White Stone – Cheekpoint fisherman’s foul mark

A lighter in operation in New Ross

For generations of Cheekpoint fishermen, the White Stone was a foul mark to be wary of, a river-based location that was notorious for dragging nets to the bottom and causing costly damage. 

Recently I stumbled upon the back story to the foul, the cause of so much anxiety and upset to us drift netters of the past.  It arose from a dispute following the introduction of scotch weirs and the difficulties posed to traditional navigation, especially in this instance to craft using the Campile Pill.  But needless to say there were different opinions and numerous twists and turns before the White stone foul emerged!

Placenames on the river

I’m certain that my regular readers will be well aware of the relevance of place names and the important role each play in preserving the history and heritage of a locality.  In a fishing community river or coastal place names can be just as valuable but with an added significant role in fishing terms too.

Place names on the river at Cheekpoint denoted the commencement or end of drifts, marked hindrances to navigation or fishing, and useful landmarks for the location of nets, eel pots, etc.  They also marked fouls, spots notorious to fishermen, a location to be avoided, skirted around or just to show more caution.  One of the most infamous marks for the Cheekpoint men was the White Stone.  This blog looks at the origins of this foul mark, arising from some research I had conducted previously into the navigation of the Campile Pill. 

Salmon Driftnetting at Cheekpoint

When fishing salmon driftnets on the flood tide at Cheekpoint we principally concentrated our efforts along the Shelburne Bank, to the Campile Pill, and along up the “bank wall” – the embankment that held in the reclaimed marsh land at Kilmannock in Co Wexford.  The drift terminated at Great Island Power Station. 

As you proceeded up the bank wall, there was a mark in the wall, made by a piece of flat faced white rock which gave us the name White Stone.  This marked a notorious foul and as we approached the drift nets were hauled aboard, which pulled the boat away from the shore, and crews had their own preferred distance of net to retrieve.  (Later in the tide you might tighten up the foot rope, and take a chance on passing over) When a crew was satisfied, they would wait patiently for the onrushing tide, to drag the punt upriver, and once safely passed, the crew would resume the drift by setting the nets back into the shore.  Depending on the time of tide, some crews would set the entirety of the nets out at this point, others waiting until they got up to the “pailing” – a concrete fence post, before setting the remainder of the driftnets along the mud, or the wall – depending on how high the river had risen.   

A recent video highlighting the location
Salmon Fishery hearing 1864

Now the origins of the foul were reputed to be an old weir, but only recently did I actually get more details of this, arising from evidence gathered in New Ross in 1864. The hearing was part of a fishery commission established to examine fish weirs located countrywide – many of which had been established in the early 1800s as Scotch Weirs or had been adapted from the traditional Head Weirs.  I’ve written numerous accounts of the Weir Wars that resulted

Some of the placenames featured in my first book, Before the Tide Went Out.
Note the White Stone at Great Island

At New Ross, on March 10th, 1864 the Commission sat to gather evidence into the Kilmannock Weir with the three-person special commissioners in charge – Fredrick Eden, Captain W Houston RN, and W O’Conner Morris.   

From the report, it seems the only matter under examination was the impediment that the weir might cause to navigation, specifically traffic between the Pill and the River Barrow.  We learn that Mr. Knox of Kilmannock is the owner and the weir is fished by Richard Hewitson.  These men were represented by Mr. Ryland, instructed by Mr. Boyd, and called several witnesses to highlight that the weir posed no issues at all. Opposing this evidence was Mr. E Carr – representing the Nore, Barrow, and Suir Navigation Co. 

The entrance to the Pill is just below the lighthouse on the Bank Wall…we called this the Corner of the Pill

I won’t go into the opposing views that were reported, these continued for several days, though it is interesting to note that Fredrick Eden was less than enamored with the information provided stating that “…The evidence on both sides is biased and is to be taken with considerable caution.”

Legalities of the Kilmannock Weir

He summed up the legalities quite definitively, however – Basically the weir at Kilmannock was granted legal status under the fishery act of 1842 –  this was based on a lease dated 1669.  However other documents now presented had caused concern as they pointed to a different weir – in a different location, and the weir at use in 1864 was actually repositioned after the embankment was constructed, (The embankment is not shown in the first OSI map of the area {1829-1842} but is in the subsequent edition from 1914) or perhaps before in anticipation of its construction.  Therefore the weir was not strictly legal, as the older legal documents were for a weir, which was at that point either part of the embankment or covered in soil on the reclaimed marshland.   The decision made was that the weir should be removed.

Mahons Weir. Cheekpoint, Photo credit: William Doherty
Salmon Fishery hearing 1867

The weir verdict must have been appealed however as in 1867 it was again before the Salmon Fishery Commission in New Ross.  On this occasion appealing a decision to remove or alter the Kilmannock Weir was Maurice Wilson Knox of Kilmannock.  Several witnesses were called who operated lighters on the Pill to clarify that the weir was no impediment to navigation. 

An extract from Sayers chart of the harbour in 1787, no embankment and I’d imagine the weir was close to the first line on the right, where the river meets the shoreline at low water. I’m afraid no weir is shown in the location on any map or chart I have, not even in the OSI historic series. The only weir in the vicinity is a flood weir shown close to the present jetty and Kents Point.

The first witness was Matthew Power – a boatman on the Pill, working lighters for 45 years.  Power described his trade, and that they carried limestones from above Waterford and reached the Cheekpoint area (I’d imagine he means here Snow Hill or Drumdowney Point) on the ebb tide where they anchored.  On the next flood tide they crossed to Cheekpoint and (depending on the tides and weather I guess) sometimes waited on the next tide before crossing to the Pill.  They went up the Pill on the flood tide.  No detail is given of how long the journey was, but I would imagine it could be two tides – as they would be under too much pressure to make it through the New Bridge.

Power later clarified that was a tenant of Knox but that the only difficulty posed by the weir was if they were heading to the Ross River (Barrow) and even that was not a major issue.  They generally headed towards Waterford and they used a single-lug sail when the wind was right.  The weir he claimed was no impediment on this tack.

John Carroll of Horsewood (spelled Hore’s Wood in the article) was another witness who had worked the Campile River for 40 years.  When heading to New Ross, he steered a course well outside the weir, keeping a line for Kents Weir on the Great Island.  He stated it was useful on a foggy night as a landmark as there is no other light (suggesting there was a light on the weir perhaps).  He remembered boats going up inside the weir in the days before the Embankment was built but not since.   The lawyer acting on behalf of the Cotmen Mr Carr, is less than taken with their evidence however and although it is not part of the article it is obvious that Carr knows very well the issues caused by the weir for lighters depending on poles and oars to get into or out of the Pill when trying to keep to the shore heading for New Ross.

A lighter in operation in New Ross
A lighter in operation in New Ross – courtesy of Myles Courtney

Another witness is a Coastguard based at Arthurstown Daniel Jenkins.  Jenkins gave evidence about the tides and how the weir impacts these.  A fisherman Richard Power had no issue with the weir either – the ground is too steep for trawling and no great advantage there to a drift net either apparently (Cheekpoint fishermen of my generation would certainly disagree – and in the 1870s there were 90 driftnet licences in the harbour area!).  Another boatman Michael Doyle also gave evidence. 

The Commission made no decision on the day – asking for a survey of the site by the Coastguard officer, to be completed in the company of one of Mr Knox’s men, and once submitted a decision would be forthcoming! 

The White Stone
Outstanding Questions

I can’t find any detail as to how the White Stone in the wall originated. It seems to have been there from the outset of the building of the embankment. I’m also not clear as to the exact date for the removal of the weir, and I can not be sure if this was a redesigned head weir that had the wing extended to the shoreline, or some other specific design like some of the scotch weirs in the Kings Channel for example. 


Whatever part of the weir that was left behind when ir was removed, proved to be a considerable obstacle up to my years of salmon driftnetting.   Although we have not set a driftnet at the spot since it was banned in 2006, I daresay any of those left who remember the foul would still show it some respect if were allowed back fishing tomorrow.

As regulars will know I am deeply interested in the workings of the Lighter vessels and the lightermen, and this evidence has given me a rare glimpse into the activities of these men. The details of the journey from Grannagh to Campile although brief, give a glimpse into the lives of these men who worked in harmony with the tides in order to move their freight cargos. Patience was a virtue, they had to have a deep knowledge of the river and its tides, but they also required a lot of luck for the job to go well. I’m ever hopeful of finding other snippets of their lives as my research continues.

I’m grateful to Tommy Sullivan for letting me discuss the White Stone with him recently to clarify some points. Its been so long ago I like to check in with others to be sure I am not imagining stuff. All errors and omissions are my own needless to say.

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Navigating the Campile Pill

One of our favourite boat trips is up the Campile Pill from where we can call to Dunbrody Abbey, visit the village itself or explore the neighbourhood and its interesting heritage.  Although my favourite pastime is in exploring the fishing heritage of the area, another fascination is maritime trade, and of course, the Campile Pill was used for this too. 

The Pill is located on the Wexford side of Waterford estuary across from Cheekpoint.  You enter it across the tidal Shelbourne Bank, a vast mudflat.  The Pill is visible at low water, but only navigable with a kayak I would think.  As the tide rises, the mud bank covers and you would be forgiven for thinking that the Pill was a river.  About a ½ mile up you come to Dunbrody Abbey on the right, the Kilmanock embankment is on the left, a vast wall that blocked out the river leaving the marshes to be drained in the mid-1800s as far as I can ascertain.  The mighty Barrow once flowed through these marshes too – creating The Great Island.

The Pill is seen here on the right across from Home! Cheekpoint
A good idea of the extent of the Pill as you pass up Dunbrody, under the Gantry Bridge (see the train line crossing the pill for location), then the New Bridge (where the R733 intersects) and then the T junction – left towards Portbello and right to Campile

As we proceed upriver we pass under a metal rail bridge, the Gantry Bridge, and then after some twists and turns, we pass under the New Bridge or Dunbrody Bridge on the old OSI maps.  We are now entering narrow waters, with lots more mud banks, a double kiln is visible on the right and another few hundred yards the Pill breaks in two.  Take the left and you will wind up about a stone’s throw from the old Portobello Bridge (a trip for only the most adventurous – Deena said she would divorce me if I tried to go back there again) and the right takes us to Campile.

Looking for the route to Portbello – her patience is waning here.
Portbello Bridge, found it – we later walked to it after mooring at the New Bridge

Now to clarify the word Pill.  Up to recently I have tried unsuccessfully to find a clear and unambiguous explanation of the word.  Most accounts accept that it is an imported word – almost certainly from the Normans and used very commonly in Waterford and along the banks of the Three Sister Rivers; Barrow, Nore, and Suir, but apparently not as common elsewhere in Ireland.  It also seems to be a common enough word on both sides of the Bristol channel, the River Severn, and along the SW coast of the UK.  I recently put out an appeal for more information on this via Twitter and the response was so good I will need a separate blog to record it. 

Not much chance of reaching the Head of the Pill now in anything but our punt or a Kayak. Seen here at the bridge beside Harts in Campile

Campile is apparently derived from its location at the head of the Pill.  In this case, the bridge in the village at the point where the Pill stops being tidal.  In Irish, this translates (according to some accounts as Ceann Phuill – the Head of the Pill)

The skipper gearing up as we leave after icecream at Harts over the summer.

On the Logainm placename site, several different spellings are recorded down the centuries including Kempul (1195) Kempuil (1296), Kempull (1654) Ceanpoyle, and Keinpoil (1816).  The site has also a number of variations on the origins of Pill – small watercourse, pool, tidal stream, a tidal inlet, etc.

Sunrise at Dunbrody Abbey

Historically I guess the Cistercian Abbey at Dunbrody is arguably the most important site located on the Pill.  Located on the Eastern side, on a hill overlooking the pill and the present Kilmannock Embankment where once the mighty Barrow flowed to create “Le Great Island”.  Below the abbey, at least two tidal water mills were located at the placename still recorded as Saltmills.  Above this, there is the Water Gate which even though it is now overgrown and largely forgotten, still impresses as a piece of architecture.  A small tributary flows up to this but the old maps show that the lands here were low-lying and prone to flooding, doubtless, the river once flowed here too. I imagine it played a much more important role in the heyday of the Abbey as the monks controlled the waters, managed the fishing weirs, and greeted weary travellers at the gate.

Dunbrody’s Water Gate. From Hore.P.H History of the Town & County of Wexford. Dunbrody Abbey, The Great Island, Ballyhack etc. 1901 London. 
Kilmannock House and lands are presently for sale. I flinched this off the sales site but hopefully, that’s ok as this is for historical research purposes. Note the boundary on the top follows the route of the Pill, turned at Dunbrody and passes beside the Gantry Bridge.

I know nothing of the fishing on the Pill, although I can only imagine that using the power of the tides, many was many the scooneen (a local phrase for a short driftnet tied from the shore to an anchor in the river)placed at various locations along it to try to catch a salmon in the past.  I see no evidence of weirs anywhere along it, although there are short poles in areas – these look to be for mooring boats in the past. (Billy Colfer shows a prong moored beside these page ref)

When the monks were pushed aside the lands went over to the Etchingham family, and later through marriage, it passed to the Chichester family. 

According to the Horeswood Historical Society (HHS) in their wonderful book on the Campile Bombing[i] as many as 22 barges or lighters were operating the Pill.  Much of this trade was carrying Limestone to be burnt in local lime kilns and then used as fertiliser on the land or for a myriad of other uses.  There is a fine double kiln on the way up to the village just above the New Bridge and the remains of at least one kiln is adjacent to Harts. The lighters would also take freight away. 

A photo of a yard behind Harts taken from the Pill, the lime kiln or kilns perhaps are now overgrown and just be seen behind a container

As regulars know the Lighters are a passionate interest of mine and I have a deep respect for the river knowledge of the men who operated them.  Harnessing the power of the tides, they worked with nature to propel their flat-bottomed craft along the rivers using oars, poles, and basic sail to make their way, and an anchor to hold onto the hard-won milage.  Operating in the Campile Pill was an extra challenge as the mud flats must have shifted and changed and the New Bridge was so low. – Interestingly the HHS does mention that the bargemen could not pass under it at high water. 

You can join us here for a journey under the New Bridge – OSI maps call it Dunbrody Bridge which doesn’t seem to be used by locals

The book mentions that in the 1800s Barron’s of Campile had 7 barges, Murphy’s of Ballykerogue had 2 while Michael Sinnott also of Ballykerogue and Hart of Campile had 1. 

Harts barge was involved in two recorded incidents (there was certainly more I imagine) – in February 1914 the boat was swamped in a storm while anchored off the Kilmannock embankment and the three-man crew was rescued by two local Great Island fishermen – Thomas Dunphy and William Doherty.  A month later having been refloated, the lads were again in trouble.  Having taken on a cargo of coal and other items in Waterford worth £100 the barge was again off Great Island when they lost the rudder in a gale, but they managed to reach the shore before jumping for their lives – the barge sank soon after.

Kennys of Campile had a motorised barge operating in the 1930s while the Shelburne Co-Op bought an engine-driven barge from CIE in the 1950s to bring grain to Halls of Waterford.  The barge was pole driven on the tides up and down to the Gantry Bridge before the engine was started and they continued under power to deeper waters.   

The Campile – 1950s. Standing is Larry Dillon (left) and Jim Wade on the right both from Campile. In the background are Mikie Shalloe, Ballyhack (left) and Patsy Forristal from Campile. The photo was taken beside Dunphy’s coal yard opposite the public house. Photo and info courtesy of John Flynn via Horeswood Historical Society

Lighters used the Pill prior to this of course (I have found a lot of information on this including crew, but it will take another blog post)– using the tides to bring much-needed imports such as coal and to bring away farm produce from the village.  Interesting to note that the Piltown Stage was also very accessible to locals – using the PS Ida on her daily New Ross to Waterford route. And of course, there was the train which operated from 1906. It was so interesting to me to see the river played such an important role for so many years after the railway came.

This drone footage gives a very good sense of Dunbrody Abbey and its location on the Pill

I could find little enough online or in the newspapers about the Pill, although there were several tragedies reported.  There was one story on Duchas of a drowning “On the 10th of June in the year 1911 a very sad drowning fatality occurred at Portobello Pill in the Barony of Shelburne County Wexford. A boy named Peter Kavanagh from Coolaherin Campile Co. Wexford nineteen years of age went for a swim”

The People newspaper of July 1880 carried just a snippet of a tragedy – a young lad named Peter Quinn, the son of a Campile shoemaker was drowned in the Campile Pill.  The last accident was a railway worker. 

“TWIN BROTHERS DROWNED WHILE BATHING.—On Sunday last a most, melancholy accident occurred at Dun- brody, near Campile ill the county of Wexford, whereby two promising young men, twin brothers, lost thdr lives. It appears that the brothers, John and Anthony Lynsgh, with a number of other youths, were bathing in the river, when one of them getting beyond his depth, was observed to be sinking, and in danger of being drowned his brother immediately rushed towards him with the intention of rendering him assistance, but being unable to swim he also got beyond his depth, and both brothers sank to rise no more.”

The Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 29th July 1859 p.4

Finally the Enniscorthy Guardian of Saturday 16 May 1903 recorded that the body of a railway navvy – James Harvey, Great Island (He was living in railway accommodation it seems), was found under the new railway bridge (the Gantry Bridge) on the morning of May 11th, 1903.  Sargent Fitzgerald of Arthurstown took charge, searched the body, and removed the corpse to Campile. James was “an old railway employee who was addicted to drink” according to the follow-up inquest.  He had been drinking in Harts where the local blacksmith James Murphy deposed that he was in good form and appeared to be sober at 9.30 pm.  Joseph Harte deposed that he had served him a pint that night and he believed he left afterward alone to make his way back to Great Island. Dr. WJ Shee was deposed and gave a description of his injuries considering it to be the cause of a fall. David Munroe, general manager of the Campile section of railworks gave evidence about the character of his deceased employee and explained that he had no right to be walking along the bridge which was specifically for trains.  The jury found that he died of a fractured skull occasioned by a fall and that a notice should be placed on the bridge warning the public of the dangers of the crossing.

I’m afraid we are getting close to hauling out the punt for this year, and there may be no more trips on the Campile Pill until 2023 (all going well of course). But I need to spend a bit more time writing as opposed to “messing about in boats” – I look forward to getting back out there, however, as I never feel more alive than when exploring the river.

Postscript – I started writing this story in 2019. My ever-supportive pal, John Flynn, gave me some photos and also an extract from the Campile bombing book, so it’s not like I didn’t have the information. I managed to find the book in Wexford recently and rereading it spurred me into action. My thanks to John for his support, all errors and omissions are my own.

One of our favourite mooring places – The New Bridge, note Dunbrody in the distance. I am always struck by the thought of the countless riverfolk who passed along here, moored here and lived their lives on the water. Now the traffic fly’s past without hardly a thought to the history associated with these waterways – the highways of centuries that were wiped away in a few decades,

Apologies to my email subscribers. I was using feedburner as a mail delivery system which was discontinued by Google in July. It seems that Mail Chimp is the solution and I am hoping to get this rectified soon.

[i] Horeswood Historical Society 2010.  The Campile Bombing – August 26th 1940.  Nass Printing. Kildare (specifically pp 1-2)