Moran’s Poles than anywhere else.

Perhaps part of the draw is that it was here that my 8 year old brother Joseph drowned on Sunday 10th August 1980. He set out with an older boy to show him a raft we had made to enter a race in the village regatta. Joesph got onto it, pushed it away from the shore and fell. His lifeless body was retrieved the following Thursday. The people at the time said it was important to have the body back and he was laid to rest in Faithlegg graveyard. But I never feel closer to him then when I am at the Poles. And although I have thankfully passed those years of yearning, of wondering what might have been done different, of wishing I could have been there, of never having made the bloody raft, of, of of… there are still moments.

Nanny sorrounded by her brothers – the boys went to fish from as early as they had the strength to pull the oars. Richard, the eldest is missing from the photo, he emigrated age 16 to New York

The Poles are just below the house where my mother, Mary Moran was born. The name derives from her family and when my grandmother (nanny) was asked she said simply that her father and brothers built the poles as a breakwater. The Moran family, Michael, Catherine (nee Malone – Bill Malone had come in the famine times from Whitechurch on the River Barrow and married a woman named Anne Lynch from the village my grandmother said) Richard, Paddy, Christy, Mickey, Johnny, Willie and the last to be born Maura (aka nanny). I don’t know exactly how many boats the family operated, but I do know there was a punt, a prong and a half decker in the family possession – and there may have been more.

Launching the punt after overwintering and repairs photo includes a pre grey me at the bow, my brother Chris, our father Bob, Gavin and Anthony Doherty and Dermot Kavanagh

The Basic design of the Poles was that it afforded a breakwater to the prevailing westerly winds, but it also did two other things. It maintained a soft mud bank above the poles, where the boats could safely lie when the tide went out and it also acted as a barrier to the carrying of rocks up river when the gales blew and the tides roared and worked their combined attrition on the strand.

Some of the damage that needed to be replaced
Our recent repairs
The crew busy picking up the rocks on the upper side and placing them below the poles

Although some have claimed that the poles are the remenants of an old Scotch weir, I don’t hold with that at all. Not just because I never heard the old lads say it, but because design wise they are not compatible. The scoth weirs poles were futher apart as nets were hung from them, and stretched as far as low water – Moran’s Poles have never gone futher than half way out the strand.

Over the years we have tried to maintain the poles to prevent them disappearing, the most notable work was done with our family, Pat Moran and Maurice Doherty in the 1990’s when we employed a digger to help. In recent weeks we did another patch up job, replacing a number of poles near the shore, and subsquently picked the rocks that had strayed upriver and were a risk to grounding the punts. Its an ongoing job.

The appeal of the Poles on social media has given them a renewed focus. Just as well, as with the loss of the fishery such features and placenames risk being lost to history, and yet such places are rich with it. In recent times I have had several artists share work that has been inspired by the Poles, and most recently Tomás Sullivan used it as a fundraiser for the Darkness into Light appeal. Such attention is welcome and will go some way to maintaing the placename. I also use it as a backdrop for heritage walks and talks. I had hoped to do something similar for this years Heritage Week. However due to the Covid 19 restrictions this is no longer possible. But the Poles will feature, as we have a new idea for this year, an online concept to record the old fishing placenames. More at a later stage.

If you have any thoughts on what you have read, I would love to hear from you at or place a comment on the blog

Passing on the tradtions to the younger crew – no longer able to fish, they can at least learn something of the old ways and keep some of our traditions alive