When a fish barrel, was much more

I’ve often mentioned that the Cheekpoint of my childhood was a very different place to what it is today.  One of those major differences was an active Herring fishery which was not just water based, but also provided land based employment.

Back then the herring trawlers often docked at Cheekpoint quay.  The trawlers usually pair trawled for the shoals of herring at the mouth of the harbour or further along the Wexford Shore. The fish when caught was emptied into the hold of the trawlers and then they steamed to Cheekpoint, Passage or Dunmore East to unload. A video here gives some sense of the scene.

Denis Doherty RIP, Seamus Barry & Keith Elliott, Cheekpoint mid 1970’s
photo via Tomás Sullivan from Cheekpoint & Faithlegg through the ages

Once in harbour the herring was “dug out” of the holds and removed by the “Cran” a measure of fish by basket.  It was lifted off by trawler winch.  Some of the crew did the dirty job, digging out, a luckier man, but a colder job, worked the winch.  I guess the skipper had it handier than most, he could relax in the wheelhouse and tick off the cran as they emerged out of the hold.

Onshore at Cheekpoint the place as all action.  The Herring were spilled into a stainless steel chute where salt was added and then they were stirred about to ensure an even coating.  Once completed they were pushed towards a circular hole at the far end, at the bottom of which was a plastic fish barrel.  The barrel had to be completely filled before it was rolled away and then a lid put on top. Once secured it would be turned on its edge and then kicked up the quay in a rolling action and stood once more to await collection.

Between all those actions, we as children, flitted about, watching the action, trying to be helpful, and cautious not to get in the way. We picked up the herring that fell out of the basket adding them to the chute, tried to see into the trawler hold to measure the progress of the offloading, helped to bring down empty barrels to be filled and ran any errand that was required.  Hanging round the quay was a great way of getting a few bob for sweets!

The Green Cheekpoint, barrels awaiting a catch
photo via Tomás Sullivan from Cheekpoint & Faithlegg through the ages

Those barrels were also of great use around our homes.  Many was the one that blew off the quay and was retrieved from the river or Ryan’s shore.  Then they would make a perfect water butt, as many still believed that washing your face in rainwater was much more natural, than washing from a tap.  They would be used to store nets, firewood, animal feed, basically anything you could think of.

On one particular occasion I recall a frenzy of activity on Ryan’s shore.  The previous night a storm had washed several hundred barrels off Passage East quay and into the river.  They had drifted with a flood tide to Cheekpoint and were placed all along the shore at the high water mark, like a blackened necklace of seaweed and tacky plastic beads.  Ned Heffernan (RIP) was going round the Mount Avenue promising all the young lads 50p per barrel delivered to his front garden.  There were fellas bursting themselves in trying to carry as many as possible up to Ned’s and it went on for a good part of the day.  I don’t recall how many I actually brought back, but I’m still awaiting payment.

But I think my lasting memory of the barrels was the fun they gave us.  In those days there were hundreds of empty barrels in Cheekpoint.  They were stored at the back of Jim or Denis Doherty’s (RIP) houses, or along the green. And we got hours of fun from playing on them.  They were our horses for cowboys and indians, a shaky obstacle course, goal posts, castles and forts and a great place for hide and seek, once you didn’t get stuck inside.  On one occasion I was in a barrel at the top of the Green and got rolled to the bottom. I wondered was it ever going to stop or would I end up in the river,  It eventually stopped an I emerged out triumphant, only to stagger all over the green with my head swimming.

when is a fish barrel, more than a fish barrel?
Photo by William Doherty

The sad part about such a recollection is the lack of commercial fishing activity now in our village. The herring, salmon and eel fisheries brought a dynamism and an economic spinoff.  The shop was busy, post office, pub, even Pat O’Leary the local farmer was busy, he used to come down in his tractor to lift the filled herring barrels onto a truck.  If you wanted to work in those days you could, and it meant an extra few bob in everyone’s pocket.  But perhaps even sadder still, because it speaks to childhood, something we all deserve to get the most from, is the loss of innocence.   I don’t remember anyone ever telling us to be careful.  I don’t remember any adults ever being cross. I don’t recall ever really thinking we were in any danger, whether on the head of the quay watching the work, or on the green rolling in barrels.  I doubt we would get away as lightly today!

I have to thank William Doherty for inspiring the blog post this week.  He sent me on a photo of an old fish barrel (above) with a memory of how we played with them as children, which prompted this piece.

The selling of Faithlegg House March 1st 1816

In last weeks blog we met the Bolton family of Cornelius Bolton the elder, through the visits and writings of Arthur Young.  At this time the families activities were generally of a pastoral nature.  In a few short years however they would shift to an industrial focus, which would lead to a boom time for the area, but alas like all booms, there would also be a bust, and in it, this particular developer would lose all.  

Cornelius the Elder was a progressive farmer
who died in 1779.  In succeeding his father, Cornelius the MP was to become a serious businessman.  He would also be an MP for Waterford on several occasions and would hold several other posts including Mayor and Sheriff.

In 1885 the Mail Packet station was moved to the village of Cheekpoint and it would appear this was to become a serious driver of the industrial plans.  This also coincided with government policy to diversify textile manufacture away from Dublin and substantial subsidies were provided by parliament to villages such as Balbriggen in Dublin, Prosperous  in Kildare and Cheekpoint and New Geneva in Waterford.1

Below is a brief list of the achievements of both Boltons, as I find it impossible to separate the activities of one from the other regarding the earlier developments.  This is also incomplete.  As two of the items were only added in the last few weeks.  I imagine it would take serious historical research to unearth all that the Bolton’s were involved in.

  • Ballycanavan House
  • Brooke Lodge
  • 300 Acres of woodland including the Oak woods around Faithlegg and the Glazing wood
  • Double Lime Kilns (2 at Jack Meades, 2 at Faithlegg and 1 at Cheekpoint) (that I know of)

  • Triple kiln at Ballycanavan

Triple kiln
  • Water Mill at Jack Meades

Old water mill, Jack Meades

  • Water Mill at Ballycanavan

  • Commercial Ice House at Jack Meades
  • Forge on Redmonds Hill
  • Draining of and reclaiming of Marshes including containing walls
  • Textile Industry at Cheekpoint – (Thirty stocking frames, 22 looms for linen and cotton2
  • Brick making factory
  • Rope walk in Cheekpoint

  • Daisybank house – Hotel for the mail packet

Daisybank House
  • Cheekpoint quay (replaced with the present quay circa 1870)
  • Realignment and improvement to main road to Waterford (including the mileposts)

  • Two slate quarries at the Barn Quay

  • Mining operations for cobalt
  • An interest in the plans for New Geneva project

  • Faithlegg House

Some of the above still exist.  However, others are just memories handed down
in the area or linked to placenames such as the rope walk at the Rookery and
the Village Green – most probably a blanching green where the cotton was spread
out to dry in the sun. Others such as the Mail Packet are survived by the milepost,
the house where the captain who ran it – Captain Owen, resided and his daughter
poetess Elisabeth Owen in Fairymount, or by the Hotel which was established to cater for
passengers, now Daisybank house. 
Perhaps Bolton’s lasting legacy was the
building of Faithlegg House.  It was
built in 1783 and the architect was believed to be John Roberts.  Roberts was responsible for some of the
finest buildings in Waterford at the time 
including the Bishop’s Palace, both cathedrals, City Hall,
Theatre Royal and my own favourite the Chamber of Commerce Building at the top
of Gladstone Street.  As Roberts had a country home in the Glen in Faithlegg, it would have been relatively easy
for him to oversee the work. There may be another connection, but one I only heard of, that Bolton paid for the spire on the protestant cathedral.
Although Cornelius would go on to try out
many initiatives to sustain his business ideas, none of his endeavours seems to
have paid off.  The slate quarries were
of poor quality, no Cobalt was found. The ending of the Napoleonic wars led to a slump in demand for textiles.  The 1798 uprising and the the act of Union must have also impacted. Perhaps the biggest impact was the shifting of the mail packet station downriver because of the delay in getting the ships to Cheeekpoint.

In a desperate attempt to stave off his creditors Bolton sold off parts of his operation and land, but ultimately he lost it all.  On March 1st 18163 he was forced to sell Faithlegg house
to repay part of his debts.  199 years ago this week.

He moved to Waterford and it was in the city that he died in 1829.  He is buried alongside his father and other members of the family in Old Faithlegg Church

Bolton’s plot and extended family, old Faithlegg Church

1  Ed Aalen FHA, Whelan K & Stout M.  Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape. 2003.  Cork University Press p 189

2   Ed Fewer TN, I was a Day in Waterford 2001.  Ballylough Books.  pp 49-53 (excerpt from Julian Walton)

3 “Links and Landmarks being a calendar for the year 1900 recording curious and remarkable events in the history of Waterford city from the earliest times to the present day ” compiled by M. J. Hurley
courtesy of Micheal O Sullivan Waterford History Group, without whom I would not have known this specific detail and who I would like to thank for the title.

Various people will have helped me with information for this piece who I can no longer recollect, but most recently Gerry Boland gave me some info on the Faithlegg Kilns which I was not aware of.

The 18th Century visits of Arthur Young

In the late 1700’s an English man visited the Faithlegg and Cheekpoint area and recorded all that he was shown in great detail. It was a chance visit however.  He had travelled from Curraghmore to Passage East with the intention of sailing via the Mail Packet Station to Bristol.  The captain made all manner of excuse not to sail though, and realising the delay was to build up a passenger manifest, the traveller decided to invite himself to Ballycanavan (Woodlands), then seat of the Bolton estate.

The travellers name was Arthur Young.  Young was an English farmer, adventurer and travel writer.  He actually visited the area twice; in 1776 and again in 1778.  He had a fascination for farm enhancement and enterprises and as he travelled the countryside he stayed as a guest with the landlords of an area and detailed all that he saw.  Of course he also provided observations and tips to his hosts, sharing his wisdom and suggesting improvements.  Although he was a guest he not averse to pointing out wrongdoing and his observations were highly regarded and are to this day an important social and historical record of the time.  He recorded and published this as “A Tour in Ireland 1776-1779” in 1780.  Various formats of the account here.

His visits coincided with the tenure of Cornelius Bolton the Elder and his son, and heir Cornelius the younger, who was his guide around the Bolton estate.  His
record is detailed in many matters including his visit to the Minaun from
whence he lists the main sights including 20 sailing ships in the estuary by
Passage East. 



Arthur in his prime

The only fishery he mentions for the
harbour is driftnetting for Herring. 
This is carried out in various sized boats with a crew of between 5 and
6 men.  Amongst the poor people, the
Fishermen we are told “…are in much the best circumstances”  He also lists as exports Turbot, Sole,
Lobster, Oyster, Cod and Salmon. 
Surprisingly in terms of modern times it is Salmon that fetches the
poorer price with Lobster next.  I
imagine that his remarking that the only fishery being Herring in the harbour
was a reflection on the time that he recorded the observation, October.  Had it been in the summer, it would
have been different.  Of course he has
also covered fishing elsewhere in his Irish travels and mentions Weirs and “Drag
nets” as two other methods.  Drag Nets I
imagine to refer to Draft Nets.

The Bolton’s and/or their tenants are
planting Potatoes, Oats, Barley and Wheat. 
For manure they are using mud from the river and lime from local limekilns.  Fields have been enclosed and
much land is being reclaimed.  He
particularly praises the building of hedges, with three layers of planting
including broadleaf such as Oak, Elm, Ash or the evergreen Fir.  The Bolton’s have planted almost 300 acres of
trees, including orchards, which he considers forward thinking and displaying commitment.  They are also providing long term leases to tenants
to work the land and have built 40 new houses with stone and slate to house
them.  He lists agricultural trials with Turnips,
Horse Beans and Carrots suggesting that in their practices the Bolton’s are
approaching the growing, tending and using of their crops in a scientific
manner.

Once Cornelius the younger succeeds his father he will develop an industrial hub at Cheekpoint building on the work that his father had started.  I will go through those developments in brief in the coming weeks.  But I can’t help wonder, was a source for those developments, not just the legacy of the landlord system that extracted the wealth of it’s peasantry, a legacy of his enterprising father, but also the company and wisdom of  a champion of the industrial age; Arthur Young.



Feb 1st – traditional start date of the salmon season

The traditional start of the Salmon drift net season in Ireland was, for many generations February 1st , Imboloc or St Brigid’s Day. Once opened it stretched to August 15th.  It closed each week between 6 am on a Saturday morning to 6 am on the Monday.  Once the week opened it operated for 24 hrs a day.  Michie Fortune posted a reminisce on the Cheekpoint Facebook page this week, remembering drifting in the river with Tommy Doherty and having to use the oars.  Some of the members on the page queried how he could remember 50 years back so vividly, but I have to admit, the first winter I spent was just as memorable.

Paddy Moran RIP and Michael Ferguson RIP
Ranging nets on Ryans Shore 1950’s
When I started fishing of course outboard engines, more manageable nets and relatively comfortable oilskins were a predominant feature.  My grandmother often told me of the conditions her father and brothers faced while drifting for fish.    In the first instance, she remembered the smell of drying clothes at the open fire day and night.  All the outer garments and even the socks steaming away on the fire, and her mother, often up through the night, keeping the fire in and turning the clothing, so that the men would be some way comfortable going out.  That might be the following morning, or in a short few hours depending on the tides.

Walter Whitty told me that as a child he remembered seeing “oilskins” hanging to dry in the high street.  These were not the comfortable oilskins of today.  These were homemade, by the women generally and cut from calico purchased in town.  The calico would be measured, sown and then soaked in linseed oil to keep the water out (or at least some of the water).  They would then be dried in the sun until fit to wear.  My grandmother said that as often as not an oilskin might return from sea journeys and were much sought after, but in general the men wore thick overcoats to keep the weather out and always two pairs of socks.

Blessing the boats, Nets and men prior to the opening 1930’s

Terry Murphy once told me a yarn.  He was only a boy and was fishing with Billy the Green, grandfather of Elsie Murphy.  He called down this cold frosty morning and Billy came out with his socks in his hands.  He plunged the socks into the water barrel and squeezed them out.  He then put them on his feet and put his boots on. Terry paused for dramatic effect and looked at my puzzled expression.  “Well,” he said, “when you are on the oars all day the water in your socks heats you up better than any hot water bottle”.  I saw the proof of those words many the times I have to admit.

The oars were the only way to get around and it meant that fishing was a slower, more rhythmical affair in the past.  I’ve written before about how hard it was for us as children even with outboard motors to use the oars.

The men in the past had to use the tides and had to make the best out of each drift.  Once set the aim was to get the maximum out of each drift, prior to hauling and setting again.  It meant that on ebb tide when they set from “Binglidies” or “the rock” that they drifted as far as they could, then reset the nets from where they stopped, rather than returning (as we did with the aid of an outboard).

They would drift to the end of the ebb tide, take the low water where they found it and return village-wards with the incoming tides.  My grandmother said the men were starving on their return.  They might put in to warm some tea in a billy can but often wouldn’t eat from when they left the house to when they returned. (Low water to high water is a total of 6 hours)

Returning home was also work of course.  The hemp nets that my grandmothers father and brothers used had to be ranged out of the boat and “spreeted” – hauled up and dried in the wind.  Not doing so would shorten the life of the nets which was a cost they could not afford.  So on returning to go fish, the nets had to be lowered and then ranged back into the boat.

Any wonder the majority of my gran-uncles took the boat to America or England as soon as they could.  Any wonder also that it was the older men and young boys that did the fishing in all the other families around, those old enough to choose the sea, at least until the summer peal run.

Poles along the quay for “spreeting” or drying the nets  circa 1950’s

In my own time, the start of the season had been shifted to St Patrick’s Day and in the 1990s (1996 I think) the season was destroyed from the perspective of commercial fishing in Cheekpoint in that it was reduced to a June 1st – Aug 15th season and operated from 6am – 9 pm.  It was a slow strangulation of the fishery which eventually closed in 2006.  Funnily enough in those times there was hardly a week went by without some media outlet decrying the state of the Salmon fishery and trying to close down the drift netting.  Now those media outlets have moved to other fish species, although the problems of salmon stocks still persist.

Faithlegg’s Deerpark

Over Christmas I came across an illustrated map that suggested the Deerpark in Faithlegg is dating from the time of the Norman manor, specifically from the 14-15th Century.  I have to say I was surprised at this and in the last few weeks I have been up there more and more, and thinking about the implications.  The source for this was the Atlas of Irish Rural Landscape.  And it lists Deerparks from around the country, of which Waterford can claim only a handful, see map below.

The Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape, p 198

Now the Atlas has no further details and also could be wrong.  I had always believed it was part of the Demesne constructed by Cornelius Bolton Jnr in 1783 at the time that Faithlegg House was constructed.  At that time extensive planting and development occurred in the parish, noted for example by Arthur Young in his ” A Tour in Ireland” and who I have mentioned before and indeed, will again.

OSI map

Deerparks were a feature added over many centuries in Ireland, but started initially with the Normans.  They were primarily a source of food, along with other features around the manor like rabbit warrens, dovecotes and fish ponds.  The Deerparks were generally sited in an outlying position on the manor, but no further than a mile away.  They were mostly earthen embankments with an internal fosse topped with a timber paling fence but stone was used where it was available – the situation in the area of Faithlegg (or possibly the walls were built at a later stage by the Boltons?).  Although some used them for supplying animals for the sport of hunting, it was generally for food, and apparently the keeper could supply venison to those favoured by the lord of the manor on presentation of permission slips.  Venison was a meat for special occasions and their was prestige attached to its eating.

The sites were no more that a few acres and were generally on poorer land, with grass, scrub and some trees.  The Normans introduced fallow deer to Ireland, in particular for the parks, as they could endure indifferent land and were good breeders.  In time the deerparks could be turned to pasture for dairy, beef herds or horsebreeding, and many disappeared in the creation of landscape parks in the Eighteenth century – which indeed was the style under which Faithlegg House was created.

one of the better stretches of the wall, bedecked with moss and lichens

Entrance pillar on the Old Road
South west corner on Old Road

This new information suggests that the Deerpark name, and the remaining walls could possibly be as old as Faithlegg Church, making them the oldest built structures existing in the area.  This begs a question, what can we as a community could do to investigate the provenance of the site and highlight and preserve such a potentially important historic feature.

example of the size of falling trees and damage caused
 

The Deerpark is now owned by Coillte, the state forestry organisation. Last year 4 acres were put on the market but the sale did not go through and the land has since been replanted.  But the Deerpark and Minaun is now vastly changed and under threat.  Previous planting is now collapsing which is placing significant strain on the walls.  Trees and other vegetation growing adjacent to the walls are also encroaching and undermining the walls

The North West corner, the fosse now provides a walkway
Another issue is that the name of the Deerpark seems to be falling out of favour with Coillte.  Some years back a sign was erected that called the area Faithlegg Woods.  The sign has now been replaced but the name remains.  Perhaps a map of the beautiful walks in the area could be provided, with the historic placenames of Deerpark, Minaun and Glazing Woods highlighted.  This would be a positive step, but in light of the age and significance of the site, perhaps much more could be done to interpret and preserve this important heritage site.

Ed; Aalen FHA et al.  Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape. 2003.  Cork University Press, Cork