Hook Lighthouse gets a makeover

Last month we explored the loss of the American Sailing Ship Columbus, lost on the Hook Peninsula in 1852. The ship was wrecked on the jagged rocks, thanks in no small part to the mistaken belief that the Hook Head lighthouse was actually Tuskar Lighthouse, about 30miles to the east. That error would cause the loss of the ship and 14 passengers and crew. The Master of the Columbus Captain Robert McCerren would later express his opinion that some distinguishing marks to highlight the differences between both lighthouses, which were then both white, might have averted the tragedy.

Columbus under Captain McCerren was sailing in southerly gales and thick weather and as a consequence, the Master could not get a fix on his actual location. On January 6th, 1852 he spotted a lighthouse, and thinking it was the Tuskar he sailed north expecting to find the Irish Sea opening out before him, but instead found Ballyteige Bay!

Ballyteige Bay accessed from https://www.southwexfordcoast.com/monitoring-in-ballyteige-bay/

Discussing the matter with Pete Goulding of Pete’s Irish Lighthouses renown recently, he reminded me that normally complaints were made about the lack of visibility of lighthouses at daytime.  As Pete explained, “…the lights were frequently obscured because they were sited at too high an elevation when they were often shrouded in mist or low cloud – Wicklow Head, Inishmore, Cape Clear, the Bailey at Howth – to name four – all had to be replaced lower down.”

The lighthouses of Hook and Tuskar were both painted white, but had different shapes and showed different lights, but unfortunately for Captain McCerren with the fleeting glimpse he got, perhaps it confirmed what he expected to see, not what the reality was. 

Hook at the time of the tragedy. George Victor Du Noyer sketch.

Although after the wreck the Harbour Commissioners held several meetings in Waterford to discuss the event by the Harbour Commissioners, the matter of the lighthouse error did not seem to arise.  Captain McCerren’s account of the wreck was widely circulated, however, prompting a letter from a Welsh Master Mariner, John Moore of Swansea to the local papers.  The Waterford Chronicle (Saturday 31 January 1852) published his letter in full and at the outset, he reproached any who dared blame the captain for the tragedy “…The vessel, it appears, made the land a few miles to the Northward of where it was expected, or should have done (not to be wondered at after being thirteen days without an observation); and, consequently, mistook the Hook for Tuskar.  From this circumstance, parties, as usual, seem inclined to throw the blame on the unfortunate Captain, who has been a heavy loser by the fatal occurrence.  However, those persons show their utter ignorance of nautical affairs, as it happens that sea is not their business, whether he erred or not in that particular…”

It seems that the RNLI also agreed on the matter of distinguishing the lighthouses.  In a report issued into wrecks and lifesaving operations for 1852 a very detailed account of the Columbus is given and the matter of the confusion, notwithstanding the differences in design and location that some might think apparent, is shown much sympathy.

The Institution demanded some resolution to the potential for confusion.  A distance of 30 miles between lighthouses after a transatlantic journey it reasoned was nothing.  It argued that the lighthouses should be given some distinguishing character – suggesting that the painting of either with vertical or horizontal bands of black and white or indeed any other manner that the Ballast Board could think of.  Indeed the issue had, it is claimed in the report, long been pointed out to the Ballast Board.

Pete Goulding did find another historical reference.  In the Naval Magazine and Nautical Chronicle of 1849 confusion with lighthouse identification appears to be a regular matter of concern. Mr. R Hoskyn (Richard I would imagine who later wrote the Sailing Directions for the Coast of Ireland) writes and offers an experience to add to the cause.  It concerns a West Indiaman sailing vessel which in hazy weather conditions, mistook Hook for the Tuskar and sailed into Ballyteige Bay in exactly the same manner as the Columbus.  A local fisherman received a reward of £5 for acting as a pilot and directing the vessel back to safer waters.

Source: Naval Magazine and Nautical Chronicle of 1849. Clipping courtesy of Pete Goulding

It was 1859 before the matter was finally dealt with, and in the wisdom of the Board, Hook was chosen for a makeover.  As Pete Goulding remarked to me “Took them seven years but that was pretty quick for the procrastinators supreme”

Hook Head Lighthouse with its three red bands. Image courtesy of Liam Ryan.

In autumn 1859 the following notice appeared in a wide range of newspapers both in Ireland and abroad.  (I’m posting it here if full, as I think the details are worth having. Apologies to those who like a snappy version)

BALLAST OFFICE. DUBLIN. Sept. 29, 1859.
Notice to mariners.
IRELAND—SOUTH COAST.
HOOK TOWER LIGHTHOUSE.
The Port of Dublin Corporation hereby give NOTICE, that on (or shortly before) the 1st day of December, 1859. the HOOK TOWER LIGHTHOUSE, on the East side of the entrance to WATERFORD HARBOUR, will, In order to render it a better day mark, be coloured with RED BELTS, and its top also will be coloured RED.
Specification given of position and appearance of this Tower by Mr Halpin, Superintendent of Lighthouses.
Hook Tower Lighthouse is on the outer end of Hook Point, in Lat. 52 deg. 7 min 25 sec N., and long. 6 deg. 35 min. 53 sec. W. The building. 110 feet in height from its base to top of its dome, is cylindrical from the bottom to the lower gallery on which the fog bells are set. The main shaft of the tower will be marked with three horizontal RED BELTS, each 10 feet in height and spaced 9 feet apart; and the lantern dome also will be coloured RED. The remainder of the tower will be coloured WHITE.
The painting of these three red belts will be proceeded with at the same time. The work will commenced at the South-West side of the tower, and will continued from this point around until completed, when the lantern dome will coloured.
Bells are tolled during foggy weather.
CAUTION.—The entrance to Waterford Harbour is marked on its Eastern side by the Hook Tower Lighthouse, a single conspicuous tower. Tramore Bay. the next bay to the westward, is marked by TWO TOWERS on BROWNSTOWN HEAD. its Eastern point, distant 6½ sea miles from the Hook Point; and by THREE TOWERS on Great Newtown Head, its Western point. Mariners are cautioned to avoid the dangerous indraft of the latter bay.
By Order, WILLIAM LEES, Secretary.

But even with three red bands, the Sailing Directions for the Coast of Ireland 1877 – still cautioned about mistaking the Hook for Tuskar. Hook would later lose its 3 red bands for 2 black ones and three white ones. The date that is generally agreed for this is 1933.  Sadly I can’t find any notice of this, however, (snappy readers might rejoice) but it is on the Irish Lights literature, Pete Goulding agrees, and so does my go to guy for all things historical around the Hook, Liam Ryan.

I am not why they thought the change was necessary. But since the publication of this story, I had the good fortune to be loaned a copy of the late John Young’s A Maritime and General History of Dungarvan. On page 35 John describes in terrific detail the loss of the Cirilo Amoros at Stradbally in February 1926 and he wrote that the crew of the steamer which had no sightings for several days got a glimpse of the Hook and thought it was a lighthouse on the Welsh coast.

Now it’s only a historical footnote, but relevant nonetheless to the fate of the Columbus.  What if Tuskar was never built!? Would it have helped our Captain McCerren that fateful January afternoon in 1852? You see in December 1811 the Waterford Chamber of Commerce (at that time the maritime matters of Waterford were managed jointly within this body) wrote to the Ballast Board stating that the Saltee Islands would be a better position for, the then proposed, Tuskar lighthouse.  The Ballast Board disagreed however and Tuskar was built and became operational in 1815.

If you would like to know more about lighthouse makeovers, Pete Goulding has a blog on the topic.

My thanks to the time, expertise and generosity of Pete Goulding and Liam Ryan for this blog post. I can honestly say I would not have been able to bring it together without their assistance. All errors and omissions are my own. For my regulars who want to know the last piece of this story – the blaming of the Dunmore East pilots and the fallout – a story I have researched but might hold off for a while yet before publishing.

The Columbus Calamity. Hook Head January 1852

On Tuesday 6th January 1852 the American sailing ship Columbus went ashore to the east of Hook Lighthouse and was wrecked. Despite the efforts of those onshore 14 were lost including three female passengers. It was arguably an avoidable tragedy but as is often the case in these circumstances, the fates seemed to conspire to see the noble ship meet her doom in the graveyard of 1000 shipwrecks.

The aftermath of this incident was felt far and wide but none more so than in the locality. However this story focuses on the event as seen through the eyes of Captain Robert McCerren, Master of the Columbus. Residing in the Imperial Hotel in Waterford for some weeks after, he handled the salvage of the vessel’s cargo of cotton bales and he also provided his own analysis of why the Columbus was lost, appearing before a number of sittings of the Harbour Commissioners and writing to the press.

McCerren was operating for the American company Black Star Line out of Liverpool. In 1848 he had been given command of their new ship Columbus, having previously served as Master on their vessel America. The Columbus was advertised at that time as offering the best in accommodation and care -particularly to those escaping the Irish famine. The company ran as many as 18 ships. The vessels were described as American Packet Ships and the phrase “Queens of the Western Ocean” was coined in recognition of their speed and sailing ability.

I could not find a photo of Columbus unfortunately. But this is another ship of the Black Star line Cornelia

The Waterford Mail of Wednesday 14 January 1852 reprinted a letter written by Captain McCerren into the circumstances of the loss.

Waterford, Jan 10th 1851
Messrs Washington Jackson & Sons, LIVERPOOL.
Gentlemen— lt is my painful duty to inform you of the loss of the ship Columbus under my command, 28 days from New Orleans, to your address ; in consequence of heavy gales from South, and thick weather, I was unable to get an observation after passing long. 13.50 W. and 49.20 N., on the 6th whilst running for Tusker.

At 5 p.m. I made the Hook lighthouse, and from being unable to see the land it had the appearance of Tusker. At half-past 5 saw the light and found that we were embayed. I then hauled to Southward, but could not weather Saltee’s light ship. I then wore and stood to westward and weathered the Hook light, thus having the harbour of Waterford fairly open, stood across the bay to Dunmore, discharging rockets every three minutes for a Pilot, and was seen by many persons from the pier of Dunmore, this being the proper pilot station.

Finding no pilot I was obliged to wear and stand off, and in endeavouring to weather the Hook light was forced by heavy rollers on the rocks ; during the time it was blowing a gale and heavy sea, driving on the iron bound coast I cut away the anchor before striking, to keep the ship’s head to sea. When the ship struck at 9. p.m. 1 was so near that I hailed the people shore, and was answered.

I despatched a boat in hopes of getting a line shore, but she was capsized, and the mate and two men saved and one drowned. In attempting to lower the life boat she was dashed to pieces against the ship. I then cut away the mast, and the ship held together until 5, a.m. when the bottom and top separated soon after broke amidships carrying away the stern frame, and with Edward Simmons, third mate, and two men, who were lost.

The Imperial Hotel, where the current Tower Hotel stands in Waterford. Photo via Simon Dowling from  “Beauty spots in the south east of Ireland ” 1901. Posted to the Waterford History Group Facebook page.

We then secured the ladies to a portion of the wreck. About this time ten persons were near me, the second mate assisting me in holding the ladies—the last piece fell over on us, and but four persons and myself were washed onto the rocks. Of the crew eight seamen, names unknown, Edmond Simmons, of New York, third mate, are lost, passengers, four in number, all lost—names are, Mrs. Falcon, Workington, Miss Clementina Burke, from the Island of Ascension, her way to Portsmouth, two steerage passengers, names unknown.

I feel it my duty to state, that, though no assistance was rendered from the shore, for want of means, to project a line or life boat, by which all could have been saved, as the ship held together for eight hours, every was made at the risk of life, by the people on shore, assisting all who reached the rocks, and immediately carried them to the houses, and bestowed every care and attention that could he given. I must mention, particularly, Mr. Harwood, of the coast guard, Doctor Hamilton, of H. M. Cutter, the Sparrow, Mr. Breen and Mr. Carroll, keeper of the light, and his assistant. More active benevolence could not have been exercised—the warmth of feeling and hospitality will ever he remembered by me.
Yours respectfully,
Robert McCerren
P.S. —To add to the distress of all on board the moon became totally eclipsed at the moment of breaking up.

McCerren also wrote a letter to the Editor of the Waterford Mail:

Sir —Permit me, through the medium of your paper, the privilege returning thanks the Rev. Peter Dunn. of Templetown, for his untiring exertions, in his clerical capacity, in restoring lost property, preventing plunder from the wreck of the ill-fated vessel commanded by me.
With much pleasure I publicly mention an extraordinary act honesty the part of James Breen, of Herrylock, a poor boy, who picked up, unperceived, a small bag of American gold, which he returned to me in the presence of his pastor, the Rev. Mr. Dunn.
By the insertion of the above, you will do an act of justice, and oblige
Your obedient servant.
Robert McCerren,
Master of the late US. ship Columbus.
Commercial Hotel Buildings,
January 13, 1552.

The Mail added this paragraph to the Captains letter:

“The following is, we understand, a list of the persons lost the Columbus: 3 ladies, passengers, 2 Irish sailors; 2 Dutch sailors; 2 Scotch sailors; 3 American sailors; 1 English sailor, and two steerage passengers (male and female)”[AD This was an error in the report as far as I can find out, one of the lady passengers mentioned above, from Waterford, elsewhere named only as Mary was in steerage, as was her nephew who she had travelled to America to bring home] “one of whom was on his passage home from California to the neighbourhood of Waterford.”

Aftermath

There’s a lot in this story to digest. You can’t help wonder is this a case of what is described as getting your own version out into public before other accounts emerge. McCerrens original miscalculation with the lighthouses seems to have cost him his job, however. In 1853 he was on the Defiance [A rather appropriate name given his personality?!] where he was involved in an altercation with the Peruvian Navy while collecting a cargo of Guano from the Chincha Islands.

In subsequent weeks the events associated with the wreck were foremost in many people’s minds and the results were far-reaching. The conduct of the pilots was a matter of investigation by the Harbour Board with a war of words in local papers too. But the reality was that having sailed into harbour near low water on a spring tide, there was little the pilots could do for a sailing ship of this size, and this would be bourn out – despite the fact that the pilots were generally the whipping boys of both the Board and the press in that era. The matter of the confusion between Hook and Tuskar would also be considered but would take several more years to resolve. The reaction and the impact are something I will return to at a later stage to explore.

Harbour Sentinel – Hook Lighthouse

This weekend we commemorate the loss of the ships SS Formby and SS Coningbeg in December 1917.  It’s a topic I covered last week with a view to promoting the commemoration this weekend.  In thinking about the sailors who perished this week I came to realise that the last sight of the harbour the crew would have ever seen was the lighthouse at the end of the eastern tip of their home harbour. So today rather than the event itself, I thought I might blog about the sentinel that lights the harbour.

The Hook, as I guess most locals call it, was often the last sight of home for my mother also, as she sailed away to work in England on the SS Great Western. Many, she told me, would delay at the ships rails, watching the light slip away, their last tangible link with home until they, if fortunate, would be back again at Christmas or for a short summer break.

A Clyde shipping promotional poster of a ship rounding the Hook. 
Unfortunately its an artists impression of the Hook!
Photo courtesy of Paul O’Farrell

One of my earliest childhood memories was listening to the long moaning sound of the fog horn that reverberated around the harbour and was clear to be heard on our perch on the hillside of Coolbunnia. As older children we were often out walking the roads at night and the light was a familiar feature sweeping the skyline, and in particular when it reflected off low lying cloud. As we did not have a car at home a visit down to the the Hook was out of the question, and I suppose my first proper sight of it, must have come when I first went drifting for herring in the winter of 1983. Is there any better way to see a lighthouse?  David Carroll in a previous guest blog gave a lovely description of a 1960’s drive with his dad to the Hook from Dunmore.

The Hook, has been a beacon for sailors and fishermen since the 5th C AD. St Dubhan, on founding a monastery at Churchtown saw a need for a warning light and a fire was lit on the tip of the headland. Some say that’s where the name Hook derives from; Dubhan being Irish for a fish hook.
Following the Norman Invasion William Marshall saw the need to protect shipping heading into his port of New Ross and the Hook tower was constructed between 1210-30. Apparently the goodly monks again took on the light-keepers duties and so it remained until the dissolution and routing of the holy orders circa 1540.
In the 1670’s the light was reinstated, using coal, but also with a protective screen from the elements. 1791 saw a whale oil fueled lamp instated following repeated complaints from mariners.  1871 saw the introduction of Paraffin but it would be 1972 before electricity finally reached the outcrop.
via: http://www.irishlights.ie/tourism/our-lighthouses/hook-head.aspx
I’m old enough to remember the hue and cry nationally about the automation of the lights and the removal of men from the lighthouses, which finally happened at the Hook in 1996. Isn’t it incredible to think that for 1500 years the Hook was manned only for the tradition to stop due to an accountants abacus. In 2011, the fog horn was decommissioned, technology it was decided, can replace the human ear. In the last two years I noticed the latest change to this wonderful public institution. Someone, somewhere has decided that the strength of light from the hook is no longer required, and now when you walk the harbour the light is only visible from close by. No longer does it sweep the sky at Cheekpoint, and even from the Minaun its a stretch to witness it. If you don’t believe me travel to Dunmore East at dark, and look across the harbour.

Despite, or perhaps in spite, of the changes the Hook still endures as a powerful symbol. It has been a silent witness to thousands of ships and sailors down the millennia, a final farewell to home, a reassuring signal of safety.  How often those men of the Formby and Coningbeg must have stood at the rails giving thanks at rounding the Hook on a return trip during those bitter war years, when every journey was potentially their last.  How sad to think that 100 years ago this weekend they went to the bottom so far from home.

The Hook is now a major visitor attraction and Mark Power of Waterford Epic Locations has shot some wonderful footage of the Tower in all its glory https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lowH1T_5wJc

The details on the Hook light history was accessed from Hook heritage and specifically from the Hook timeline

For a more detailed reading on the history, you could read nothing better than Billy Colfer’s The Hook Peninsula pp 84-91.  You can buy it here from Kennys for €43.61.  Certainly make someones Christmas! And speaking of books for Christmas…
My book on growing up in a fishing village is now published.     
Book can be bought directly or from local stockists in Dublin, Wicklow, Wexford, Cork and Waterford. Get further details on the book, reviews, local stockists etc here

         

Ask a question to russianside@gmail.com

Or buy directly below: €18.50 Incl P&P to anywhere in the world

 

The Dunmore East lighthouse

Comparisons, it’s said, is the thief of joy.  So when it comes to the two lighthouses at either side of the mouth of the harbour, I would suggest that it is silly to choose one over the other. Hook light is much better known as the oldest working lighthouse in Europe, but its Dunmore counterpart has an interesting story in itself and for me its one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture we have in
East Waterford.
Dunmore (Dun Mhor, the big fort) has probably always been a fishing village, or at least those who landed up there, took part of their food supply from the waters thereabouts.  But its first harbour development of any merit was the work to facilitate the Mail Packet Station.

The Packets as they were called, (because mail in those days tended to be bulky packages of official correspondence) had been in use since Tudor times but the Waterford run was unofficial and thus an unreliable service.  The official Mail Packet Station was established at Cheekpoint in 1787. The service utilised small fast cutters which sailed between the harbour and Milford Haven and carried mail, freight and passengers. Seven ships worked a 6 day sailing schedule.  But the location at Cheekpoint led to complaints, as having sailed from England the boats had to negotiate strong tides and were at the mercy of contrary winds.

In 1813 the service was moved to Passage East as an interim measure but plans were already afoot to create a purpose built pier at Dunmore East to facilitate the packets.  Under the exacting eye of Alexander Nimmo (1783-1832) work commenced at Dunmore in 1814 and the packets started sailing from there in 1818 (sources differ on this).  However the lighthouse seems to have been an afterthought and a temporary light was installed whilst Nimmo set to work on what was his first and, from what I have read, only such building. Work commenced about 1820 and was completed by 1824 and became operational in 1825.

The tower is made of Granite, which contrasts beautifully against the old red sandstone that predominates in the breakwater and surrounding cliffs.  The tower is a fluted doric column which
stands 16 meters tall including the lantern. Initially the tower was whitewashed, but thankfully this was discontinued over a century ago.

Although the stone work is
beautiful, the cast iron lattice balcony also deserves attention.  This is of forged steel and is one of only two such examples in the country, but apparently follows the practice of other Scottish lighthouse builders like Robert Stevenson.  The lantern is constructed of metal with square windows and a weather vane completes it.

The light can be seen for 17 nautical
miles.  It was initially fueled by oil lamps and reflectors but this was replaced by acetylene in 1922 and it was electrified in 1964 using batteries and since 1981 it’s run off mains power, with a back up generator.

Via Jamie Malone 

In 1824 there was a report that the lighthouse keeper and his family were living locally because the accommodation at the tower was uninhabitable due to damp.  I’m unsure if this was at the tower itself, or in the square building that makes up what I always heard called the storehouse; the flat roofed building that is built around the seaward side.  The lighthouse keeper position was removed in 1922 and was replaced by an attendant.

Although Dunmore pier and lighthouse was built to accommodate the Mail Packet, the irony was that by 1824 steam powered vessels were already in use on the route.  As a consequence of the ability of such ships to journey against the tides and winds, campaigning began to move the packet once more, this time to the city and this occurred in 1835.  Dunmore reverted back into a fishing harbour and in Victorian times a tourist destination.    

Via Brendan Grogan

Perhaps because it is now integrated into the storm wall, or that a flat roofed store house surrounds the tower, the Dunmore lighthouse does not have the stoic isolated feel of other houses such as Hook.  But it’s a remarkable piece of architecture
and a testament to the vision and craftsmanship of Nimmo and his team.  Local photographers such as Jamie Malone and Brendan Grogan appreciate it. The Barony of Gaultier Historical Society use it on their Facebook page as a cover photo. And the Buildings of Ireland think highly of it too.  So if you havn’t already done so, next time you get a chance take a stroll along the breakwater and take a closer look.

I took information on the lighthouse from:
http://www.irishlights.ie/tourism/our-lighthouses/dunmore-east.aspx

Information on the packets via:
Antell. R.  The mails between South West Wales and Southern Ireland: The Milford-Waterford packet 1600-1850.  2011.  Welsh Philatelic Society.
Copies can be ordered directly by contacting the Welsh Philatelic Society, contact details on their website at http://www.wps.wales.org/

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales

Menacing mines in Waterford Harbour

Floating mines were a feature of both World Wars.  Deployed at sea or around the coast, the target was primarily the shipping that sustained the allied side or to thwart naval incursions.  Although the sailors that suffered on merchant ships were non combatants, the mines also threatened those who fished and even those who lived beside the sea, and Waterford and Wexford endured its fair share.  

I
recently recalled the tragic loss of life at Dunmore East in 1917, when a
German U Boat was destroyed.  The U Boat, UC-44 was deploying mines at the mouth of the harbour between Dunmore East and
Hook Head in Co. Wexford.  At the time, it
was a regular occurrence, as was the efforts of the Admiralty to clear
them.    However the allies were
also deploying mines, most of the access points to the Northern and Southern routes
to the English coast were blanketed by minefields in a futile attempt to thwart
the U Boat menace. The first Irish casualty of the mines in WW I was the SSManchester Commerce which was sunk off Donegal 26th Oct 1914.  It would be the following July before the admiralty were satisfied that the estimated 200+ mines had been cleared from the area. Maintaining access to Waterford became a job of constant vigilance against the
mine laying subs, which included patrols by Sub Chasers, overhead surveillance
and constant clearing of the harbour by Mine Sweepers.

An American Sub Chaser anchored above Passage East.
The Americans entered the war in April 1917
Passed on to me by Paul O’Farrell
An interesting ancedote from the times

Mines
were also a feature of WWII but this time Ireland was neutral and the country was not directly targeted.  However, it was the Irish who mined Waterford
harbour at this stage, which operated between Passage East and Ballyhack from
1941. The mines were deployed in the channel,
and were operated by control from Ballyhack, known as command detonated mines.  If any threat was seen, the mines were to be detonated
by the shore watch. (1)  I’d
imagine the minefield was directed more towards protecting Ireland from a
German sea borne attack, which also led to something I’ve written about previously, the removal of all road signs
During WWII
mines became more sophisticated.  The German side were the first to
develop magnetic mines that detonated as a ship passed close to them. Mines
were also deployed from airplanes, which meant the seas around Ireland became a
target after the fall of France.  Mines were reported regularly from
ships, shoreline walkers and the lookout posts, operated by the Marine and Coast Watching Service from Sept 1939, that lined the coastline. (2)
Many
injuries and fatalities were associated with them.  When a mine beached on the other side of the
Hook at Cullenstown in 1941, four members of the LDF died and another was
injured.  While a lighthouse keeper on
Tuskar Rock died after a mine washed up and another man was injured.  19 men died (largest loss of life nationally)
when a mine was spotted on a Donegal beach in 1943.  While waiting for a bomb disposal team an onlooking crowd refused to move back to a safe distance. (3)
The Great Western in camouflage during WWII
Posted by Tommy Deegan on the Waterford History Group Facebook page

The above loss of life gives some context to the following story shared by Noreen
Kane on the Waterford History Group on 24th June 2016.  Its based on recollections of her dads (Liam
Lundon 1934 – 2009) childhood in Passage East

“Even though there was a war on school was fairly uneventful. There was one
particular incident when one morning my father who was the local Garda came in
to the school and informed the teacher that the school had to be evacuated as
a mine had been spotted on the strand directly underneath the school.
It was a glorious spring day we were all marched up the back road to Garret
Meades house. We spent the rest of the day there until the “all
clear” was given. To this day I don’t know how the mine was disposed
of”
The school at that time was further out the Crooke road, where the building still stands over looking the harbour. (It closed when the new school opened in 1969) But was the mine disposed of, or just made safe?  Graninne
Flanagan commented on our own Facebook page recently about an old mine that was
on the beach between Crooke and New Geneva, where apparently her mother used to picnic. My Brother in Law, Bernard Cunningham recalled the mine and said it was the same, his mother Eileen (RIP) often recalled the incident. That having been made safe it was left on the beach. However, it was removed in recent years by a scrap merchant.  I’ve also heard of another mine that beached at Passage and that was taken away which made the Munster Express in late 1941, and a virtual raft of other incidents down the harbour and all along the coast and along the Wexford shoreline.  They even travelled as far upriver as Mooncoin! There were questions asked in the Dail about a delay in clearing a mine from a packed Tramore Beach in the summer of 1941 and the naval vessel Muirchu was a frequent visitor, called to dispatch mines using gunfire to detonate the threat.
A major incident concerned the Barrow Bridge which had to be closed in March 1946 after a mine drifted too close to
the structure.  It was spotted by two
Cheekpoint men Heffernan and O’Connor. They reported the sighting to the Garda station in Passage East
and a unit from the Curragh was dispatched under Comdt. Fynes to deal with the
threat.  Locally it was always said that the boys had thrown a lasso
around the mine and towed it away from the bridge as a train approached, saving
countless lives as a result.
A
more sober account can be found in that weeks Kilkenny People.  The mine
grounded between Snow Hill Quay and Drumdowney Point as the tide went out and once settled on the mud, a rope was
tied around it, to prevent it floating away. (and no less heroic to my mind, if
a little less dramatic) Although the Boat train departed from Waterford that
evening, it was decided to close off the line to rail and shipping on the
Saturday. The
bomb disposal unit had to wait for the tide to go out before they approached
the mine. The unit managed to make safe the mine by 4pm that evening,
meaning the 5pm train could depart with safety.
My own
brush with a mine came while I was herring fishing in Dunmore East.  The details are sketchy I’m afraid, as I
could find no record in the newspapers.  However I remember a particularly
nasty SE wind and a trawler coming in off Dunmore, but refused entry.  The
trawler was being towed if I recall correctly.  The mine was trapped in
the nets and part of the nets had fouled the screw. Holding off Dunmore,
a team of army bomb disposal experts arrived in Dunmore that day.  I
vividly recall their energy and enthusiasm as they jumped out of a dark green
jeep with large kit bags and boarded the pilot boat Betty
Breen
to go out to the trawler.  However, they were back after an
hour, green in the face and much less energetic.  The trawler was sent
over under the Hook and the decision was taken to await a team from the Navy to
deal with the issue.
You might
think that such problems no longer exist.  However the most recent article
I could find for Dunmore was the Irish Independent of March 2005 and the most
recent nationally was August 2007 in the same paper, this time a mine trapped
in nets off Co Cork.  Be careful out there, you never know what secrets
the sea might give up, particularly on a stormy day.
 (1) & (2)   MacGinty.
T.  The Irish Navy.  1995.  The Kerryman. Tralee
 (3)        Kennedy. M. Guarding Neutral Ireland.  2008. Four Courts Press. Dublin

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
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